I was asked to compile a list of recommended reading for folks who want to sharpen their skills at drawing and/or storytelling, so here's a list of good stuff. I don't expect you to rush out and read ALL of these books, but hopefully at least a few of my reviews will pique your interest. Most of these books are available for under $20, and many are readily available at your local library. (Gotta run, but I'll post a PDF version of this list for my Patrons tonight!)
*HARLEY BROWN'S ETERNAL TRUTHS FOR EVERY ARTIST, by Harley Brown. I initially picked this one up at the library because the title was so self-aggrandizing that I thought it would be worth a good laugh. What I found inside blew me away. This is among the best books on picture-making I've ever encountered. Brown well understands how to adjust shapes and values in a picture to make it work, and he's able to communicate that understanding far better than most. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
*THE PRACTICE & SCIENCE OF DRAWING, by Harold Speed. This book covers both draftsmanship and composition. Speed had an especially penetrating understanding of how drawings are made. He wrote this in 1917, when drawing skill was still highly prized among academics (before the 20th Century lull, when the primacy of nonrepresentational art hampered the serious study of draftsmanship). It's a bit dry and wordy, but this book and its companion volume (the boringly-named but highly illuminating OIL PAINTING TECHNIQUES AND MATERIALS) are well worth wading through for his sharp insights about the medium.
*PROBLEM SOLVING FOR OIL PAINTERS, by Gregg Kreutz. This is ostensibly a book on oil painting, but many of its lessons are valuable to anyone who makes pictures. Kreutz presents a series of flawed paintings which he then remedies by using smart compositional techniques. Very useful for when you've drawn a picture or panel that somehow doesn't look right and requires a certain indefinable "something."
*THE SIMPLE SECRET TO BETTER PAINTING, by Greg Albert. As with the book above, don't let the word "painting" in the title repel you! Many useful lessons are missed by cartoonists because they're hidden in books with "painting" in the title. This book promises a simple secret that will improve your pictures...AND IT DELIVERS! The simple secret is to vary the sizes of the shapes in your pictures, and the distances between them. Albert devotes most of the book to various illustrations and applications of this surprisingly effective approach.
*PICTORIAL COMPOSITION AND THE CRITICAL JUDGMENT OF PICTURES, by Henry Rankin Poore. Poore wrote this in 1913, so the language is archaic, but it's rare to find such a thorough discussion of composition and how it works. As Harold Speed did in his books, Poore is grappling here with ideas that would lie fallow for decades -- ideas proceeding from the view that art is not a guessing game, and can hit precise emotional notes with increasing clarity and effectiveness. (Poore also wrote a shorter book called COMPOSITION IN ART -- which is good, too, and more accessible, but not as thorough.)
*CREATIVE ILLUSTRATION and SUCCESSFUL DRAWING, by Andrew Loomis. Loomis is well known for his exceptional art instruction books, and I'd say CREATIVE ILLUSTRATION is the best of the bunch. SO much great advice about composing and executing great pictures. If you could only read one book among all of the books on this list, this might be your best bet. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Successful Drawing is also great, but focuses mainly on perspective. An excellent collection of perspective techniques.
CARLSON'S GUIDE TO LANDSCAPE PAINTING, by John F. Carlson. Carlson was a great landscape painter and his book is full of sound advice -- not just about painting landscapes, but about picture-making in general. He writes with the comfortable grace of a teacher who's known his subject long and well. This is among those books, like Strunk & White's ELEMENTS OF STYLE, that you can dip into at random and always be rewarded. Even when his advice doesn't apply to your current project, the thoughtful authority of a master at home with his subject is always enriching.
*DRAWING ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BRAIN, by Betty Edwards. Edwards supports the view that the left and right hemispheres of the brain are responsible for different activities, the right side being home to the activity of making art. Whether you subscribe to that view or not, you can learn a great deal from her instruction here (as demonstrated by the many impressive "before & after" examples of her students' art). The gist of her teaching is that we must learn to ignore the symbols our minds tend to assign to objects, in order to draw them as they truly appear. This is the basis for representational drawing, and Edwards explains it well -- both the concept and practical means of achieving it.
