Book review: Drawing Words & Writing Pictures

August 23, 2011 at 22:00 (Blog, Books, Video) (, , , , , , , )

Time for another book review, this time “Drawing Words & Writing Pictures” (DWWP) by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden.

Let me just start off by saying this: If you plan on getting just ONE book about creating comics, then this is the definitive one! Yes, there are many other good books, but none quite like this one. Where most other books either show you how to practice or how to draw a spesific style, or explore the philosophy behing comics, this book deviates in one major way:
It’s a classroom book!

So? That doesn’t sound to exciting, no?
Wrong. The book is well written  and at times quite funny, and always informative. And it’s structured like a schoolbook, meaning that as you go through the chapters you are assigned various tasks and excercises that build upon what you’ve already studied. The book urges you to try these out with friends or classmates, but is also supported by a website where you can get feedback on your solo-work.

The one negative thing I have to say about DWWP is the formating of the book which can be a little difficult to read while holding in your lap. Take a look at the video below and you can see me fumbling at flipping through the book due to the wide pages.
That said, the pages are decorated with lots of illustrations ranging from technical diagrams to gueststrips and cartoons, all done in a black, white and orange color scheme that suits the content very well.


Now, let’s dig a little into what the book contains.


1 – Building blocks
A working definition of comics, with an introduction to the most frequently used comic terms.

2 – Every picture tells a story
A look at the single-panel comic and how it works.

3 – The strip club
A discussion ofhow multi-panel strips work to tell simple stories, plus and overview of thumbnails.

4 – Bridging the gap
An introduction to what goes on between comic panels – in other words, panel transitions.

5 -Penciling
An investigation of the pitfalls and strategies of penciling comics, plus a brief look at the basics of drawing the human figure.

6 – Getting on the same page
An examination of one-page comics and composition at the page level, plus a tutorial in laying out pages, tiers and panels.

7 – Lettering
A focus on lettering, both as an artform and as a technical skill, plus a lesson on using the photocopier effectively.

8 – Inking the deal
A look at inking with a nib pen, and making corrections to final artwork.

9 – Structuring story
An introduction to the narrative arc, the most fundamental type of story structure.

10 – Getting into character
A discussion on character types and motivations.

11 – Setting the stage
A discussion of some of the many aspects of composition at the panel level, and a tutorial on title design.

12 – Constructing a world
A focus on creating a believable comics world, plus a brief look at drawing heads and hands.

13 – Black gold
A lesson in inking with the brush, including techniques for softening blacks.

14 – Comics in the age of  mechanical reproduction
An introduction to reproducing comics using a scanner and sizing artwork using a proportion wheel.

15 – 24-hour comic
A final fun challenge to wrap up the book using all of the skills you’ve learned.

Appendix A: Supplies
Appendix  B: Homework critiques
Appendix  C: Story cards
Appendix D: Comic book book report
Appendix E: Making minicomics

So, as you can see, there’s quite a lot to digest from this 282 pages loong book.
As you might have gathered from the content list above, this book focuses exclusively on traditional drawing using pencils and ink. If you’re only interrested in digital drawing then about half of this book won’t be of use to you.

Reading this book (and doing the homework) will tell you everything you need about page composition, penciling and inking. There’s some parts that seem a little oldfashioned and archaic, particularly the part about using photocopiers and proportion wheels, but some might still find it useful. They also go into detail about using an Ames lettering guide to create handdrawn lettering, which some might find useful and some not quite so.

That aside, this book is absolute literary gold for someone about to start out creating comics. They not only tell you about drawing techniques and supplies, but even explain a few excercices to soften up stiff muscles and joints, and talk a little about proper ergonomics and  setting up your workplace.

I could probably write a books worth of praise for this massive gem, but suffice it to say that I highly recommend it. It’s the single best book about drawing and comics that I’ve EVER bought.
If you’re interrested in learning a little more, pake a look at the DWWP site.



  1. Carapace said,

    Thank you, this review was very helpful! I realize this book probably isn’t for me (I’m familiar with all the basics it seems designed to cover) but it sounds perfect for some of my younger relatives. Really good to know!

  2. Mashiem said,

    Yes, it’s pretty much for people starting with a blank slate, though there ARE a few hints and pointers even experienced cartoonists might find interresting. Perhaps not enough to pay full price for it, though. And if you’ve read either of McCloud’s or Eisner’s books about comics you’re already familiar with much of what this book teaches about pacing,storytelling and composition.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: