Drawing Challenges

You’ve probably seen those around. 30 Day Drawing Challenge or Draw Every day February-or-whatever-month-is-convenient. And those are fine, to an extent. At least they get people motivated to draw daily. Unless you’re serious about comics or illustration as a career, then, you should be doing them anyway in the first place.

So, with that intent, I thought of a couple of drawing challenges that I think are more helpful into teaching you something about narrative in comics.

The first one I posted it some time ago on my Tumblr, but kind of got lost there, so I’m placing it here since I barely update this site.

1.- Write and draw a 20 page comic without using dialoges/words, at all.
Your whole story has to be told in pantomime, and it needs to be clear to the reader. It’s really up to you what it’s going to be about, and which style you want to draw it in. There’s no silly rules, you don’t even have to post it online if you don’t want to. It’s a personal challenge (both are, actually), to prove and improve yourself as a storyteller.

This will help you, in the long run, to be able to tell more with the body language of your characters so you don’t have to rely heavily in dialogues. Yes, sometimes you get to fully know the personality of a character for what they say and the way they say it, but also from the way they sit or engage in situations. And, when you don’t have any words to lean on to, those other important characteristics raise a lot. Which brings me to the second challenge:

2.- No word balloon should have more than three lines of text.
I know sometimes there’s a lot of things you want to say in your comic, a lot of explaining to do, a lot of setting up, and lots of exposition. But exposition should be weaved into the narrative, not dumped to the audience like a boring pile of bricks. And, everything that you’re writing could be super interesting, but it doesn’t take away the fact that having a wall of text on a panel, especially in EVERY panel, feels like a chore. So, if you don’t want each panel to look like a cluttered wordy mess like one from a Penny Arcade strip (or like this), learn how to edit your texts. Think of it like having a Twitter-like characters limit per page.

This will help you learn how to synthesize the information you’re giving to the audience. To get rid off redundant and/or over-stating words and descriptions. Which, mixed with the previous challenge, creates a “don’t tell me, show me” scenario. But, if you have a longer dialogue that “HAS” to be in just one panel, you can break it down in parts.
THIS is what I mean (and yes, I’m using my own work as an example, thank you very much). The first and last panels are broken up that way. Instead of the character having run-on sentences in one pile, it gives more of an idea of time between statements than a coma would do. Also, the example with panels three and four. You regularly see those two panels mashed into just one because they’re basically part of the same statement he’s giving. Why divide them, then? To give the narrative pacing, and to let two actions express more (and give more meaning to the punch-line) than just one.
That’s a big word here, folks: PACING. Some people would argue that having a limit on how much text you can put in a word balloon will cause to extend the story because more panels will be needed. Yes, that’s the idea here. To have a more organic and smoothly paced narrative instead of a roller coaster that stops every five meters to smash into a wall.
No page limit on this one, but give it a try on a story longer than 15 pages.

That’s about it for now of these “challenges”. Mostly because these two complement each other and work great together. But, if you have ideas for other actually useful challenges, let me know and we’ll work them out here in a future post.

Mario A.~

Bonus tip: If you ever have to break a word in syllables because it’s too long and half of it is in one line of text and the other on the next one, only separated by this “-“, just take the whole word and write it down in the next line. It looks like crap when words are broken down like that. (I refer back to this, where it happens in almost every single panel, but that’s mostly the letterer’s fault)

On “This Will Come Out Sometime” Advice

You have probably seen this a lot.

I guess it’s the nature of artists. Whenever working on a personal project, they’re possibly scared or doubtful to just take the next step and getting it out there. Not bits and pieces, or little teases here and there, but the actual product (either finished or a part of it if it’s a serialized venture).

I’m guessing you see more of this in comics (or maybe *I* see it more because that’s the medium I dwell the most in), people teasing their projects to their followers, showing some character designs, little back stories (or some huge exposition dumps that would work better by weaving them into narrative instead), and, what I think is a new Tumblr thing, these “character building whatever-day-of-the-week” I’ve seen a ton of people do.

Those are fine, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t fly for too long. What’s happening is that you’re making people crave for your stories and keep explaining to them why they will might like it, but without actually showing them why.

