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How to Pen & Ink: The Manga Start-Up Guide

Type the words “how to draw manga” into the search engine, and you’ll net over 575 results. These books run the gamut from Manga-for-Dummies manuals, designed to teach beginners the basics of figure drawing and paneling, to highly specialized texts focusing on a specific skill — say, applying screentone or drawing buxom warriors.

One of the biggest drawbacks to these manuals is the lack of examples culled from actual manga; for licensing reasons, many of these how-to books feature original art that may not be drawn by a professional working in the Japanese publishing industry. And while many of these books possess genuine educational value for the beginning artist, teaching from a copy — however good it might be — isn’t the same thing as learning from the original. That’s where DMP’s How to Pen & Ink: The Manga Start-Up Guide comes in: the book is liberally illustrated with sketches, pin-up art, and finished pages from the work of Oh!Great (Tenjo Tenge, Air Gear), Yasuhiro Nightow (Trigun), and Satoshi Shiki (Kami-Kaze), as well as a half-dozen other established artists.

The book is divided into two sections. In the first, billed as a “close-up of how a manga is born,” each of the three featured manga-ka takes readers step-by-step through the creation of a pen-and-ink drawing, offering insights into their own work process. In the second, readers practice drawing their own manga. This section, which comprises most of the book, contains a list of tools used by professional manga artists, a lengthy Q&A section aimed at novice creators, and a variety of exercises, the most useful of which focus on working with pens. Over a four-week period, readers learn how to draw lines of varying weight, length, and straightness; how to draw effective speedlines; and how to use crosshatching to define space and volume.

What distinguishes Pen & Ink from other how-to manuals is its approach: manga isn’t treated as a style but as a storytelling medium. Almost of the advice focuses on how to draw effective stories, whether readers are learning where to place word balloons or how to use speedlines and panel frames to direct the eye to a key element in the layout. Though some of the tips are too vague to be helpful, the book is chock-full of examples culled from the pages of Air Gear, Kami-Kaze, and Trigun, as well as Hikou x Shonen, Oudo no Kishi Moro, Sgt. Frog, Trigun, and Vampire Princess Yui — a diversity that nicely underscores the manga-as-medium message.

Anyone who’s taken a few life drawing courses should be able to complete most of the exercises, though they may wish to supplement Pen & Ink with a manual on character design. (Tips for drawing eyes, hands, and bodies are too scarce to be very helpful to novice cartoonists.) For readers just learning the basics — anatomy, perspective drawing — most of the information in the book is too advanced to be immediately beneficial; the ideal audience is someone who already owns a few pens and drawing tools but needs guidance on how to work more effectively with them.

Review copy provided by Digital Manga Publishing, Inc.

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  1. Scottie says:

    I think the main strength of this book is that it does precisely what it says on the cover. “Pen & Ink”.

    It’s not an anatomy book, or a perspective drawing book, or even a big-eyed manga character instruction book.
    It isn’t really a book on drawing at all.
    Sure, it touches on drawing a bit, but only in the context of explaining traditional manga work flow.

    The meat of the book is very specific to working with pens and ink, something that scares many burgeoning manga artists who are fine with pencil sketches but become unhinged at the prospect of inking their work.
    This book isn’t “how to draw” This book is “Now that you can draw, here’s how to work with ink.”

    Another way to put it, the book assumes intermediate drawing level, but total beginner pen & ink level.

    It is this very specific focus that I think makes the book a success.
    I’m actually pretty stunned that I liked this book as much as I do.
    There are other excellent resources for perspective, anatomy, and etc… and you can grab those when needed.

    But if you’re looking for a book specific to learning to ink, you’re going to love this book.


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