Teaching an art class about how to draw comic books combines many skills all at once: drawing, costume design, storytelling, and layout. Whereas a normal art student will devote an entire class to studying just one or two of these subjects (that is, drawing and layout (aka composition), the budding comicbook artist must tackle all of these subjects at once, simultaneously, because its basically an amalgam of different basic art specialties. just as movies are a collaborative art form involving acting, painting (set design), writing, lighting, drawing, etc, drawing comics is similarly sophisticated. But just imagine teaching this art form to kids, who are its biggest enthusiasts. That’s a major hurdle: teaching drawing, writing, visual storytelling, and layout all at once. But it can be done, and in fact, it should be taught as a single subject.
In an ideal comics art school, there should be a central creators class, where the focus is on creating a comic book. But this should all be supported by several foundation classes, each which focuses in developing a the traditional categories of art, such as drawing, painting, etc.
If anyone saw the movie American Splendor, which chronicles the list of comics verite’ writer Harvey Pekar, they’d see how comics start: from an idea. Pekar is not an artist, and not much of a writer either, but he does have an ear for the pleasantries of idle conversation. His innovation was to write about his own life, but to translate it into comic book form; kind a a cartoonists version of the cinema verite movies / the French New Wave popular around that time. without Pekar’s complaining, hostility, suspiciousness, and hep cat jive, his comics would be very ordinary. In fact, Pekar is a good example of how the writing dialogue of is paramount importance. In comics, however, writing doesn’t stop and the text in the word balloons.
There’s also a lot of visual writing. It’s about the creative decisions made by artist regarding story pacing, the number of panels on a page, the camera angles (closeups, longshots.), the composition or layout, shadows, sound effects, styles of letters.all of these graphic elements have storytelling values, so the comic artist must consider each element individually, and how it’s contributing to the overall story drawn on the page. since all of this is a huge task, comic book companies often split up the tasks among separate individuals. But in a comic book class, each student must acquire a mastery of all of them on his own.
Since there’s so much to teach, and so much for a student to learn, the approach I like to take when teaching is have the student just start drawing comics, as they always have. this will give me (the teacher) a baseline idea of the students strength’s and weakness. Plus, the student will be something that he’s familiar with and enjoys; my job is just to take him to the next step. as an art teacher (at least the way I teach) I often feel like a coach. I try to find where there the students weaknesses art, and then I design exercises to correct those weaknesses.
So given the complexity and sophistication of graphic storytelling (that is, comic book production), where do you start when teaching a class? I say to start with drawing whatever they like. Post all of the pictures on the board, and use that first critique to allow all of the students strengths, weaknesses, and interests in subject matter just jump out at you. that will be your lesson plan right there: a course designed around correcting the mistakes of your students. You must be able write stories with words, pictures, shapes big and small, and all with a sense of timing. It’s a big job, but the place to get started is by letting your students show you what they already know.