Temporarily Switching Gears

I’ve recently come across a bit of a hang-up with working out of Abel & Madden’s Drawing Words & Writing Pictures–I’m missing art supplies! Currently I’m missing an Ames Lettering Guide for, well, lettering, and now I need to get myself a nib pen for inking. Rather than let myself get ahead by going through the chapters “theoretically” rather than “practically,” I’m going to switch gears for a few weeks and work on a project that came up for me while I was at the annual conference for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs.

While going through AWP’s massive bookfair, I met up with the editor of Poets & Writers and asked if he would be interested in a graphic essay. Last semester I wrote a pedagogy paper on incorporating graphic narrative into introductory creative writing classrooms, and it has always felt awkward being in prose–the essay feels like it needs to be drawn out as sequential art. Even though Poets & Writers does not publish pedagogy papers, the editor gave me his card and said he would be interested in learning more. So as of now, until I can get my art supplies and get back on track with working through Abel & Madden, I’ll be putting together a query for Poets & Writers. Wish me luck. :)

Chapter 7: Lettering

Since I lack the most important tool for this chapter’s activities, I’m going to have to go through what I learned theoretically and repost once I’ve completed the activities. This does not bide well for returning to work after two weeks of not working out of Abel & Madden’s Drawing Words & Writing Pictures.

Generally, in my experience with lettering, I’ve been predisposed to do it digitally. No only has most of my comics experience come from strictly digital endeavors, but my handwriting always comes out rather scrunched and terrible so even if I could write out my letters by hand, it never really turned out well.

Ever since I was little, about elementary school age, I had a habit of writing in different styles to try and invoke different feelings or moods. So I guess I’m naturally predisposed to this whole hand-lettering business, where you’re drawing each of the letters rather than simply writing them. I never really thought of it that way, but now it just makes sense. And since the lettering is done by the same hand that drew the pictures, there’s a cohesiveness to the whole comic that gets lost with digital lettering. (One of my former professors stressed how much he preferred hand-lettered versus computer-lettered and I never fully understood why until now.)

There’s this nifty tool that comics artists use to help get their letters in the right size and shape. It’s called Ames Lettering Guide. I don’t have one. (Yet.) Which is why there are no pictures in this post. Anyway, the lettering guide is great. It’s this somewhat rectangular shaped object with a disk in the middle with lots of holes drilled into it. Once you figure out how to use it (which Abel & Madden describe wonderfully), it makes lines on the paper in the appropriate size and ratio for you to write your letters! Think of the lined paper you got in elementary school when you were learning the alphabet, with the blue and red solid and dotted lines so that you knew how to make your lowercase letters and uppercase letters. The lettering Guide makes lines like that. It’s awesome, and I’m jealous because I don’t have one and now I’m going to have to scour the art shops in the area until I find one or give up and buy one online.

(Sidenote: The one thing I really wish this Drawing Words & Writing Pictures did was have a supplies list for the entire book right at the beginning. Maybe their website, www.dw-wp.com has a comprehensive list somewhere, but having to go week by week and then “SURPRISE! here’s all of this stuff you need!” before you can move on is really disheartening. I’d have rather searched for all of the obscure necessities at the beginning of the class and have them sit on my bookshelf for weeks than to be reading to move on and then have to stop everything to find this whatchamacallit that it obscure and hard to find in any generic shopping place or arts-and-crafts store down the street. /rant)

The homework for this week involved drawing a comic with no drawings and working on the cookie jar kid comic. I finally got the full size Bristol paper and some pigment pens, but without the Lettering Guide or ink (black india ink, graphic white) or paint brushes, I’m pretty much out of luck. :( Sorry guys, no drawings today. Hopefully I’ll find this stuff early next week and I’ll be able to make up for lost time.

front page DW-WP with the authors' signatures

From The Windy City

I’m writing from Chicago!

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m here for a week to attend the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Annual Conference.

I don’t have a lot of time this week, so there won’t be a comics post and this is going to be brief. Just checking in weekly so you all know I’m alive and still working.

