Review: Making Comics

We bought Making Comics for our son upon recommendation from The Geek Dads. It was a Christmas gift for him.

The book is written by Scott McCloud. I was previously unaware of him. Apparently he has been a long time guru in the comics industry. He has two other books out, Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics. Those two seem to have been big successes. If they are anything like Making Comics, I understand why.

I am not an expert on comics theory or philosophy, but I will say that McCloud is a genius. His ability to explain the philosophy of comics in such a basic way is incredible. This is not a book about how to draw, but it is a book about drawing comics. He also deals with lettering philosophy and finding your own genre and niche.

He boils down for the reader what makes a comic readable and why things are done in the way they are. He points out some sacred cows–one of which he calls “flow”–but then also tells you how to go against the norm to find your own style in other aspects.

He gives many examples and is very encouraging for the new comics artist/writer. He shows that there are many styles out there that have been successful, but then he also points out why they are successful. It is not just one style of art that will make a comic be accepted. Nor is it one type of story. There are many factors involved and he tries to point those out. But, he also admits that there is no magic formula. Some of it is just trial and error.

I was disappointed by one thing in the book. There are some language and pictures that just are not appropriate for a 10 year old. I am disgusted with myself for assuming the book was written for all ages. It is not. I took Geek Dad’s recommendation with the thinking that it would be good for children since that is the tone of their blog and podcast. I did not have a Sharpie(tm) handy when I read the book the first time. I guess that means I have to read it again with Sharpie or white out in hand.

I understood the book as a whole. But I am not sure I completely got my head around Chapter 6 Section 3: Understanding Comics Culture. Maybe the second time through it will make more sense to me.

I really did buy this book for my son. He has read it twice or three times in the two weeks we have had it. But it was a good read for me as well. I have no interest in becoming a comics artist, but I am a communicator. I love reading books on communication and particularly philosophy of communication. This book was right up my alley. The subtitle is: Storytelling secrets of comics, manga, and graphic novels. It really is all about how to communicate a story from one person to another.

Absolutely highly recommended. If you have younger children, maybe below the age of 14, then you may want to read through the book first to make sure it is acceptable. If not, there are only a few places where the pen of censorship needs to be applied.

Making Comics: Storytelling Secrets of Comics, Manga and Graphic Novels, Scott McCloud, Harper, 2006, 264 pages.

Review: The War of the Worlds

There are some authors that I just want to like, but can’t really get into. H. G. Wells is one of them. I think the first book I read of his was The Time Machine. I don’t know if I finished that one. I think I may have finished The Invisible Man. I know I did not make it through The Island of Doctor Moreau.

I have finally thrown in the towel on The War of the Worlds. I am not giving up easily, I made it 150 pages into the book. It is a book that I really wanted to like.

I torture myself with some books just because they are supposed to be classics and “must read” material.

As much as I did not like the content, I do have to say that it is well written. Or, at least I think it is. He does a good job of writing, but there are two things I don’t like about it. I am more of a Jules Verne type of fiction reader. Wheres Verne tries to explain in detail why something works the way it does (even though you know it can’t), Wells requires you to make assumptions and just accept that what he says is true. I realize that approach is the norm in fiction, and particularly science fiction, but that is probably the reason I dislike fiction. Even if something is not true, I like to read a book that tries to convince me it is.

The second thing I don’t like about Wells’ style is very typical of books from his time period and before. There is an assumption that I have nothing better to do with my time than read their words. These stories move too slowly. I would prefer the comic book version: more pictures, fewer words. I don’t mind reading big books (though the shorter the better), but I want to get to the point of the story quickly. Or at least keep moving along.

While I can accept the assumption that Martians have invaded the earth, I need a bit more convincing that the slugs which are trapped from the first landing become a major force in the world in just a few hours. They were all but dead upon landing.

The kicker was when I got to the end of the story and he says “Oh, here is the second part of the book. I told you what happened to my brother and how the story ended, now I will tell you what happened to me.” Huh? If I know how it ends, why would I keep reading? I didn’t.

This is not really a fair review since it is pretty obvious I am not a fiction reader. However, this book would certainly not make me want to become one.

Wells, I am sorry, but you are just not for me.

The War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells, NYRB publishers, 250 pages.

Here is the MP3 of the Orson Welles audio version.

Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I have not been a fan of Roald Dahl since I read James and the Giant Peach. I don’t remember all the details, but I do remember that he was very disrespectful to authority and James, the main character, ran over an aunt or grandmother with the peach and killed her. It was a happy occasion in the book. Something did not sit well with me on that one.

But, I was going through my son’s bookshelf the other day and saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I had never read it.

Surprisingly the movie Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory is very close to the text of the book. Some of the dialog is different, but the events are similar. There are only three glaring differences between the book and the movie (that I can remember). I have not seen the movie in maybe 20 years, so I may not remember too well.

The differences are that the spoiled girl in the book is taken out by squirrels, where in the movie she is done in by geese. Charlie and Grandpa Joe do not get involved with the bubbly stuff that makes them stick to the ceiling in the book. The movie makes a whole scene of this, the book just mentions the substance. The third difference is just the way the story culminates. It ends more abruptly in the movie version than it does in the book. Also there is a bit of a twist in the movie that is just a straightforward set of events in the book.

