Manga making... for writers

You may be wondering why this post is not on Friday, for illustrators. Well, it's because this post is about writing... but with pictures. As it turns out, even a writer who 'can't draw' can learn a lot about storytelling from doing it with pictures. And I should know! I can't-draw with the best of them–
I doodled my way through junior high school and many, many boring meetings and church services, but I never got good enough to do anything well. Maybe eyes.

Meanwhile, like every other child of the 1960s, I read comic books by the score. Spiderman, X-Men, and all the Classics Illustrated, an American series that took books like Ivanhoe and Reign of Terror (about a young Englishman during the French Revolution) and turned them into comic books. I read the real books afterwards–they became approachable.

As it turns out, even a writer who 'can't draw' can learn a lot about storytelling from doing it with pictures.
The first time it occurred to me that 'comics' could be real literature, though, was when I read Maus, by Art Spiegelman. If you've never read it, prepare to have your heart broken. 
Maus is told in the words of the New York artist's father, a Polish survivor of Auschwitz
The possibilities of graphic novels and the popularity of mangas just seem to be expanding at the speed of light these days. I attended a panel about writing comics at a SCBWI conference. It's a growing market, and not just for small children any more. One of the stories I am kicking around (about Lord Shaftesbury*, a real-life hero of mine) lent itself to the idea of a graphic novel. About a year ago, inspired partly by Candy Gourlay's post about an inspirational course she took about writing mangas, or graphic novels, I signed up for a course at the Prince's Drawing School with Emily Haworth-Booth. Would a confirmed non-illustrator get anything out of it at all? 

It turns out that Emily is a truly inspiring teacher. (I hadn't even realised she was the same teacher Candy was writing about!) In her class, I learned how any of us can express emotion through drawing, even with stick figures. She had us keep a daily drawing diary, which gave a new meaning to that old expression, "Not a day without a line" (I had always thought it meant writing!). 

Drawings could make what might seem a banal incident into something profound.

We read each other's sketch diaries, fascinated by how drawings could make what might seem a banal incident into something profound. We read graphic novels, and used photos and family stories to think of short comics to sketch out on paper. Drawing instead of writing pulled up new memories of things I had long forgotten, and was mind-blowing. 
One of the most interesting exercises for me was when Emily had us sketch a three-panel scene and then stre-e-e-tch it out to nine panels. That is when it struck me that graphic novels, like screenplays, have their own literary vocabulary. Each can express some things better than any other form. 
Emily shows you how she begins a project.
[Click to enlarge]
Another thing we did is cut up pieces of paper and sketch a panel on each one– then rearrange them to make the story completely different.  

In all the stories was an immediacy that came from 'showing, not telling'.

It was illuminating to see the other students' stories emerge in their drawings. Some of them drew even worse than I did; others were art school graduates. But in all the stories was an immediacy that came from their "showing, not telling" what was happening.

I don't know if I'll ever do a graphic novel–but as a writer, I will always be grateful to Emily for opening my eyes to a different way of seeing the world.

Allison Friebertshauser on how to doodle your character into life
[Click to enlarge]
Emily Haworth-Booth is a comics artist who won the Observer/ Comica/ Jonathan Cape Graphic Short Story Prize in 2013, was runner up of the same prize in 2008 and a finalist in the 2007 Nivea Funny Women Awards. Her comics have been published in the Observer, Miss Vogue, and the Guardian online. Emily is currently drawing a graphic novel about her quest for good health and is represented by the literary agency Johnson & Alcock. She teaches the Drawing the Graphic Novel courses at the Royal Drawing School (formerly the Prince's Drawing School), and has run workshops nationwide at venues including the Saatchi Gallery, Hay Festival, UCL and St George’s Hospital. Website: 
Allison is a YA writer, illustrator, and recreational historian. 
Allison's website 
Julie Sullivan is a longtime doodler and wishes she could draw like Emily, AllisonCandyBridget, Amanda, John, and the other talented illustrators she knows!

*After a miserable childhood, even though he was heir to an earl, Anthony Ashley Cooper (Lord Shaftesbury) spent the rest of his life working to end child labour and help the mentally ill. "No man has ever done more to lessen the extent of human misery or to add to the sum total of human happiness."


  1. Great and inspiring post, for illustrators as well as writers! We (illustrators that is) often have the opposite problem, of turning our pictures into stories!

  2. Truly fascinating feature, Julie - I particularly like the idea of using small pieces of movable paper to find the story. But also the sense that you can dig deeper, uncover stuff that words perhaps might miss. Thank you!

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