News Across the Spectrum: Good, Bad, and Pending.

So I’m still working on my proposal for the Poets & Writers article–I should be sending a draft to the director of my thesis for her approval sometime this week. In the meantime I finally made it to an art store this weekend and got all of the art supplies I need–except, not. I should have bought a set of nibs, but instead I only bought one nib pen. I need a whole set so I can experiment with the differences. Duh. So I’m going to have to make another trip out and get one. But I did get the Ames Lettering Guide and some ink and brushes, so I’m happy. I haven’t really had time to play with them, but when I get a few sketches in I will be sure to post.

I didn’t realize it until just now, but I am actually scheduled to show some of my sequential art at a reading series next weekend! This is really exciting because it is my very first showing of art, but I’m totally unprepared. So in preparation, I’ll be doing a lot of sketching to show process (since the reading series is based on works in process, not finished pieces). I will also be reading some fiction and/or nonfiction, so that is exciting. :) I’ll be sure to have a LOT of pictures for you all next week because the past few weeks have had less drawing than I’d like.

On that note, I’ve been experiencing some issues with my right wrist (which is my dominant hand) on and off for a few months, but lately it has been more persistent. I am suspecting it might be the onset of cubital tunnel (presents on the pinky-side of the hand instead of the thumb-side) so I’m trying to take care of it and not overdo anything until I can get to the doctor and get a proper diagnosis. With this show coming up, though, I’m not sure how well that is going to pan out.

There are only four weeks left in the semester, which means my independent study is coming to an end. I’ve decided to keep this blog up and running though, at least through the end of my MFA. I have one year left, and I’ll be starting work on my thesis over the summer. I’ll be sure to keep you all updated on that as I make progress. :)

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 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 pink Cross Tech-3 engraved with "Leslie"

Chapter 2: Every Picture Tells a Story

This week’s chapter–though brief–stumped me. It focused on the art of one-line one-panel comics called “gag”s. I’m not a very concise person, and when I am, I take it to the minimalist level. There’s no happy medium for me, so I hoped that forcing myself through this chapter, I might make some sort of breakthrough. Spoiler alert: I didn’t.

thumbnails of homework from last week with bad captions underneath

I tried captioning my homework from last week, but clearly I'm not good at it.

Clicking on the above picture will take you to the Drawing Words & Writing Pictures sister website that I’ve been using as a “Ronin,” where it offers some good feedback on effective captioning.

The homework involved creating my own gag comic, which turned out to be superbly difficult since brief humor is also one of my greatest weak points. So here are some examples of doodles I did while trying to figure out what to draw:

sketch of Leslie sitting on bed thinking of what to draw on a blank page

This is a really raw sketch. (I do like how my leg goes out of the border...)

a really crappy sketch of a comic within a comic

A terrible rendition in the style of Magritte.

At this point, after staring at my terrible doodles, I drew a tiny thumbnail sketch based off Abel & Madden’s advice: “If you are having trouble coming up with ideas, do what the pros do: Explore the classic gag scenarios! A desert island, a psychiatrists couch, a CEO’s office, a drunk at a bar, etc.”

a sketch of a desert island with a single palm tree and the caption: Mount Everest: Post-Global Climate Change

Finally, and idea that wasn't half bad.

So I drew it full-scale in pencil:

the peak of Mount Everest with a single palm tree in a sea of water and an intense sun in the background. The caption: "Mount Everest: Post- Global Climate Change."

I tried to get the peak of Mt. Everest close to how it really looks.

And then I tried inking it:

the peak of Mount Everest with a single palm tree in a sea of water and an intense sun in the background. The caption: "Mount Everest: Post- Global Climate Change."

I'm not sure how I like inking with ballpoint pen. I'm so used to doing all of my inking digitally.

I may have to experiment with types of inking. I know we haven’t gotten tot he inking chapter yet, so I thought it was interesting that Abel & Madden would introduce it in this manner. They give a great overview on different types of pens (suggesting “pigmented” ink instead of “permanent” ink, since the latter has a tendency to fade over time) which I find fascinating. I really don’t have much experience with the physical art of comic-making (since most everything I have experience with is digital) so this was very useful. I’m looking forward to going over inking in depth.

