Arts Desk

International Ink: Gift Ideas for Comics Nerds (Part 1 of 2)

In which we take a look at a great big pile of review copies of comic books, cartoons, and graphic novels.

Somehow with the turn of the millennium, a weird cartoon switcheroo  occurred, and alternative cartoonists became more mainstream than mainstream cartoonists. Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, and Adrian Tomine are regulars in the New Yorker. Ivan Brunetti edits textbooks on cartooning for Yale. Illustrations by Tom Gauld, Lille Carre, and Jillian Tamaki routinely appear in the New York Times.

Tomine and Clowes' recent, lovely art books can be found at reasonable prices: New York Drawings (Drawn & Quarterly, $30) reprints the illustrations that Tomine has done for the New Yorker, along with additional illustrations of the city. The book is almost textless, but the art is all beautiful full color. The Art of Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist, edited by Alvin Buenaventura (Abrams ComicArts, $40), is a catalog to accompany an exhibit of his work that is scheduled to arrive at the Corcoran in 2013. This book covers Clowes' entire career, even delving into unfinished sketches, layouts, and color guides alongside finished art. The text, meanwhile, explores movies based on Clowes' works, and includes essays by Chris Ware and book designer Chip Kidd.

Ware's Building Stories has been getting loads of attention this fall, but consider the academic collection, The Comics of Chris Ware: Drawing is a Way of Thinking, edited by David M. Ball and Martha B. Kuhlman (University Press of Mississippi, $55 hardcover, $28 paperback). Overall, its 15 essays are a little dense—but that's OK for this relatively difficult artist. Howard University professor Marc Singer even plunks down a 16-page essay on him.

Ivan Brunetti was long a NSFW cartoonist, but now he's editing volumes on comics for Yale University. His slim Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice (Yale, $13) has been reprinted from its 2007 publication in Comic Art magazine. The book offers 15 lessons on cartooning, but its heft suggests it's aimed at an adult audience. In the introduction, Brunetti writes, "This book evolved from the classes I have taught." Its structure makes that clear: Each chapter offers a weekly exercise for creating a four-panel comic strip or a silent cartoon.

Robyn Chapman's Drawing Comics Lab (Quarry, $25) is more visual and intended for a late-teen audience. Chapman, a recent graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design (which is known for its comics classes), has worked at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. Her book offers a lot of practical advice—including from other professional cartoonist teachers—and plenty of photographs. Among the projects she recommends: Jam Comics (in which several people work on the same story) and 24-Hour Comics (in which the aspiring cartoonist finishes an entire story in a day).

Creating Comics from Start to Finish by Buddy Scalera (Impact, $25) is not a how-to book. Rather, Scalera looks at the processes involved in creating a comic book, and talks to creators such as Stan Lee, Mark Waid, and Joe Quesada about their careers. Scalera's breezy tone is refreshing: "Writing comics also requires a strong sense of story structure. As simple as it may seem, writing a single issue is challenging enough. But writing a multi-issue arc is like a giant math problem wrapped in a creative-writing wrapper."

From the same publisher comes Sketch Card Mania: How to Create Your Own Original Collectible Trading Cards by Randy Martinez and Denise Vasquez (Impact, $25). It's very much is a how-to guide—for sketch cards, used by cartoonists as collectible vehicles for original art. Local cartoonists such as Chris Flick always have a selection for sale at conventions. Some cartoonists draw their own characters, but many do their own takes on popular superheroes. If you're a fledgling cartoonist (or know one), this well-illustrated, clearly explained book may be useful.

Check Arts Desk Tuesday for Part 2 of this guide.

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