What I’ve Been Up To Lately

A few months ago, I was asked to visit my alma mater and serve on a panel discussing Art and Comics as Literature during their inaugural Creative Writing Symposium. Naturally, I was flattered and immediately agreed. Later on, I found out that it was the first in a series of major literary events to occur throughout the month of February. I maintained my position on the panel, but unfortunately could not attend the whole symposium on account of my other obligations and the simple necessity of maintaining my sanity during an extremely stressful month.

At the panel, I spoke about the need to teach graphic narrative (/sequential art/comics) in introductory multi-genre creative writing classes. Basically–it’s a disservice not to expose up-and-coming writers to the medium, so that at least they can acquire some sort of fluency with its particular vocabulary and functions. I used an outline of a pedagogical paper I wrote last semester to guide my talking, and while the subject matter appeared to be boring to many of the panel audience (mostly undergrad students), a few did come up to me afterward to ask questions and recommend books to me, which was pretty awesome. Overall, it was a great experience, and I’m incredibly grateful.

At my current university, the literary magazine I help manage partnered with various other local entities in continuing education and journalism and hosted our inagural Writer’s Conference. This conference took place the weekend after the symposium at my alma mater (so, not this current weekend, but the weekend beforehand), which is another one of the reasons why some of my recent posts have been so short. I was on the list of speakers for the conference to serve as a consultant for beginning comics writers, but then a few days before the conference, the primary graphic narrative consultant had to back down and asked if I would be willing to take his place. I told him I’d love to, as long as the conference director and the consults didn’t mind. We ended up not having anyone sign up for conferences, which was a relief because I had a family emergency and had to miss most of the day for which conferences had been scheduled. However, due to the family emergency, I missed both graphic narrative panels at the conference. I’m sad I missed them, but I won’t say I regret it–there are always more opportunities.

At the conference there were great readings by incredibly talented master-writers–all of which read work from unpublished material for the very first time. I am so glad I got to meet and talk with them and really network for my career. I also introduced a few speakers at panels–two of my favorite professors from my undergrad came to talk about starting literary journals, and my thesis director ran a panel on screenwriting–and as a surprise was asked to sit at an Editor’s Round Table panel to represent Managing Editors and answer any questions anyone at the conference had.

This coming week is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ Annual Conference, and I’m going to attend! This year it’s being held in Chicago. I’ve already scheduled my flight, made hotel reservations, and packed my bags! I’m incredibly excited. On Saturday at the conference, there are two graphic narrative panels I will not miss, one of which features Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, the authors of Drawing Words & Writing Pictures! I’m a nerd, and I’m bringing my textbook for them to sign. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to interview one or both of them on the spot. I know they just finished the sequel to DW-WP, and on Facebook I asked if they would be bringing a copy to AWP for us to take a sneak peek, but Madden replied and said no, unfortunately they don’t have any advance copies. :( But that’s okay, because I’ll get to talk with them! :]

And one last good-news thing to share:

My first comic publication!

My comic, “Justification,” is featured in the 30th Anniversary Issue of The Southeast Review! It’s eight pages long and printed in full color! I’m thrilled to be surrounded by so many talented writers in a gorgeous issue. If you get the chance, you should definitely check it out!

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.


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.)


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! :]