The hardware I used this time around was a Cross Tech 3–a mechanical pencil, black ballpoint pen, and red ballpoint pen all at once. I received an engraved one for my birthday, and I’m loving it. :]

a pink Cross Tech-3 engraved with "Leslie"

It's kind of hard to see, but that's my name engraved on it!

Content-wise, it doesn’t seem like there was a lot of drawing this week, but getting words to go along with pictures in a clever, ironic, or humorous way is much harder than it looks.

I also set up the Sketchbook! If you want to see any pictures in closer detail, that’s where you should go. :)

book, pencil, and blank paper

Chapter 1: Building Blocks

Working through this book is going to be more time consuming than I thought–and that’s a good thing. I’m keeping the craft and criticism books close at hand just in case I want/need to look into a specific topic further, but for now, Jessica Abel & Matt Madden’s Drawing Words & Writing Pictures has plenty of material to foster personal growth and creativity. Since this Independent Study was created to replace a cancelled Workshop class, I’m really going to focus more on creating art for the next few weeks instead of worrying about theory, criticism, and the specifics of craft. As my Director for this Independent Study said, this is the creation of my brick of clay, from which I can pull and sculpt my thesis. At least, that’s my tentative goal. We’ll see where this goes.

After reading through the first chapter, “Building Blocks,” I noted that I’m a bit at a disadvantage because I’m what Abel & Madden call a Ronin, after the solitary masterless Japanese samurai. Since I do not have any colleagues to work with and compare drawings, styles, effectiveness, etc., I’ll be referring to the book’s companion website,, and working through a chapter-by-chapter student guide as needed.

I won’t bore you with content stuff–I highly advise you to get Abel & Madden’s book yourself–unless I need to wax philosophical about something interesting I learned. This time around, the only thing I really learned was the word “emanata,” which are additions to the drawing to convey movement or emotion that you would not normally see in real life. For example, the sweat-drop that shows up in a lot of manga for embarrassment, and exclamation point next to someone’s face for surprise, a squiggly tornado above someone’s head to show that they are upset, or lines to show speed. You’ll see what I mean once you scroll down. I noticed I use emanata a lot, I just never knew what they were called.

Another thing I noticed (not so much learned) is that even being out of practice for drawing, what I produced in the span of a few hours really wasn’t half bad. I forgot to note how long each drawing took (I’ll try to remember for next week’s stuff), but I tried to keep things quick and sketchy. You can clearly tell which ones I spent more time on and which ones less; basically I worked on each prompt until I felt like I succeeded in portraying the described effect. Also–next time, I need to use a pencil that erases easier, because I make mistakes often, and as you’ll see, they don’t erase well.

Drawing Time!
These are the tools I used:

book, pencil, and blank paper

Abel & Madden's textbook, some blank printing paper, a pencil. (Not pictured but highly suggested: an eraser.)

(And look, you get to see my girly bedspread!)

Action within a drawing
I was given a list of five moving objects, and told to sketch them in five separate drawings, each one as a single image, none of them in sequence, and no panel borders. If you click on my picture, it will send you to the feedback given by Abel & Madden on their website. Here’s what I came up with:

A pencil sketch of a person-figure running

1. a person running

a pencil sketch of a car speeding

2. a car speeding

a sketch of a baseball falling

3. a ball falling

a sketch of a drunken person staggering, bottle in hand

4. a person staggering

a pencil sketch of a newspaper blowing in the wind with some leaves

5. a newspaper page blowing in the wind

Action within a panel
I was told to draw three boxes (about 4 inches high, 6 inches wide each) and draw each of three given scenarios in each box. Ignore the fact that I apparently can’t draw straight lines at right angles. This is what I drew:

a pencil sketch of the scenario described in the caption

Scenario 1: A ball crashes through a window into a kitchen and rips through the newspaper of a person sitting in the room. The person reacts to the window breaking. Optional: A dog catches the ball in midair after it comes through the newspaper.

a pencil sketch of the scenario described in the caption

Scenario 2: Person 1 trips person 2. Person 1 is laughing, person 2 is trying to catch him or herself and is knocking over a lamp.

a pencil sketch of the scenario described in the caption

Scenario 3: Two guys are fighting. Guy 1 throws a rock at guy 2. Guy 2 is hit by the rock, which makes him accidentally shoot his gun into the air. The bullet hits and breaks a chain holding up a heavy lamp over guy 1's head.

