Skip to main content
Trade Books For Courses Tradebooks for Courses

Drawing Words and Writing Pictures

Making Comics: Manga, Graphic Novels, and Beyond

Jessica Abel and Matt Madden

First Second

opens in a new window
opens in a new window Drawing Words and Writing Pictures Download image

ISBN10: 1596431318
ISBN13: 9781596431317

Trade Paperback

304 Pages



Request Desk Copy
Request Exam Copy


Sign up to receive information about new books, author events, and special offers.

Sign up now

An Eisner Award Nominee

Drawing Words and Writing Pictures is a course on comic creation—for the classroom or for independent study—that centers on storytelling and concludes with making a finished comic. With chapters on lettering, story structure, and panel layout, the fifteen lessons offered—each complete with homework, extra credit activities and supplementary reading suggestions—provide a solid introduction for people interested in making their own comics.

Additional resources, lessons, and after-class help are available on the accompanying website,

A Message for Educators from Jessica Abel and Matt Madden

The medium of comics—by which we mean graphic novels, Japanese manga, webcomics, and traditional pamphlets and strips—has taken many departments by storm in recent years, showing up on not only English syllabi, but in subjects from physics to medical ethics to political science. But many teachers, sensing that there's more there than merely an illustrated story, struggle with how to frame classroom discussion around this sophisticated medium.

We designed Drawing Words & Writing Pictures as a friendly but sophisticated textbook that covers all the fundamentals of making comics but which also functions as a multi-faceted resource for all kinds of teachers.

With 15 chapters to mirror 15 semester weeks, we break up the process of first understanding, and then creating, graphic narratives on any subject. We cover technical issues such as layout and inking, but also subtle conceptual ideas such as pictorial composition and the uses and powers of juxtaposition (between words and images or between one image and another). It's an essential tool for anyone teaching comics in an art department. What might surprise you is what other uses to which it can be put.

DWWP can help you get a handle on how comics work and what makes it such an effective storytelling tool. Read the first four chapters of DWWP and do a few low-drawing quotient activities in class (such as "Sum of Its Parts," where you juxtapose a found image with three separate words) and you will prepare students to decode comics, understanding the complex interaction of words, images, and design that make comics such a compelling and rich medium. For more ideas, visit our website:

Table of Contents
The tsunami of comics: coming to a town near you
Comics education: the time is now
Enter Drawing Words & Writing Pictures
A note on the title

Who is this book for?
Sidebar: Forming a Nomad group
Organization of the book
Special features
Companion website for students and instructors

1. BUILDING BLOCKS—A working definition of comics, with an introduction to the most frequently used comics terms.

1.1 Know 'em when you see 'em
Defining "comics"
Will Eisner
Scott McCloud
David Kunzle
What we talk about when we talk about comics
Sidebar: What's in a name?

1.2 Comics terminology
Frequently used terms
Sidebar: Emanata
Sidebar: Can't Draw? Read this
Activity: Drawing time

Homework: Drawing in action
Extra credit: Directed jam comic

2. EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY—A look at the single-panel comic and how it works.

2.1 Word and image
The juxtaposition of word and image
The single-panel comic
A closer look: Cartoons and beyond
Activity: Gag reflex
Sidebar: Putting pen to paper

Homework: Gag me
Extra credit: Sum of its parts

3. THE STRIP CLUB—A discussion of how multi-panel strips work to tell simple stories, plus an overview of thumbnails.

3.1 A comic a day
Creating a comic strip
Variations in rhythm and pacing
A closer look: Three strips in action
Bud Fisher's Mud and Jeff
Roy Crane's Wash Tubbs
Tony Millionaire's Maakies
Activity: The wrong planet

3.2 Thumbnails
Writing pictures
Creating thumbnails

Homework: Strip it down
Extra Credit: How to read Nancy

4. BRIDGING THE GAP—An introduction to what goes on between comics panels—in other words, panel transitions.

4.1 Reading between the lines
Transitions and closure
Seven types of panel transitions
Activity: Comic Jumble

Homework: Closure Comics
Extra credit: Five-card Nancy

5. PENCILING—An investigation of the pitfalls and strategies of penciling comics, plus a brief look at the basics of drawing the human figure.