And that’s the main point here: Show them, don’t tell them.

Arguably, it took me 8 years to actually start publishing Wyliman, but what do you want from me? I was 13 at the time I created him, and as a matter of fact, a 10 page story was published and showcased at a museum as part of a collaborative effort with other new cartoonists a year after it’s creation, so there. But yeah, it was until late 2005 that I had enough of just drawing pin-ups of him and silly one liners that I decided to finally start working on the stories and show them as soon as I had them.

And holding and keeping my mouth shut about Clink was a bit of torture. I came with the whole “finished” concept on May of last year, and I couldn’t help to open my big fat gob and tell some people at some shows “yeah, I’m working on this thing that will come out early next year“, which, hopefully, they didn’t remember until it was actually online. But I had to hold back. I hate hyping something to people; not because it won’t live to their expectations, but because I hate feeding them bait instead of a nice tasty meal.

I know other life priorities over take the time people have to dedicate to sit and write and draw their stories. And they are super eager to show the world that they are in fact alive and producing. But I know it’s not just me that we’d prefer from these really good storytellers to just hit us in the face with “Here, this is happening now.

Commit, don’t be afraid, and just go for it.

Mario A.~

The Root of Comedy

You’ve probably seen this video floating around for a few days now. I strongly recommend you to watch it first before you keep on reading.

If you’re as dead inside as I am or in the vicinity or neighborhood of Black Heart Hills, you might be saying to yourself “Well, yeah, he’s funny, but the video is edited to be pandering for people to feel more sympathetic towards him, making it even seem him to be even funnier. It’s exploiting the fact that he’s disabled to get a cheer from everyone.” And you might possibly be close to right, in the sense that yes, this is edited for TV and for entertainment purposes.

But let’s go beyond that. Let’s see past the marketable product they aired on the show.

Jack here addresses one of the major points of comedy: taking people to dark places where they feel uncomfortable and tell them “it’s okay, I’m here as well. Sit down, relax. Let me bring you something to drink.” Just as he says, his disability is his advantage. He’s telling people “I don’t care, so why should you? This doesn’t define me as a person, but my work and attitude towards it does“.

Louis C.K. addressed this as well in his speech when honoring George Carlin. He had an act with just observational humor of trivial things*, but when he started to dig deeper within himself and started to talk about the things he was afraid to say, and then make fun of them, he took the audience with him and they responded in a positive way. So much he’s considered one of the best comedians of all time.

*Not that just observational humor is bad. Jerry Seinfeld is a good example of doing it perfectly.

I do a lot of self-deprecating humor (either in my work, online or just talking to friends), and I’ve encountered a lot of times people telling me either that I shouldn’t be making fun of myself, that people are laughing at me and not with me, or that I have a low self-esteem. I know they mean well, but those arguments are wrong. For starters, when you make fun of yourself, you mostly head off at the pass anyone who wants to mock you, because you’re already there. Secondly, when intentionally doing this kind of humor, you’ve already dug this deep and laughed at yourself, so you’re in fact laughing with them. And finally, at least in my case, I can’t process the notion of having low self-esteem and doing self-deprecating humor.

And that’s the keyword here, folks: Humor. It’ll take you to an uncomfortable place and make you laugh at the fact that it isn’t that big of a deal. It will bring you a new perspective about things you thought were untouchable or too sacred/taboo/sensitive to talk about. And I think that’s where the root of comedy comes from. From the unexpected. And what can be more unexpected that the things you are scared of?

To quote George CarlinI believe you can joke about anything. It all depends on how you construct the joke. What the exaggeration is.” And I think that’s what Jack here constructed perfectly. He hit everyone in the face with that first statement. He said it himself, he pointed out the elephant in the room first, so everybody could concentrate on the funny jokes then.

I want to see more of Jack Carroll. I hope he takes advantage of this exposure and becomes a great comedian, because he is actually funny.


Mario A. ~ (The “A” is for “Awkward”)

PS: I have a list of great stand-up routines in my Youtube Channel (linked HERE) if you want to see (and laugh) more examples of going to dark palces and digging deeper into your own mind.