I know, I know I have been a TERRIBLE poster. January saw me teaching not only my first ever on-line course, but an in person course too, plus illustration, and between all those things comics just didn’t get made.
I just sent my last week of lessons to all my e-course students and as I was preparing the last bit of it, it occurred to me that I’ve been learning just as much as my students during the last month. I was learning not only about how teaching an e-course goes (holy moly, people!), but re-learning and discovering more about comics in general and also how I work. The writer Jess Walter said that every time he teaches it’s like he is renewing his vows to writing. I feel that way with teaching comics. So much of what I know about how comics work is intuitive, so when I have to make it plain to somebody else, it not only asks me to think about what I do myself when I make a comic, but also how do I know how to do that. It also reconfirms my belief that in the end, NOTHING is a better teacher than simply reading and doing.
Inspired by the class and as an attempt to go DEEPER into the mechanics of comics, I’ve been re-reading and studying old favorite cartoonists. Among them, Charles Addams. As a very small kid, I poured over my mom’s copy of Addams and Evil and found Addams’ cartoons FASCINATING. They seemed not so much like a world, but more intimate, like some room you found yourself in–filled with atmosphere of a particular kind of light and a strange sense of SOUND. Last week I spent part of an afternoon deciding to redraw and study his figures. As usual, I learned SO MUCH by doing this.
One of the things I say at the beginning of my course is that when we read a comic, we often take the information in it for granted because it’s visual–but in fact, there is SO MUCH at work that make it what it is. Drawing a favorite cartoonist’s panels or figures, can be a way to understand this. I learned a great deal about how Charles Addams’ cartoons “work” by attempting to draw them. I learned that his use of gray created not only the physical weight to his comics, but the feeling of “atmosphere” that I get reading them–not unlike a black and white movie. I also learned that scale is a big part of his language–too big and something is lost. Most of all I learned that his work depends on a crafty, unconscious engagement with the reader. He uses worry as a punchline. If a figure in the cartoon isn’t worried, YOU, the reader, are the figure who is worried. All this I sort of “knew” by reading it, but only by drawing it did I UNDERSTAND it.
Every class I’ve taught is different and teaches me new things. It’s weird how you have a curriculum, you build it, but then the students really SHAPE what goes down in the class. I’ve had an amazing bunch for the e-course–so engaged and encouraging, and for the most part, up to the tasks and MORE. Those who have been posting the most (and you know who you are) have been INTEGRAL to the morale and the engagement of other students. I am grateful to all of them.
Today, I am happily going back to the drawing board. I’ll miss my classes, but I’ve been schooled so much this last month, I NEED to get back into practice. I’m ready.