5.1 Penciling comics
Ladies and gentlemen, sharpen your pencils!
Penciling pitfalls
Penciling strategies
Blue Pencil
Colored pencil
Map it
Photocopying or scanning up thumbs
Drawing outside the box
Preparatory drawings
Sidebar: Penciling toolbox
Sidebar: A master cartoonist's penciling method
Activity: Pencil one panel three different ways

5.2 Figuring out the figure 1: sticking to the basics
Using "figurettes"

Homework: Penciling
Extra credit: Practice drawing figurettes
Extra credit: Drawing figurettes by tracing photos

6. GETTING ON THE SAME PAGE—An examination of one-page comics and composition at the page level, plus a tutorial in laying out pages, tiers, and panels.

6.1 Elbow room
The one-pager
A closer look: Two masters of the Sunday page
Segar: The page as story
Herriman: The page as design
Elements of page design
The grind
More approaches to page design
Reading order
Title design

6.2 Laying out pages, tiers, and panels
Laying out a page
Live area
Inside the live area
Original art size
Page ratio
Activity: Lay out your live area

Homework: "A month of Sundays" thumbnails
Extra credit: Comic book book report: Sunday page

7. LETTERING—A focus on lettering, both as an art form and as a technical skill, plus a lesson on using the photocopier effectively.

7.1 Hand lettering
Drawing words
Lettering is not handwriting
What's with the antique technology?
A case for upper- and lower-case lettering
Lettering styles
Other lettering concerns
Welcome to Ames
Activity: Make lettering guidelines and practice lettering
Sidebar: Making word balloons
Activity: A comic with no pictures

7.2 The photocopier
The good, the bad, and the ugly
Sidebar: Ruling a straight line: some tools that will help

Homework: "A month of Sundays" penciling and lettering
Extra credit: Lettering that speaks for itself

8. INKING THE DEAL—A look at inking with a nib pen, and making corrections to final artwork.

8.1 Inking with a nib pen
What is inking for?
What's a nib pen?
Why nib pens?
Selecting a nib
Two basic kinds of nibs
Bowl-pointed nibs
The thumbnail test
Nib characteristics
Buying nib sets
Handling a nib pen
Drawing with a nib pen
Troubleshooting nibs
Sidebar: Inking tools
Sidebar: A word on posture
Activity: Ink your own drawings with a nib

8.2 Making corrections
Basic corrections
Major corrections: Tracing and pasting
Sidebar: Making your corrections stick

Homework: "A month of Sundays" inking
Sidebar: More nib examples in this book
Extra credit: Line for line

9. STRUCTURING STORY—An introduction to the narrative arc, the most fundamental type of story structure.

9.1 The narrative arc
Uncovering story structure: Jessica's tale
The narrative arc
Why so traditional?
Why conflict?
Other narrative structures

9.2 The elements of a narrative arc
The five essential ingredients
1. The protagonist
2. The spark
3. The escalation
4. The climax
5. The denouement
The narrative arc: constructing a story worth the telling
The five ingredients in action: Cinderella
Activity: Analyze this
Activity: TV writer make believe

Homework: Thumbnails for a six-page story with a narrative arc
Extra credit: Thumbnail a three-page Chip and the Cookie Jar comic

10. GETTING INTO CHARACTER—A discussion of character types and motivations.

10.1 Developing your character
Which comes first—the character or the story?
What is a character?
Character types
Archetypal characters
Naturalistic characters
Intermediate characters
Character motivation
Sidebar: Using drawing to help develop characters
The antagonist
Show, don't tell
Activity: Play your cards right

Homework: Character pin-ups for your short story
Homework: Finish your short story thumbs
Extra credit: Character mash-up

11. SETTING THE STAGE—A discussion of some of the many aspects of composition at the panel level, and a tutorial on title design.

