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.

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. :)