Visual Storytelling: The Art And Technique by Tony C. Caputo, Harlen Ellison and Jim Steranko (book review).

I don’t always list books I ought to read in my proper list, which runs at some 4 pages. A lot of the time, I forget the name or think my chances of coming across it are remote to none. This applies to ‘Visual Storytelling: The Art and Technique’ by Tony C. Caputo, Harlen Ellison, and Jim Steranko. It came out 21 years ago, and I was up to my eyeballs being a caregiver and lacking funds, so I forgot all about Observing a high-priced limited edition prompted me to search for a more affordable version. Fortunately, I found a reasonably priced autographed limited edition on the auction site, numbering 482 out of 1000. re. There are other copies out there, so you should be lucky.

There aren’t many books available that explore comicbook continuity, and even fewer that concentrate on superheroes. This book doesn’t even mention comics until a few pages in. Jim Steranko uses continuity art in many fields, from advertising to storyboarding for films, and he is/was well-paid for this occupation.

Harlen Ellison’s contribution is mostly an extended introduction explaining how to write a film script, some of which I know from his previous interviews, as well as the one harsh lesson he learned about not dialoguing in large paragraphs. He draws strong parallels between dialoguing in comic books and having a strong visual sense, but I’m curious about his thoughts on Alan Moore’s detailing when he shows samples of his work, beyond just acknowledging the occasional exception to the rules. In many respects, the same also applies to short story writing, where the art is to trim the fat and get on with telling the story, even if I do drop it down to one orator for long events in my own short stories sometimes.

Not only is Andrew Loomis’ book, ‘Figure Drawing for All It’s Worth’ acknowledged as the first on the subject, but it also includes several of his examples. If you’ve ever had problems getting the differences between children and adults sorted out in your head when drawing, his book really is the place to start. If you really want to improve your drawing skills, Andy Loomis books are still the best choice for practically everything to do with art.

This book primarily focuses on enhancing the visual storytelling technique, exploring strategies for conveying information without the use of dialogue. Steranko even highlights and illustrates a few pages from ‘Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ that do not use dialogue, even when he had to threaten Sol Brodsky, who was refusing to pay for a text-free version. It’s still important to know when to use dialogue and when not to, as it can potentially distract from the ongoing events.

It’s impossible to ignore the parallels to film, and comic books must, in many ways, compress events differently while still guiding the reader from panel to panel without losing continuity due to errors.

I had to seriously consider anything that wasn’t covered. I believe we could have developed the concept of panels within a panel further than we did.

You also get to see artwork from various artists broken down by technique. When Steranko discusses continuity art and how his style adapts to the needs of a story and its depiction, he clearly dominates.

Oddly, the comic book profession doesn’t have many books discussing continuity techniques. Off the top of my head, I can think of only three. Much of the rest came from TwoMorrows magazines, such as ‘Draw It!’. This one is by far the most technical I’ve read, and it covers more than comic books. It’s also a good reminder for a commercial illustrator that there are always other opportunities out there.

If you’re seriously interested in improving your art technique or understanding of telling a story, then it’s worth getting a copy if you can find one.

GF Willmetts

April 2024

(pub: Vanguard Productions/Watson-Guptill Publications, 2003. 192 pages + 18 page supplement in limited edition. Price: really varies so shop around. ISBN: ??)


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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