Saturday, April 19, 2008

Last Week at Long Island University

I had meant to say something about this sooner, but as I mentioned last week, April is particularly cruel for those of us on an academic schedule: as the end of the term gets closer, all those postponed and delayed things start coming in... Plus, I've got a move to Vermont to prepare for. But enough excuses: here's what I was going to say.

Last Wednesday, I was pleased to host a comics-related event at my campus of Long Island University, with Matt Madden and Jessica Abel:

It went really well. Matt and Jessica came to my graphic-novel seminar and talked with my students about their recent books (which we had read in the class), the creative process more generally, and their books that are about to come out. In the evening they gave a slideshow presentation for a more general university audience, and I think the students really enjoyed it. The creatively inclined students in my afternoon class really seemed glad to be able to talk with some working writers. One of my students who is interested in writing fiction told me that listening to the presentation made her more interested in making comics, and that she was planning to buy Jessica and Matt's textbook when it comes out later this year.

This brings me to one of the most exciting parts of the visit for me: Matt and Jessica brought in an early copy of their forthcoming Drawing Words and Writing Pictures, which looks like it will be the best book yet released on how to make comics. I had high hopes for Scott McCloud's Making Comics when it came out—despite all my quibbles and arguments with the stuff in Understanding Comics, I think McCloud is a really smart thinker about how comics are put together—but it turned out not to be all that useful in the classroom when I taught my first class on how to make comics.

This book, on the other hand, looks like it will be perfect for that class, if I ever get to teach it again. It has a friendly, open approach:

Not all of the book is narrated in comics format like this—just the introduction and a few other parts—but this moment really does seem exemplary of the book's tone. (I scanned these images from the latest issue of The Comics Journal. The actual book has color in it, but I'm not sure whether these pages are grayscale or color.)

Having taught comics-making once now, I can also see signs all over this book of Matt and Jessica's years of experience teaching at SVA and elsewhere.

Can't draw hands? Have problems with perspective? Sounds like a lot of my students last year. Heck, that sounds like me when I was first teaching myself how to cartoon. (I remember asking Mike to set up the perspective for me in one panel of my first mini. I couldn't figure out how to make it look right. And I was having trouble with hands all the way through our Demonstration mini in 2004.)

To my mind, though, this moment in the introduction hits precisely the right note: being an expert draftsman can sure help you make good-looking comics, but if you learn the way the language of comics works, you can teach yourself to draw more beautifully (or more to your own aesthetic, whatever it is) as you make comics. Almost every cartoonist goes through a learning period, sometimes lasting a decade or more. Someone once told Mike that you have to draw a thousand pages of terrible comics before you can make one good one—so, as I now tell my students, you might as well get started on the bad ones. But I'm guessing that having a guide like Drawing Words and Writing Pictures would help to accelerate the learning curve, maybe trimming off a couple hundred from the count.

I am really excited about the release of this book, and I hope anyone who is interested in making comics will pick up a copy.

One final note about the visit: Jessica and Matt brought their baby daughter Aldara along with them, and she is one amazingly beautiful and sweet-tempered little girl. She charmed both of the students who babysat her while the cartoonists were presenting, and I swore (and will stand behind it, even never having seen Eli and Oliver in person) that Aldara is cuter than both of the Kochalka sons put together.

1 comment:

Ben Towle said...

I agree 100% with your assessment that DRAWING WORDS is going to be the best comics-making book around. I just finished writing a review of it for a comics website and it's really, really fantastic.