Perpetuating the suck

(Original blog post July 21, 2011 – 512 views)

It’s been a while since my last blog post, and I got a rant! This is something that, as an artist, I get really irritated over on a number of different levels, and I’ve been wanting to bring it up. The time is now!

Here we have some bad art instruction.

For years now, ever since anime hit it big in the U.S. — like the late ’90s-early 2000s, when it really started to air regularly on American television — I’ve been seeing English-language “how to draw manga” books all over. There are good ones, there are decent ones.

And then there are these:



This is a sad imitation of manga/anime art. To the casual observer, sure, it’s got a similar style, but it’s not right. It’s not even appealing to look at! Who would look at this and say, “YEAH, I gotta learn to draw THIS!”??

Lemme back up. I’m actually a big fan of anime and manga. Have been since the early ’90s. When the American anime licensing industry was in its infancy, I was there. Companies like AnimEigo, U.S. Renditions, and U.S. Manga Corps were releasing 30-minute subtitled VHS tapes of anime OAVs for about 30-40 bucks a pop, and my friends and I were buying them. And if a U.S. video company hadn’t yet licensed a show we wanted to see, we ordered Japanese laserdiscs from dodgy mail-order shops on the west coast, bought cheap bootlegged fan-subtitled tapes from dealers at comic and sci-fi conventions, or found tape traders who had blurry 10th-generation copies of a few episodes taped off Japanese TV, and we watched them in straight, untranslated Japanese over and over and over, late into the night. I’ve built my share of plastic GundamĀ  model kits, too.

So naturally, anime and manga have had an influence on my art, just like classic cartoons, comics, and other artists have. Although you may not see it immediately, I actually borrow quite liberally from anime and manga (yes, even hentai and doujinshi) when I’m coming up with ideas for poses and situations in my pinup girl art. Of course, in my more zealous anime fanboy days, I attempted to draw a few anime and manga characters, and I thought I did fairly well at it; however, you could always tell that it wasn’t drawn by a Japanese artist who was immersed in manga techniques. I tried to view my art objectively and it always had some sort of details or nuances that gave it away. I just couldn’t nail the style perfectly. It’s not easy.

My concern is that these books are teaching something the wrong way. I don’t see a lot of other types of instructional art books authored by artists who aren’t good at what they’re trying to teach. There aren’t books on anatomy that have the muscles placed in the wrong positions. There aren’t books telling you to thin your watercolors with turpentine. But there are lots of books showing how to draw hideous versions of comics, cartoons, and manga.

I guess it gets under my skin for two reasons: One, because a type of art that I appreciate is being misrepresented. And two, if you suck at it, you have no business teaching others how to do it, thereby perpetuating the suck. Now we’re gonna have kids drawing ugly skinny characters with big eyes and pointy chins and calling it “manga.”

For the love of Shenlong, if you’re gonna try to learn to draw manga, at least refer to the How to Draw Manga series from Graphic-Sha. It’s available in English, but it’s authored by Japanese manga artists and they’re the real deal. Just compare the above image to this one:


Furthermore, study the work of an accomplished manga artist and designer. Since the examples I’ve been using have featured girls in battle armor, I’ll illustrate this point with the work of Masamune Shirow:


Even a non-fan can see the difference. There’s an authenticity missing from the top image that makes me wonder who would want to take any advice that book has to offer.

The same goes for any comic or cartooning instruction. Go straight to the sources, like the classic How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by John Buscema and Stan Lee, and Preston Blair’s Animation. Learn from those who originated it, not those who imitate it.