Book review: How to draw Noir Comics

September 11, 2011 at 11:29 (Blog, Books, Video) (, , , , , )

It’s been a little while since my last bookreview, so why not another one?  This time I’ve taken a good look at “How to draw Noir Comics – The art and technique of visual storytelling” written by Shawn Martinbrough. As the title claim, this is a book all about black and how to use it to create atmosphere.

Excerpt from the book:
The French word for the  color black is noir. Over time, noir has come to reflect a mood, a tone, and, most appropriately, a style. Suggestive of danger or violence, film noir is characterized by low-key lighting in a bleak urban setting with corrupt, cynical characters. In my approach, the word noir simply celebrates the color black; it is not confined to a specific genre.

Despite the last bit there, the book is highly detailed with noir illustrations and exaples, all of them with low-key lit scenes from bleak urban settings. As Shawn claim, the style noir can be used for any setting you like, though he’s not very good at giving examples of that in his book.
That little bit apart, it’s a well written and entertaining book to read. Just don’t be fooled by the title. Yes, it’s all about noir, but it does not teach you how to draw. This is not a book for beginners wanting to start out, but rather for intermediate drawers interrested in learning how to use black and white to create moods.

Here, have a quick glance through the book to get a feeling for it’s layout, and then we’ll get back to what’s inside afterward:

The book is split into eight chapters:

1 – The tools
2 – The basics
3 – Creating a mood with shadow and light
4 – Visualizing the script
5 – Page layout
6 – Staging action
7 – Creating drama
8 – Designing the covers

The name of the chapters tells you a lot, but just for the sake of completion, let’s take a gander through what they really contain.

“The tools” is just that, a few pages describing what Shawn uses to draw with, some tips on tool maintenance and stuff like that. Pretty basic really. And while he uses ink and brush, there’s nothing stopping you from doing this digitally using a tablet instead. Just a preference, really.

In “The basics” you’re shown how to use a photograph (black/white only) to train your eyes to see the world in light and darkness. He then goes on to discuss a little about lineweights (thickness of lines) and finally introduce us to several portraits in ink where he explain a little of the thoughts  and techniques behind them.

In chapter 3  we’re given several images twice, and shown how different ways to ink create different moods, and the importance of texture. He touches a little upon using thumbnails to plan shadow and light, and we’re also given three exercises to try out. Before rounding out the chapter we’re taught a little about the importance of contrast.

The next chapter, “Visualizing the script”, start with a few words about collaboration between writers and artists, and then focus heavily on using references, not just for characters bult also for backgrounds and cityscapes.

“Page layout” zooms out and focuses on the page as a whole instead of just single panels or characters. Shawn goes a little more into details about using thumbnails, and then we’re explained a bit about panel layouts and sizes. We’re also introduced to the word balloon and told how to plan our page with them in mind.
We’re also taken through a discussion on framing panels, whether to use black areas or simple lines, and how to effectively crop panels to best set the mood we want to invoke.

In “Setting the stage” we learn how to set the rythm and pace for the page to make the most impact on the readers. We also read a little about how to use the background, middle ground and foreground, as well as diving into that terrible subject called perspective. We also take a look at using black to emphasize certain actions as well as using silhouettes.

Chapter 7 is all about the drama of stories, and Shawn tries to lead us through the theory behind it. Here he talks about letting the reader see the intent of the characters before the action, more on using lighting to set the mood and more on cropping for effect. He also talks of why shadows can be so effectice as a tool for drama, and finishes off talking about dramatic rain and how water-effects convey atmosphere.

The final chapter, “Designing for covers” goes more indepth about the creation of covers, posters and montages.

Finally, the book is ended with a short comic, “The truce”, written and illustrated by the author.

So, would I recommend you go buy this book? Yes, if you’re facinated with the noir style and would like to experiment with it, this book will give you many ideas and things to think about. If you’re looking for a “how to draw”-book you’d better look elsewhere, though.



Paperback: 144 pages
Publisher: Watson-Guptill (1 Dec 2007)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0823024067
ISBN-13: 978-0823024063
Product Dimensions: 27.9 x 21.7 x 1 cm







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