As we move into our fourth week of the course here at UPenn it has been really encouraging to see how students are, quite eagerly, approaching the drawing assignments. Last week on this blog we talked a bit about our drawing workbook, Madden and Abel’s DRAWING WORDS &WRITING PICTURES, and how I hoped students would use it as an added resource; there simply isn’t time in class to spend on all the possible drawing methods or materials and JC and I were very resolved from the start that this should be a course in “comics as a language” rather than a discipline. We are offering English credits here, after all.
As I mentioned before, students for this class come from a wide set of chosen majors outside of the English or Fine Arts departments and their experience with drawing ranges from little at all to fairly advanced. But they all seem to grasp the idea that while more experienced drawing can make a comic more attractive or inventive, more eloquent perhaps, its the integration of image with narrative that the language of comics is all about. Often ‘design’ rather ‘draughtsmanship’ is the key factor of our study and sometimes -just sometimes as we talk about how a more trained eye does a closer reading of a comic’s narrative structure- the way in which a page is designed would seem to be the art itself.
As we’ll see in the coming weeks its a difficult and troublesome practice to isolate elements in a work of art and discuss them as if they were the main ingredients in some recipe. Art is seldom made from recipe and our tastes for it, both individually and as a culture, pedestrian or refined, are seldom easy to predict. Its much, much easier to talk about ‘how something works’ in this way than it is to replicate its successes in work of our own.
I’m a firm believer in the notion that drawing (or painting or comics) can be taught as a skill, but only as a skill. The way in which those skills are used to create works of art is something we can learn to recognize, appreciate and discuss and we’re happy to teach those things here in class. But this week, as we begin our section on poetry, we’ll be looking deeper into how design and depiction come together and make art; something a bit more elusive to define or to teach, sure, but a drive within cartoonists that has produced some very interesting work over the years.