First Strip

Writing with a brush is even trickier than drawing.

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Day 4 of Learning to Draw Comics

A month ago, before I had my hands on a copy of Fantagraphics’ 1st volume of Popeye, I thought E. C. Segar‘s Popeye was going to be a really boring comic strip.  Boy was I wrong.  I was a full convert by the 5th strip (on the first page) printed in that book.

I had no idea what an African Escape Hen was until a few weeks ago.  If you aren’t already acquainted, meet Bernice.  She is an Escape Hen from Africa.  She can vanish; she can reappear; she can not be captured or killed; and she is the only member of her species ever to be held in captivity.

Segar’s was a genius to introduce such an unlikely character into what in almost all other regards seems like a very natural world – and he does this numerous times with a great array of wonderful characters.  I can’t wait to read the entire run.

He won me over immediately and I’ll always be glad of it.

And my sketch of Bernice…  It yams what it yams.

Study of Bernice the African Escape Hen

Study of Bernice the African Escape Hen

Some Thoughts on George Herriman

George Herriman is the greatest of all the great master newspaper cartoonists.  Not only witty and wise he was one of the greatest masters of the pen.

 

No one ever mentioned comics or cartoons of any form when I was in art school.  Even the elder teachers, who had grown up during the hay-day of Sunday newspaper strips like Krazy Kat and Gasoline Alley, never once mentioned them.  My teachers loved to say that Picasso drew like an angel, but no one ever mentioned that he and Gertrude Stein (among many other elites of the art world) were enthralled by Krazy Kat.

When it came to what types or qualities of art and artists would be tolerated as being worthy of attention, praise and adulation, there was a very definite snobbery among my teachers.  Naturally, that snobbery filtered down to us students.  The result was that only those artists whose work resided in the great collections of the world’s museums were praised.  That’s no knock on those collections or those artists.  I’m just pointing out how restricted the cultural view was among my teachers.  Herriman had about as much chance of getting the respect of my art teachers as a badly lit adult film from the 1970s.

It’s unfortunate that it took me so long to discover him and it’s sad that he didn’t have a place in my art school education.  Herriman offers so much depth and beauty and hilarity and sweetness that surely everyone can find some way to relish in the little stories he tells.

This is the last panel from the last Krazy Kat Sunday strip.  This image, especially when seen in context of the strip, is haunting.  Pup’s heart has stopped in terror and panic over the possible drowning of Krazy.  He tramps desperately to nowhere while clutching Krazy tightly; his mind already puddled in madness and grief and despair.  He looks out at us… past us, not seeing or noticing anything.  Without Krazy, he is an aimless and deranged zombie.

It’s a folly that I would even bother… but here’s a feeble study / sketch by me:

study of Krazy Kat

study of Krazy Kat

Day 3 of Learning to Draw Comics

Billy de Beck created Barney Google long before I was born.  Eventually, Barney Google became Snuffy Smith.

Snuffy Smith (no longer penned by De Beck) was the strip’s title when I was a child and I remember that my grandfather (who always read the Sunday comic strips to me) would often call Snuffy Smith, ‘Barney Google’.  I didn’t realize at the time why he would continually make that mistake, but I think I just accepted that Snuffy Smith was also called Barney Google somehow.

Bill Blackbeard’s Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics has several terrific Barney Google strips.  The following two sketches were made from de Beck’s panels.

I should say that I’m just drawing directly in pen with no pencil sketch done first.  Barney’s face is a wreck in this one…

study of Barney Google

study of Barney Google

I think this little sketch turned out OK. De Beck, like Herriman and H.C. “Bud” Fisher was a master with a fountain pen.

study of Barney Google

study of Barney Google

Day 2 of Learning to Draw Comics


Maud - study panel by Fred Opper

Maud - my study of panel by Fred Opper

I just got Bill Blackbeard’s Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics.  I wish I’d found this book when I was in art school way back.  Nevertheless, I have it now and I’m loving it.

This brings me to day two of studies from master works by great comic artists of the past. Today: Fred Opper.  Blackbeard’s book has all too few of these precious jewels and I hope to find more soon.  This little sketch was made right after reading one of Opper’s strips called Maud.

With any of these studies – even ones that i’ll be posting later, my intention isn’t to reproduce the original work – or even to find a new way of drawing it… It’s basically just a good excuse for looking longer, trying to learn as much as possible, and keeping my pen on the paper.

Re-learning to Draw and Learning to Draw Comics

I went to art school a long time ago and was once very comfortable drawing.  I was never great – and couldn’t draw a person’s portrait to save my life – but drawing always felt very natural to me.

When I was very young (maybe 9), a neighbor gave me a book about the Peanuts newspaper comic strip.  I read it continuously.  Eventually, I had become so attached to those little drawings that I had to try drawing them myself.  My efforts were pretty bad – and I soon resorted to tracing (ahh – admitting that hurts)

It’s been about 10 years since I last drew (not traced) regularly – and now that I’m beginning to draw again, I’m noticing that not only does it take a lot of time and patience to teach myself how to draw all over again – but that I never knew how to draw comic strip type images.  Though my paintings did have a narrative and told stories in one image, I’ve never done sequential art.  I’ve thought about it many times over the years – and have dreamed of sequences and characters… but produced nothing.

