Making a Comic, Part 5

The finished product! Last week was our final class, and everybody brought in their printed sheets to fold, trim, staple, and trade. There are a bunch of little things I'd change, of course, and I'd like to print some new copies with a little better contrast, but overall I'm pretty proud of my little minicomic. In ten years, I've gotten pretty accustomed to seeing 300- and 400-page magazines that I've worked on, but this little guy was all me, and it's a pretty cool feeling just to hold a copy.

I plan to scan in the pages and post the whole thing here, webcomic-style, but if anybody wants a printed copy, I've got plenty. And if you're in New York and are interested in taking this class, I really can't recommend it enough. It's Cartooning Basics at the School of Visual Arts, and the instructor is Tom Motley, a really talented cartoonist and teacher. The class is great for people of all skill levels, so don't feel like you need to know too much going in. If you're interested in making comics on any level, it's the perfect place to start.

Making a Comic, Part 4

Hi there! Now that I'm not freaking out about the election anymore, I hope to return to my regular, sporadic posting schedule. Last time around, I was trying to figure out the main characters for my minicomic. While we were asked to start coming up with story ideas and work on some rough outlines, we spent some time in class talking about expressiveness and some of the ways a cartoonist can convey emotion. For homework, we had to complete the following worksheet:

This was the first time we actually had to ink an assignment, and putting that pen to the paper was pretty stressful. You can sketch and erase with pencils all day, but once the ink comes out, shit gets permanent. Anyway, I was pretty happy with most of these. I will admit to stealing those weepy manga eyes from a Scott Pilgrim page - I knew what I wanted to do but just couldn't make it look right, so I flipped through for a reference and pretty much copied those. I would do the background differently for Angry, but I like the idea that these are birds who, if pushed to far, will produce teeth specifically to gnash them.

Next we talked about basic perspective and establishing shots--wide shots that are used to give readers a sense of the environment where the story or scene is taking place. Logically enough, our next assignment was to draw and ink a full-page establishing shot.

I never did get around to completely finishing this one, but I'm pretty happy with a lot of the things here. The idea is that the guy on the bottom of the page has to leave his fancy neighborhood and stay temporarily with his friend (who, in later drafts, would become his cousin) in a somewhat crappier part of town. This was originally going to take up the two middle pages of my comic, but I just couldn't afford to lose that many panels, so I'm redrawing it as a half-page panel instead.

Bonus sketch! One of my still-nameless characters, getting his Tim Gunn on.

Up Next: Sequences and storytelling

Previously:

Making a Comic, Part 1
Making a Comic, Part 2
Making a Comic, Part 3

Making a Comic, Part 3

Now that I had a couple characters to build on, things seemed to be getting a little easier. I still had no idea what kind of personalities these guys would have, so I decided to be the kind of artist who lets his creations speak for themselves. In other words, I kept drawing with no fixed goal in mind, hoping something would happen.

My favorite thing about drawing so far is that, after a few minutes, you sometimes go on auto-pilot. Alan Watts would call this your Floodlight Consciousness taking over - the mental state you're in when you're, say, driving a car for miles and miles without consciously doing anything. Sporty types would call this The Zone; it's where you want to be when you need to sink a 30-foot putt. I remember reading an interview with Lynda Barry, an amazing artist and human being, who says she draws monkeys every day as a kind of meditation. I kind of get that now.

Point is, when I finish a page of sketches and start looking it over, I'm usually kind of surprised by what I've drawn because I don't remember doing half of the stuff, particularly the good stuff. I really like the look of the long-necked little dude in the upper-right part of the page, but I don't remember what made me draw him that way. I've been thinking about a part for him in the comic, but I'm having a hell of a time drawing him again correctly. Now that I've drawn him, I need to teach myself how to do it again, and that's going to take some time.

Our homework assignment for the second week of class was to draw our characters in action - moving, gesturing, and generally doing things other than standing around.

Apparently, these guys spend their time jamming, fighting, and resting up for future jamming and fighting. Not a bad way to roll, I s'pose.

Here's one more, a full-page drawing we did in class. We had to make a dozen "string drawings" (essentially, wavy stick figures) to illustrate the way a body's parts are positioned while performing certain actions. Then we had to pick our favorite and make a full-page drawing of one of our characters in that pose. I chose one from the "comic distortion" set:

Up Next: They might have names!

Previously:

Making a Comic, Part 1
Making a Comic, Part 2

Making a Comic, Part 2

After working through a couple pages of bad sketches, I found two characters that I kind of liked, so I started trying to develop them a little more. At first, this just involved drawing different variations of their heads and faces:

Once I had a halfway-decent feel for how I wanted their heads to look, I tried some full-body drawings and some different facial angles.

At this point, I made a couple decisions. First, I'd stick to the three-quarter view for these guys, keeping things fairly two-dimensional. (I ran that by my instructor, who reassured me that some cartoon characters simply only "exist" in that perspective.) Second, I really liked the basic round body and tiny stick legs in the third drawing down on the right, so I decided against doing human-shaped characters with birdlike heads. These guys - whoever they were - would have wings and skinny little legs. Once I figured that stuff out, my drawings started to come together pretty quickly, even showing some much-needed personality:

When I finished that page in my sketchbook, for the first time, I felt like I might not be completely out of my depth here. Maybe it's a little weird for a 32-year-old man to get excited about a picture of a bird scratching its ass, but as 32-year-old men go, I'm a little weird, so it fits.

Up Next: Action!

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!

Mystical Archaeology and French Anthropology

Liz and I moved in to a new apartment a few weeks back. It's still in Brooklyn, and it's smaller than the last place but in a much better location in almost every sense. Generally speaking, I'm really happy with it. However.

Our bedroom has eastern exposure, meaning it gets the rising sun in the morning. The previous tenant left his ratty-ass see-through curtains up, so we're using them until we get our fancy new ones from Anthropologie. I'm not sure if this is physically possible, but I believe these curtains actually intensify light rather than block it. Remember when Indy went to the map room in Raiders of the Lost Ark? It's like that, if the Well of Souls were located inside my skull.

Also, I'm pretty sure I'm being haunted by a ghost whose sole post-corporeal raison d'hanter is to mess with the fucking water temperature every time I take a shower.

In other me-related news, I'm taking a cartooning class at New York's School of Visual Arts. This is kind of a big deal for me, because I've long been convinced that I was born with zero artistic ability. For the last thirty-two years, if I wanted to draw a character, I had to settle for a stick figure that would be considered crude even by the most generous stick-figure standards. But the more comics I read, the more I want to give myself another chance. I'm genuinely inspired by so many contemporary creators: Kevin Huizenga, Bryan Lee O'Malley, Josh Simmons, Jason, Joann Sfar, Lynda Barry, Josh Cotter, Lewis Trondheim, Kazu Kibuishi, wonder twins Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, Jeff Smith....

So yeah, we'll see how this turns out. I've had two classes so far (we meet once a week for three hours, through mid-December), and I'm feeling pretty okay about things, although my drawings are still pretty rudimentary and awkward. The goal of the class is for each student to create an eight-page mini-comic, so each week we're covering a different aspect of the process - character design, script writing, backgrounds, thumbnailing, inking, and so on. Some of the students are intimidatingly advanced, but the class is taught in a way that's welcoming to complete ground-level beginners like me. As soon as I get access to a flatbed scanner, I'll try to post some of my sketches and assigments. I think it'll be fun to share my progress each week, and it should also motivate me to not be completely awful.

Also, go see Ghost Town! It's way, way better than I (or anyone, if we're being honest) expected it to be, and my pal Jeff Hiller steals some scenes as "Naked Guy." It's worth your $10, I promise.