AmeComi Illustration Technic

Manga fans are frequently frustrated by the misconceptions that the general public has about their hobby. No, manga is not all ninjas and giant robots, big eyes and small mouths, speedlines and Speed Racer. We know better, but constantly having to explain yourself gets tiring after a while.

So every now and then it's nice to get a reminder that the Japanese totally don't get American comics either.

AmeComi Illustration Technic

AmeComi Illustration Technic is a how-to guide to drawing "American-style comics", published by You Kusano in 1989. Kusano is apparently the Japanese Christopher Hart — someone who publishes tons of "how-to" illustration guides despite not having more than a surface familiarity with his subject, a work history that would make a publisher think he knew what he was talking about, or even a flair for explaining things.

Anyway, you can see the first problem from the cover — the conflation of "American comics" with "superhero comics." A two-page spread inside shows some more specific inspiration — a random pile of mid-'80s Marvel comics, issue #2 of Legends, a Lynda Carter Wonder Woman poster, and a rubber Bird-Man figurine sitting in a model kit of '56 Ford T-Bird. An odd assemblage to be sure.

Interestingly, Kusano's drawings bear no resemblance at all to the source material.

AmeComi Illustration Technic

That doesn't look like any American comic I've ever seen. What it does look like a bad Kaiji Kawaguchi drawing inked with a toothpick. It's even more obvious when Kusano draws mechanical devices.

Okay, so it's obvious that Kusano doesn't really have any familiarity with his purported subject. Is there anything of value in the book?

Well, yes and no. Obviously, I don't speak Japanese, but it's easy to tell from the illustrations that there's tons of standard drawing instruction in the book — breaking down the body into geometric shapes, simple perspective, basic tool use. However, there's nothing here that you couldn't get from any drawing instruction book, and no indication as to how an American would do something differently than his Japanese counterpart.

It also doesn't help that Kusano is trying to draw everything with a technical pen. Here's an example.

AmeComi Illustration Technic

Okay, this is a perfectly fine way of doing speed lines. Draw your first line with a Rapidograph pulled across straight edge, pivot the outer edge a bit around your focal point, thicken the line, and repeat, trying to keep your lines vaguely parallel. However, if you're going for a classic Sinnott-style suburst, you're better off doing it with a Hunt 102 crow quill — just apply some pressure at the outer edge and flick rapidly towards the center. Gets the same effect a lot faster with just a little practice.

And that's the whole problem in a nutshell, really. Kusano barely has a grasp of his own idiom, and he's over-extending himself by trying to explain an idiom he himself barely understands. I suppose those who can, teach well, and those who can't, teach badly.

Comments (6)

  1. Steven White (04/02/2008)

    So there has to be some American "how to draw Manga" counterpart, right?

  2. Dave 'the Knave' White (04/02/2008)

    Oh, sure, there are always the various Christopher Hart "How to Draw" books. Hart's better than Kusano, but his books are still a long way from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

  3. James Moar (04/02/2008)

    The illustrations do look like American comics to me -- just not like anything that's been in fashion since the 40s or 50s, is all.

  4. Dave 'the Knave' White (04/02/2008)

    James, I'll agree that there are some resemblance to Golden Age superhero comics, but there's also a lot of little differences — the proportions, in the simulated feathering, even the costume and mechanical design — that are not American-looking at all. If anything, the inking style reminds me of '60s manga and the character designs of bad '70s anime.

  5. astralagos (04/02/2008)

    Also, the pirate boots? Not remotely pirate-y enough.

  6. Jay (04/02/2008)

    I think that art is fantastic. Definitley lat 60's early 70's vibe... reminds me of Gray Morrow's work.

    I have to disagree with the "conflation" comment because, well, "American comics" and "super-hero comics" are basically synonymous. Spandex books absolutely dominate the market.

    I have to add Christopher Harts books are beyond awful.

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