Even though the Conference was only 4 days long, a few friends and I decided to stay for a week so we could enjoy some of what the city has to offer. I’m glad we made that decision. I still won’t be able to see everything, though, the city is huge. But I must say, I do love Chicago. It’s a city that is vibrant with art and book appreciation. The city turns 175 years old today, and that longstanding tradition of history and architecture and the mixing of old and new is present on every street. And everyone here is super nice and friendly. The only drawback is that most of the shops close by 7pm, even on a Friday or Saturday night. Still, I’m having a blast.

The day at AWP I saw looking forward to the most was yesterday, the last day, because of two panels on graphic narrative back to back. One was on literary magazines making room for comics, the other was on pedagogy and using comics in the classroom. Both were very informative panels that I took extensive notes on, so I’ll do a more comprehensive analysis of them when I .get back. The authors of Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, the primary text I’ve been using for my independent study, were on the second panel, so I spotted Matt Madden beforehand and talked with him about how awesome the book is and how I’m excited for the sequel to come out (this May!). He was super nice and incredibly friendly, and he and Jessica Abel signed my book:

front page DW-WP with the authors' signatures

Madden made fun of me because there was eraser dust in the margins.

My experience at AWP was fantastic, and I’m so glad I attended. I’ll share what I learned more in-depth when I get the chance, but for now, I’m off to explore the city!

Chapter 6: Getting on the Same Page

(In order to make up for how lame this week’s work is, I’m double posting! But more on that in the other post.)

This week’s concern was laying out the single-page comic, which is a form I’m currently trying to master. The main concern was emphasis on a standard grid layout and how it can maintain a constant beat to reading, and when a few panels are tweaked, it really emphasizes the importance of what occurs and how dramatic the action is. This is all rather implicit knowledge, but it was great as a reminder that a strong foundation in your comic can go a long way. The example pages used in Abel & Madden’s text are very helpful, but since I lack a strong foundation in comics–particularly old-style newspaper comics–I felt kind of lost. Abel & Madden state the action is rather clear and/or humorous, but in reality I find myself lost or confused about how something is supposed to be funny. Perhaps humor has evolved over generations–but that is a conversation for a different place at a different time.

There’s note of title design, and how it can stay static or can evolve for each of a series, which makes sense. The title design helps lay a foundation, so for a serialized work, similarities may be preferred, at least to gain oneself a brand and/or marketability. I’d never really thought much about this, but I do need to spend some more time thinking about it, I think.

According to Abel & Madden: The most important aspect of laying out a comic page is the “live area,” which is basically the area in the center of the page (sans margins) where all the panels and bleeds go. The main thing to remember is not to give your yourself margins in the live area, it’s kind of redundant. The second most important thing is the scale for which the drawings are done. I’ve always drawn my comics bigger than I knew they’d be reproduced (for instance, drawing on 8.5″ x 11″ paper for a book that’s 6″ x 8″, just to throw some numbers out there) but I never really thought if I was drawing at 150% or 200% or anything like that. Standard live areas seems to be in the area of 9″ x 13.5″, but before getting all hung up on numbers, the ratio (2:3 or 3:4) is more important, because that’s the actual layout of the page. American-style comics are generally the former, while magazine-style, European, and graphic novels are generally the latter.

I had to skip the in-class activity because it required a couple of materials I didn’t really have on me. First off, I bought the wrong size Bristol paper last week–I needed to get 14″ x 17″, and I got 11″ x 14″. I could still probably make do with the smaller size and just scale everything, but the math would be a pain, and I really want to make sure I’m doing this the right way. Once I gain experience, I think I’ll feel more comfortable with scaling things to my personal preference. The other thing(s) I’m missing is my architect table and my T-square. The T-square–I have no idea where it is. I know when I got the architect drafting table in high school as a gift, I got a T-square with it, and I used the set every once in a while, but since I really had no idea what I was doing, the desk kind of got turned into a normal desk. Currently it is in my brother’s room, holding his computer. Whenever he gets a replacement desk, I’ll get my drafting table back and it will make my life way easier. Until then… I’ll have to make do somehow.

The in-class activity was basically just to set up a piece of Bristol board for a single page comic–live area set aside, and four tiers with gutters. No individual panels yet; just prepping everything for now. So I’m not too worried about getting caught up later.

