I really enjoyed facilitating my class called Drawing Stories, an introduction to drawing comics, this past Fall at the Lawrence Arts Center. I say “facilitated” instead of “taught” because the real teachers of my class are the comic artists whose drawing exercises we use, artists who have written interesting and influential books on creating comics, among them Lynda Barry, Scott McCloud, Ivan Brunetti, and Jessica Abel and Matt Madden.
I squeeze a lot into the eight two-hour sessions, so much so that I will probably make this a twelve-week class in the future. In Drawing Stories, we learn by doing. We keep a sketchbook-journal with drawing exercises and experiments in it. Then we share our work and learn from each other, supporting each other as we go. And yet no one is ever required to share their work, because we all have different comfort levels with that.
In the first class, we experiment with doodling and drawing, playing around with different pens and pencils, and finding a simple visual vocabulary for communicating our first ideas. We draw stories without words at first, then bring words into the mix, considering the unique ways that words and pictures work together. By week four, we’re thinking about characters and how to draw them, how each character’s expressions, gestures, clothes, and environment reflect who they are and what they’re up to. In other sessions we focus on the varying grid formats available for a single page comic, how the eye flows from one panel to the next, and how one might visually transition from scene to scene in a story. We practice techniques, too, such as penciling, inking, lettering, and making titles and word bubbles.
The most fun we have, though, are the times when we make collaborative comics — a “comic jam.” We use plain old copier paper for this, dividing each piece of paper into a grid of nine panels. Everyone has a grid-page in front of them with an attached “parameter,” a theme or principle that each artist must follow to guide the learning process as well as the form or content of each one-page comic. Each student draws the first panel on their comic-page and then hands it over to someone else in a willy-nilly fashion, until everyone has drawn at least one panel of each comic before we trade and draw some more, until all nine panels are filled. Some examples of the kinds of parameters we’ve used include: “no words,” “dialogue only,” “start at the end and draw the panel before the last one,” and “write a caption for the next panel.” But these are just a few examples, the possibilities are endless, and the laughs are, too.
Note: Individual student comics are shared with permission from each student. Click on each to enlarge for better viewing. Artists are, from top to bottom: Michael Galvin, Grace Wise, Class Comic Jam, James Adaryukov, Casey Carlile, and Jill Rohde.