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Review: How to Pen & Ink: The Manga Start-Up Guide

Manga is an art and like any art form it requires practice and guidance. Although I am not someone who draws, I enjoy reading books about how to acquire the needed skills to become a comic artist. It’s always a topic that was in demand among the manga fans at my library, many of whom dreamed of becoming manga artists themselves.

How to Pen & Ink: The Manga Start-Up Guide
Ages: 16+, Grades: 11-adult
Digital Manga, 2006, ISBN 9781569709177
124 pages, $19.95

Those who have worked their way through basic “how to draw” books and easier guides to creating comics are probably looking for a more in-depth instructional manual. Digital Manga’s How to Pen & Ink is certainly in-depth, though it narrows its focus almost exclusively onto the skills of inking a comic, so readers are expected to have a foundation of drawing skills, knowledge of basic art terms (perspective, etc.), and an understanding of how manga works. Readers that have that will find How to Pen & Ink a useful tool.

The book starts with a close up examination of how manga artists Oh!Great (Tenjo Tenge), Satoshi Shiki (Kami-Kaze), and Yasuhiro Nightow (Trigun) build a scene. In addition to photographic guides, the manual also interviews all three about the tools they use, their drawing process, how they get ideas, etc. Following that are three especially useful sections. The first talks about the process of moving from drawing doodles to creating characters to building scenes for those characters. The second focuses more in depth on the creation of manga and how to fix problems like drawing hair, finding the right pen tip, and creating backgrounds. The third section is all about learning how to ink. It gives readers a four week process for becoming comfortable with using a pen and ink. The last section of the book is a survey of manga artists, asking them which tools they prefer. This is the only section that isn’t as useful to Western teens reading today, as the survey was taken in 1998.

But even though How to Pen & Ink is a little older, there are still a lot of useful tips for the dedicated art student. The internet will help them with acquiring any supplies that they cannot easily find in their local art store and many of the tips offered—especially the ones regarding the need for hard work and dedication—are timeless. (Librarians and teachers should be aware that some of the featured creators, especially Oh!Great, draw for a mature audience, so there are naked breasts in several of the drawings.) Pair this with How to Draw Shojo Manga and Bakuman for the older teen reader who is serious about becoming a comic artist.

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Digital Manga Publishing.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.


  1. I own this book. It is a very handy resource!

    • Snow Wildsmith says:

      Good to know, Nathan! I’m glad it is useful to a working (and talented, if I may suck up) artist.

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