The homework was a thumbnail sketch of a single-page comic from a hypothetical comic strip called Chip and the Cookie Jar and how Chip, a 6-year-old boy, is always trying to get the cookies from the top of the fridge. A pre-written script was provided, and my task was to divide the script into beats and then pencil the dialogue into the comic. I divided my paper into a standard 16-panel grid by folding it, and then wrote in my dialogue, along with some cues in parenthesis to give me an idea of what I was thinking.

Sorry its so hard to read, I wanted to keep it light for easy changing.

I’m assuming next week we’ll go further with this. Next week, however, is going to be interesting, and I may be doing a different kind of post. ;]

a bunch of supplies used for pencilling

Chapter 5: Pencilling

This week was a lot of fun! Using Abel & Madden’s Drawing Words & Writing Pictures, of course, I went over the basics of penciling! Some of it was obvious, some of it was new! I’ll give you all a brief overview of the hardware I used and what I learned while drawing and penciling panels this week!

a bunch of supplies used for pencilling

These are all the supplies I got together for pencilling!

I had most of this stuff lying around. The HB pencil set, the kneaded eraser, the tracing paper, the sharpener, the standard erasers, and the blue colored pencil. Plus the mechanical pencil and pen eraser I’ve been using this whole time. I had to go out and get Bristol paper for official inking, and I got that little ruler because I knew it would be useful, and I found an eraser pencil, which I think is the coolest thing ever, but I totally forgot I had because I feel back in love with kneaded erasers.

I also didn’t use the tracing paper this time, but Abel & Madden gave a great overview of how to use it properly–I had never known. I’ll have to experiment with it more. It’s basically the hard copy form of selecting something and moving it around, inverting it, whatever. I’m so used to doing everything digitally that I feel like I’m working backwards. Another working backwards thing is the blue pencil to underlay lines while pencilling before deciding on final lines for inking–it’s a lot like the layers I use online–I always used soft pastels or so to contrast, and when I finally found the lines I wanted, I just traced over them in black (on a new layer). I didn’t use the blue pencil I have because it does not erase. At all. And I looked for erasable colored pencils, and no dice. :( So if any of you know where I can get erasable colored pencils (and not the Crayola kind… I’m looking for Col-Erase or something like that), let me know!

I had always had a sort of skepticism towards physical art–namely because of my dependence on ctrl+z and layers. But after experimenting a bit with the traditional forms, it’s not so scary. You’re forced to really thing and consider what you’re drawing, and to be very careful. You can still be spontaneous, but if you’re sloppy, it’s a harder mistake to fix.

“Classwork”

So the assignment was to pick a panel from my Jack & Jill comic last week and redraw that panel at least three different ways in sketchy thumbnail form. Then I had to pick three of those panels and pencil them on bristol paper. I picked the “Jack fell down” panel.

Here's the original thumbnail of Jack falling down.

Here are my five re-imaginations of the same panel:


I just want to note–I have absolutely no idea why this time around, Jack and Jill are adolescents and not children, as with my original comic. I kept trying to remind myself to draw them small, like kids, but it wasn’t happening. So, I’m sorry, Jack and Jill appear to have grown up a bit.

You can see that I noted with stars the panels I wanted to redraw and pencil. So first I drew the boxes on the bristol paper:

Proof I can draw rectangles with right angles!

And then I started sketching. I started with an HB pencil, but if you’ll see on the picture below, Jack is very bold in the top left. That’s because I had switched to 2B, which is a softer lead but also bolder color.

I really should have been using a HB to start and a 2B to finish... not entirely sure why I switched in the middle; I probably wasn't paying attention.

The first layer of sketching ended up looking like this:

Ready for final lines.

Here’s the process of going over everything, so you can really see the difference between HB and 2B:

I'm drawing an X on the inside of Jack's crown to show that when I ink it, I want that area to be solid black.

Aaand, now I’m done penciling:

"Jack Fell Down" from multiple perspectives!

