Robot 6

Quote of the Day | Writers should consider learning to draw

Faith Erin Hicks drawing

This is actually an answer I like to give to writers when they ask me the question of how they can attract an artist, “Have you considered drawing your comic yourself?” I get that not everyone draws, or has the capacity and patience (and time and momentum) to learn drawing, but take it from me, drawing is a skill, and it is something many people can learn. So why not give it a try?

Faith Erin Hicks

Hicks has been talking a lot lately on her blog about requests she receives from writers who want her to help them bring their comics projects to life. She differentiates between these requests and professional offers, not only based on how much the writer is willing to pay but on how likely the project is to be published. She kind of starts in an understandably frustrated, “please leave me alone” place, but ends up offering some positive advice to new creators.

Much of it is advice that’s been offered by other creators who get a lot of these requests for collaboration and advice on “breaking in,” but the piece I quoted above isn’t a suggestion that usually gets offered. It’s worth considering, I think. As she points out in the post, no one is a great artist the first time she picks up a pencil. It takes years of practice, and Hicks shares examples of her early work as proof. People who have a great comics idea, but no drawing talent should at least consider developing some talent as an option.

There are of course writers who have no desire to draw their own comics, just as there are artists who have no desire to write. The two groups will always need each other and that’s a beautiful thing too, but many new writers don’t even consider the possibility of drawing their own stuff and that’s a shame. Especially since so many new writers don’t actually want a collaboration, but are only looking for someone talented to bring their vision to life. When that’s the case, the “someone talented” is best going to be the writer himself.

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23 Comments

Hmm.

I think that while someone can improve their skills, there does need to be some innate talent there.

Some people have that, but if you don’t, then it doesn’t matter how hard you practice. Some people will never be writers and some will never be artists.

I’m lucky in that I love writing and I’m actually good at it. But ask me to draw? I’d be hopeless. I’m dyspraxic, so stick figures would prove difficult for me.

But for those lucky few who can write and draw, I say power to them.

I’m just not one of them.

I agree with everything Paul said above.

I’d also like to add there’s nothing wrong with being a writer who loves comics but recognizes in yourself that you don’t necessarily have an inclination towards visual mediums. There are a lot of comics writers, both aspiring and professional, who don’t seem to understand that comics are a visual medium FIRST and foremost and your writing exists primarily to be “read” visually through the artwork. They write comics like a prose novel that just happens to have pictures or like a screenplay that’s made of stills and those writers seem, to me, to be working in the wrong discipline. If you think a comic is a script chiefly and just has artwork added incidentally, think again about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

Part of being a successful writer is learning your own strengths and weaknesses and playing the hand you’ve been dealt, so to speak, to its greatest possible outcome. Just being a fan of something doesn’t necessarily mean your brain is naturally oriented toward that type of communication so you might be better off working hard and developing skills in the direction of your natural abilities and predilections instead of shoe-horning yourself into a medium you just happen to dig. Personally, I am a prose writer and have no current aspirations to work on a comic book… it’s not because I don’t love them or even because I’ve never worked at developing talent as a visual artist (I draw like a four year old with a broken hand) it’s mainly because I don’t “think in comics” so it would be a poor fit.

I’ve gotten into so many discussions/debates/arguments about this with my wife…

I don’t think “talent” even exists. Unless by “talent” you mean desire. Like anything else in life, to do something well, with an expert’s skill, you have to want to do it well. To get better, you have to WANT to get better. It’s that desire which pushes you to practice which leads you to improvement.

I’ve always felt like calling someone “talented” kind of robs that person of some credit. As if they’re simply some sort of conduit for the expression of the ethereal Talent. Feel free to believe that if you want, but I’d rather praise someone’s dedication to their craft and determination to work harder than the rest.

I think it’s great advice. Even if you don’t develop the chops to draw your own comic, you will at the very least gain a greater understanding of the process and that will make it easier to communicate with an artist down the line. It will also give many writers a better sense of what it is they’re asking of artists.

I draw my own comic. I’ve had no artistic training, unless you count art class in high school.

The quality of my art is…okay. Not professional, just okay. I occasionally rise to something sublime, but mostly it’s workman-like, serviceable art. I’ll never win awards for it, and I’m not counting on the strength of my art to sell the comic. (Hopefully the strength of my writing — which I have been trained in– will do that.)

