Writer, Editor, Author

Tag: Will Eisner

Good Nonfiction Books About Comics, Part 3

This time, I look at the how-to-make-comics books on my shelves.

Alan McKenzie’s How to Draw and Sell Comic Strips was the first book I ever saw that specifically devoted itself to this particular topic. I saw it in the bookstore at the University of Arizona when I was a freshman in 1987 and was particularly interested in seeing what comics scripts looked like and how pencils differed from inks — both topics that seem to always confuse fans when they first ask about them. McKenzie’s book featured some nice historical material on comics and some great tips on how to learn to draw everything you need to be able to draw to do comics. He creates a sample comic in the book, complete with a full script, pencils, inks and colors. The book also covers production issues as they were in the day, i.e., lettering pages before they were inked and how to hand separate color plates. It’s a great book, even though it did nothing to help me learn to draw. My efforts in basic drawing class earned me only one of only two C’s in my college career, convincing me that drawing was not where my talents lay. It looks like this has been revised and updated for a couple of new editions, and should be pretty easy to find if you are so inclined.

Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art is a classic in the field and the first book to explore the specific qualities of comics as an artform. I enjoy this book more now that I’ve read a significant amount of Eisner’s work. The book appears to me to be more useful for artists who already know how to draw in applying their skills to comics. As I’ve discovered, it’s not easy to learn to make art (and, I imagine, to teach it) when so much of the experience is subjective and difficult to communicate through words.

I almost put Writers on Comics Scriptwriting in the interviews section, but decided that this book by Mark Salisbury (and its sequel volume) fits better in the how-to category. This is a very nice collection of lengthy Q-and-A interviews with top comics writers on the craft of creating comics. Among the folks in volume one are Peter David, Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Kurt Busiek, Grant Morrison, Mark Waid and Warren Ellis. Volume two (by Tom Root and Andrew Kardon) covers Brian Azzarello, Dave Sim, Brian K. Vaughan, Mark Millar, Geoff Johns, Mike Carey, Kevin Smith, Greg Rucka and Brian Michael Bendis. I believe both books are currently out of print, but they are worth tracking down if you’re interested in writing comics.

Along the same lines is Panel One: Comic Book Scripts by Top Writers and Panel Two: More Comic Book Scripts by Top Writers, both edited by Nat Gertler. Each volume includes a number of complete scripts by such talents as Busiek, Dwayne McDuffie, Jeff Smith, Neil Gaiman, etc. They’re fascinating for how different they all are, from formatting variations to overall tone. Most of the books whose scripts are published in these volumes are indie books that are easy to track down for comparison to the final product.

Another good overall primer on the thought that goes into comics is The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics, by Denny O’Neil. This was part of an entire series DC did a few years back on how to make comics. While it does less in terms of showing complete scripts, it does discuss what goes in to making a comic work in the DC Universe, up to and including examples of how to map out and execute mega-crossovers.

There is no equivalent book from Marvel, but I do want to point out that anyone interested in seeing how books are put together on that side of town to track down the Rough Cut editions of Avengers (Vol. 3) #1, Thor (Vol. 2) #1, Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty #1 and X-Force #102. These editions feature the complete plot and the pencils to those issues, giving a nice look at Marvel-style writing.

Few names are as well-regarded in the field as Alan Moore, so it’s a no-brainer that Alan Moore’s Writing for Comics from Avatar Press is well worth the read. This is a slim volume that collects a couple of essays Moore wrote on the topic, and they talk mainly about approach and execution with few examples. Moore’s scripts are legendary for being long and extremely detailed — try to read the full scripts in the supplementary volumes in the Absolute Editions of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen  and see how far you get before mental exhaustion sets in.

Lastly, there’s Comic Book Lettering: The Comic-Craft Way, by Richard Starkings and John “JG” Roshell. I include this because I used to do print design and production work and enjoyed this peek at how to put all the pieces together exactly into the final package. If you don’t want to know what point size and kerning settings to use on comics type, this may not be for you. But reading this would be essential for anyone looking to letter a comic.

Three “Spirit” prizes come to visit … [giveaway]

Just in time for Christmas and the release of the film, I have three copies of “The Spirit: The Movie Visual Companion,” by Mark Cotta Vaz to give away, courtesy of the publisher, Titan Books, and the most excellent Tom Green. The book is definitely worth a look through for fans of Miller, Eisner and the movie — even if the movie itself turns out to not be to everyone’s taste. But to get a shot at winning, you’ll have to wade through me prattling on about some stuff and then answer a couple questions.

The film seems to be losing the battle of the critics so far, which is both unsurprising and still disappointing. I haven’t seen it yet myself, so I’m hoping there’s something about it — the tone, or simply embracing its own goofiness, if need be, that makes the experience fun.

