By Yishan Li
Watson-Guptill, 128 pp.
The subtitle of Shoujo Art Studio is “Everything You Need To Create Your Own Shoujo Manga Comics,” an interesting choice considering what is (and isn’t) inside. The fine print on the attached CD points out that users are required to own Adobe’s Photoshop Elements (at the very least) in order to use the files provided—an additional $50 investment casual buyers may not be expecting. On the other hand, one could argue that the CD actually includes so much of “everything,” there isn’t all that much left for the user to create.
What Shoujo Art Studio provides is 67 pages of basic instructions for manipulating the provided images (using Photoshop) in order to create a shojo-style comic, followed by a visual catalogue of the contents of its accompanying CD. The collection of images includes line art for several characters, backgrounds, basic effects, page layouts, word balloons, and accessories (like a bicycle and a cell phone), along with a variety of tones. Characters come complete with an array of possible outfits, hairstyles, poses, and facial features, each in its own layer to be added and removed at will, creating the equivalent of a digital paper doll. Two pages on the topic “Pacing Your Storytelling” are the deepest it goes into anything beyond the most surface elements of manga. The instructions are brief and fairly easy to follow, though Photoshop novices may find that things are not quite as simple as Shoujo Art Studio would have them believe. Though the book is far too basic for even intermediate users, it may move too quickly for some beginners.
Just as experienced digital artists will find this book of little use, dedicated readers of shojo manga may react negatively as well, particularly to the author’s statements about the nature of the genre which emphasize tired shojo clichés—an attitude that is further reinforced by the choice of artwork included. That said, non-artists will find some enjoyment in being able to “create” something that somewhat resembles a page of manga without having to acquire much in the way of skill. Some elements are more difficult to use than others (this reviewer gave up on toning after one disastrous panel) but the process is surprisingly fun, if undeniably superficial.