Billed as “Everything You Need to Start Drawing Authentic Manga Figures,” Basic Anatomy for the Manga Artist helps artists apply what they learned in life drawing class to character design.
The book is divided into six sections. In the first, “Basic Head Elements,” author Christopher Hart shows readers how to draw eyes, ears, noses, and mouths, stressing the importance of correct placement and symmetry in rendering the face. The next three sections, “The Foundation of the Body,” “Topographical Anatomy,” and “Body Symmetry and Asymmetry,” focus on the skeleton and musculature, offering readers clear strategies for representing bones, tendons, and muscles in their figure drawings. The final two sections, “How Movement, Light, and Perspective Affect the Body” and “Putting It All Together,” build on insights from the earlier chapters, leading readers through the process of drawing dynamic poses and creating original character designs.
Though the book is filled with useful illustrations and helpful advice, Hart’s approach is inconsistent. In some chapters, he breaks down tasks into discrete steps, using simple shapes and guidelines to show readers how to draw a mouth in three-quarters view or render a well-toned leg. Other chapters assume more experience on the part of the reader; a novice would have a hard time re-creating some of Hart’s character designs, as even the preliminary sketches are very polished. (Hart also presumes familiarity with illustration software, instructing readers to add shading to their finished drawings without offering tips for doing so.)
The book’s other problem is in the way that it frames manga as a style, not a storytelling medium. “Basic Anatomy for Manga Artists contains instructions specifically designed for drawing idealized heads and bodies in the authentic Japanese style of manga,” Hart declares in the introduction. But what, exactly, is “the authentic Japanese style of manga”: Naruto? Fruits Basket? 20th Century Boys? Lone Wolf and Cub? Instead of defining manga as a style, it would have been more useful for Hart to show how manga artists use a common set of techniques to achieve different results; after all, Goseki Kojima used the same shortcuts for rendering faces and bodies as Hiromu Arakwa and CLAMP, a point that’s glossed over in the text.
Despite its conceptual flaws, Basic Anatomy for the Manga Artist is still a useful reference. Hart’s cutaway illustrations of the muscular and skeletal systems are particularly helpful for the artist who wants a better understanding of how the body moves. Hart also does a fine job of showing readers how to represent muscles, bones, and facial features using a few well-placed lines — an invaluable skill for any sequential artist, regardless of style.
Review copy provided by Watson-Guptill Publications.