The Plot Thickens

This Saturday I went to the Hobbycrafts show at the NEC in Birmingham. I spent far too much money on baking equipment, and after spending a couple of hour watching people drawing and creating large, beautiful canvases, I also walked away with a bag full of art supplies. I had notions of myself as an artist, with acrylics and paintbrushes and fixing spray- you know the look- the ethereal beauty with a blue apron, hair in a messy bun and paint splatters.

Later that night, I presented my purchases to my boyfriend and had the horrible realisation that maybe I’ve been focusing too much on the art side of creating a webcomic, and neglecting the real point of this exercise- the story.

Yesterday, I decide to knuckle down and figure out a plot.

I’ve had a vague sense of what I want to write about but figuring out specifics has eluded me. There’s a spate of tv shows and movies about the troubles of people who have just left university and are trying to figure out how to conduct themselves in an adult world. Considering that every year, the number or people graduating from university is increasing, there is inevitably a large audience for this kind of entertainment- people can finally see themselves on the screen, rather than see expectations of a life they think they should be having, but is no longer viable in this economic climate.

However, I have a problem with all of them. Girls for example, is continually held up as a wonderful example of women in their 20s. Frankly, I think this is rubbish. Hannah, the main character, is initally a struggling writer, but within a matter of months she has a book deal. That’s not a real thing- even J.K.Rowling struggled unpublished for over a decade. Lena Dunham may have got lucky herself, but very few people get that chance. She’s also incredibly lucky to have the financial support of her parents (although the first episode starts with them cutting her off- she has already had 2 years of support by this point) which allows her to practice what she loves and still live in New York. Very few people get this kinds of support. The other characters are similarly unreliable- Shosana is still in education so doesn’t fit the graduate story, Jessa is a “free-spirit” which essentially means that she doesn’t work but still manages to have money to live in New York, feed and clothe herself and still buy drugs. How exactly can a real person manage that? And Marnie- again she has complete financial support from her parents. I understand that TV shows usually use exaggerated characters and show you the interesting bits. We’re not supposed to ask where they get there money from or when they eat, but that’s the whole selling point of Girls has been it’s “realism”.

There was recently a show on Channel 4 called Drifters. It was meant to be a sort of female Inbetweeners. In some respects, this captured post-graduate life well- the struggle to get a job and jobs that don’t pay you. But it still felt a little off- the main character doesn’t want to live with her parents so she moves in with an ex-boyfriend because he is still in love with her and therefore she lives rent-free. Not an everyday occurrence.

I want my webcomic to be more realistic- I had been thinking that I want to write about a girl who has to move back in with her parents after graduation. I want to explore the problems of finding a job in the current difficult job market, and feeling like a child when you are technically an adult. However, I have realised that I don’t have much connection to this and cannot relate to the situation. After graduation, my boyfriend and I moved in together. We spent the summer doing odd jobs- I worked as an english language tutor and at festivals. This was followed by a winter as chalet hosts in the alps. Upon out return we both got “proper” jobs and rented a two bedroom terrace house in a small village. Currently, we are engaged and live in a three bedroom semi-detached house in a family suburb of Peterborough. This comes with it’s own set of problems. Friends from university have all moved back home and live with their parents so it’s hard for me to visit and stay with them, but equally they can’t afford to come stay with me. People I work with are older and have their own families, and people my own age are single and want to go out drinking. It feels very isolating. So this is the aspect I have decided to focus on- the fact that in your early 20s life is difficult for everyone, it’s hard to maintain friends or spend your days doing something you care about.

To this end, I am going to try and build a variety of characters in a variety of situations, rather than focusing on one central character and their “journey”. I still want to retain some humour amongst the realism, but I am definitely going for a sitcom feel rather than a laugh a day.




Patience is a Virtue


Yesterday I went to my first ever life drawing class. It was in an exhibit room in the local museum, which was a little unnerving. Not only did it feel like a wall of portraits were staring at you, but these were priceless works of art, and I had the audacity to try and draw in front them.  For the first hour, there was a variety of short poses by the model, a silent, older man. At first, this felt uncomfortable. Whilst the lady in charge was saying things like, “think about the negative space”, I was thinking, “I don’t know what that means” and looking shiftily at the people either side of me. Generally, feeling shy and inadequate, I just stuck to making a few odd lines with my HB pencil, and tried not to think about how amazing the man to my left was painting and how easily the lady on the right used black paper and grey charcoal to actually recreate the man in front of us.

