A couple of months ago, I was invited by my junior high school art teacher to speak to a bunch of her students interested in comic books. Inevitably I was asked what sort of training does one need to become a comic book artist. The answer, of course, is that there is not just one kind of training that is best to get and which is available to students anywhere. (I know of precious few institutions that actually teach how to draw comic art, and the places I do know of are all in the New York area.) As I gave my customary long-winded answer, I could see a half-expectant, half-worried expression on my former art teacher’s face. She was thinking how many times in her art classes I would take whatever art project was at hand and turn it into something comic book related. No matter how she tried to broaden my interests, all I wanted to do was draw super heroes. And now that I actually am making a living out of this preoccupation with guys in capes and masks, was I now going to come back and berate her for trying to discourage my interests? Was I now going to tell all the aspiring young Me’s to not listen to their teacher and draw comics all the time no matter what she says?
No, I didn’t. Because she was right. I shouldn’t have been drawing super heroes and comic books to the exclusion of all else. Why? Because by learning to draw solely by looking at comic books, I was limiting myself to a second-hand view of reality. By studying the masters and no-so-masters of comic art and disregarding other influences, I was guaranteeing that I would never by anything more than watered-down versions of the artists I admired. What I should have done was to draw other things other than super heroes more. I should have drawn from life, made my own observations about how to translate the world into scribbles on paper, rather than aping someone else’s observations.
This is what I told the junior high school students: don’t just draw comics, draw from life, like my teacher told me. While you can learn something from looking at comics, mostly in terms of telling a story through a sequence of images, the actual drawing of these images is best learned elsewhere. So did not following my teacher’s advice prove harmful to me? Well, you’ll notice that I’m a comic book writer and editor, not an artist. Why is that? Because I didn’t learn to write and edit solely from reading comics. (But my advice to aspiring writers is a whole ‘nother topic, and one for another time.)