Monday, November 29, 2010

Sketchblog Week 2: Moebius

Each week, I spend one hour a day sketching, building up a set of skills that should, we all hope, show improvement over a one-year period. Sometimes I'll draw by copying comic book artists, sometimes I'll draw from life, sometime I'll draw from how-to books, and other times, I'll just sketch with whatever is at hand. This is WEEK TWO of a 52 week experiment to see how well I can learn how to draw.

I'll admit that I have already broken the "one hour a day" sketching regime rule, though this week it was because of the holiday and family responsibilities, and as selfish as I can be, I can't really say, "hey kids, I'm going to ignore you during this Thanksgiving vacation because I have to copy some French guy's pictures of people wearing funny hats."

I did spend a few nights with the Moebius books cracked open in front of me and that pen and ink flowing, but it was not even close to a full hour each night.

For most of these sketches, I skipped the pencil stage entirely. Except for Arzach on the top left, I drew all these directly with a fine point marker. I wanted to focus more on texture than structure this week, and I found this week's sketches to be an interesting contrast to the bombastic anatomical contortions of the John Buscema Marvel figures.

You may be wondering why I went with Moebius this week, and I suppose I am too. "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way" was an obvious, and sentimental, first step on this experiment of mine, but to go with Moebius second? It's not like Moebius is my favorite artist, or even an artist I necessarily had planned to emulate in the long run. It might have made more sense, from a building-from-the-ground-up approach, to go to Eisner next, and do something with his how-to books. Or even to go with Kirby, which is really at the core of the lessons Buscema was demonstrating. Or to go with someone contemporary, as a contrast to the classic superhero style. Quitely, perhaps.

Yet Moebius seemed like the perfect contrast. And though he's not my favorite artists, I do like his work a whole heck of a lot. With Moebius, particularly the work I chose to focus on, which comes from the Epic reprints from the 1980s (though I avoided Blueberry, mostly because that seemed more conventionally illustrative and less Moebius's signature style), you get the anti-Buscema in a lot of ways. His figures are reservedly posed, compared to the dynamic anatomy of Buscema. Moebius noodles around with detail and cross-hatching and stippling, while Buscema is all bold lines and masses of shadow. Moebius also goes clear line with some of his comics, and the clear line style is the antithesis of the curved, pencil-thick holding lines of a Spider-Man in action.

And, ultimately, I just wanted to try something new. Texture over form. Ink more than pencil. And see what came out.

NEXT WEEK: With America and Europe already represented, dare I make my way to manga territory so soon?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sketchblog Week 1: The Marvel Way

Each week, I spend one hour a day sketching, building up a set of skills that should, we all hope, show improvement over a one-year period. Sometimes I'll draw by copying comic book artists, sometimes I'll draw from life, sometime I'll draw from how-to books, and other times, I'll just sketch with whatever is at hand. This is WEEK ONE of a 52 week experiment to see how well I can learn how to draw.

I didn't have trouble deciding to start by working from "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way." This Stan Lee/John Buscema joint runs deep in my veins, and as I was copying some pages from the book and relearning from Stan and John, I realized how much of my casual drawing approach (in margin-note doodles) comes directly from the lessons I learned as a 12-year-old when I first read this book.

Back then, I didn't actually do any of the exercises. I mostly just copied the face structures and the Buscema-human-form-proportions to create my own characters. I never used this book to play around with composition or shading or balance. This time, I did, and some of the results were better than others.

I certainly can't draw women at all.

But this Marvel approach of Kirby-by-way-of-Buscema does feel somewhat natural to me, and it was pretty easy to loosen up with this classic book in front of me. And though it's an out-dated drawing style, and though it has Stan Lee's hyperbole on every page, it's actually a good primer on the way to draw exciting action in the Mighty Marvel Manner. At least, the way it used to be. Fluid and dynamic and bombastic.

I'd like to revisit Buscema later in this experiment. Perhaps copy some finished sequences from the height of his first "Avengers" run, or some of his more illustrative "Silver Surfer" work. We'll see if I end up coming back to this comfort zone, once I've acquired some skills.

Also, this is probably the most images I'll scan in for one of these Sketchblog weeks. It's too tedious. So, expect maybe three or four representative drawings at most, from now on. The good, the bad, and some of the in-between.

NEXT WEEK: I will copy 20 Moebius drawings. And introduce some ink.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sketchblog Week 0: It Begins

I may one day return this blog to the comic book and pop culture commentary it once was, but since I spend my extra-curricular hours writing columns for CBR and recording Splash Page podcasts, I don't feel compelled to write about any of that stuff here. Basically, if you're a regular old-timey Geniusboy Firemelon blog reader, you probably know what I've been writing about or talking about elsewhere. If not, go check out my other projects and my Twitter feed (and honestly, a lot of what I once wrote about here, I mention, in much more succinct form, over there).

So what I've decided to do, for the next year, is to use this sort-of-dormant blog to track my progress through an experiment that I once mentioned on a Splash Page podcast a few months back. Part of my quitting-the-CBR-Review-Team was about (a) enjoying comics as a reader, but also (b) creating comics of my own. I have a few writing projects in the works, but I also have another plan: to teach myself how to draw.

I want to unlearn everything I know about drawing and relearn it. I want to spend at least one hour a day, every day, drawing. I used to draw all the time, but then, as I got busier, and my teaching and comics criticism career went into overdrive, I just stopped. I haven't really drawn anything -- other than margin doodles when I'm taking notes in a meeting -- in a couple of years. And I love to draw. Or I used to, anyway.

So I'll document this relearning how to draw experiment, as I fill up sketchbooks and improve my drawing skills week-by-week. I have a plan. I will undergo a grueling comic book training regimen. I'll draw from life, from how-to books, even from the lessons in the Famous Artists School. I'll copy pages from my favorite comics, and I'll get advice from my artist friends. Maybe I won't get any better, but I suspect I will, and I'd like to share what happens along the way.

This first little sample, above, is a one-page comic I drew for my daughter today, when she asked me to draw her something, after seeing me crack open an old sketchbook last used in 2002, well before she was born. I'm posting it here because that's what I'm starting with -- it's a quick little comic, but it shows the basic lack of skill I'm working with. This is the starting point. In one year I will redraw this same one-page story, and it will, hopefully, look like something worth reading.

Each week I'll post a collection of sketches and drawings based on my week of study and practice, and I'll provide some commentary about what I'm learning along the way. And because I'm going to start at the beginning, and unlearn what I know in order to relearn -- or really learn -- how to draw comics, I'll start with the first book, and the first artist, that I ever tried to learn from. John Buscema, and "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way." Join me in a week, to see if I learned anything from studying the work of the late Professor Buscema. By the end of this experiment, a year from now, I suspect I'll end up pretty darn far away from "The Marvel Way," so I figure this is a good place to start.

This is about me exploring all aspects of comic book art, from the inside out, with a critical mind, but it's also about returning to the tactile experience of the creative act. I'll be copying and reflecting, drawing and redrawing, but at the end, I should be ready to start making marks for myself. Making comics, from the ground up.