January 23, 2011

This week on Comic Tools: Reader Question

Hey Matt,

I've recently read the Scott Pilgrim comics and become interested in drawing comics. I've always been a hopeless drawer though so i got a book to teach me some basics and it's really helping so far, but it doesn't teach anything about comics. I found your blog very useful but its hard to find somewhere to begin. Are there any books out there you'd recommend to teach basic comic drawing?


Short answer:

Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics
Scott McCloud's Making Comics
Jessica Abel and Matt Madden's Drawing Words and Writing Pictures
David Chelsea's Perspective! For Comic Book Artists

Read those and do all the assignments suggested in them, and you'll have just saved yourself 4 years of college. I wish I were more than a hair away from kidding.

Long answer:

To get good at comics you'll have to read a lot of comics, and learn to steal. I don't mean imitate- that's like stealing someone's jewelry by hoisting their house into the back of your pickup and driving off. It doesn't work and you look like a moron doing it. You must learn to steal- and I use that word deliberately- the very best parts of what works about your favorite artists, and throw away the rest. You must learn to avoid taking on the bad habits of artists you like, the way you might avoid contracting AIDS. It's so easy, SO easy, to look at a great artist, imitate (meaning copy totally) their art, including it's weak parts, and then defend those weaknesses for decades as the inspiration you got from a great artist, instead of a cheap, hacky trick that both you and the artist you got it from should be shamed of. Jack Kirby was insanely inventive and kinetic and used blacks like no human being before or since, but he basically drew humans with 2 not very good faces and just slightly more expressions. Dave Sim has an incredible work ethic and is a proficient inker and letterer, but his people are ugly, stiff, and insensitive. Moebius and Frank Quitely are some of the best draughtsmen on the planet, but they draw distracting and freakish baby faces on everyone and sometimes their art can be lifelessly static.

Everyone's style is a combination of all the things they're best at, and attempts to either avoid or cover the evidence of everything they suck at. Mike Mignola once confessed to a class I was in that he doesn't draw cars because he hates drawing them and uses lots of shadows because he sucks at perspective. You'll eventually form your style by lazily covering up all the things you suck at; don't add to that all the things your favorite artists suck at.

This counts ten thousand times more if your art is Manga influenced. Every single one of my manga influenced artist friends will back me on this: if you take your cues by imitating your favorite manga, you will spend years of your commercially crippled career painfully stripping your art of the shortcuts that, by sheer necessity of how fast those artists must produce, makes up 1/2 to fully 9/10ths of the art of any given page of manga.

If you ever find yourself thinking "Oh, finally, this art looks like something I can actually draw!", put the book down and never look at it again. If bikes are hard for you, fill a sketchbook with people on every kind of bike you can find reference for. If hands are really tricky for you, never, ever draw a panel without showing both hands of every person in the panel. If shoes are tricky for you, don't do another damned thing until you can draw everything from sneakers to dress shoes convincingly. Learn to draw brick walls that don't look like cinderblock walls. Read a lot of good comics, look at a lot of good art, read a lot of good books, and learn to steal the very best from all of them. And don't imitate.

And now, some links for this week!

Andrew Loomis made the best art instruction books for illustrators and cartoonists ever made, and you can download them in their entirety, for free, online!

For young or beginning artists who want a warm, earnest, supportive place to get input on their work, there's few places better than the Flight Forums. Professionals from the books and others who just hang out are always watching to give advice to all those who seek it.

Why has Alec Longstreth given up on rapidographs and pigma pens? Find out!

Listen to Dean Haspiel.

Remember how I was talking about absorbing the worst shortcuts from people's work? Here's a great example. Ha, "Dreamworks brow."

Next week, another eraser showdown!

January 16, 2011

The biggest event in Comic Tools likely to happen this year or any other happened last Sunday, with Jim Woodring exhibiting his enormous pen, it's dripping tip gleaming in the light, to over 100 assembled men, women, and children. Woodring found the 25 pound black wooden shaft awkward and difficult to maneuver, and eventually resorted to just working with the tip, which produced much happier results.

Okay, enough dick innuendo. (Heh, in YOU end-o.) Seriously though, you have no idea how much I wanted to photoshop truck balls onto this thing. Or make a super-nerdy comics in-joke by having the tip going through a slice of pizza.

Dick jokes aside, I really, really love that this thing exists. It's actually really fascinating to me that his learning to use this thing wasn't all that different than the process I go through picking up any ordinary pen.

