Pop Manga: How To Draw the Coolest, Cutest Characters, Animals, Mascots, and More. Camilla D’Errico. SF Site, 2014.

I enjoyed this how-to-book  – it is user-friendly and fun. I thought of it earlier today while drawing, incompetently but with enjoyment, with my children. Drawing, even if you aren’t any good at it, is making a comeback under the all-conquering banner of mindfulness.

Drawing, like nature and chess, is something I would have said I hardly ever wrote about, but that isn’t entirely true – see this blog post from A Medical Education, and I have also written an unpublished review of this for Childrens Books Ireland.

Pop Manga: How To Draw the Coolest, Cutest Characters, Animals, Mascots, and More.

Watching CBeebies (the BBC channel of programmes for preschool children) or similar stations, the influence of manga on contemporary children’s visual culture becomes very clear. There are some programmes with an explicit manga aesthetic. There are many more, such as Tree Fu Tom and Octonauts, in which the visual cues of manga are more hidden (large-eyed teens with spikey, action-lined hair, rotund creature caricatures of maximised cuteness) and yet pervasive. Recent Disney heroines and heroes such as those of Tangled and Frozen owe much to manga; indeed they often occupy a mid-point between classic Disney-style animation and manga style.

Camila D’Errico is a veteran manga illustrator, creator of Tanpopo who has produced, with the screenwriter Stephen W. Martin, a beautifully produced step-by-step, user-friendly guide to drawing manga characters. This is a fun, non-technical introduction that is nevertheless clear and rigorous in its instructive illustrations. A book for active learning and working through, there is a relaxed, friendly tone.

D’Errico is in the Wikipedia Category Lowbrow Pop Surrealism Artists”, though her author bio actually describes her as “a leader in the international pop surrealism movement,” and her creations are interspersed through the book (one features a lollipop-sucking pink-haired teen with an array of plush toys, including Hello Kitty, in her hair, and the following exegesis from D’Errico: “I love Hello Kitty! Love, love, love! I went to Japan by myself and I went crazy in the Hello Kitty store! Honestly, if they sold Hello Kitty toilet paper I would buy it. So you can imagine how amazed and touched I was when Sanrio bought this painting from me!”)

These paintings illustrate what is possible in manga style, but the bulk of the book guides through the more basic skills of drawing. D’Errico and Martin show the learner how to build up their skills, starting with drawing faces, with a focus on the characteristic manga eyes, and moving on to drawing human (and humanoid) forms. As in so many how-to-draw books, the key is beginning with circles, ovals, cylinders and other simple shapes, and gradually building in detail. From the human form at rest through to the human form in motion, and then we come to a chapter entitled “Turn up the Cuteness!” which, unsurprisingly, focus on mascots and chibis (the cuterrific miniaturised humans of the magna universe)

The book functions very well as a general guide to drawing, with a manga flavour. Towards the end the reader is introduced to more complex drawing projects and there is a guide to covers, style sheets and layouts. There is a brief sidebar on “breaking into the biz” but by and large this is a book focusing on the drawing.

I thought a thirty-five year old who can’t draw (that would be me) and with an unfortunate habit of spelling “manga” as “magna,” and a five-year-old who can would be a good reviewing team for the book. Did it transform my drawing from woeful to masterful? Well, no, but I could draw a recognisably human, or rather manga-humanoid, face. As for my daughter’s review, here it is verbatim:

“I love this book, it is very great, it is helping us to do designs, thank you, it is a great book.”

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