Some Controversial Ramblings and a Pretty Decent Book on Drawing

I'll warn you in advance: this post contains a lot of personal opinions about a subject that's very sensitive to many, many people:

comic books.

So read at your own risk, and please don't feel the need to e-mail me and tell me what an ignorant idiot I am and how wrong my opinions are. Because I never claimed otherwise...

When I was a kid, I never really got into superhero comics, or drawing, for that matter, so I never picked up the instructional book "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way." I've always heard people talk about what a great book it was, and I was always curious, but I never picked it up. I put it on my "Amazon Wish List" years ago, and lo and behold, somebody bought it for me for Christmas this year.

I sat down and read it immediately. It turns out, everybody was right - it's a pretty interesting read. Especially if you're just starting out as an artist, this book could be a really helpful resource (and that's who its intended for, after all).

I never found the drawings in superhero comics very appealing, or expressive (for the most part), and I think that's why I was more interested in Disney and Warner Brothers comics when I was a kid. This page explains a big part of why that's the case: according to this book, superheroes are always drawn eight heads tall. I never really realized that before (told you I was an idiot).

The fact that the heads become so small in relation to the body definitely makes them seem less expressive, and, just as a matter of personal taste, I always think that slightly bigger heads and facial features always make for a more appealing design. But obviously comic books have their emphasis on other areas, and acting and appeal are not always their top priority - it seems to me that realism and dynamic drawing are more important in superhero comic books, all the better to make their dramatic storytelling stronger.

Instead of superhero comics, I read a lot of "Tintin" when I was a kid...Herge's characters always seem about 6-7 heads high, which is about how I find I usually draw figures. I just find those proportions appealing. It's a personal taste thing.

I always liked the clean, simple way Herge drew the world. It has a certain realism (without too much cluttered detail) because he was great with layout and perspective and clearly did a lot of research.

I think his style hits a good balance: the characters are caricatured enough to be appealing and expressive, and the world is drawn realistically enough to make the action and danger seem dramatic and exciting. Again, that's just my taste.

When I was a kid they also carried comics like "Asterix" at my local bookstore. I liked the backgrounds, I found the characters to be appealing looking and I really appreciated the draftsmanship of the whole thing, but I could never get that into it (many of the characters seem to be in the 3-5 heads tall range and maybe I have a weird obsession where I only like them in the 6-7 head range unless they're ducks or other anthropomorphic animals!). Also, I'm not a big fan of the "giant nose" school of cartooning. Probably, more than anything, it was the writing and the stories that turned me off. I couldn't stand all the constant puns and wordplay (I find that stuff tedious, not really character specific as writing, and it seems to me that that kind of stuff always slows down the story - again, a personal taste thing) and it's also hard to root for a group of guys who can whip up a magical potion to get out of any jam. I usually felt more sympathy for the hapless soldiers and pirates they beat up on their adventures than I did for Asterix and Obelix.

Really love the way those guys draw horses. Great proportions!

I don't really have a point in writing all of this, and I especially don't want to sound like I don't appreciate how amazing DC and Marvel artists were (or Goscinny or Underzo or any other comic artist). For some reason I just never really got into the DC or Marvel comics, but I was never sure why. After all, most of the people I have known who in my life who were artists and in my age group loved comics. So over the years, I've felt guilty and ashamed for not liking superhero comics, or like I was missing out on something that everybody else loved because I was too stupid to get it.

The closest I came to get into traditional comics was that I went through a period in my high school and college years where I was really into Will Eisner's stuff. Also, around that time, the graphic novels "The Dark Knight" and "Electra: Assassin" came out and totally blew my mind. Both of them seemed to transcend the comic form and reading both of them is like reading a great novel and watching a fantastic movie rolled into one.

Anyway, here's another cool spread from "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way". The page on the right shows a drawing of each pose, and then, next to it is the same pose, drawn more dynamically.

The book devotes a good amount of space to drawing pretty girls which is always a tricky proposition. This is a good page describing some "do's and dont's" of drawing women's faces.

The book was written in the 70's by Stan Lee, who is pretty notorious for his cheesy writing style...but the book doesn't suffer for it. Everything is clear and well-explained.

Mostly, the emphasis of the book is on (as you might guess) drawing figures, using perspective and foreshortening, staging things in a dynamic way and the proper way to use pens, ink and brushes (it hasn't been updated since 1978). If you're one of those people (like me) who is always on the lookout for a good basic drawing book, or you know a young person that wants to learn how to draw in a comic book style or just wants to learn more about drawing, it's a pretty good investment at just $12.00 on Amazon.

Help the Hodges

It's been mentioned everywhere else already, but in case anyone missed it, please visit to learn about the effort to raise money for animation artist Tim Hodge's family.

A whole new batch of artwork from animation's best artists just went on auction.

BALLOT BOX BUNNY (Warner Bros., 1951)

Watch it (thanks, YouTube):

Now, enjoy the fabulous Warner Bros. style of background art... unashamedly cartoon-eey!