Review: Mangaka America

Mangaka America
Edited by Tania del Rio and Will Staehle
Rated Teen +
Collins Design, $24.95

Mangaka America is unusual not in that it sets out to be both an art book and an art instruction book but that it succeeds at both. If you’re interested in making manga, there’s some solid advice in there, and if you aren’t, it’s still a beautiful book and a satisfying read.

Whether or not you think “American mangaka” is a contradiction in terms, the concept behind this book makes sense. The artists profiled here share a common language and outlook, despite a huge variation in style. Everyone had an answer to the question “Gundam or Evas?” and everyone could describe their first exposure to manga and anime. Call them what you will, these are all artists who are influenced by Japanese comics, although that interest takes them in a number of different directions.

And they are producing fresh and interesting work: Amy Kim Ganter’s Sorcerers and Secretaries, Svetlana Chmakova’s Dramacon, Rivkah’s Steady Beat, Felipe Smith’s MBQ, Christy Lijewski’s Re:Play. The list skews heavily toward Tokyopop, which is no surprise given Tokyopop’s investment in global manga. Still, it would have been nice to see more variety—perhaps someone from Seven Seas.

The book kicks off with a somewhat rambling introduction by Adam Warren, followed by an essay by Del Rio that tackles the question of global manga head-on. Each of the 12 artists is introduced with several pages of individual pieces accompanied by an interview. Then most of them describe how they handle a single aspect of the creative process, from initial concepts to using screentones. Most of these will appeal to the casual reader as much as the aspiring artist. Even if you’re never going to draw a comic, Lijewski’s tutorial on character design makes entertaining reading: She shows how identical twins can be made to look totally different by varying their clothing, hair, and gestures. It’s classic show-don’t-tell material, and I wish she had thrown in a few more pictures and a bit less text. Felipe Smith turned his tutorial on expressions into a comic that provides a wealth of visuals for artists to study and readers to enjoy. And even though I never read mecha, I was intrigued by Jesse Philips’ explanation of how he creates new robots.

My one complaint about the tutorials is that some of the detailed computer step-by-steps are going to be obsolete very soon (if they are not already). These are definitely written with the practicing artist in mind and the casual reader would be tempted to skip them. On the other hand, many of the tips are useful for any artist at any time. If I were still drawing, I would rip out Rivkah’s inking tips and tape them to my drawing board.

What really makes this book is the production quality. With a few exceptions, the art is sharp and clear and the colors are fully saturated. The designer made good use of background color and bleeds as well, so that the book has a luxurious feel to it. A heavy soft cover with French flaps wraps up the package neatly.

With high production values, a variety of comics art, and interesting commentary from exciting young artists, Mangaka America is a solid book for fans and aspiring artists alike.

Full disclosure: This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. Also, Tania del Rio drew a caricature that I use as my avatar on Digital Strips. If you think I’d sell out for that, you haven’t been paying attention. I have a MFA in studio art and I spent a year of my life editing full-color art instruction books, so I know this topic cold. This book rocks.

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  1. […] Brigid Alverson reviews American Mangaka, a book about Western manga artists and the techniques they use to craft their work. […]