I also tried to ignore the look of confusion given by the co-ordinator, as she tried to be as nice as possible about my concentric circles (I had read that all bodies are just some circles), and she explained about lines that run from the top of the ear to the the eyebrow and the bottom of the ear to the mouth. She said to use hold out a pencil to find lines that run along the model- like the top of the shoulder and the the belly button to the elbow. This was definitely the most useful thing I’ve learnt so far.

The final hour let us draw the same pose for 40 minutes. I decided that my problem was clearly standing up and using an easel (I had never used one before) and sat cross legged on a chair. It felt far easier knowing I could draw some lines and expand them, change them and replace them rather than try to make something perfect straight off. And the most important thing was knowing I had 40 minutes. I could take my time, I could change it and improve it.

Eventually, I was able to draw the picture above. I’m pretty proud of it.

After reflecting on the class, I figured that the problem I have most is patience. I am so impatient. I expect to be good at something straight away and get bored when I’m not. Despite knowing this, it’s a hard habit to break out of. At home, I draw for 10 minutes, look at my picture and think, URGH, and give up and watch Neighbours instead. Also, being at home, I’m always thinking that I should be doing the washing up or cleaning the bathroom instead. But getting out and being in a class meant I HAD to draw, I had no choice but to keep going with the picture.

I’ve booked to go again in a month. In the meantime, I’m going to practice patience and perseverance- I think I’ve proved that lacking these things is a lot more detrimental than lacking ability.


Finding a Style

This week, alongside my usual drawing practice, I’ve been looking into a personal style. One thing every webcomic has in common is that it is unique. The more well-known comics are instantly recognisable, and this separates them from the more common manga comics where the style is consistent.

The problem that I’ve encountered is that the books and online tutorial teach you a certain style. I think I’m reasonably competent now and putting together a cartoon for dummies-style rotund man with tiny legs, but this isn’t the feel that I want for my own comic.

My favourite discussion on the subject of personal style was on the personal blog of Millie Ho. What I liked about this art blog more than many of the others I have come across recently, is that it is clean and simple. Her advice is straight forward and not pretentious. Alot of online advice on style suggested taking classes, wandering in nature to be inspired, staring at strangers in Starbucks for hours to get a sense of how people look different, and generally slightly over the top nuggets of wisdom that actually discourage me from continuing- I don’t want to be the nutter in coffee shop who stares at people, thank you. However, Millie Ho had advice I felt to be much more achievable.

1. Plagiarism, lots and lots of plagiarism.
2. Never listen to haters.
3. Draw inspiration from like-minded people.
4. Try automatic drawing. 

In this spirit, I’ve been shamelessly copying pictures from various websites with different styles, in the hope that I’d find one particular style easy to emulate as well as enjoyable and pleasing to look at. I’ve tried everything from stick figures to manga (Japanese styles actually terrify me- I had a panic attack in the cinema whilst watching Spirited Away). I have never been a Disney fan, but I feel much more drawn to this art style than any of the others. The images are soft and easy to draw, but still retain a realism and familiarity that I like.

I’ve also tried to do casual drawing of everyday things, as my comics will need context and settings. Now I have nearly an entire book filled with sketches of my desk at work.

I have booked myself into a life drawing class on Thursday with the hope of getting to watch how other people move and see some other personal styles, and maybe get some tips from a teacher.


Pencil on Paper

The last few weeks have been very difficult for me. I’ve been incredibly busy at work, which has meant early mornings and no lunchtimes, a couple of family dramas and car so riddled with problems I’ve had to take it to the garage more times than I had hot dinners last week. The last thing I’ve wanted to do it force myself to do something I’m not good ad experience the frustrations that come with that.

Drawing is a strange concept and I struggle with it greatly. My head knows what it want to see and what my hand needs to do, but my hand won’t do it. I recently learned to ski, and I was expecting the learning to be the same. When learning to ski, the instructor told me to press down on my left ski to move it in front of me and I would turn right. Press down on the right ski and bring the right leg in front and you turn to the left. Move the front of the skis together and open the back out wide and you stop. In my head I know this, my head tells my feet what to do at 9 times out of 10, I go exactly where I want. Turns out, drawing is NOTHING like that.

I’m one of those people who likes to thoroughly research something and not just jump straight in. So naturally, I bought some books on the subject. My letterbox has been busy this week, with the arrival of How to Draw Anything, How to draw 101 Cartoon Characters, and Drawing Cartoons and Comics for Dummies. I also dug out a book that I had edited during my time working at a publishing company called the Beginners Guide to Drawing. (Turns out you don’t need to know how to draw to edit a book on it.)