He had two nibs made, a steel prototype, and then a brass-plated, hand-engraved model, seen here:

Beautiful, right? But it turned out that that nib was actually a bit too stiff, and the steel nib was more flexible, so Jim put the better looking nib away in favor of the more practical prototype:

(The brass nib in the bucket of shame. click on this image for Glenn Fleichmann's great flickr set of this event.)

Jim Woodring and Nibbus Maximus

This happens to me all the time, when one nib will just be too damned stiff, and I have to chuck it and move on to another one in the box.

Here you can see Jim making the first lines with the stiffer brass nib, and all the dripping and control problems he was having:

Jim Woodring - Nibbus Maximus from Gavin Lees on Vimeo.

At first he was cautiously getting a feel for what marks it could and could not make, and the frist drawing was pretty shabby looking, which always happens to me while learning a new tool.

But amazingly, not too far into the demonstration, Woodring's inking with the pen from Land of the Giants was virtually indistinguishable from his regular inking. Here he is inking a drawing with the Nibbus Maximus:

And at the end of this video you can see him inking with his regular pen:

The man clearly has a feel for the nib as a broad concept, and when you change the parameters, like size, ink thickness, and flexibility, he just has to take awhile to readjust his technique before he's mastered it as he would any other nib. It's way, way more interesting to watch than I thought it would be, and watching him have to struggle to adapt to the tool gave me insights into how any artist adapts to nib pens.

Many have pointed out that new Seattle transplant Scott Kurtz was at the event (as seen in the below photo), and I thought I'd take this opportunity to say what spectacular resources the podcast Webcomics Weekly (which he co-hosts) and accompanying book How to Make Webcomics (which he co-wrote) are. My good friend Erika Moen helped make herself a successful independent artist and businesswoman based on concepts she learned from these resources, and anyone who has a webcomic, are is looking to start a webcomic, would do well to buy the book and start listening to the podcast from episode 1.

Jim Woodring and Nibbus Maximus

Two additional things Woodring posted on his blog that I thought were cool, a guide to how nibs were made in the old days:
(Click to see larger.)
And this drawing of a frog being hit by lightning:
(Click to see larger.)
I notice that Wooding is wearing the exact same shirt and suit that he was wearing when I met him at an art opening, and I wonder if he's like me, with only one nice outfit that he just uses over and over at any vaguely fancy event.

In unrelated news, Dark Horse posted this really fantastic back and forth illustrated dialogue between editor Scott Allie and artist Guy Davis on the latest BPRD cover. It's a perfect example of an editor doing their job right, taking an okay idea and molding it into a great one, making the artist look good, and strengthening the narrative impact of the imagery.

Below, a special treat for you: A progression from Guy's thumbnails, to his pencils, to his inks from one of my favorite pages in that issue. Click to see it in all it's glory:

See you next week!

January 8, 2011

This week on Comic Tools: Take care of your wrist!

Robin Bougie is one of the nicest men I have ever met in comics. Much like the also famously sweet Scott McCloud, he's spends most of his time as a creator helping other creators, publishing their work, using his own prominence to bring good work to light, and talking openly about his experiences as a creator. For years now he's had problems with his drawing hand, as has his wife Rebecca. This is the second time he's posted this video of injury-preventing hand stretches:

When he first posted it I was drawing a lot of comics myself, and getting terrible wrist pain. These stretches helped me a lot. From his post:

Do these stretches before you start, and once an hour, every hour, while drawing. Please don't fuck your shit up like we did. If you're a writer and typing a lot, it couldn't hurt you to do the same.

Think of yourself like an athlete, and for them stretching before they take part in their sport is absolutely VITAL in order to prevent injury. We, as artists, absolutely have to start thinking this way as well -- especially if we're in our thirties or older when our bodies aren't willing to put up with the crap we put them through.

I'm having a lot more trouble staying pain free because I started doing these stretches stuff AFTER I strained my arm, and I know now that it's much better to be preventative and begin doing them before you do permanent damage. LEARN FROM MY MISTAKE!

More information about RSI here:
Your wrist is no less a comic tool than your pen, unless you intend to learn to draw somehow without it. Take care of it. Don't hold El Corazon over crocodile-filled water with your wrist.

By the way, unless you have a really high tolerance for fucked-up, disturbing sexual imagery, do NOT click to see the other entries in his journal. Don't say you weren't warned.

