Tomorrow, as we begin our third session in this course, we’ll be asking students to do a significant amount of drawing. But this is NOT a course in which we’ll be teaching drawing. Sound a bit confusing? Its probably worthwhile for me to take a few minutes here and explain what we’re looking for from our students and, more importantly, what we hope this class will give to them.
Like any other artistic discipline, drawing is a lifelong pursuit of personal excellence. But drawing, or that ‘skill to be able to represent figures in a natural sense of space’ that so many people believe is the basis of good drawing, is somewhat separate from the ability to understand and articulate a story in comics. And its the second thing, that ‘ability to understand and articulate’, that our course in making comics is all about.
We’ve done a lot of reading for the first few classes that have discussed comics as a unique visual language. From this point on we’ll be building on your skills with that language; showing you what works for other masters of the medium and helping you improve ways to better express your own ideas using the form.
We’re going to take everyone in the class at their own unique level of drawing ability because, well, this is NOT a course in drawing. But everyone (believe me, EVERYONE) can learn to improve or have greater confidence in their drawing. So we’ve complimented our regular readings from the Scott McCloud book on UNDERSTANDING COMICS with a practical workbook on cartooning by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden called DRAWING WORDS & WRITING PICTURES.
Personally, I think this is an indispensable tool for cartoonists. Its filled with very specific explanations of popular methods of comic production, gives basic building blocks for improving some of the most common problems students might face in drawing and design, provides informative and concise pieces of comics theory alongside clear and specific examples and, maybe best of all, it gives students a clear idea of the tools and discipline it takes to create comics. It is also set up as 15week course guide for independent or group study that has an expansive website for further information on all the topics within the book. Matt and Jessica have even come out with a second book, MASTERING COMICS, to carry students further into the world of cartooning as a profession.
Students are encouraged to really dig deep into this fabulous resource for the practice of comic-making and, for the serious devotees, even add the exercises found in there to our normal coursework. We simply won’t have time in class to review each section individually or to focus so much upon technique. But I will be referring back to this text often for those of you interested in honing your drawing skills towards a career in cartooning.
(I’m also quite willing to point each of you to other material on drawing or design as well as review sketchbooks or portfolios outside of class. Please feel free to ask.)
Our course here at UPenn focuses on the language of comics and on the story-telling potential in collaborative media. Drawing is an important part of conveying a message in this medium, certainly, but its not everything and certainly not the only skill required for understanding and making comics. We’ll teach you the language, but this book goes a long way to teaching eloquence with speaking that language.