by Jayden Leggett, Editor
Being a piece of software that I had been meaning to try out for a while, I jumped at the chance to have a hands on review of Smith Micro Software’s Manga Studio Debut 4. The reason I hadn’t previously purchased this program was that I have never used anything like this before besides Photoshop, and was afraid my noob status would result in me wasting my money on yet another application that boggles my mind and leaves me huddled and crying in the corner. Thankfully, this was not the case.
Differing from the Ex version, the Debut version of Manga Studio 4 is designed for beginners such as myself, hence the relatively cheap price tag. Having said that, upon first firing up the program I was somewhat bombarded with everything that appeared on-screen. After spending a few minutes screwing around and not having any clue where to begin, I went straight to the “Help” menu, where I was redirected to a page on the Smith Micro website that contained downloadable PDF manuals. These babies were lifesavers.
Thanks to the very simple beginner’s instructions that were followed with a more detailed “how to” explanation of each of the functions, the “Getting Started” guide easily allowed me to get right in to crafting my own comic masterpieces (I use the phrase “masterpiece” loosely because I am in no way a competent artist, as is evident by the various examples of my work on this very page).
On the right hand side of the screen is a window full of tabs which contain just about everything you need to start creating. A huge variety of panel numbers and shapes can be dragged across and placed on the page with ease, and further panels can be manually added wherever you desire by drawing connecting lines across existing panels.
The “Sketch” menu allows you to lay down the ground work of your designs. I liked to use a dull blue tone for my sketch colors so that I wouldn’t get confused when inking over the top of them later. Speaking of inking, a variety of brush and pen shapes can be used (the same goes for sketching), with the thickness easily adjustable, and options for how drastically the thickness changes in response to how hard you are pressing on your stylus. Which reminds me, although this probably goes without saying, use of a graphics tablet is pretty much compulsory if you want to have any success in controlling how soft or hard the brush strokes are laid out, how accurate your drawings are etc. Once you are happy with your inks and outlines, the sketches can either be manually erased or cleared all at once without affecting any of your inks.
I also had a lot of fun with exploring the various tones and effects that can be easily inserted into the drawings with the help of the magic wand tool, however use of these two features was a bit of a mixed bag. The magic wand, for example, was a bit unpredictable at first when it came to selecting specific areas of my drawings, resulting in quite a bit of trial and error until I got it right. However the more I used it the more proficient I got, developing a technique where I selected small areas and gradually added to these by holding down the shift key while adding to my selection (a technique I have my previous experience with Photoshop to thank for).
Some of the tones are quite small in scale, and when pasted into the image come up looking like repetitive wallpaper instead of stretching across the whole screen, but for the most part they seem to do the trick, and the fact that certain simple tones like dots or cross hatching can be drawn in freehand makes up for this somewhat. As an added bonus, the program also allows for the user to download and use their own tones.
Word balloons and lettering also seemed tricky at first, but like everything in life, practice makes perfect, and I was soon adding dialogue to my doodles with ease in no time at all (thanks to a little help from my PDF pal).
All told, I had a great experience with my (admittedly brief) time with Manga Studio Debut 4. While it seemed to lack certain features like a “copy all layers” option (which could very well exist, but this noob couldn’t find it), the various tools it offers are very useful indeed, and I actually had a fun time doodling and sketching away. If I had more imagination and my drawing skills weren’t on par with that of a two-year-old, I could really see this program pumping out some great comic book content. It would also make a really effective story boarding tool, so movie makers can also join in on the action. As such, I thoroughly recommend this program to anybody who wants to take a serious leap into creating comics. The only thing stopping you from becoming a comic guru with Manga Studio Debut 4 is your own creativity.
ComicsOnline gives Manga Studio Debut 4 4 out of 5 handsomely drawn stick figures.