But there are other considerations. All the time I spend creating mediocre art is time I could have spent writing. More importantly, because I’ve had no training in art I don’t know how to do it in a healthy manner, and all that drawing has wrecked my back, neck, and right hand. I have to limit the amount of time I draw to prevent injury, and that means I can’t draw as fast as professionals do — one page a week is the best I can put out.

If I want a comic that looks more professional or that comes out at a more market-friendly pace, I need to hire a professional to draw it. I’m considering doing that now, even though I have the skills to draw fairly well.

Hicks’ advice is fine for amateurs who are happy creating an amateur product, but if you want to reach higher than that you need every task to be done by a professional.

And regarding Faith Erin Hicks’ comment, I completely understand why she would be frustrated with requests to draw other people’s scripts, especially for free. Yes, hooking up with the right artist instead of an amateurish attempt to get a pro to do work for you without pay is a good answer and yes, just drawing the thing yourself, even if it means a bit of hard work and a learning curve is also a good answer… but I’m kind of thinking at the root of that issue and there’s a good chance that if you can’t or won’t draw your own comic and need to go around begging others to do it for you, MAYBE you’re just misinterpreting a love for comics as a sign you ought to be making them.

To be clear, I don’t want to step on ambition… someone telling you you shouldn’t be doing something you really should is the worst thing in the world and everyone needs to ignore that kind of negativity and go full steam ahead. I’m just saying there’s more than one way to be creative and part of success and personal fulfillment is finding the right way for you so you have to be faithful to your truer self first.

Greg –

Talent exists but it’s honed to craft through hard work and discipline. Without the latter, raw talent is wasted. Hard work and discipline are very real things and certainly the biggest part of success but you can’t augment what isn’t there to start with. Why should you? It’d be a lie and a self-betrayal to work on a talent you don’t have at the expense of talent you do. I could take singing lessons for a thousand years and I’ll never sound like Luciano Pavarotti.

As a wannabe writer with very little artistic skill, I’d still say that I’ve learned a lot by drawing my own comics. Even knowing that no one in their right mind would ever pay for art as mediocre-to-awful as mine, I’ve still learned lots of comics *writing* skills from the exercise of drawing, things like panel pacing, how much action or dialogue can fit on a page, the sort of visual/spacial language that you really learn best by just doing it yourself and seeing what works and what doesn’t. To this day, I still doodle out stick figure layouts of every comic story I write–not ever with the intention of drawing it myself or even sharing them with my artist, but just to prove out that “Yes, what I want to cram onto this page actually WORKS on a visual level.” Better to be able to figure it out yourself than hand it off to an artist who responds “Dude, I can’t draw that.”

But yeah, as a writer-who-can’t-draw, finding collaborators is definitely difficult. I started making comics way back in 2004, but it took until 2010 before I was able to find ways to consistently have artists to collaborate with, by joining with some other comic-making friends to start our own regular comic book creator meetups that grew into a self-publishing venture, Ink and Drink Comics (www.inkanddrinkcomics.com). Another key, too, is to start small: cold calling artists on the internet to get them to draw your 500-page magnum opus probably won’t go anywhere, but finding an artist in your hometown that will draw an 8-page story? That’s far more likely. And each comic you finish gets your name in front of more people, and opens up the potential for more collaborations. Meeting people in person, collaborating in real time, actually *making* comics, and then getting them out there into the world: that’s how you get things moving.

D. Peace-

Some people are lucky enough to discover what they love to do early in life, and I think that’s usually, and quickly, labelled as talent. Children learn more easily than adults, and when a child finds something they’re excited about, and something that they want to learn, they’re going to pick it up much faster. I don’t think great comic artists are any more gifted than the rest, I think they’ve just been at it longer and have been more excited about making comics.

Whenever I’ve had to defend my stance on this before, I’ve always equated learning to draw with learning a new language. (Since drawing is essentially just a visual language.) The later in life you wait to learn a new language, the more difficult and time consuming it can be. Anyone can learn a new language, just as anyone can learn to draw. Just because someone isn’t as practiced doesn’t mean they don’t have the ability to be skilled.

Or we can agree to disagree. No hard feelings either way.

Greg -

No, no hard feelings. :) I appreciate your perspective. Maybe if, as a kid, I had started drawing and working intently on that skill, I would be able to draw right now. Maybe you’re right and that’s true of literally anyone. But I think back to my childhood and I was filling notebooks with words-only prose and getting my (admittedly ridiculous) short stories published in our elementary school’s little kid’s literary anthology. So I don’t want to disagree with you because we can all work on any part of ourselves and make it better but I do still think we have preoccupations and inborn predilections (some call them “gifts” or “talents” as they choose) and I feel like I’m at my best when I work towards mine. Again, I am NEVER and would never tell someone to quit… I’m just saying follow your internal compass and that part of knowing who you are is also knowing who you aren’t.