So now I know that I have to re-learn how to draw.  I also have to learn how to draw comics.  In art school, we drew from life (trees, buildings, people, fruit).  That does teach you a lot.  I think the most important thing is that it teaches you how to look.  So with that in mind, I plan on doing a lot of looking at the great newspaper comic strips that I love.  I’ll be posting my drawings of them along side the originals — just for fun.

I’ll try to post them in some basic order…

I’ve only read a precious few strips of Mutt and Jeff by H.C. “Bud” Fisher – but they’re already near the top of my list of favorites.

Mutt and Jeff - study of panel by H.C. "Bud" Fisher

Mutt and Jeff - study of panel by H.C. "Bud" Fisher

Finding a better fountain pen for drawing comics

Fountain Pens

Drawing in oil paint on a large canvas with a brush always seemed pretty natural to me but I’ve been having a lot of trouble finding that same comfort while drawing with a pen or pencil on paper.  But since I want to start drawing a comic strip, it would be pretty useful to feel good about drawing with pen on paper.  I have tried Rapidograph pens numerous times throughout the years and have never been happy with the results.  Robert Crumb manages to create very expressive lines with his Rapidographs – but they just don’t work for me.  In fact, most pens leave me feeling like the line is dead and cold rather than being alive and expressive.

I’ve been trying to find what other comic artists prefer in pens – and was glad to find recently that there are a number of artists working with non-dip fountain pens.

Not being versed in fountain pen nib lore and culture, I thought it might help future discussions on forums or with pen sellers to have some images to illustrate my current pens and the types of drawings that I’m working on.

I bought this Rotring Fountain Pen from a local art store about ten years ago.  I can’t find the model name or any information about it online.  It’s all metal and has a nice weight, even if the body is a tad slim. The cap doesn’t stay posted well so I leave it off while drawing.  Please leave a comment if you know anything about this pen.  I would really love to at least know the model number.

Rotring Black Fountain Pen with cap

Rotring Black Fountain Pen with cap

Here are a few close-ups of the nib…

Rotring Black Fountain Pen Medium "M" Nib

Rotring Black Fountain Pen Medium "M" Nib

Rotring Black Fountain Pen Medium "M" Nib

Rotring Black Fountain Pen Medium "M" Nib

Drawings

This little sketch is about 1 and a quarter inches tall.  Still working with the black Rotring’s “M” nib.  It’s difficult to get tiny detail in the eyes and shadows and hashing.  The figure on the left is supposed to be holding a small toy – but when the ink started blotting and pooling I abandoned hope of making that work.  I’m sure that I need a more narrow tip pen.

Small sketch made with Rotring Medium "M" Nib

Small sketch made with Rotring Medium "M" Nib

I later purchased this Rotring – which I believe may belong to their line of pens known as “Initial”.

Rotring blue Initial pen with cap

Rotring blue Initial pen with cap

This pen has a Fine (“F”) nib – but looks almost exactly like the Medium (“M”) nib on my other Rotring.  If there is a difference, I’d say the Medium nib actually looks slightly smaller. This makes purchasing a new nib all the more confusing because I want a nib that writes somewhat similarly to the black pen’s medium nib while being just slightly more narrow.

The ink converter broke for this pen – and the converter in my black pen doesn’t fit well in the blue so none of the drawings in this post were made with the blue pen.

Ink

Sheaffer brown fountain pen ink BOM#728-8563

Sheaffer brown fountain pen ink BOM#728-8563

Smudging, pooling, blotting

How much the pooling is related to nib – or to ink … I don’t know.  Smudging happens because the ink doesn’t dry instantly and I get careless.  That’s not a big deal to me – but I do want to find a good flowing, wet ink that won’t flood out of the nib and expand the weight of the line. …it’s tough to explain and that one issue alone really deserves a separate post later.

ink smearing on a 1" sketch

ink smearing on a 1" sketch

I know the following image makes no sense.  I was trying to draw several small toys but the heaviness of the line obscured any detail so I gave up trying.

ink pooling on a very small 1" sketch

ink pooling on a very small 1" sketch

I’m not unhappy with the look of the following sketch – but with my current Rotring “M” nib, this took a lot of additional care to avoid pooling too much in in the lines.  This sketch, from top to bottom is not much more than 1 inch.

small 1 and a half inch sketch of stilts

small 1 and a half inch sketch of stilts

Questions

  • So which pens and nibs would be better for drawing small scale comic strips?
    • I’m mostly going to be drawing in small sketch books.  I currently have two sketchbooks
      • one 3.5″X 5.5″ Moleskine plain paper book
      • and a “hand*book” which is 5.5″ x 5.5″
    • I’m leaning towards a Pelikan m200 after hearing rave reviews from Elwood H. Smith
  • And which inks would be better at producing a clear, clean, expressive line?