I thought it was certainly well written. It held my interest better than most books. I can see why it is popular among young teens. My son (9 years old for 1 more week) would love the humor and naughtiness of the children. Though Dahl is still disrespectful to others, it is more on a peer level instead of children to adults. Where there is disrespect to authority, the offender is reprimanded or punished. In James and the Giant Peach the disrespect is applauded.

I cannot recommend James and the Giant Peach to a child for reading, but Charlie and the Chocolate Factory seems harmless enough.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dhal, (the one I have) Bantam Books, 1984, 160 pages.

Review: William Carey: Obliged to Go

In their book William Carey: Obliged to Go, authors Janet and Geoff Benge tell of the hardships and victories in the life and ministry of the Father of Modern Missions, William Carey.

While reading this book it gave some great background to many stories about his life that I had only heard referenced before, but had not heard the whole story. For example, many people have heard of the saying that the people in the supporting churches “hold the ropes” for the missionary on the field, but probably did not know that this comes from an event in Carey’s life (pgs. 68, 69). Also Carey’s famous saying, “Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.”, comes from a meeting he had with other ministers who were content to let God do His own work (pg. 63).

He really endured some hard times as a young man. It almost seemed that he was not able to get ahead of tragedy and hardship until later in life. But he never quit. This book is written very positively in the way he handled problems. I have never read his journals, but I am sure he struggled at times with what was going on around him. This book also does not point out some of the failings he apparently had as a father. I have read in other places some harsh criticism about Carey in the way he treated his family. I think it is easier to criticize the actions of people without understanding the times in which they lived.

Like other books in this series, I think the point is to give a general overview of the events in the subject’s life and not get too detailed in reasonings behind why a person made the decisions they did. I also feel that the target audience of these books is for a younger teenage audience as opposed to historians wanting full details of the life of the subject.

Unlike their book about David Livingstone, this one did not seem to flow into a nice easy time line and event structure throughout his life. I think that was more due to the way things worked in the lives of these two men, not necessarily a fault of the writers.

I have friends who have several books in this series and I am very excited about reading each one that I can. If you are interested in Christian missionaries then you will not be disappointed by reading other books in the Christian Heroes: Then & Now series.

William Carey: Obliged to Go, Janet and Geoff Benge, YWAM Publishing, 1998, 211 pages.

Review: Shoot For The Star

Shoot for the Star is the autobiography of the inspirational speaker and Dallas Cowboys football player Bill Bates. This is not a new book. It was written just after winning his team’s second trip to the Super Bowl. Bates went on to play four more years and win one more Super Bowl ring.

Unlike some of the other sports biographies I have read recently (Armstrong, Runyan) this one did not have a universal theme of overcoming incredible odds to be in the position he was in. Therefore, you really have to be a football fan, or particularly a Cowboys fan, to really enjoy this book. Fortunately for me, I am a Cowboys fan and my years of greatest interest in football were from 1984 to 1998. Bates played from 1983 to 1997. Not knowing it at the time, I basically watched Bill Bates his whole career.

The great odds that Bates did have to struggle with are the types of things that makes him a good motivational speaker today. His biggest struggle was that he was an average guy trying to make it in a game that favored the exceptional. At 6’1″ he was not overly large. I don’t know what weight he finished his career at, but at one point in the book he talked about only weighing 183 pounds. That is not very large when facing guys like Herschel Walker’s 6’1″ / 225 pounds. Bates never had a multi season contract (at least through the writing of the book) that guaranteed him a spot on the team. Each year in training camp he had to fight 150+ other men for one of the coveted 47-53 slots on the team roster.

Bill Bates is an example of your average person who wants to go out and leave a mark on the world. He shows that through hard work and tenacity a person can often beat out more talented and naturally gifted people to achieve what they desire.

This book was definitely written with the football fan in mind. It was nice to be able to read a book that did not feel like it had to explain every position on the field and what all the terms mean. That said, this is not a book that would be very interesting to someone who only has a casual knowledge of the sport.

There were just enough stats and records mentioned in the book to keep a fan intrigued without overwhelming someone with too much information.

Some of the stories he tells are incredibly hilarious. Many of the anecdotes I had to share with my wife. We laugh at some of the great antics that went on in the delivery rooms for our children. It is fun to read stories of other people’s experiences that are just as hilarious. Just imagine this: 25 people in a stressful delivery room to deliver a set of very pre-mature triplets and in the middle of them all is an excited first time, football-playing dad calling a huddle with the doctors and nurses so he can give a pep rally speech moments before delivery!

The stories from the field were especially interesting to me because many of the plays that he recounts in the book were plays I remember seeing while glued to the TV on a Sunday afternoon.

Great book for the football fan that is looking for some motivation. Probably not a book that would interest my mom. However, unlike many biographies today, this one was completely devoid of cursing and I don’t feel I missed any of the emotion shared between the players. My hat’s off to an author who manages to keep it clean.

Shoot for the Star, Bill Bates, Word Publishing, 1994, 238 pages.