Anyway, I started forcing myself to draw, even just for 10 minutes when I got home from work, and I’ve found that it’s actually helped me feel less stressed and surprisingly I’ve done a lot more drawing than I thought I would. I’ve bought a couple of sketchbooks and about a gazillion pencils and now make sure I always have them nearby which limits my excuses not to do anything. I have started sketching at lunchtimes too, and I’ve almost filled the small sketchbook I keep in my desk already.

As well as the books, I’ve looked online for tutorials. I am enjoying Drawspace and Arty Factory as their tutorials are clear and simple and I can jump from one page to another when I get bored  . Over the week, I’ve started small, with shapes and then making them 3D. I’ve tried household objects and nature as well as tutorials on these are everywhere and the shapes are simple and surprisingly easy to follow. 

I’ve found shading to be the most difficult aspect, I just can’t understand how to make it work. That may be what I look at properly next. That, and a better way to get pictures into this blog…will try and commandeer the scanner at work.

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Bad, brilliant webcomics

To counter the previous post, or rather to encourage myself to keep going despite my lack of drawing ability, I did some searching for webcomics that are closer to my own personal drawing standards rather than something worthy of the Dobell Prize. I think I should probably confess, that aged 13, I have once won a prize for drawing. But before anyone thinks that I’m hustling you here, by claiming I suck before whipping out a Di Vinci-esque portrait, let me explain. It was in an inter-church competition. I copied Picasso’s famous dove picture and added a rainbow above it. By copied, I mean, I literally traced it, line for line. And I was the only entrant. I won a small plaque and a bible and 10 years of guilt for my cheating.

 Exploring the array of comics available on the web proved treacherous. There are some truly terrible comics and also some that I’m pretty sure have scarred me for life. But her are some of my favourites that involve minimal drawing ability:

Toothpaste for Dinner
MS Paint Adventures
Cyanide and Happiness
Hark, a Vagrant

It occurred to me, that there is really two different styles of webcomics. Firstly, there is the style of the comics listed above- the art comes second to the wording. The focus is on the joke, and the images exist purely to demonstrate the joke and punchline. The drawing is a vehicle for humour and not the appeal of the comic.

The second style is that of comics such as Between Failures,  Dumbing of Age, Girls with Slingshots and Octopus Pie. In these comics, there is an over-arching story that makes the comics like a soap opera, and therefore the art is more important in getting people interested in real characters.

I did think that I could maybe get away with sub-par illustrations, but after this realisation, I think that unless I can improve my sense of humour, I’ll need to improve my drawing in order to carry off the story I have in mind.

How to make a webcomic. What the experts say.

Like anything, I thought the best place to start on this venture was to turn to google. Very few people make a living from webcomics, but there are many successful comics that have been running for upwards of a decade. Luckily, many of the artists are happy to talk about the development of their comics, and offer advice on how to start your own. A quick google search turned up posts on this subject from Penny Arcade, Julie Miayamoto and Jason Loves Life.

Using these and the previously mentioned Jeph Jacques tutorial, I found a general consensus as to starting a webcomic.

1- Have a Plan. Create a united story and a direction.

2- Create a script. Avoid in jokes and fillers.

3- Get feedback and criticism.

4- Practice!

5- Get a name, domain and create a website.

Disappointingly, a Penny Arcade forum posts states, “If you’re just starting to learn to draw, then for the love of fucking god, DO NOT START A WEBCOMIC.” So now I have an issue. I can not draw. Not even a little. I am absolutely terrible, and always have been. I have never had an affinity for art- even my stick men are disproportionate and shaky. However, there is a clear development and improvement within Questionable Content, which I think proves that you can develop those skills over time. And since Jeph Jacques is one of the few who actually lives entirely off his comic, I think I’ll take the risk. However, it is obvious that my drawing skills will need to be practiced and be remarkable improved before I create the comic.

So my next stop is learning to draw and then I will work my way down the rest of the steps.

The Birth of a Webcomic

I enjoy knitting, baking and reading. This is because I am good at knitting, baking and reading. Want a scarf or a lemon drizzle cake? I’m your girl. If you want maths, running or art, don’t even think about me. I hate those things. Mainly because I am really really terrible at them. At school I had my own maths classes, I walked when we did cross-country in P.E and I took an extra language instead of having to do art. I hate not being excellent at things and if I try something and suck, I give up instantly.

I have always enjoyed comics and after being introduced to Questionable Content five years ago, I’ve read pretty much webcomic that I can find. For a while now, I have secretly wanted to make my own. I enjoy writing and making up stories, but I do not draw. I am not a naturally gifted artist, never going beyond stick figures and Christmas trees, and because I wasn’t instantly good, I have never tried.

But now, inspired by this Jeph Jacques blog post, I am going to try.