11.1 Panel design
Building a better panel
Panel problem solving: Four basic considerations
60 panels that just might work
A few notes on the panels
Sidebar: Film terminology and comics
Panel composition
Tonal balance
Reading path
Internal framing
Visual rhythm
Negative space
Depth of field
Activity: Rethinking composition

11.2 Titles
The importance of title design
Planning your title design
Laying out and inking your title design
Placement and composition
Letter measurement and drawing guidelines
Inking straight letters
Inking curved letters
Touch-ups and corrections
Sidebar: Type terminology
Activity: Plan, lay out, and ink a title design for your six-page comic

Homework: Revise your six-page story thumbs and start penciling
Extra credit: Draw a folk tale

12. CONSTRUCTING A WORLD—A focus on creating a believable comics world, plus a brief look at drawing heads and hands.

12.1 Creating a sense of place
The importance of backgrounds
Approaches to world-building
Drawing from life
Sidebar: Drawing specifics
Using photo reference
Sidebar: Things to keep in mind when drawing from photos
Researching the real world
Inventing realities
Using your imagination
Activity: No time like the present

12.2 Figuring out the figure 2: heads and hands
Heads and hands
Facial measurements
Notes on drawing heads and facial expressions
Drawing hands
Heads and hands in action
Activity: The head's in your hands

Homework: Continue penciling your six-page story
Extra credit: On-location comics

13. BLACK GOLD—A lesson in inking with the brush, including techniques for softening blacks.

13.1 The liquid line
Introduction to inking with a brush
Basic brush handling
Charging your brush
Holding your brush
Checking your ink
Checking your brush quality
Practicing your technique
Don't "pencil" with ink
Sidebar: Know your brushes
Sidebar: Buying, protecting, and cleaning a brush

13.2 Softening the black
Techniques for softening blacks
Using dry brush
Inking a panel from start to finish
Finish inking

13.3 Notes on using a brush
Lines, spotting blacks, and other techniques
Sidebar: More examples of brush inking
Activity: Ink a panel in brush

Homework: Finish pencils of your six-page story and begin inking
Extra credit: Line for line II

14. COMICS IN THE AGE OF MECHANICAL REPRODUCTION—An introduction to reproducing comics using a scanner and sizing artwork using a proportion wheel.

14.1 Producing reproductions
Scanning your art
Step 1: Plan ahead
Step 2: Scan
Step 3: Save
Step 4: Combine segments
Step 5: Size image
Step 6: Adjust the threshold level
Step 7: Make Photoshop® corrections
Sidebar: What is anti-aliasing?
Step 8: Convert to bitmap
Sidebar: Print history: film and "non-photo blue"

14.2 Olde-styley tools again
Using the proportion wheel
Sizing down and sizing up
Sizing down
Sizing up
Activity: Try the proportion wheel
Homework: Finish inking, make corrections, and reproduce your six-page comic
Extra credit: "It was an accident"

15. 24-HOUR COMIC—A final fun challenge to wrap up the book using all of the skills you've learned.

15.1 Marathon cartooning
The 24-hour comic
Activity: 24-hour comic (or 3-hour comic)

15.2 Onward and upward
The end (but also the beginning)

A: Supplies
B: Homework critiques
C: Story cards
D: Comic book book report
E: Making minicomics



Praise for Drawing Words and Writing Pictures

"A gold mine of essential information for every aspiring comics artist. Highly recommended."—Scott McCloud

"Smartly designed and easy to understand, Abel and Madden's text is an edifying course in creating comics. Comprised of 15 comprehensive lessons, readers are taught the basic elements necessary to conceptualize and produce their own comics. Assuming an audience range from individuals to a group, this pedagogical survey is written to serve a wide array of learners. The authors suggest everything from preferred brands of supplies to types of stretches to alleviate strain. Extensive backmatter, including helpful appendices on such topics as homework critiques, and a considerable bibliography round out the volume. This erudite study should leave its readers with a greater understanding and appreciation of the command one must possess to create graphic media. A valuable resource for all interested in the field and a natural companion to Scott McCloud's quintessential texts Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics."—Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Jessica Abel and Matt Madden

Drawing Words and Writing Pictures was created by comics superstars Jessica Abel and Matt Madden and based on their classes at the School of Visual Arts. Editors of the Best American Comics series and creators of a number of groundbreaking graphic novels including 99 Ways to Tell a Story (by Matt Madden) and La Perdida (by Jessica Abel), Abel and Madden are always at the forefront of the comics industry.