Now here comes the analytical part. Which panel would be best for the Jack & Jill comic I drew? In terms of keeping the paneling consistent with the comic, one of the two “landscape” style panels would probably be better, just so it wouldn’t mess up the formatting of the whole page. I like the top picture because it works well with the previous panel–we can see that Jack is depressed and shuffling his feet as he heads back home, and it makes sense that he wouldn’t be paying attention and he’d trip over the tree root. The bottom panel is also good, though, because it works well with the panel that comes after, where jack is on the ground, and the crown is next to him and broken. By zooming into Jack and really seeing his expressing on the fall, we really intimately connect with his motion. I tried to draw a zoomed in picture of Jack’s foot as he trips, but I found out I’m really terrible at drawing feet by themselves without context, and I abandoned that. So depending on context and how clear the action is with the panels preceding and following this panel, I think I’d go with my original choice, the top right panel. (As a note, though, once of the thumbnails I didn’t develop and pencil was the same as the top right, but from the opposite perspective, showing both Jack and Jill’s backs, and the castle in the background. I really liked this panel, but I didn’t choose to expand on it because 1) drawing Jack falling from behind would have been a nightmare, 2) both Jack and Jill looked way too old.)

“Homework”

The second part of the chapter focused on figure drawing and a simple overview of figurettes. Figurettes are basically stick figures with some meat to them. There’s blobs for the chest and hips, and there’s some substance to arms and legs and feet and hands. I have a basic understanding of figurettes that I picked up from sifting through art and manga books, as well as from when I attended a summer art camp for a week once middle school, so it wasn’t totally foreign to me. I do know that eventually I should take formal figures classes or some sort of real art class, because while I’ve been making do for now, if I really want my art to grow and develop and flourish, I really need to get some formal training just to expose me to new techniques and foster development.

At one point in the brief discussion on figurettes, Abel & Madden mention that the figure should always be balanced in the center–unless you want them to topple over. This reminds me a lot of my training in aikido, and the focus on posture and maintaing center of balance, so I thought that was cool.

My assignment was to draw a one-panel scene that suggests something is happening while having three planes–foreground, midground, and background–and at least two figures interacting. After a bit of brainstorming, I decided to go with a couple fighting over dinner. I drew three panels of the occasion from different perspectives.

Of course I'm a masochist and pick the most complicated panel to pencil.

I was ambitious and wanted to try the POV thing with depth in a panel, where you pick a spot somewhere off the panel to be the focal point, and all of the straight lines come from that area. Abel & Madden didn’t exactly explain how it works, they just showed a panel that used that technique, and since I have always struggled with depth in 2-D drawings, I figured I’d try my hand at it. This is my first try, so it’s not so great. I must have spent and hour or so on the first run through just to get everything right.

You can tell I moved some stuff around-- I couldn't figure out how to draw circles at an angle so I put a picture frame behind them instead.

And the final product–for now.

Now the lines are much clearer! Used the 2B on top of the HB (Like I'm supposed to).

I ran out of time to do the Extra Credit this week. And I apologize for being late this time around (even if it was only by a few hours).

Be sure to check out the Sketchbook to see the pretty scans of all the penciled panels from this week!

Leslie's deskspace, concurrent use of Abel & Madden text with McCould while working on a two-page thumbnail.

Chapter 4: Bridging the Gap

This week’s lesson in Abel & Madden’s Drawing Words & Writing Pictures relied rather heavily on Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. The focus was simple: different transitions between panels that create different types of closure for the reader. Since readers have a tendency to story-make and connect panels into coherence, that gives writers/artists an advantage to be as specific or vague in our storytelling, to hone in on tiny details or get the speed of action across. McCloud offers six types of transitions, and Abel & Madden add a seventh. The transitions are (with my own paraphrased definitions):

  • moment-to-moment – shows the incremental passage of time
  • action-to-action – shows the beginning and end of an action, and lets the reader fill in the actual movement
  • subject-to-subject – shows different characters/objects in the same scene
  • scene-to-scene – shows different places/times
  • aspect-to-aspect – shows different views of the same scene (like zooming in or noting setting details)
  • symbolic – shows a non-literal representation of an emotion or situation
  • non-sequiter – shows things that have nothing to do with one another, and as a result the reader really has to try to create meaning, which sometimes turns this type of transition into symbolic

To get a better understanding of the craft elements involved in all of these transitions, I sincerely suggest picking up McCloud’s text. Wolk has a great chapter on this in Reading Comics entitled “Pictures, Words, and the Space Between Them” if you’re interested in gutters and white space and the magic they create within a comic (from a literary perspective).