I feel more invested in this movie than usual, as I’ve been writing about it for what seems like forever. I chatted up producer Michael Uslan at a party Oddlot Entertainment threw to announce the pic at Comic-Con in 2006, and managed to ask Miller about adapting Eisner’s short stories into a feature film (he said he was working on it). I did a set visit in November 2007 for Newsarama that produced three stories on the film; I did a short interview with producer Deborah Del Prete last summer about shooting in Albuquerque for a Variety special on New Mexico; and, coming up shortly, a piece on the film’s visual effects for Animation Magazine. Through that time, I’ve been impressed by the way the film is being made. The project was put together independently by Oddlot, who shopped it around, saying “this is what we’re gonna do, take it or leave it” and got Lionsgate to bite. This was the first feature film to shoot at the booming Albuquerque Studios, a brand new state of the art facility. The set visit was in a lot of ways less impressive, given that all there was to see was a huge greenscreen-draped studio and a few bits of scenery. It was cool to see an old-fashioned delivery truck with the logo “Ditko’s Deliveries” stenciled on the side, and to chat briefly with Gabriel Macht in costume. Unfortunately, none of the films’ femmes fatale were on set that day.

Beyond that, I’ve met Miller a number of times. (Some day, I’ll have to get my pal Jeff to talk here about the time he asked Miller to make corrections on a piece of original art he owned.) I was most pleased to meet him at a Dark Horse Comic-Con party in 2002, when I handed him a copy of the first Variety comics special I had edited and got a quick pic, taken by DH editor Diana Schutz with my camera. I later learned Miller always does the evil-eye thing in pictures. That night, he excused himself to go say hi to “a good friend,” who turned out to be Will Eisner.

Eisner was one of the greats I never had a chance to really meet. My favorite Eisner story was in “Invisible People,” the episode in which an obit run by mistake destroys a meek man’s life while the newspaper editor refused to admit the mistake and eventually won an award for her error-free track record. I was asked to be a judge for the Eisner Awards in September 2004 (the same day I had gone to press event for the DVD release of the original Star Wars trilogy and got to meet Mark Hamill and irvin Kershner — it was a good day). I had been looking forward to the opportunity to meet Eisner and perhaps talk with him a bit more. But it was not to be, as will died at the New Year, several months even before the judging. I don’t recall any of the judges discussing Eisner much in the room, but when the ceremony came around and Will wasn’t there, it was definitely a very sad moment.

Eisner and Miller’s relationship is also interesting, and I am quite looking forward to finding the time to reread “Eisner/Miller” after seeing the movie to see if the impression that these men were in tune with each other’s sensibilities was real or just an impression made larger than it really was by the very nice idea that these two creators from different generations could have the kind of collegial relationship they seemed to enjoy.

So, on to the giveaway: The first three people to answer the following three questions correctly in the comments section of this post will win a copy of the book. Be sure to use an email address I can use to contact you with when you make your post. I have to limit the contest to domestic entries, i.e., I will not ship overseas. I will contact the winners via email to get shipping info, etc. Got it? Go:

1. What year were the Eisner Awards first given out?

2. Who conducted the interviews in the 2005 book “Eisner/Miller”? (Bonus points if you can tell me what worthy comics org he works for.)

3. Which of his famous characters did Miller freely admit to copying almost directly from Eisner’s Sand Saref?

Good luck!

Early reviews blast ‘Spirit’

The premiere for “The Spirit” was last night at the Chinese Theater in Hollywood and the early word is not good.

Justin Chang at Variety writes:

A slain cop is resurrected as a masked crime-fighter in “The Spirit,” but Frank Miller’s solo writing-directing debut plunges into a watery grave early on and spends roughly the next 100 minutes gasping for air. Pushing well past the point of self-parody, Miller has done Will Eisner’s pioneering comicstrip no favors by drenching it in the same self-consciously neo-noir monochrome put to much more compelling use in “Sin City.” Graphic-novel geeks will be enticed by the promise of sleek babes and equally eye-popping f/x, but general audiences will probably pass on this visually arresting but wholly disposable Miller-lite exercise.

Newsarama, which also covered the New York-based junket, is a little more polite about it:

If this film does well enough to rate a sequel, and with some more directorial seasoning under Miller’s belt, perhaps future installments could achieve the greatness this one just frustratingly teases. As it stands, “The Spirit” does a precarious balancing act juxtaposing great moments and terrible ones, leaving audiences likely be split over which makes the greater impression.

And Ain’t It Cool News skewers the film as the worst since “Battlefield Earth.” Ouch.

And now I’ve seen something that has taken the top prize from “Battlefield Earth.” I mean, I honestly thought that would never happen. And it’s not like there aren’t MANY shitty movies made every year, and it’s not like I don’t SEE many of those. In fact, friends of mine and I have recently started a “Bad Movie Night,” where we have an opening act, a main feature, and a dessert: all of incredibly bad film & TV (the last one we did featured a vampire theme, so we started with “Knight Beat” (only available on VHS, but highly recommended), we feasted on the horror that is “Lost Boys 2: The Tribe”, and then for dessert, watched the (very) little-seen, “Paul Lynde’s Halloween Special” (holy crap! Amazing!). They’re our very own “MST3K” nights.

I’ll withhold judgment until I’ve seen the film, though given my general reaction to Frank Miller’s writing the past decade I can’t say my hopes for this film are high (despite the apparently excellent technical aspects of the film) were terribly high even before reading the reviews.

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