December 24, 2009


The Manga Artist’s Workbook. By Christopher Hart. Potter Style. $15.99.

Drawing Manga Animals, Chibis, and Other Adorable Creatures. By J.C. Amberlyn. Watson-Guptill. $21.99.

     Among the many once-over-lightly guides to drawing manga and anime characters, The Manga Artist’s Workbook is a standout – because it is not once-over-lightly. In fact, Christopher Hart’s step-by-step guide, which includes tracing paper to help you get the feel of the lines that give manga characters their personalities until you can draw them freehand, is more like three or four or five times over…and not lightly at all. Hart, from whose Manga for the Beginner this spiral-bound book is derived, gives excellent, unfailingly detailed advice on how to get the proportions of manga characters right so as to give them their unique look. For example, “Hair never lies flat, always adding size to the head.” And “windblown hair is more dramatic than stiff hair.” In a down angle, “ears [are] placed high on head” and “nose almost overlaps mouth.” There are natural standing poses, less-often-used poses such as rear view and side view, and there are opportunities to draw really interesting poses, such as “one knee bent, hands in front of body.” Speaking of hands, “it takes a subtle touch to draw pretty [female] hands,” while “male hands are slightly more challenging to draw than female hands, because they aren’t as soft looking.” Hart does more than instruct – he explains. And that is one thing that makes this drawing guide so valuable. Another is the way it builds: starting with heads and those famous extra-large manga eyes, Hart takes you through body parts, whole bodies, clothing, and then to fully characterized figures such as the “teen fighting girl” and “classic teen hero” shown in wonderful full-color detail on the front and back covers of the book. By the end of the book, when Hart says to “build your own character,” you will actually be able to – perhaps not with Hart’s own ease and skill, but with considerable success...on which you can then build further through practice.

     J.C. Amberlyn’s Drawing Manga Animals, Chibis, and Other Adorable Creatures is not quite at this high a quality level – it gets a (+++) rating – but it is in many ways more out-and-out fun than Hart’s book, because it focuses on the cute little subsidiary characters that people (so to speak) the manga and anime worlds. These are the huge-eyed, huge-headed cats, rabbits and unidentifiable things that sometimes participate in adventures and sometimes simply hang out on the sidelines. The proportions are what really matter here: heads can be fully half the size of bodies, and eyes are enormous even by manga standards. Amberlyn, an artist and animator, clearly knows what makes these characters effective, but she sometimes has trouble explaining what she means. For example, an illustration marked “no” shows an eye with solid lines visible at the inner corner. But in the text, Amberlyn writes, “Broken outlines for eyes are common in manga, but solid outlines for eyes can be used, too.” The best parts of this book are the ones that approach drawing in a creative way. For instance, “When drawing chibi bodies, it can help to keep the idea of a flour sack in mind” – after which Amberlyn shows how the sack shape can be used to convey emotion through body positioning. The book’s section on computer techniques – such as freehand drawings colored in Photoshop – is especially helpful for artists who are comfortable with software as a major tool. In all, Drawing Manga Animals, Chibis, and Other Adorable Creatures is a good book to supplement one, such as The Manga Artist’s Workbook, that gives basic techniques for manga drawing and focuses on portraying human characters. Like the characters she depicts, Amberlyn’s book is more of a side dish than a main course.

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