Personal Response & Feedback
Before moving onto homework, I referred to the examples of student work on the student guide (click on each of my images to see the examples Abel & Madden provide on their website), that way I could note things that were working for my art, and things that weren’t working and I should probably try to work on better. Clearly you can tell that Sketch 1 was me just warming up, hence the lack of detail; by the last sketch, Scenario 3, I think I was burnt out from the first two scenarios, which is why it’s pretty crappy. (I did all of these in one sitting. I’m not sure if that was a wise idea or not.)

I was worried about showing background stuff in the first couple of sketches, but I guess from the other examples of student work, context is a good thing. A lot of the student work posted is more detailed and higher quality, so I guess I need to up the ante a little. I’m not used to drawing in a non-digital format (apparently Volume 2 of Abel & Madden’s book is going to address that!), but that’s no excuse.

Specific feedback: My running guy is kind of boring. Putting him off the ground was great, but you can tell I had issues with the placement of one of his legs. He has good sweat emanata, and some speed lines, but other than that, he’s kind of plain. Like with the running person, I did a good job with having motion follow the direction of one’s eyes (left to right) for speed in the car. There is distortion of the car and wheels to imply speed, and there are speed lines, and it’s even off the ground, but having a blurred background (or blurring the car and keeping the background static) would have made it better. For the falling ball, I didn’t use afterimages like the newspaper, and I could have made the bottom darker to show heaviness and put more speed lines on a disappearing top, possibly elongating the shape, to give the illusion of speed. The staggering person is probably my favorite doodle so far; I gave him motivation to stagger (the bottle in his hand), but even with the squiggly emanata, he’s balanced. I should have put his body more off-center, and maybe had his hands out to save him from falling. The newspaper’s shape and afterimages are good, and so is the inclusion of leaves and swiggly wind lines, but I think I could have put a little more effort into my newspaper itself, it’s a bit lazy.

For the ball in the kitchen one, the path of the ball is a little arched so that it doesn’t imply bullet-like speed, but I guess I could have, and perhaps should have, made the path a little lighter so we don’t worry for the dog’s safety. I could have used sound effects, but for the most part I kind of find them immature (this is personal preference, mind you) and I have been trying to keep their use to a minimum, lately. (I also was under some silly impression that words weren’t allowed.) All of the parts of the scenario are present; I consciously made the choice to have the action of the panel read backwards. Notice the dog first, then that the ball ripped through the newspaper, the guy’s reaction, and then the broken window. I figured this would lead to the next panel, which would show the kids outside and their game of baseball. (if the narrative was kid-centered, then I’d mirror the panel–kids come first, then follow the arc of the ball to the guy’s kitchen.) The dog is a little cut off, and so is one of the guy’s feet, but in this case, I think it’s okay. (I might move the panel a centimeter down to adjust for the missing info.)

The tripping one is my favorite out of all of the “Drawing Time” drawings. I had a lot of trouble getting the girl’s arms right, but I think I succeeded in getting the action to flow across the panel, first starting with the laughing guy, then we clearly see his foot sticking out from behind a wall, then we see the girl’s foot, follow her body up to see her surprised face, and follow her arms down to see her knock over the lamp and try to catch herself. Again, I used emanata (but not too much) and some speed lines to convey her falling (note her pigtails and skirt flipping up with motion). I tried to make sure the motion made sense; I’m not sure I have depth perception down, but I think I’m going in the right direction.

