Monday, December 27, 2010

STAN LEE WEEK: How I learned to draw comics... my way!

After a brief interuption for the Christmas holiday, I'm back with a new entry for STAN LEE WEEK!

In my previous post, I provided a link to a Youtube video showing a clip to Stan Lee and John Buscema from the "HOW TO DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL WAY" video. Based, of course, on their best-selling book of the same name.

My actual copy of the book, some 30 years old and well-read.

I must have been around 13 or 14 when I first got this at the local bookstore, BOOKLAND. What a thrill it was to get this, after reading about it in STAN'S SOAPBOX (published in the Bullpen Bulletins every month in Marvel Comics). Here was the book that showed the techniques and steps an actual Marvel artist took to create a comic book.

John Buscema, one of Marvel's top pencillers (SILVER SURFER, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, THE AVENGERS), had been teaching a comic book art class in NY, and it was decided that he should design and illustrate an instructional book showing his process. Stan took the writing chores, and giving it the hyper Marvel spin, added a friendly, conversational tone to the project. 

This image, early on in the book, really captured my attention, and made me fantasize what it would be like to become a comic book artist, sitting at my very own drafting table creating my own comics. The artist in the drawing didn't look that much older than me, making the possibility even more tangible.

The book lots of the basic lessons you see in most books of this kind, demonstrating how to look at the human figure as individual shapes, and how to construct your drawings using stick figures which you late flesh out. Because this book was to show you how to draw like a Marvel artist, though, emphasis was placed on choosing the more dynamic pose available. Not stiff and pedestrian like Marvel's competitors!

I certainly wasn't even thinking of becoming a self-published cartoonist at that early age (if I even thought that that was even a possibility), but I wasn't necessarily wanting to become an artist working for Marvel either. I just loved seeing how the comics were created and hoped to one day do the same.

As in the sample below, Stan's commentary planted in my head that the artwork should always attempt to really showcase the action and emotional intent of the scene, before the dialogue is even written in the word balloons.

The chapter where they finally showed you how to create an actual comic page was probably the highlight for me back then. It was interesting to the how figures were constructed, and how perspective and panel composition are created, but to see all the elements come into play for an actual page, well, that was the whole gist of what I wanted to see.

Around the same time, 1980 or so, I most likely had read or seen other cartooning books on how to draw characters and faces. But this was my first time really seeing how an actual comic page was done. Stan's commentary clearly explained what John was demonstrating, and with his relaxed conversational style, Stan made the lessons much more approachable, instead of feeling like a dry textbook.

I think that, as a kid, knowing the comic book characters probably also added to the interest in the book, making the material all that more familiar.

As I mentioned, Stan would often emphasize how many of the approaches in the book were the way which Marvel artists worked, creating more dynamic artwork and storytelling than the 'average comic book company'. But even without that layer of hype, the book was an extremely important tool in my development of a comic creator years later. While there were many other influences that developed my style of art, and personal aesthetic, HOW TO DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL WAY was an early and powerful influence.

I recently taught a 5 week comic book workshop to a group of young kids. I don't use this book in class as a guidebook, but the fundamentals found in it's pages are still a part of the lesson plans I use. I think one of the things I always try to stress to my students is to vary their 'camera angles' in their panels, so as to not always get those static shots that an 'average comic book art student' would do!

The actual comics themselves are of course the first and primal inspiration, but books like this and ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS took away the fourth wall and gave me a direct access, through Stan Lee, of the secrets behind the comics.

Speaking of 'Secrets Behind the Comics'....

In 1947, Stan Lee wrote this 99 page booklet, with illustrations by Ken Bald. It's one of the very first 'how to draw comics' instructional books ever made. A few years ago I bought my copy on Ebay. This was a reprint from sometime in the 1970s. At least, that's what the listing stated. I very much doubt I got an original 1947 edition. But if I did, I got a great price and it's in miraculous condition! 

Tomorrow on STAN LEE WEEK, we'll take some time to celebrate Stan's 88th birthday! See you then, heroes! 

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