The “class” assignment involved cutting panels from a newspaper daily comic strip page and rearranging them to make a cohesive story using all different type of panel transitions. There’s a bunch of copyright laws and stuff involved, so even if I had done the project, I wouldn’t be able to show you what I did. (I didn’t have timely access to a newspaper, and if I had scoured the Internet that would have turned into distracted web-comic reading.) The activity is similar to the “extra-credit,” which involves making a card game out of random panels from Nancy comics. (Nancy seems to be held in high esteem by not only Abel & Madden, but McCloud as well. I didn’t grow up reading Nancy so there’s no real nostalgia factor for me there… I’d be much more enamored to read Calvin & Hobbs or Dilbert or something. But that’s just my personal preference.) The game sounds great, though, for quickly identifying transitions and evaluating their strengths and weaknesses. I wish I had known about it when I was in high school and had a strong artistic/writerly community that I spent a large amount of time with every day. (Not to say I’m not fond of the community I have in grad school, but our time together is largely limited to class and occasionally planned outings.)

The homework was challenging–and in a good way! I wish I had more time with it, so that I could have inked and colored it. Perhaps I can save that for another activity later. The prompt was to thumbnail draw a 2-page comic adaptation of the Jack & Jill rhyme using all seven transitions (as described above).

A thumbnail sketch of a 2 page comic using all 7 transitions to illustrate the famous nursery rhyme.

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail or water. Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after.

To save paper/space and keep me from making the comic more complex than it needed to be, I just folded the paper in half to create two pages. I went ahead and labeled each transition to make sure I got them all. My non-sequiter panel isn’t really that non-sequiter. I tried, but obviously I had some intent behind where I put it and how it functions in the comic. All of the drawings are terrible, of course. It’s a thumbnail sketch. But hopefully you all can see and understand that Jack is a class-A Jackass. Toward the end you can see that my transitions were less “pure” and tended to blur together and function as several different types of transitions at once.

I lined up everything to start the re-pencilling on new paper, inking, and coloring, and then I realized I was out of time for the week! :(

Leslie's deskspace, concurrent use of Abel & Madden text with McCould while working on a two-page thumbnail.

I used everything pictured here except... the ruler.

Next week I’ll have more drawings for you! :]

Prismacolor markers set out to color Wrong Planet

Chapter 3: The Strip Club

First things first: the title of this chapter is amazing.

Moving on:

This chapter in Abel & Madden’s Drawing Words & Writing Pictures focused on stringing together images in sequential art. It gave a brief overview of variations in rhythm and pacing in terms of music, which resonated (haha) with me. I had never thought to represent the movement of graphic narrative in terms of beats. Extended beats occur with longer frames, extra beats are added with each new frame. There’s a delicate balance between creating suspense and tension and delivering the kick at the right moment. I’ve been doing this somewhat subconsciously since I started drawing comics (ah, the benefits of reading), but I haven’t paid too much attention to it. There’s also attention to line-of sight (how your eyes follow movement in the panel) and how to keep your readers focused by using full-shaded black and white space.

The first drawing assignment called for post-it notes. Since all of my post-its are in bright, obnoxious colors, I opted to do a little arts and crafts and cut squares out of index cards.

Scissors cutting out squares from index cards

High tech and sophisticated.

Once the stack was cut, I had to make a few panels describing each major event in a sequence. (Clicking each picture will give you a zoomed version so you can see it more clearly. Even so, they’re thumbnail sketches so don’t expect stellar quality.)

five sequential images pencil sketched showing a rocket launch

1. An astronaut launches his rocket...

pencil sketches showing a moon landing

2. lands on the moon...

sketched images showing a flag planted on the moon

3. and plants a flag.

sketched pencil images of returning to fanfare from the moon

4. He returns to much fanfare...

pencil sketched images showing arriving at the wrong planet.

5. but then realizes he has gone to the wrong planet.

