Friday, September 12, 2014

Words for Pictures by Brian Michael Bendis

Given solid encouragement and a template I can make a pretty darn good smiley face. Needless to say, I don’t call myself an artist and have never produced either a comic or graphic novel. However, I have a lot of respect for those who do. Fortunately, Words for Pictures is not a how-to-color book. Unusual in its approach, it explores the business end of both comics and graphic novels. They are odd art forms. Sometimes the writer/illustrator is the same person, sometimes not. The writer’s work is more reminiscent of a script. The artist’s work is similar to that of an action movie director. While a fiction writer writes for a faceless unseen audience, the comic book writer works for a single person—the artist. If the writer doesn’t tell a good story, illustrations won’t save it. If the artist can’t generate the right level of excitement, the story falls flat. Each contributes equally. It is a unique collaborative effort not seen in other types of fiction.

There’s a lot of ground to cover and Words for Pictures does a good job of briefly outlining the pitfalls facing a budding comic book writer or illustrator. Wiggling free from a straitjacket while bound with chains and trapped under an ice floe is a snap compared to breaking into any form of publishing. The odds are stacked against you from the get-go. Bendis is one of the big dogs in the comic world and much of the advice is applicable not just for his field, but others such as fiction or screenplays.

Problems
Even though this book purports to approach comics from the business instead of the design end, there is only one chapter devoted solely to nuts and bolts practical advice. That chapter is written by his wife and business manager and reads too light. Other chapters are interviews with different comic book writers and artists. Unfortunately, just because someone can write or illustrate a good piece of fiction, doesn’t mean they can translate that skill into words or provide cogent observations. While Bendis’ work is readable and insightful, some of the interviewees come across as ‘Yo, dude, chillax. Let the creative juices flow and, like, good stuff will happen. Dig?’ Not really, bro, but your artwork is cool.

Who’d like it
Despite the problems, the book has a lot to offer. The pages are filled with dynamite illustrations and Bendis gives an insightful, although brief, overview of the business. He is an enthusiastic and engaging writer with a cheerleader’s ‘you can do it’ attitude. Sometimes that’s all a budding writer or artist needs to get started. While the average comic book fan might have no interest in this book, I’d recommend it for anyone who enjoys comics or graphic novels as art forms, or anyone with the desire to create either one.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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