ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

Universities teach all kinds of writing, technical, science, creative fiction, now there's a textbook for another kind of literature, comics, really. It's called "Drawing Words and Writing Pictures: A Definitive Course from Concept to Comic in 15 Lessons." Jessica Abel and Matt Madden are the cartoonists who wrote the new textbook.

They join me from WBEZ in Chicago. Thanks very much for coming in. Hi.

Ms. JESSICA ABEL (Cartoonist; Author, "Drawing Words and Writing Pictures: A Definitive Course from Concept to Comic in 15 Lessons"): Hi.

Mr. MATT MADDEN (Cartoonist; Author, "Drawing Words and Writing Pictures: A Definitive Course from Concept to Comic in 15 Lessons"): Hi.

SEABROOK: So a textbook for comics?

Mr. MADDEN: That's right.

Ms. ABEL: Absolutely.

SEABROOK: Why did you write it?

Ms. ABEL: Well, we've been teaching comics for seven years and we've gone through several sort of iterations, generations of students and a lot of the stuff that's in the textbook comes out of our teaching and it also comes out of an understanding and awareness as we've been around the country, doing talks about various comics that we've done, that there's just a real hunger for information about comics and how do you make comics.

They're very complicated, you know, it's very difficult to do. It's not just something you can sit down and figure out intuitively very quickly. I mean you can do it, but it takes a long time.

Mr. MADDEN: That's how Jessica and I learned, was the very - and the way most cartoonists do learn and probably many will continue to learn is this very slow catch as catch can process of picking things up piecemeal and learning through trial and error. So we're trying to speed that process up a little bit.

SEABROOK: Yeah, my very first thought was, oh, I can't draw so I'm not going to be any good at making a comic, but -

Mr. MADDEN: Then I hope you turn to page six.

SEABROOK: I did.

Ms. ABEL: Page nine.

Mr. MADDEN: Page nine.

SEABROOK: Page nine. I opened the book and can't draw? Read this. And there were several really great examples of comics that, you know, one is made entirely of little dots. And it's very effective. So I guess you don't have to draw.

Mr. MADDEN: Right. It's not to downplay the importance of art and drawing in comics is obviously, they're crucial, but it's more that there's, there's range of ways that you can approach telling stories visually. I think a lot of people are so intimidated when they see this, you know, elaborately illustrated work that they think, oh, I could never do that. But that's just one kind of comics.

SEABROOK: I love in the opening part of the book, the welcome that you guys have drawn. It shows the two of you and you're walking though a series of panels as the characters that will appear later in the book are preparing to come onto the stage. So you've got this guy, Nate, it was you, Matt Madden saying, mate, you're on in about ten pages. And he's stretching, limbering up.

Mr. MADDEN: Right.

SEABROOK: To get ready to come into the book. But what occurred to me while I was looking at the book and looking at this series of panels is that there's timing in comics, isn't there?

Mr. MADDEN: Oh sure. Yeah, yeah.

Ms. ABEL: Oh, absolutely, yeah.

Mr. MADDEN: Yeah, a lot of it is about pacing and rhythm.

Ms. ABEL: If you look at the intro comic, for example, you'll see that the first panel is quite quick and it's - we just say who we are, hi, I'm Jessica, and I'm Matt. And then the next panel is a little bit wider and that's where you see Nate on a floor stretching out. And that gives you a little bit of pause and there's another panel, it's a little bit narrower and there's a giant whoosh and a bunch of motion lines coming down, which you read quite quickly. It points at the next panel where the character who is whishing by has landed.

SEABROOK: There are all these other little lines and squiggles and you know, like when a character has, like, little sweat beads kind of jumping off their heads.

Mr. MADDEN: Right.

SEABROOK: Or like a scribble, a squiggle over their heads to show that they're kind of like annoyed or put out.

Mr. MADDEN: Right.

SEABROOK: What are those?

Mr. MADDEN: We actually have a name for those which we borrowed from the cartoonist Mort Walker, the guy who did Beetle Bailey. And he coined the term emanata; things that emanate. And he meant it very tongue and cheek. And in fact he went through and catalogued all of these things. So the flying sweat beads are known a plewds; P-L-E-W-D-S, plewds.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ABEL: Which is not to say we actually, we don't call them plewds, but…

Mr. MADDEN: Right. So he actually classified them all and he has an extensive list of names like briffits or speed lines. I forget what they're, you know, all kinds of silly names. So we didn't take the whole hog like that, but the notion of having a term to describe these kind of emotional markers in comics if very useful. Because they are - they're part of the comics language and something that's very unique to comics.

Ms. ABEL: They're non-literal pictorial elements that express something narrative.

Mr. MADDEN: Yeah. Right. And you know, very often they're thought of as a very silly kind of thing. The same way the pow sound effects are. But in the right hands and with, like, a little bit of thought about them, they can also be very subtle storytelling tools. It's a matter of finding a range of things that you can do with these narrative tools that comics use.

SEABROOK: You guys are pretty serious about the funny pages.

Mr. MADDEN: Yeah.

Ms. ABEL: Yeah, well if you've ever read our comics they're pretty serious too, actually, I have to say. But we don't mean to take all the fun out of this. And I really think that actually this doesn't take all the fun out of it. If you're into comics and you're drawing stuff, even though we're treating it in a very serious way, you know, many of our students use all of these tools to do really funny stuff.

SEABROOK: Jessica Abel and Matt Madden are co-authors of the new comic textbook, "Drawing Words and Writing Pictures: A Definitive Course from Concept to Comic in 15 Lessons." Thanks so much.

Mr. MADDEN: Thanks a lot.

Ms. ABEL: Thanks a lot.

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