Drawing all of these pictures wasn’t a big deal, what was harder was working with just myself to smooth out the narrative and pare it down to as concise as it can be. Since I was the one drawing all of it, there weren’t many transitional drawings that needed to be made. But here’s how I progressed:

the five previous images collaged to tell one story

The whole space saga laid out

the space journey with some frames removed

I cut a lot of the unnecessart frames... and I guess the top two could be removed also.

six panels of blasting off, planting a flag on the moon, and returning to the wrong planet

The final six images to tell the story of The Great Space Mistake.

Notice how on the last pictures, I paid attention to the arc of the ship (going up to go to the moon, then arcing downward to leave) on the top row. The bottom row is a little iffy in retrospect… there’s a lot of white space, which is kind of jarring; I added one of the Mars rovers to further underline the fact that he’s not where he needs to be. After seeing the final product, my brother lamented that there were no parachutes on the module. I didn’t want to get too anal about getting all of the actual details of the spacecraft correct (honestly, a mistake like ending up on the wrong planet would be totally impossible given our current technological space capabilities) but that was a detail I probably could have added. Clearly, it’s not perfect. But at the time, I decided it was good enough, and ran with it anyway.

I decided to mount it on black construction paper and actually ink the whole thing with real markers. It’s been a while since I broke out the Prismacolors.

Prismacolor markers set out to color Wrong Planet

All set to ink!

Leslie inks Wrong Planet with a sharpie

Inking with a Sharpie, which is a terrible idea. "Permanent" marker isn't colorfast, and over time it will fade. I didn't have a pigment pen thin enough, though, so we'll have to see how this looks later.

Leslie gets ready to ink with a Prismacolor black marker

I apologize for the fuzzy quality. At the time I thought the photograph was clear.

The whole process was actually rather relaxing. The blacks all turn out to be slightly different colors, which is an effect I like. I also love how Prismacolors end up looking like watercolors. Figuring out how to make the stars was interesting; I wanted to use a white gel pen but apparently all of my white gel pens are dead, so I used white out instead. It’s not perfect, but it gets the job done. At first the landscape of Mars was light, but I thought that looked weird so I filled it in. I’m still not totally happy with the Mars frames (their whiteness is rather starling… I could have filled in the left one with some parachutes… the right one could be left white for awkwardness…) but as is, I’m rather pleased with the whole.

an inked version of the Wrong Planet exercise

Tada! Final product!

The next part of the chapter dealt mostly with thumbnails. The term thumbnail always kind of messed me up, I guess. I thought thumbs were just the tiny version of the image you can click on in order to see the whole thing (see Sketchbook). But I guess in the comics world, thumbnails (aka “layouts” for those of you who like superhero-style comics) refer to the sketchy page before the final product. With that definition, I’ve been doing thumbnails this whole time! I draw the crappy sketch that doesn’t look like much, but once I’ve figured out where everything is going, I can fill in the blanks and really put detail in it. By looking at the progression above, you can clearly see how my panels went from sketchy and vague to more concrete and detailed, and finally, inked.

For my “homework” I had to do some brainstorming and come up with a gag comic one might see in a newspaper comics section. Because humor is incredibly difficult for me, I spent a lot of time just staring at the page wondering what on earth I could make a joke about.

Leslie's pen hovers over a brainstorming area.

I seriously couldn't think of anything for the longest time. It's hard to brainstorm by yourself.

I ended up just picking something (how a parent may react to a report card) and hoping for the best. I sketched out “pessimistic” and “optimistic” responses for the comic, since I wasn’t sure which I would prefer.

two comics on top of one another with differing punch lines

Deliberately sketchy and vague for easy fixing.

In the end, I ended up detailing both thumbnails more concretely. They both have similar structures and deliver punch lines at the expense of the child. (I promise, I love children. Don’t think I don’t. I just seriously had no idea what to draw. As I’ve said time and time again, I’m not good at self-contained humor.) I liked the idea of the parent being in shadow and out of the frame, so I worked to exploit that. In the end, it’s still very sketchy and contains errors, but it contains most of the information needed to complete a full comic if I wanted.

a darker sketch of two comics

A little darker and more detailed.

I wish I had read the Extra Credit, “How to Read Nancy before this assignment, because it outlines different types of humors and gags used in the Nancy comic strips and how to analyze (and therefore emulate) the craft for one’s own success. Next time I’ll try to implement what I learned from the article.