Book Review: The Art of Drawing Manga – Camara & Duran

Most “Drawing Manga” books seem to consist of pictures of big-eyed kiddies to carefully copy, and are aimed at big-eyed kiddies themselves — young anime fans who want to draw cartoony Pokemon-style heroes. When we started this project, I knew I needed some “how to” reference material. It wasn’t so much the drawing as (obviously!) that wasn’t my department, but how to write a manga that I wanted some guidance on. I sent for just about every book about manga in the provincial library system, and found them nearly all what I shall call “how to draw big eyed cutie” books. Except one.

The Art of Drawing Manga
by Sergi Camara and Vanessa Duran is an English translation of a book originally published in Spanish (English translation: New York: Sterling, 2007. ISBN: 978-1-4027-4706-9). It’s quite different. It talks about the history of manga as an artform, materials, character creation, setting, layout, etc., but the chapter I found particularly valuable was “The Characteristic Narrative of Manga”, which discussed in detail narrative structure, page layout, and style. Narrative structure was particularly valuable for me. A story is a story is a story, but to some degree the pacing of a novel or short story is quite different from that of a manga. The rhythm is affected by the medium. Reading this chapter, thinking about it, reading it again, helped focus my thoughts on how to restructure “The Storyteller” for a new mode of telling.

The conclusion I came to was that when a story is carried by art, it’s much more a theatrical production. The author doesn’t have the utter control she gets when all the painting is done by words and the words are hers. Something that is important, and that can nevertheless be conveyed in a few words, may need a much longer space when presented visually. We have to know someone got from A to B, but we can’t just say it, we have to show it because that fact is important … but the transition also has to be interesting. The writer has to make the script something the director & actors (i.e. the artist and the characters pouring out of the artist’s pen) can waltz through. The actor, as it were, can’t just turn his back on the audience and walk across to stage left. The walking has to be done for the audience.

I find as I am working on the storyboards that I’m cutting things and adding other things to do this. I gather I’m generally thought of as a writer who puts a lot of humour into things. (Reviewers say so, so it must be true? Er, well, a reviewer once claimed that Torrie and the Firebird was called Torrie and the Thunderbird, and her review seemed to show she hadn’t read more than the title anyway — I mean, at least read the back cover and get one or two plot-facts right, before you start on your opinions, though of course giving the book the wrong title does rather undermine those opinions anyway … ahem. I digress.) Anyhow, “The Storyteller” is a story that doesn’t have much humour in it, in the original. I think it’s because of the mode of the story; there’s a certain remoteness and formality to it in the telling. (The novel it leads into has a lot more humour, because it’s told as a modern novel, not a “tale in the hall”.) However, I’m finding that I can’t write the storyboards without humour springing up. I can see it, in people’s expressions, in little asides. That’s all a part of the pacing of the story, of spanning the transitions.

I might have arrived at an understanding of how to pace a visual story on my own, by trial and error. I hope I would have, anyway! But reading The Art of Drawing Manga certainly saved me a lot of that experimentation and got me thinking on the right lines. I bought my own copy, and Connie has one too, because she found some of the discussion interesting as well. I wish it had talked about the technicalities of digital screentoning for print, though. Telling people to “consult a manual” at that point is not what I’d call useful advice for getting started in that mysterious art.

Aside from that omission, though, The Art of Drawing Manga is a very useful reference work for those embarking on manga, and one I’m very glad I found when I needed it.


About K.V. Johansen

The author of Blackdog, The Leopard, The Lady, and Gods of Nabban, epic fantasies from Pyr, I also write for teens and children, including the "Torrie", "Warlocks of Talverdin", and "Cassandra Virus" series, and the "Pippin and Mabel" picture books, as well as a couple of short story collections and two works of adult literary criticism on the history of children's fantasy literature. I have a Master's degree in Mediaeval Studies, and read a lot of fantasy, science fiction, and history. Blog at
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