Drawing: Comic Book Characters
Stacie has adapted Lynda Barry’s Character Drawing exercise below. Variations of this exercise is found in several of Lynda Barry’s books, including her most recent, Syllabus.
- Pen, I use a Paper Mate® Flair black or blue but any pen or marker will work.
- Paper or plain index cards, if you are using paper, cut it into 4 or 6 pieces. For younger children, use a full or half sheet of paper.
- Timer or music with songs between 2 and 4 minutes. I prefer 3 minutes as it doesn’t feel too long but forces me to keep my pen moving.
First draw a character. Lynda Barry gives us a good place to start in this video, with an exercise based on a lesson from cartoonist Ivan Brunetti. She encourages us to begin with a head, an outline of hair, letters for a nose (try a ^ ; or *), a body in the shape of a rectangle or triangle. Lastly draw the arms, legs and eyebrows. See examples in the photo to the left. Keep drawing for a full 3 minutes.
Now brainstorm 10 – 15 places that this character can go or transform into.
On 10-15 index cards or pieces of paper, create a frame by drawing a box just on the inside of the edge of the paper. Use this time to observe your style; your lines will reflect this. Do they vary from thin to wide or are they all the same thickness? Do the corners meet? Each of us has a distinct style of mark. When I first start drawing, my inner critic comes out and I tell myself it isn’t good. I remind myself that I have no right to judge good or bad, even for myself. By starting with the frames, I distract myself from my inner critic. Then at the top of each paper, I write what I will draw in each frame from the brainstorm above.
My latest round of drawings has me riding a bird, shooting out of a volcano, as a Viking, and surfing with a shark. Some other ideas could include: you as an astronaut, as Batman, a monster, a fruit, an animal, dancing, singing, gardening, wearing a face mask, the lists can go on and on!
Now with the pile of cards prepared, set the timer or start the playlist and draw each prompt/idea for a full 3 minutes. I usually don’t like my drawings until 30 seconds before the timer is up when I start to think about what is missing. Don’t stop drawing, if you can’t think of what else to draw, add in detail. For the shark drawing, I felt like I was done but had a minute left. I ended up adding more waves and a second shark, which I love now.
For kids, I hope you hang the characters on the wall and make up stories about the adventures and feelings that your characters are having. For adults, since we tend to be our worst critics, I hide my drawings so that I don’t feel compelled to recycle them. When you take them out in a day or two, I am sure they will grow on you. Mine always do, even the misplaced mark doesn’t seem so misplaced.
Lynda Barry teaches art at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She was awarded the MacArthur Genius award in 2019. She draws frequently with preschoolers and posts collaborations with them on her Instagram account regularly. Click here for a post of a book they made together.