What I’ve Been Studying: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures

The best resource I’ve found for people wanting to make comics.

In January and February, I spent most of my free time going through the book Drawing Words & Writing Pictures to learn how to make comics. I stumbled across it at the bookstore while looking for books on illustration and comics. I decided to give it a try, and to my pleasant surprise, the book has been fantastic.

Drawing Words & Writing Pictures is an extensive introduction to making comics written by Jessica and Matt Madden, a husband and wife team. It’s organized and designed like a textbook you might use in school, with chapters, exercises, and homework. But it’s a fraction of the cost of a traditional academic textbook, which makes it great for beginners. The book is flexible in that it’s able to be used in a classroom with many students, as part of a club, or just by yourself.

I went the individual route so that I could go at my own pace. There’s plenty of examples and digestible info in each chapter. It covers the basics of what comics is, making single panel comics, making single page comics, and then goes into multi-page comics with narratives.

DWWP covers the theoretical and the practical sides of making comics, which is something I really needed. Scott McCloud’s and Will Eisner’s books are wonderful, but I’ve found them to be a bit too high level as someone just getting started. DWWP on the other hand shares just enough to grasp the concepts and then gets into the nitty gritty with topics like inking, panel layouts, framing, camera angles, supplies and tools, and more. It strikes a nice balance between the conceptual and the practical.

The Wrong Planet
One of my chapter exercise comics

As one might expect, by the end of the book, you’ll have drawn your fair share of comics, which was what I was hoping for. I can’t help but shake the feeling that I’m at the phase of learning where I need to make lots of comics to learn as much as I can. Learning by doing. DWWP definitely supports that approach.

I’d be remiss to say that DWWP is mostly focused on making comics using analog tools (paper, technical pens, dip pens, etc.). I’m focused on analog, so it was a great fit for me. I think it’s still a worthwhile book for someone wanting to make comics digitally because the conceptual information is so valuable.

Drawing Words & Writing Pictures is without a doubt the best beginner resource I’ve found for making comics. It’s thorough yet approachable. It’s theoretical yet practical. Best of all, it’s affordable. By the end of it, I had an understanding of the various parts of what goes into making a comic, and I’ve been applying those new skills to my comic Terminal. Since finishing DWWP, I’ve gone back to refer to it quite a few times, which speaks to the value of the information. The final chapter is to make a 24-page comic in 24 hours, which I haven’t done yet. I’m planning to this summer though, which I’m both excited and nervous about!

The folks behind DWWP published a follow-up book called Mastering Comics, which I also found at my local bookstore. I haven’t started it yet, but it looks just a great based on flipping through it. I’m planning on going through and studying it after I finish my two small comics. I’ll be sure to share what I think when I finish it.

If you’re interested in learning how to make comics, check out Drawing Words & Writing Pictures. It doesn’t require you to be a master illustrator or comic super fan. All you need is the interest and diligence to keep progressing through the book. You’ll be surprised by what you’re able to make by the end.

Author: Brett Chalupa

day: software developer, night: comic artist

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