*THE ARTIST'S COMPLETE GUIDE TO FIGURE DRAWING, by Anthony Ryder. This is more about observational drawing than anatomy. Ryder explains, better than any drawing teacher I've seen, how to faithfully observe and record your subject. The techniques here are similar to those in Edwards's book, but for advanced artists. If you're already a pretty good artist but you're having trouble accurately drawing from a photo or model, this is the book to consult. (But keep in mind that the drawings he's teaching from took 30+ hours to complete -- a luxury of time unavailable to most working artists!)
*DRAWING THE HEAD & FIGURE, by Jack Hamm (no relation to me...except as a brother in Christ!). There are lots of great anatomy books out there, but this one has my highest recommendation. It's short but comprehensive, heavily illustrated for quick and easy reference, and jam-packed with great tips and information about drawing figures and faces, clothed and unclothed. His tips about proportions are especially useful for cartoonists, who must often pose figures quickly and without reference photos.
*PERSPECTIVE MADE EASY, by Ernest Norling. There are more thorough and sophisticated books on perspective (see Loomis's SUCCESSFUL DRAWING), but this small volume covers all the techniques you're likely to need while drawing comics, and does so simply and succinctly. Easy to read and understand, and easy to return to for a refresher.
*DRAWN TO LIFE vols 1 & 2, by Walt Stanchfield. Stanfield was a mid-Century Disney animator who taught classes in life drawing to younger Disney animators. These books are a posthumous compilation of his class notes. His advice is wide-ranging, but the common theme is that you must suss out the spirit of a pose, and capture THAT -- rather than record details that reveal nothing, visible though they may be. There is, unfortunately, a lot of redundancy here; he repeats much of the same advice over and over. On the other hand, it's advice worth hearing over and over!
*THE 5 CS OF CINEMATOGRAPHY, by Joseph V. Mascelli,
*FILM DIRECTING SHOT BY SHOT, by Steven D. Katz
Cartoonists are often encouraged to make their work look more "cinematic," but few people seem able to define what that means. I think what it comes down to is that films' compositions are often more effective and sophisticated than what we see in comics. Either of these textbooks will help you close that gap in your work. (I own and enjoy both books and don't have a preference.)
*THE VISUAL STORY, by Bruce Block. The two books above are fairly basic; this one is more sophisticated. It explains how to use visual elements (spatial depth, shapes, cropping, lighting...) in a narrative to convey meaning and influence the reader's mood. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
*CINEMATIC STORYTELLING: THE 100 MOST POWERFUL FILM CONVENTIONS EVERY FILMMAKER MUST KNOW, by Jennifer Van Sijll. Similar to the book above, less in-depth, but with more emphasis on illustrative examples from great films. Well worth reading & owning.
*ON DIRECTING FILM, by David Mamet. I know it says "film," but Mamet's focus here is on the thought process by which we pick the story beats (or one might say "panels") that best convey the story we wish to tell. Invaluable insights for comic book makers -- writers and/or artists.
*THE PRINCIPLES OF ART, by R.G. Collingwood. This one is a tougher read than the others on this list (be warned!), but it's also the best discussion of what art is (and isn't) that I've ever encountered. Collingwood describes 5 different practices that are commonly called "art," but which actually have very different aims and origins. Discerning those differences is key to understanding many of the mistakes and disputes that plague students of art, and will help you understand what it is you're trying to do when you set out to create something. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
THE ART SPIRIT, by Robert Henri (HENrye). This is a random collection of advice and musings from a beloved and insightful art teacher from a century ago. Great stuff; inspiring, thought-provoking, and informative, with a lot of wisdom you won't find elsewhere.