Monday, 2 July 2012

Teaching Comics (2)

Cerebus #153 (December 1991)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
Comic-book work is idiosyncratic. The problem with any kind of authoritarian structure implied by a schoolroom format is that it presupposes that something idiosyncratic can be taught successfully. I heard most of the educational cliches over the weekend, passed down faithfully from generation to generation. 'You have to know the rules before you can break them - the best artists know anatomy inside and out before they start distorting it.' I've always wanted to do a cartoon of a hot-shot young super-hero artist at a convention, sitting in front of a huge poster of his character with muscles piled on top of muscles in violation of every rule of anatomy, reviewing a wannabe's portfolio and saying to the kid, 'Draw from life.' Knowing anatomy inside and out is important if you want to draw accurate anatomy. If accurate anatomy interest you, you will find your way around it. I'm a big fan of Kyle Baker's work, his storytelling. What appeals to me the most is his page and panel composition, his sense of gesture, facial expression, posture. I can guarantee you that his knowledge of anatomy doesn't rival, say, Burne Hogarth's, but there is virtually nothing in Hogarth's work that appeals to me. His gestures are contrived, his facial expressions are contrived, his postures are contrived. That doesn't mean that Baker is right and Hogarth is wrong. It means that Baker occupies a point on the spectrum of interests which make up a comic-book page that is close to my own. The drawing elements that interest me evidently interest him.

There are people who have a genuine affinity for the authoritarian impulse... I'm not convinced that someone who relentlessly searches out some authority to endorse and criticise his or her efforts is well served by the process. I would suspect that for every creator who will make monumental leaps in the various disciplines by modifying his or her skills to please a teacher, there are other creators who will lose their way, lose touch with their gut instincts and individual sensibilities in attempting to create a compromise style satisfying both to themselves and their 'guide'. I'm not convinced that self-declared 'teachers' are equipped to distinguish one from the other, and their teaching of a subjective view of 'professionalism' probably damages many idiosyncratic talents - grinding down the square peg until it fits in the round hole - even as it assists those seeking a position in the traditional mainstream.

In 1995 Dave Sim spent two days at the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) teaching sequential art, via workshops, portfolio reviews and lectures. He summarised the experience in his essay 'Misunderstainding Comics' printed in Cerebus #194 (May 1995).

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