Home Shop Talk Areas I want to improve as a cartoonist

Areas I want to improve as a cartoonist

I don’t think I’m alone in this, but I tend to see the flaws in my own work first.

I think that is part of what any creative person struggles with in developing their craft. I will confess to generally disliking my own drawing, it’s something I’m plagued by, but also grateful for because it drives me to continually try to get it right. The dark side of this is knowing I’ll never get there, I’ll always see the flaws first. It’s part of my nature, something that I’ve had to be aware of and purposefully; “cut myself some slack”.

There have been times where I’ve given in, and just accepted that my line will always be awkward. The small bit of precision that I can achieve will always be balanced by an inability to be consistent in the ways I want. When I’m feeling like that, I generally lose any desire to work. I stop drawing because in the back of my mind I hear my inner voice saying, “what’s the point?”.  I’ve come to realize that sometimes I do need to take a break from the work in order to move forward. I’ve always found that it helps to clear the mind by doing other things and then returning to the drawing board later.

I love to watch other artists work, and I marvel at those who have been able to achieve a consistent, reliable line. To create form lines or shading with a series of regularly spaced, repetitive lines and not have it look lifeless, that is a skill I admire (I sometimes watch sign painters, or car detailers, those guys are super-human in their ability to get a beautiful, consistent line.).

An artist who’s work I admire is Bilquis Evely, I discovered her from the work she did on Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow (a great book written by Tom King). Her work is so beautiful, I love looking at her pages. Her composition and storytelling is so solid, and her line is so incredibly elegant (the amount of rendering she puts into her panels is amazing to me, just on the level of sheer stamina to craft a beautiful panel). Her work has the quality of early 2oth century illustration, which I imagine she was greatly inspired by at some point in her artistic development.

On the completely other end of the stylistic spectrum is the work of the immensely talented artist/writer Jeff Lemire, his work is more organic and rough, but no less beautiful. There’s a confidence with how he inks his pages, and such raw emotion and deep sensitivity to his brush lines. I stumbled upon his series “Sweet Tooth” a few years back and was blown away by his artwork.

The goal of this post wasn’t really to gush over the work or a few artists I admire; no, the point of this article is more to share some of the areas I want to improve in as far as my own work. Like a lot of amateur cartoonists out there, I work on my craft when I can. So here’s a short list of areas I want to improve, in no particular order.

Line quality

This one I know is just going to be a never ending quest, a holy grail that I’ll never get to. That said; I’m learning to pay attention to my stress levels when drawing. I’ve discovered that the quality of line I’m looking for is more achievable if I’m in a calm place. They say drawing puts you in a certain, almost meditative state, where you lose track of time. I’ve found that is true, but I’m not always able to be in that place. When I was younger it was easier for me to do, I could draw for hours without even realizing it. Now that I’m pushing 60, I find it isn’t so easy to get lost in the work the way I use to.  I’ve found that mornings are the best time for me to draw, my mind is clearest and I’m able to just let it flow.

Visual Storytelling

My story telling is all rooted in the comics I use to read in the late 70’s and early 80’s. I completely missed the the comics of the 90’s, there’s just huge swaths of work I never looked at. To be honest I generally disliked most of what did cross my path. I’m trying to pay more attention to tension between panels, to look at the process more like a director of a movie. I tend to hyper-focus on the drawing part of the cartooning, but honestly it’s helpful to pull back and try to look less at the individual panel and more of the flow of the page.

In that same vein, I need to remember to view the characters, not as drawing; but as actors. They need to emote, show feelings not just be drawn well. Looking at Manga has been helpful to me in this regard (shout outs to Hiroaki Sumura’s “Blade of the Immortal“, Tsutomu Nihei’s “Blame!“).

The work I’ve been doing on Negative Boy, I realize I’ve been skipping a very important step, doing thumbnails of the pages. Way back in the stone ages (early 2000’s) when I worked with some writers on creator owned projects, I’d get a script and I’d thumbnail out the pages first, then start moving to drafts of the full pages. I think because I’m writing the story as well as drawing it, I’ve been able to skip that step. Sometimes the drawings change the direction of the story, flipping the typical script first, then artwork progression.

I think with the next episode of Negative Boy, I’ll try to thumbnail it all out before moving to the full pages again. I’m not sure how well I’ll stick to this because I’ve grown accustomed to a very free-form kind of development process. We’ll see how this goes!

Visual consistency of characters

When I read through the work I’ve done, I can see that sometimes my characters aren’t always drawn the same way, sometimes the proportions are off. This is definitely an area I need to work on. I’m thinking more character studies are needed. My impulse to get the story out, sometimes over-rides all considerations and I just want to put the characters and word balloons down so I can see where they are going. I think that is getting in the way of me really defining the characters visual language. I notice other cartoonists are much better at this than I am, it’s something I need to work on.

Perspective and proportion

Ugh, perspective. It’s a pain in the ass, but its so important. My impulse is to wing it, I hate t-squares and triangles, they suck the fun out of drawing. Which is precisely why I hate drawing buildings, cars, swords, guns, airplanes, spaceships or interiors! If I could get away with just drawing faces and figures I would! Sadly good perspective and proportions really ground a scene, it gives it weight and visual heft.

Not much to say on this, I just need to suck it up and do the work. Some shit is a grind, but it’s important for the reader to be able to sink into the world I’m trying to build. This is definitely an area I need to improve on.

Final thoughts

Thanks for reading my ramblings! Shout out to all the creators out there, known and unknown. We’re part of the same tribe that follows an inner need to create. I wish all my brothers and sisters in creativity a fruitful journey, on this odd road we travel!

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