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99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style Paperback – October 25, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Retelling the same one-page comic 99 different ways sounds boring, but Madden, a leading proponent of the value of formalist exercises, demonstrates how well boundaries can drive creativity, inspired by the similar work of Raymond Queneau. A new discovery awaits the reader on every page. The basic scene is a nonstory about a man who forgets why he's looking in the refrigerator. In the variations, new elements are introduced and removed: different characters, more panels, fewer closeups, flashbacks, text-only or a focus on sound or color effects. Madden acknowledges the history of the medium with allusions to various genres and characters (including the Yellow Kid, Krazy Kat and Winsor McCay's Rarebit Fiend). Favorites include a how-to on building a comic, a palindromic story that reads the same backward and forward, and a calligram (with text formed into a question mark shape). The book's format is ideal, with each page of comics facing a small identifying label, so approaches don't compete with each other, yet pages placed in sequence add up to another narrative. Anyone interested in comics or storytelling will learn much about the interaction between format and content through comparison of Madden's many ingenious approaches. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

In 1947 erstwhile literary surrealist Raymond Queneau published what has been called his best, most characteristic book, Les exercices de style. In it the same tiny scenario is written in 99 different ways: once in each verb tense, as a sonnet, in free verse, as a telegram, and so on. Madden works similar magic in his own medium: comics. The "story": Madden closes a laptop, walks toward a refrigerator. From upstairs, his wife asks the time. He tells her and opens the fridge. But he can't remember what he meant to find in it. This is first unadventurously told in eight panels, using perpendicular perspective and unobtrusive progressions of--analogizing to film camera placements--medium, long, and close viewpoints. The fun begins with the very next presentation, "Monologue," in which Madden, seated with coffee, recalls the action to a fixed viewpoint (like that of a stationary camera). The remaining 97 ways reconstruct and/or rearrange the visual and/or verbal components and/or meaning in a breathtaking display of imagination that is often hilarious and literally, gloriously kaleidoscopic. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Chamberlain Bros.; 1 edition (October 25, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596090782
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596090781
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #310,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Matt Madden started self-publishing minicomics while living in Ann Arbor MI in the early 90s.  In 1996 Madden began writing reviews for The Comics Journal and other publications--more recently he reviewed comics and graphic novels for Bookforum. His first graphic novel, Black Candy, was published by Black Eye Books in 1998; his second, Odds Off, was published by Highwater Books in 2001. He also translates from French and Spanish. His translation from the French of Aristophane's The Zabîme Sisters (First Second) was published in the fall of 2010.
In 2002 he was named foreign correspondent of the French avant-garde comics group, OuBaPo (the Workshop for Potential Comics). His book 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style (Penguin), a comics adaptation of Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style, which has numerous foreign editions including Japan, France, Italy, and Spain, further cemented his position as a leading figure in experimental comics.
Madden is based in Brooklyn NY with his wife, Jessica Abel, and their two children. He teaches comics at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and he collaborated with his wife on a comics textbook, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, published by First Second. The couple are also co-series editors of The Best American Comics from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Their follow-up to DW&WP, Mastering Comics, was published by First Second in the spring of 2012.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Kevin McCloskey on October 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
The illustrator James McMullan once said the search for style is a very personal thing, like deciding if one prefers to wear silk or cotton. Matt Madden tries on 99 shirts in 99 pages here and while the results vary, in toto, the book is quite astonishing. This is not a graphic novel, not even a collection of graphic stories, but a short visual sequence repeated 99 times with great inventiveness. Visual artists such as cartoonists and graphic designers may appreciate Madden's feat most, but anyone who takes delight in creativity will enjoy this. 99 Ways to Tell a Story is a remarkable demonstration of persistence of vision within self-imposed constraints.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By C Hill on February 18, 2006
Format: Paperback
I teach comic art at the California State University, Fullerton and in workshops. Matt Madden's book is the best I have found to present complex ideas quickly about form in the language of comics. "99 Ways" is a perfect tool to showcase how your visual storytelling would function if you used, say, a close-up vs. a full shot, a vertical panel vs. a horizontal one, or if you used a specific genre, such as film noir, manga, and so on. People studying comics get it right away. They appreciate the strengths and limitations of each approach and device Madden presents, and his examples make the point better than long verbal discussions! What I also found very attractive is the very reasonable price (one that most students can afford). Combine it with McCloud's "Understanding Comics" and you've got a power punch of a combination for learning and teaching comic art (these two books complement each other perfectly).
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Julie Jordan Scott on January 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
I need to preface my review with this: I am not usually