Oh, and I really liked this comment to the youtube video:
"This has helped me quite a bit. For those that loose faith in humanity...visit Youtube every now and again. The fact that people take time out of their lives to help people like this is a testament to humanity"
I actually mainly watch youtube videos by people who have taken time and effort to teach others, but it's still odd to me to see someone associate youtube with MORE faith in humanity. Probably because any video, of any thing, will eventually get a comment calling the poster a fag or questioning their skills. This comment made me think that maybe I should focus more on the fact that I've gotten an amazingly thorough education on a few subjects on Youtube, and less on guys in their parent's basement looking for things to call faggy while their tiny penises heal from over masturbating.

Also, in perhaps the biggest Comic Tool news of all time, Jim Woodring will be demonstrating his enormous, 7 foot nib pen. Here's video of the nib:

He's using it in public for the very first time today, and I'll post video of that when it becomes available. I have no idea how the hell this thing is supposed to work, but you can bet I'm drooling to find out and see what he can do with it.

See you all next week!

January 2, 2011

Reader Question:

I'm following your comics tools blog lately and I want to know if there is a post on Paper/Bristol Board.
I want to buy bristol board at Blue Line Pro but I'm not sure if I should take 2ply or 3ply. It's a 10$ difference. I'm from germany and we don't distinguish by ply we only do by weight.

Could you give me advice?

Thank you so far


Bristol is a fast-dying form of commercial grade paper that is still used by many cartoonists and illustrators, although not nearly as much as it used to be, the result of which has been a steep and ever worsening decline in variety and quality, as it's no longer profitable for mills to manufacture for anything less than astronomical prices.

Bristol is made by laminating thin sheets together with glue, creating thicker sheets, as opposed to producing a thicker sheet from the get-go. This is what the ply of bristol refers to; 1 ply is a single sheet thickness, 2 ply is two sheets glued together, and so on.

I see no particular reason to get more than 2 ply bristol. Because of the gluing process, thicker bristol isn't less prone to buckling than thicker bristol, unlike with other kinds of paper, although is is more resistant to denting. Which would matter if you were using your art as a car door. In my experience all it does is add weight to your portfolio.

This week on Comic Tools: Preparation Links

Sarah Glidden shows us how she made her wonderful watercolor comic pages. Of particular interest to me was her use of a glaze of color under SOME, but not ALL parts of the images. I've seen cartoonists like Lucy Knisley use washes of color, usually yellow, over the whole image, but the way Sarah uses it is interesting, because she uses it to compartmentalize different parts of the ground from each other.

On this example page, she uses a yellow wash to separate the foreground from the midground and background, and blue to make a background sink deeper into shadow. You can't always see these glazes of undercolor in the final panels, yet this subtle technique makes her painted panels organized and easier to read.

Friend of Comic Tools, Jason Little, wrote this fantastic post about his artwork and writing process leading up to his fantastic latest book from Dark Horse, Motel Art Improvement Service. There's so much to love about this post, like his accounting about how the story started as a misguided diatribe about the health insurance industry, or how he originally wanted to serialize the story in a series of regular comic books. He was talked out of both ideas, and the result is better for it. It's the comics equivalent of a wife saying to her husband, "You're not going out looking like THAT, are you?!"

I must say though, I love this panel from when he was contemplating doing the book in only two colors of ink to save printing costs. It shows what a master of print Jason is, that if you don't have an eye that looks for such things, you don't immediately notice this panel has only two colors. It looks so lush.

Aaron Renier talks about his process writing and drawing Walker Bean in this Newsarama interview. I have seen art from this book, and it makes me shake with jealousy just thinking about it, it's so good.

Friend of Comic Tools Chris Schweizer posts artwork frequently to his blog, and it reveals that he one one of the ballsiest inkers and loosest pencillers I have ever seen in my life. Seriously, his pencils are often less resolved that a game of connect the dots. I don't know how he does it. Here, he posts one of his most detailed penciled panels (still absurdly under rendered), and here he shows off some gorgeous setting sketches for a story. The amazing thing is, that panel isn't even his finished inks- for his comics,he renders what look like finished inks in marker, then scans them in, prints them in blue, and inks in brush over that. But I've seen him ink drawings straight from pencils that loose that looked no less finished, to my eye. Insane.

Here we have a great example of everything I stand against in art teaching, in this excerpt from How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way:

See how easy it is? Just draw a stick figure, then add cylinders, then fill it in with years of painstaking anatomical study and direct life drawing knowledge, not to mention expert knowledge of lighting, drapery, and character design. Jesus Christ, why don't they just show you a white sheet of paper and say "Just add characters here with a pencil! Pause the tape while you practice doing that."

My thanks to my good friend Emily Felger for sending me a new keyboard.