The Monster Book of Manga: Steampunk
Edited by Jorge Balaguer
HarperCollins has been putting out these nicely produced manga-characters books for years, now, and they keep coming up with new subjects and genres.
Like all the Monster Books of Manga, this book focuses on one thing: Character design. If you’re interested in the basics of anatomy, draftsmanship, and storytelling, this is not the book for you. That said, it may be helpful for the artist who has mastered the basics and is ready to develop some new characters. It’s not so much a how-to book as a collection of examples, though. Balaguer has designed 39 different characters, from a robot to a firefighter to a Victorian lady, and he has given each of them a name and a paragraph of background information. There’s a lot of story in these little paragraphs, and he clearly has a lively imagination, but there’s no information on how to grow your own.
Balaguer takes us through seven steps for each character, from stick figure to finished drawing. Unfortunately, his step-by-step instructions suffer from a common problem: The distance between step 1, a stick figure, and step 2, a fleshed-out drawing of a realistic looking person, is vast. To the beginner, it’s like magic. Everything after that is basically finish—inking, shading, coloring, and adding rivets. Getting from a few sketched lines and circles to something that looks like an actual figure is the hard part—and this book is no help. (The solution is to spend a lot of time drawing from live models, but a book won’t help you there.)
Furthermore, for a book that’s supposed to be about steampunk, there’s precious little talk of how the characters are designed from the inside out, nor is there any attempt to make them seem logical. There’s more to steampunk than drawing rivets on every surface, but you won’t learn that here. Not only that, the rivets don’t even make sense—in some of the figures they not only don’t fasten anything, they would actually get in the way.
While these factors limit its usefulness, this book may provide a helpful toolbox for artists who are interested in the elements of different characters, or the details of how to ink, shade, and color different types of steampunk characters—and it’s certainly enjoyable to browse through it and see the different characters Balaguer has created.