a comic-book-reader. It is not that I don't appreciate

the art form, I simply never really think about comics

nor do I consider graphic novels among my preferred


I picked it off the shelf without looking inside, I

thought, "Hmmm, perspective - let me check this out"

as I had just taught a writing workshop using different

perspectives and was astonished to find the insights,

awarenesses and "a-ha's" the exercises had upon

my students.

Well, they haven't seen anything yet in comparison to

what they will be able to connect with upon experiencing

Madden's brilliance in this simple book.

This book would be excellent for people whose job includes

telling a story - it would also serve and be beneficial

for those who are wanting to increase in problem solving

ability and think differently.

One of the intriguing bonuses is learning a lot of new

words (like "Emanata" - a purely comic book term - read

the sources in the back for a complete definition.)

As a creative person, it opens up all sorts of different

approaches, thus inspiring the reader-creative-maven to

approach their art differently....which is the

foundation of any life or artistic growth and


The first word I scribbled on my page as I was reading

this volume was "Brilliant!" and that summarizes this

book perfectly.

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Altner on November 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
I couldn't disagree more with the reviewer who dismissed this clever, funny, and insightful work as boring and unworthy. OK, it's NOT great literature and there are certainly more scholarly books out there to read if you want to work on enhancing your creativity, but let's not be snobbish about this: the book is a fast, fun read the first time through and delivers even more rewards when you go back to it. Madden is a talented cartoonist, and his purposeful imitations of the styles of other famous cartoonists is used to great effect in some of the exercises.

Did this loosen me up and make me more creative? Am I now ready to write the great American novel? Well, not yet. But it has gotten me thinking about new approaches to plotting and characterization, and I think that's the whole point. Thanks, Matt!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Fish-Hand on November 4, 2010
Format: Paperback
I like Scott McCloud's 'Making Comics' as a sort of dictionary for comic making - I use it to build a knowledge base, as well as for referencing specific methods. 'Drawing Words & Writing Pictures' is a great school course and fun to do in groups - wonderful pacing and a really fun companion to Making Comics. '99 Ways' manages to provide yet another component, when it comes to exploring where to take your ideas, to think outside the box - '99 ways to tell a story' helps you explore every possible avenue to tell your visual story. If 'Making Comics' is a dictionary, giving meaning to comics, then '99 Ways To Tell A Story' would be like a book of grammar, providing an array of formulas your story could use to speak to your reader. This book will help you avoid the obvious routes in visual story telling; A must have for any visual artist.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John M. Ford TOP 1000 REVIEWER on December 10, 2009
Format: Paperback
Author Matt Madden credits Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style as the inspiration for this collection of ninety-nine variations on the same story in one-page comic strip form. Madden presents an initial comic he calls "Template" that depicts a man working at his desk, then walking downstairs to look in the refrigerator. He then presents redrawings of this story that emphasize particular points of view, themes, artistic styles or styles of specific artists, and so on.

Some of my favorite "versions" of the story:

"Voyeur" presents each panel from a perspective outside one of the windows.

"Reframing" tells the story entirely with hands and punctuation marks.

"What Happens When the Ice Truck Comes to Hogan's Alley" pays tribute to Richard Outcault.

"A Lifetime to Get to the Refrigerator" ages the main character as he progresses through the panels.

"Actor's Studio II" has the story's character exaggerate the relevant emotion in each panel.

The story variations are interesting and clever. This book can be read for entertainment or as a stimulus for developing a less constrained writing style. It's also fun to pass around the office.
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