"Comics is a language. It's a language most people understand intuitively." – Bill Griffith
This week I get to shuffle in a few in-class exercises modified and culled mostly from the National Association of Comics Art Educators site plus various workshops and classes over the years.
One is having each student illustrate 1) a paper blowing in the wind 2) a ball falling 3) person running and 4) a speeding car: then they are asked to add a second panel which doubles the previous action, and lastly a third wherein the speed is tripled. We then note various iconic marks which are used to imply motion + speed, how they can be exaggerated to amplify the action, and the use of other devices to impart a narrative sequence to the images. Even the relative size and positioning of the panels themselves can be utilized to help tell the story, plus oftentimes the gutter plays as much of a crucial part in the sequence as the action depicted within the panels. A point is re-emphasized about artistic mastery isn't the goal here, as with the 60-second exercise earlier in the session: visually communicating in the simplest, clearest way possible is. We also experiment with words; using text alone to tell a story or an exchange of dialogue, and explore the possibilities there on how these elements can effectively combine to deliver the goods for a reader.
Pacing is an aspect that will influence the delivery of story; deliberate manipulation of time is an important tool for the cartoonist and is integral to the individual artistic style and flavor of each piece. Even slowing things down into discreet beats like the slow-mo impaction of the ball above puts an introspective spin on an otherwise overlooked instance.
Also we did a variation on a cartoon jam by each student starting a 3-panel strip, a different person continuing the sequence and/or introducing a new direction, then the original artist resolving the thread: this explores the themes of mini-arcs, "loops" and "knots." Since we've now started experimenting with extending from the genre of single-panels into strips, all sorts of creative possibilities begin to open up (additionally integrating and expanding upon initial character development), expanding from a freeze-framed situation into concentrated sequences (ex: setup > delivery) and eventually from that into short stories/vignettes. Writing begins to assert even more of an integral part of the conceptual process along with thumbnailing out roughs to play around with pacing and editing. Also important to keep in mind is the valuable input from fellow practitioners while in this temporary oasis, either for help, as a source of inspiration or just getting feedback. There's something to be said about occasionally emerging from self-imposed isolation and enjoying the company of like-minded peers, which has been a distinct benefit after years of cultivating this microcosm of an outpost community way up here in the North.
Juggling this exponential accumulation of variables can seem at this point a real confusing mess to a novice, or largely irrelevant to someone with more experience who reflexively or instinctively takes all these factors into account every time they pick up a pencil. For myself, exercises like these reinforce and remind me of the mindblowing range of possibilities in the medium.
"Then I abandoned comics for fine art because I had some romantic vision of being like Vincent Van Gogh Jr." - Bill Griffith