Today is the second submission I’ve been asked to give tips on.

I’m going to be going over this comic strip submitted by Vern Mercado of http://www.mdginteractive.com/minihahas:

Now, I asked for only ONE drawing from each person, but considering these drawings are fairly simple, this is okay.  Besides, if they weren’t I could have always chosen to pick a single panel.

I love the style. It’s very spontaneous and seemingly effortless.  The characters are appropriately goofy looking. Which is great.  By the time we reach the end of the Level 1 lessons at The Drawing Website, I’d like to have all the readers of the site be able to do strips like this.

This kinda puts me in a bit of a dilemma here. When it comes to comic strips, it’s the writing not the art that really counts.  As long as the art is clear and can get the gags across, really, any level of art goes.  Often times, the raw or crude style of the art may very well be the thing that makes the jokes funnier.

I think this art if fine, BUT Vern asked for a critique of some sort so I’ll give him my two scents. Along with the drawing tips, I’ll give him some tips from my experience doing comics books, comic strips, and story boarding.

When I asked Vern who he would like to draw like he gave me three names:

Johnny Ryan,

Dan Piraro,

Gary Larson

YIKES, all VERY different in style. BUT they all DO have one thing in common that Vern’s drawings are missing: Solidity.

Vern, I love your drawings and your art style but if you want to draw like the guys above you have to start constructing your figures.  I’m guessing, when you draw you don’t do any under drawing.  You simply go for it.  Which is cool but my tip to you is to try to do a first, second and perhaps final pass so you can really ad a bit more volume and solidity to your characters.

I’d recommend you look over at The Secret of Tracing Like a Pro – Basic Under Drawing Techniques over at The Drawing Website for a quick overview.

Also, when it comes to using solid forms, since I haven’t written my second book yet where I’ll be talking about that, here’s a link to the pdfs of The Famous Artist school lessons on drawing cartoons.  Specifically the drawing solid shapes and bodies parts (the pdf downloads are at the bottom of each post).

Famous Artists Cartoon Course: Lesson 1: The Comic Head
Famous Artists Cartoon Course: Lesson 2: The Comic Figure
Famous Artists Cartoon Course: Lesson 5: The Figure In Detail
Famous Artists Cartoon Course: Lesson 12: Form

These pdfs are a great resource and I’m modeling my books after them. My information will overlap some of what is written in these pdfs but I’ll be adding things I think are missing.

So let me show you what I’ve done with this info in panels 1 and 2 below:

I’ll explain why I shrunk the characters in panel 1 in a moment, first I just wanted to point out that I added volume to the flat shapes Vern had drawn.  I LOVED the shapes.  So fun.  I loved the way the shapes flowed rhythmically into each other. When adding volume to these shapes, I tried to keep those rhythmic connections.

But notice how by simply adding that element of volume to each character, it immediately feels as if they’re talking up actual space.  It also makes the doctor’s head seem all of a piece instead of being made of a bunch of unconnected lines.

Same goes to the man in panel 2. I drew a head shape with volume first. His whole head is now a unit rather than unconnected lines. I also drew the whole arm and it’s origin in the body.  That way his hand didn’t seem so disconnected from this body.

The head both characters in both panels fit inside the bodies now.

Okay, so why did I shrink the characters in panel 1?
A panel is what the audience sees.  They can’t see anything else outside of that panel.  When establishing a conversation between to people, the way they are in panel 1, let’s try to get them both in there as clearly as possible.  It’s very off putting to have one of the guys barely in the shot, as if he’s falling off the panel.  So I thought I’d bring the second guy into the shot. To do this, I had to create more space so I shrunk the doctor.  Now both characters are clearly in the shot.

So far, I haven’t talked about panel 3.

In the past, whenever I’ve been starring at a pretty girl and have run into a pole, the pole has bent WITH me not against me. Also, I really thought that, the guy should really look off balance. Like he just got shoved hard against the pole.  We should see the point of highest impact.  The point where his nose is really smashed.  To this end I started to scribble. I wasn’t thinking “finished, pretty drawing,” I was thinking “forces, power, physics, impact.” I wanted to get the moment to be as extreme as possible. I needed to get that down first before really drawing anything nice looking.

Now that I had all those foundational elements down, I did a second pass:

Using the structures I’d put in place, I drew the character’s features and details.

In panel 2, I changed the eye direction.  Instead of him looking at us as if we were the doctor, I changed it so that he was looking to the right, where the doctor is to him.  We’d set up in panel 1 that the patient looks at the doctor on his right and the doctor looks to the left at the patient.  In panel 2 there’s not reason to change this.  It’s good to be consistent with the eye direction.

I refined the sketch in panel 3 and added the details it needed.  I also made a big change in the panel.  I reduced the doctor and I added the other guy in the panel.  Why?

Well, this it THE PUNCHLINE moment. It’s NOT about the doctor it’s about, the crazy alternative that he’s come up with.  It should be about what the doctor is saying and the picture of what it would look like.  The doctor was in the way. He covered up the picture, so I shrunk him.  But once I did that, the composition was out of balance. so I added the patient into the shot.  Now we have a triangular composition. You can draw a line between all the faces in the picture and get a triangle. It’s balanced.

NOW you can have the patient break the fourth wall and look at the audience. Queue the laughing trumpet sound effect.

Next I attempted to do a clean up pass:

I say, “attempted” because the line quality isn’t very good.  I’m assuming the original strip was drawn using Manga Studio.  The quality of the ink line is fantastic.  Mine is not.  I did my best.

Notice how the lines of the faces are consistent and would connect if it wasn’t for the fact that there are noses and ears in the way.

In panel 2 I struck the pose myself and held my nose. I found that the index finger and thumb where nearer to my face and the splayed out finger where further from my face.  When drawing hands, it’s a good idea to pose it out.  Have a mirror handy so you can see what it looks like.

The real reason I cleaned up the drawings so much was because I wanted to work out the panel 3, pole hitting drawing. I really had fun trying to make the drawing look painful.  I didn’t clean up the rest, because I got lazy.

Remember, these are just my two cents. What I drew above isn’t perfect.  I haven’t really taken into account the word balloons. Adjustments would need to be made may affect the art.  Feel free to ignore what I wrote if it’s not the direction you want to go. Comic strips are about the gags and the clarity of the gags more than the beauty of the art.

Your strips are fun.

So to sum up the tips:

  • Do some under drawing before you go to the final line.
  • Add volume to your characters. Construct them without losing your rhythmical connections.
  • Take a little bit more time planning the shots. What’s the best way to present what’s going on?
  • When drawing any kind of action, think about the forces involved and draw them first rather than think about a finished drawing.
  • When drawing hands, it might be a good idea to act it out yourself to see what it looks like.

To be honest, what I did just now on this e-mail is a lot like what I go through every time I turn in a rough storyboard.  I pitch an idea, and then the director weighs in on it and reworks it.

It’s the life of a professional artist. You get used to it and you become a better artist for it.

I hope this help and give you plenty to think about.  If you have any follow up questions, let me know at: TheDrawingWebsite@gmail.com

If you like Vern’s work, you can find A LOT more of it at: http://www.mdginteractive.com/minihahas
Lots of fun comic strips to read there.


If you found this useful, feel free to forward this to someone you think might benefit from it.  And don’t forget to tell them there’s more where that came from, and a free drawing book for opting in!