Review by Jocelyn Gregory
Drawn & Quarterly, November 2019
200 pages, paperback, $25.95 CAN, 987-1-77046-369-1
Ages 14+, Grades 8-12
Young Adult, New Adult, Graphic Novel, Non-fiction
Our task is to stay curious and open and in motion until the drawing period is over. This is the part that requires practice like that of a musician or an athlete. We develop a gradual belief in the spontaneous, ordering forces from which stories appear.
Have you ever wanted to make comics? Did you dream of drawing comics as a kid and gave up because they were stick figures or not what you pictured? Do you doodle sunflowers and dragons in class or waiting on the phone for the call center rep to answer? Have you ever looked at a popular comic and thought “I wish I could do that.” If so, you’re in luck! Lynda Barry’s Making Comics is the book for you.
There is a sort of mystical experience upon opening Making Comics. It’s a bit like a found diary or a decomposition notebook of an adventurer from a far-off land who is sharing what they’ve seen and experienced, while providing the framework and suggestions to help you craft your own journeys and ideas. The goal of perfection isn’t the focus here, the way it is in many how-to draw comic guides, rather it’s focused on encouraging the reader to pick up a pen or pencil, and draw. The chapters are broken down into exercises for the reader with a classroom type approach, and they include daily diary drawings, timed exercises, and weekly exercises like drawing skeletons or Batman. It is organized similar to a class syllabus with course requirements, grading, pens and papers, but it’s also very personal, like this book was made for you alone.
One glance through the pages and you realize the graphics are wild. They evoke the sense that the reader has stumbled upon a modern illuminated manuscript. Text and images intermingle to help readers along with the drawing and writing exercises. The pages are coloured and inked, but no two are alike word font or graphics. Repeated readings result in new discoveries of characters, creatures, and notes to the reader. There are recreated drawings from previous students and original sketches that making drawing comics just a bit less intimidating to people who have never drawn before or are picking up the pen to draw after many years. Barry’s illustrations provide examples that are both beautiful and encouraging.
One exercise, Close Your Eyes And See Me (page 54), takes four minutes and only requires pen and paper. The goal is to close your eyes and draw a breakfast, including eggs, toast, and silverware within one minute. This is followed up with quick 60-second sketches of the statue of liberty, a giraffe, and a mermaid. It is safe to say the results will be unique to the individual who is drawing. For example, my breakfast of eggs and hams looked more like a face with a wavy smile wielding a foot. My giraffe was more of a prehistoric horse, my mermaid was mostly a fish with a smiling face covered in scales, and my statue of liberty had a floating face. Strange as they are, I am proud of these drawings.
Lynda Barry’s Making Comics works for young adult readers and older readers because there’s a sort of a universal appeal to the comic styles. As mentioned, perfection is not required or demanded, rather this book is all about allowing the reader to curl up in bed, or at a table with friends, play some music, and just draw and create without that fear of judgement that the eyes don’t look right or the arms are too wiggly.
Jocelyne Gregory is a UBC MFA creative writing candidate and a graduate of SFU’s The Writer’s Studio. She’s an author and editor and has provided manuscript consultations with the Sechelt Public Library and the Writer’s Studio. A lifelong gamer and fan of comics, she lives on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, Canada.