Making a Comic, Part 1

As I explained in my last post, I'm two weeks into a Cartooning Basics class at New York's School of Visual Arts. I hope to share my progress pretty regularly for the next few months while I progress toward my finished eight-page mini comic.

This is the second time in my adult life that I've seriously tried to sit down and draw something. About six years ago, I bought a copy of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, a book that functions really well as basic instruction as long as you ignore the extra coating of psychobabble. I was impressed by the progress I made after the first few chapters, particularly in the way I learned to start "seeing things like an artist." After drawing my own face, a Pooh Bear salt shaker, a little Buddha statue, and my left hand (rather well, I'd say!), I got distracted or got too busy at work - pick your excuse - and more or less abandoned drawing once again.

So basically, I'm coming into this as a raw beginner. Put plainly, I can't draw. In our first class, we jumped right in and started working, spending about two hours working on the basics of character design. The result of that exercise is the guy you see right here, which borrows pretty heavily from Bryan Lee O'Malley's artwork (particularly the shape of the face and the big manga eyes). I used an HB pencil on standard printer paper, then inked it with my Pentel Pocket Brush pen. (If anything about that drawing is attractive, at least half the credit has to go to that pen - it's only sold in Japan, but Jet Pens is a really quick and reliable retailer if you want to import one. It's a fun, empowering little piece of equipment.)

I liked the character just fine, but I wasn't convinced I wanted to build a comic around him. Our homework after that first class was to work on character sketches and have the basic designs for our project ready for the next week.

One of my favorite recent books is Little Nothings: The Curse of the Umbrella by French cartoonist Lewis Trondheim. It's a collection of journal-style comics Trondheim draws about his daily life (there's a nice sample here), substituting anthropomorphic animals for himself and the people around him. Funny and sneakily profound at times, it's kind of effortlessly great, and it makes you feel like you could do something similar. Basically, it was one of the comics that really made me want to try making my own. And since Trondheim draws himself as a birdlike man, I decided to draw some birds. Here's my very first sketch page:

Those dog-looking things at the top were just early sketches I'd done in class while I was trying to figure out what to draw. The figure that looks like a real character is Trondheim's alter ego, which I drew for a little on-the-page inspiration. The rest - the ones that look like they were drawn by a 5-year-old - those are mine. I really just knew I wanted something with a beak, so I was playing with shapes and lines, just trying to get a feel for things. It's mostly pretty assy, but I had better luck with my second page:

It's funny how you feel yourself working into a groove after a drawing for a little while. I think there's a pretty noticeable difference between those two pages - the second one could easily have been drawn by an 8-year-old - and they were done pretty much one after the other. Something about those two guys on the left kind of grabbed me, and I decided pretty quickly that I'd try to do something with them. I still didn't have a story in mind, or even a genre, but I had something to build on.

Up Next: Things improve!