I kind of cheated for the guys fighting by turning the panel from landscape to portrait. This probably distracted a lot, because nothing is going on up there except the lamp hanging out (and the lamp does not look nearly heavy enough). Unlike the examples, it’s very clear, lacks, context, but at least the order of motion is not confused. Emanata are present, of course, but I think the throwing guy’s hand gets obscured behind his head, so that was probably a poor choice on my behalf. Unfortunately you look at the guy with the gun first, see he’s being hit, and then something spewing… a “bang” would have been a good idea to show it’s a firearm and not a squirt gun. Having so much happen at once is hard to juggle, but the only way to get good at it is to practice. :)

I had to draw a 5″ x 7″ border and create a pencil drawing that contained:

  • two characters
  • one or more props (objects)
  • an action and its result
  • the reaction of one or both characters shown in in facial expressions or bodily gestures
  • do not include any text

Here is what I drew:

a pencil sketch of an embarrassed boy handing a box of chocolates to a young woman

I think I'll title it, "For You."

Drawing time: approx. 45 min.

Personal Response & Feedback
I used a mechanical pencil this time around so that I didn’t have to keep sharpening and so that I knew I could erase and get nice, clean lines. At first, I didn’t really know what to draw, especially because this assignment was so open-ended. Since Valentine’s Day is around the corner, I thought I’d go with that theme. My goal was to show more subtle action driven mostly by emotion. I drew the boy first (actually, I drew the box of chocolates first), and then I was going to draw a little girl, but I thought it would be more cute if the girl was older. I’m really awkward with body positions, so figuring out how to get her to lean down without it looking rigid or uncomfortable took forever. There was a lot of erasing of arms and legs. I had his and her faces down almost exactly right the first time around. (I always draw faces everywhere; it’s true what they say about practice.) At first I had the boy looking at her, but since I needed more emotional reaction, I had him look away. My thought process is: characters (boy and girl), prop (heart-shaped box of chocolates), action (he gives her the box) result (she leans down) reaction (he is embarrassed, she smiles).

After looking at the examples posted on the web, I feel better about my choice of a subtle emotion (I’m referencing the proposal one). My frame totally lacks any background to give context (a classroom could clarify she is a teacher, for instance), and maybe her response should not be so subtle (should she also be embarrassed? maybe she is ecstatic!) for this assignment. Overall, I’m happy with the clarity of the frame and how easily it reads.

Extra Credit!
I couldn’t do it this time around because it requires a group of people. :(

All in all, I believe this week was incredibly productive. I’m looking forward to Chapter 2. :)

Photograph of copies of books listed in caption

Introductions All Around

Hello! My name is Leslie Salas and I’m a graduate student pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing. This is a chronicle of my personal and professional growth in the field of Sequential Art (also known as “Graphic Narrative”), primarily as accountability and documentation of Independent Study, but I’m hoping to continue the venture long after the semester ends.

Here’s a basic overview of the project:

The textbook, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures: Making comics: manga, graphic novels and beyond, by Jessica Abel & Matt Madden, will serve as my primary text for this endeavor. Along with working through one chapter of this text a week, I will supplement with reading from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art (a comic book about comic books that is very thorough on craft and technique) and Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean (a book on comics theory and criticism).

_Drawing Words & Writing Pictures_, by Jessica Abel & Matt Madden, _Understanding Comics_, by Scott McCloud, _Reading Comics_, by Douglas Wolk

A powerful triumvirate to guide me on my way to enlightenment.

I will post weekly updates on this blog to showcase my growth and reflect on the learning process. For my final project/exam, my choices are

    1) completing a “24-hour comic” that I will send out for publication,
    2) creating a syllabus for a Graphic Narrative undergraduate class, or
    3) writing a formal article on Graphic Narrative for publication in a magazine such as The Writer’s Chronicle or Poets & Writers.

This Independent Study class will require a lot of self-motivation on my behalf, but since I find this field absolutely fascinating, I don’t anticipate having any trouble. I’m a little behind on starting this blog (the first week of the semester is already over!), but I’m hoping to catch up in the next couple of days. I hope you’ll follow me on this journey!