June 30, 2011


Basic Anatomy for the Manga Artist: Everything You Need to Start Drawing Authentic Manga Characters. By Christopher Hart. Watson-Guptill. $21.99.

     One of the best of Christopher Hart’s many books on drawing manga characters, Basic Anatomy for the Manga Artist goes far beyond guides that emphasize the facial features of manga characters and differentiate them from those in traditional comic books (although Hart has written on this subject, too). What Hart does here is build up manga characters according to the principles of human anatomy, emphasizing those elements of the body that give manga its particular look while also making sure that the exaggerated physiques of the characters are not completely out of line with the bodies of real-world humans.

     Starting with the head – including a short explanation of how manga eyes are drawn – Hart moves quickly to the rest of the body, showing how the skeleton is structured and simplified, then explaining proportions used in various manga characters: “Generally, a cute character is 4 to 6 ‘heads tall.’ An average character is 6 to 7 heads tall. A tall character can be 8 to 9 heads tall.” Exactly how this works in practice is made clear by Hart’s excellent drawings of the various character structures.

     Even more importantly for manga artists, Hart then moves into more-complex elements of human (and therefore manga) anatomy, showing how real-life musculature works in an overlay of muscles on the skeleton, then explaining how muscles are simplified, emphasized and altered in manga to create typical characters’ appearances and produce a pleasing flow of apparent motion: “You must be sure to draw a smooth transition between the [muscle] groups, even if that requires losing some definition. …Note how fluid the black ink outline is on these figures. The heavily muscled areas occur on the interior of the form.” The examples are super-clear and very well rendered, showing a character in multiple poses and emphasizing the way body position and musculature interact.

     Then Hart gets more complicated still, pointing out that many artists go astray by creating symmetrical bodies, although “the only bodies that are perfectly symmetrical are mannequins” – and showing how to introduce real-looking asymmetry into manga drawings. Here matters get very detailed indeed, as Hart shows the subtle ways in which muscles produce different forms of body movement while also indicating, step by step, the methods by which to draw arms, hands, legs, knees and other body parts in a way that is realistic but also suitable for manga creation. Hart leavens these sometimes complex discussions with humor, which helps quite a bit: “When the foot lifts off the ground in preparation to take a step, use a little shading to indicate the sole and give form to the arch. In a normal walk, only one foot leaves the ground at a time, of course, otherwise we’d all fall over.” A follow-up discussion of “how movement, light and perspective affect the body” shows how to apply the basics of character drawing within the sorts of scenes typical of manga. The detail here is especially useful when Hart deliberately draws character elements that do not quite work: a pose in which a figure’s back is too straight, one in which a character’s arms look too long, etc. Then he shows why the error occurs, and what to do to avoid it. Equally helpfully, he explains ways in which the apparent realism of manga figures is not correct from a real-world perspective. For example, in an average person, “the crotch would mark the halfway point of the body,” but “manga characters are not average. They’re often drawn slightly taller to create an idealized look. …So the average manga character’s crotch ends up as the halfway point between the top of the head and the ankles.

     Eventually, Hart gets into the way all these elements of drawing affect storytelling, as when he discusses forced perspective and warns against overusing it, since “too much causes what’s known as ‘eye fatigue.’” Finally, he shows how the underlying figure construction is crucial to drawing costumed characters – even when their anatomy is nearly 100% hidden by what they wear. Basic Anatomy for the Manga Artist is more than an instructional book for those interested in drawing manga and anime – although that is certainly its primary purpose. What makes it especially interesting is its insights into the way manga characters are created and how the drawing techniques produce the effects that so many readers enjoy in graphic novels and anime shorts and features. Although mainly for those who want to create manga characters, Hart’s book is also highly informative for those who simply want to enjoy this field of entertainment more by understanding how its effects are produced.

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