First, some generalities. Drawing Comics Lab is part of Quarry Books’ Lab series. These books all offer a series of 52 creative exercises on a range of subjects, in a short 2-page format for each exercise. Their aim seems to be accessibility: not only are the exercises parceled out in bite-sized portions, but the books are attractive, durable, and Flexi bound, so they don’t snap shut as the artist is using the book for reference. In addition, most of the books are aimed at a wide audience. Apart from some titles that specify “for kids”, these books appeal to anyone who wants to stretch their imagination and art skills. They can be used by parents working with children, adults with hobbies, artists brushing on their skills, or librarians looking for workshop ideas. The reader can skip around to any exercise (s)he wishes, instead of following a set path or course.
And there’s more good news: the comics entry in this series is authored by Robyn Chapman, a cartoonist who has taught at several colleges, and was the program coordinator at the Center for Cartoon Studies. She has the lesson-building chops to write a book of comics exercises and breadth of cartoon knowledge to include various indie cartoonists as examples in her exercises, including, but not limited to, Jessica Abel, Tom Hart, John Porcellino, Jason Little, and Colleen Frakes.
The book is split into six units covering character design and modeling, use of the page, types of storytelling, different materials and drawing techniques, how-to publishing guides, and even a small section on ways to break into the comics world. Each exercise has a materials list, concise instructions and visual aids, and a sidebar featuring tips (often from a practicing cartoonist). While there are exercises such as “Life Drawing”, which require only a sketchbook, drawing tool, and a public place, and the tip that “life drawing can’t be mastered in a single lesson,” there are also more structured tasks, like the “Suspect Device” — taking two comic panels and creating a story between them. As Chapman states in her introduction, the book is meant to be “a starting point for exploration; it is not meant to be a treatise on the entire comics medium.”
Drawing Comics Lab is not your average “draw a superhero” or “draw shojo” guide (not that there’s anything wrong with those). It’s a welcome addition to the world of how-to guides. Its references can lead to further and varied reading in the comics world, and its format lends itself to ease of use and fun.
Drawing Comics Lab: Characters, Panels, Storytelling, Publishing, and Professional Practices
by Robyn Chapman
Art by Various
Quarry Books, 2012