Jason Green –

That’s excellent advice for those who do decide that an artistic collaboration is the best way to go. Start local, start with smaller projects. Thanks for posting that, people would do well to remember it.

I wrote about this over on Gutterbrawl: http://www.gutterbrawl.org/?p=53. There are a lot of things that first-time writers (especially those that cannot write) can do to sour relationships with artists, mostly because there isn’t a lot of guidance spelling out common-sense wisdom. Learning to draw may not be the best option, but it is an option.

It’s not that simple. There are PLENTY of highly talented artists that can’t write dialogue or script a book to save their lives. I’d rather they stick with what they are good at.

honestly, I’d love to be able to totally create my own comics. I’d love it. But….learning to draw just isn’t that easy. My mind just can’t grapple with it somehow. So I’m left with scripts :( Which is a shame, since I onlyw rite for my own amusement, not with any hopes of publication or anything, so I’d love to have “finished products” of my own creation.

OR. What writers COULD do is to read the many, many books on comic-book writing offered by successful comic-book writers who either don’t or can’t draw.

Or invest in some of the (often higher-end) comic products that offer the writer’s original script with the finished project. A number of writers like Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Peter David and Geoff Johns have had copies of their scripts published alongside the artwork of their collaborators letting you see how the project developed. Most of the writers offer structure suggestions (“I see this page with three equal-sized horizontal panels along the length of the page, but if you feel the page works better with the panels of different sizes or you have a different vision of the panel layout, go for it”) or visual hints (“I see her clothes being more eclectic and funky than haute-couture or businesslike even though she runs a successful fashion magazine–compare Jennifer Saunders’ Edina Monsoon in Absolutely Fabulous to Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada”) and the art pages show how closely or how differently the artist’s designs compare. (Granted, most of these guys are able to work with the artist/s of their choice for most projects and generally write their scripts to work to the artist’s strengths. But the basic elements of how they fashion their scripts are completely imitable.)

And while Jason’s comment about the stick figures is a good one, it’s not entirely without its own problems. The major problem being that the writer may not be the best judge of what can or can’t work on a page or how much can or can’t go onto a page. Maybe what you think would need 9 panels on the page could be done in 4 or 6 panels when drawn by a *real* artist (or you think 4 or 6 panels are enough but the artist looks at it and says “I need at least 9 for that”). IF you have a modicum of artistic talent, you realize that there’s far more to a finished panel (or even a thumbnail breakdown) than merely the “main figures” in the story.

…I can’t draw. Literally. I have a learning disability that involves my motor skills, I can’t even draw a straight line with a ruler.

I do think that that’s solid advice in general, though. In order to make up for my disabilities I watch a lot of film and read a lot of comics and just try to immerse myself in visual media. It’s not the best replacement for actually learning to draw but it helps me understand how to tell a story visually a lot better.

Of course talent exists, it’s foolish to think otherwise.

I will never run as fast as Usain Bolt. The proportions of his frame, his muscle type and density, is something that no amount of dedication and hard work will replicate in me.

Also, if I strength trained for all my life, I still wouldn’t be as powerful as Bill Kazmaier was. His bone structure and size, no hard work will change someone with a sleight frame into him.

Just as people are physically predisposed to excelling different ways, so are they mentally. Yes, hard work can and will give you a level of skill, and talent alone doesn’t tell the whole story, but someone whose mind is naturally geared toward a certain field or way of thinking will much more easily grasp and learn those skills, and ultimately be able to reach greater heights.

More “talented” animators made Mars Needs Moms than made the pilot for South Park. The armies of Concept artists, animators, digital modelers that made one of the great box office disasters of recent memory were each of them probably the best artist in their high school class. The South Park guys didn’t let that stop them.

Being talented enough to always do things the right way is a prison– it keeps people from trying out the wrong ways, from taking risks, from finding ways to cheat the system.

Plus: if you have a computer, you can download Blender for free; you can download Sketchup for free; you can download tutorials off youtube for both, for free. If CGI sounds like too much work– if you have camera, know someone willing to be photographed, and MAYBE access to photoshop (or a freeware equivalent), you can make a comic. People have made comics from photos, video game characters, action figures, crafted items, clip art, dots (dots!). Watch Rob Schrab’s youtube videos on Drawless Animation! Look around you and there’s something you can make a comic with, if that’s actually a thing you want to do…

Limitations aren’t things stopping you from being creative– they’re the things you have to be creative about.

