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

3.8 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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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: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #105,534 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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

genre.

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

transformation.

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

this volume was "Brilliant!" and that summarizes this

book perfectly.

Brilliant!
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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
First you have to relearn how to read in pictures and words. Then you have to look and read 99 different but similar points of view on a single theme. Don't make the mistake of thinking it's easy or boring. You'd be wrong on both accounts.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is an imitation and homage to Raymond Queneau’s legendary Exercises in Style. Both works in turn reflect the tradition of books of etudes that teach and explore composition and keyboard techniques running from Bach at least to Shostakovich. Like Exercise in Style, 99 Ways To Tell a Story takes a very small incident: a man in what is evidently a two-story apartment leaves his workspace to go to the kitchen. He is interrupted by someone upstairs asking him what time it is. He then reaches a refrigerator and can't remember what he was looking for. This incident is depicted in 99 graphic styles ranging from highly realistic through minimalist to sumptuously drawn superheroes. I am no expert on comics, though I read some regularly, nor on graphic arts in general, but it seems to me this book would be a learning experience to anyone who considers different manners of storytelling in any medium besides being great fun.
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