How to Draw & Sell Comic Strips for Newspapers & Comic Books

By | Tuesday, January 17, 2023 Leave a Comment
One of the first books about cartooning that I ever got was Alan McKenzie's How to Draw & Sell Comic Strips for Newspapers & Comic Books! I think I got it new back in 1987. I had books previously on the illustation end of making comics, but never one that really got into production and salesmanship.

I recall reading it as a kid and being struck by two main things. First, despite "Comic Strips" being the largest words on the cover, there seemed to be a greater emphasis on comic books. Second, I'd never heard of the author in any capacity. (I was 15 at the time and anything beyond my personal experience was effectively non-existent.) While I didn't dismiss him entirely, I do remember thinking of the "those who can't do, teach" line.

Looking back at the book now, I can see that it was doing things few others were doing at the time. While there was some basics about art, McKenzie wasn't trying to compete with other books on illustration. It's not a book for learning how to draw in perspective, or how lighting and shadows work. It's a book that provides a wing-to-wing approach to making comics. By which I mean that covers not only the creative parts of comics, but also the business of comics. It's not completely comprehensive, but it goes over a lot of ground in 144 pages.

Of course, I'm also now more familiar with McKenzie's work as a professional. He never rose to the prominence of a Dave Gibbons or Mark Millar, obviously, but he had a solid career, beginning in the late 1970s and running up through the mid-1990s when he largely moved away from comics. He had more than enough professional chops to tackle this book in 1987.

And as I was also largely unfamiliar with comics outside the United States back in the day, the title does make a little more sense now. While fairly uncommon here, the anthology format which might use several comic strips in a single book is more widely known in Europe. At the time, "strips" to me meant newspapers because "comic books" were all about superheroes. Despite McKenzie covering what comics look like internationally in his book! (I might add that, in retrospect, this was immensely useful as any discussion of comics among American audiences focused exclusively on American comics at the time.)

The basics which McKenzie covers are still valid today. Obviously, though, much of the production and business portions are wildly out of date in my copy as it predates pretty much digital anything. I understand that a second edition was produced in 1997 and a third edition in 2005. I don't know precisely what was updated or how, but there's a large enough chunk of time between each edition that I would think they would almost have to be three entirely different books.

By the time I read this, I was already familiar with the basics of art that McKenzie had outlined. Not that I had mastered any of them, but I knew what he was presenting in the book. But what I got out of it was an understanding and appreciation of comics beyond what I saw in the my local comic shops, as well as a better understanding and apprecation of what happens on the business and production end of comics. I half wonder if the breadth of my interest in comics today started back in 1987 when I first saw how much more there were to comics than the completed strips and books I read.
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