It may take some high level of inborn talent to be best in the world, but you don’t have the best in the world to make a good comic. You just have to be good. Or good enough. I think that a lot of would-be writers fail to see that instead of getting an artist to bring their world to life visually, perhaps they should be the one to bring narrative focus to a story idea that the artist has. The more things go both ways, the more happy both parties can be.

I thought this article that came out in the aftermath of Hicks Tumblr article was pretty funny…

http://www.nicktapalansky.com/blog/2012/09/05/pod-writer-the-right-way-to-say-no/

Abhay -

The critical community does a lot in the way of creating and maintaining a system of rigorous, objective criteria for quality and that pedantic, strictly academic code for judging the material is a big part of what makes people think that “bad” and “good” art exists in the first place. Your free-wheeling “if you aren’t good by the standard measure, go invent your own thing” stance is surprising as critics often represent the opposite position, that there SHOULD be a standardized metric for evaluating talent and material, otherwise the critic himself (acting as the arbiter of what does and doesn’t count as “good”) is completely useless. If people should just go ahead and do anything, the important part being that they just get it done, why not more liberal leniency in evaluating the final product? Maybe critics should take into consideration when they knock someone else’s work that the original creator was doing what you claim they should and did it “the wrong way” deliberately and with flourish. After all, “the right way” is a prison.

The “right way” is usually little more than conventional wisdom, unchallenged assumptions. Realizing this does not bar you from making critical judgments about good or bad art. If anything it makes you better equipped to do so. Criticism is about insight, a struggle to engage, perceive and communicate. Compartmentalizing and rigid adherence to conventions would be an obstacle to such insight. Probably the best gift a critic can receive is a work that challenges their own assumptions. So I don’t really see the contradiction. Challenging inertia and making qualitative judgements are both essential to being a good critic.

D. Peace: I think you’re misunderstanding what Abhay is saying. When people get bogged down on whether or not they have enough “talent,” they’re missing the point that not being an empirically “good” artist doesn’t preclude one from making good comics. You don’t need to be able to draw like Alex Ross to make a good comic, you just have to be able to tell a story using pictures, preferably with pictures that enhance the stories being told. I don’t think anyone who reads Jeffrey Brown comics does so while lamenting the fact that it’d be so much better if he drew like Jim Lee.

I’m not sure where this “standardized metric” idea came from…I mean, I’ve been reviewing comics for 7 years at this point, and that’s never even entered the equation for me. It’s insane to judge a comic by just picking apart the different disciplines and grading on craft: a good comic is a good comic because of the way the writing and the art interplay with each other to tell a story better than either would separately. The criteria shouldn’t be “What letter grade does the writing get? What letter grade does the art get?” but rather…
- Is the story interesting or entertaining?
- Is it communicated well?
- Are the characters believable?
- Does the art do a good job of communicating the story?
- Is the art eye-pleasing?

And those are just off the top of my head…a review is hard to define because the basic job of the reviewer is to answer the vague, touchy-feely questions “Did I like this? Why or why not?” But even just looking at those 5 criteria, the “art communicating the story” criterion is VASTLY more important to the overall reading experience than the craft-centric “eye-pleasing” criterion. An A in the former and a C or a D in the latter can still be an excellent, highly enjoyable comic, but an F at the communicating the story results in an F comic, regardless of how eye-pleasing the comic is.

I don’t think I read the same critics as you might, D. The comic critics I read tend to be open-minded with re: different artistic approaches. Comic critics told me about Get Your War On and Dinosaur Comics, as much as they told me about Marcos Martin or Jerome Opena or whoever.

The rest of what you’re saying doesn’t ring right with me much either, honestly. You can make a comic any which way– but expecting everyone to like it? Or to not have their own aesthetic preferences which they care about? Maybe I’ve misunderstood. Maybe I should have phrased things originally as “you can make terrible comics I will probably hate a million different ways” or “some ways of cheating are horrible (e.g. drawing over google image photos of A-list celebrity actors) but you can still do them, and get a comic completed that way”. But I’d still consider that all good news if the only alternative proffered is “you can never make comics because you didn’t win a genetic freak lottery.” That is one dark, dark alternative.

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