Creators Corner: Exercises in Cartooning: Week 3

brunetti cartooning cover

I’m a writer, not an artist. But for the next 8 weeks, I’m going to be a cartoonist.

And you can join me on this journey–not only by seeing what I do, but by completing the exercises I do along with me.

*Note* To see Week 1’s adventures, click here, and to see Week 2’s adventures, click here.

The great cartoonist Ivan Brunetti, also a teacher of comics/cartooning, has a book that publishes his course; it is a 10 week “class” that has a few exercises for each week, some of which I might even use in my own graphic novel class.

I thought it’d be fun–especially since I’m a writer and need to challenge my skills as an artist–to run myself through his course and post each of my exercise on here.  So without further ado…

Exercise 3.1 (there’s only one exercise this week, but Brunetti still labeled it this way for some reason)

Part 1:

Draw a one panel cartoon for each of the below scenarios; spend 3-4 minutes on each cartoon (so you don’t overthink and add too many details): you can’t use any words (so you focus on visual storytelling and showing instead of telling) and you can only use black and white (so you don’t rely on color to separate items that look too similar; only using black and white makes you create distinct items and characters, as my artist Juan Romera does so well on Rebirth of the Gangster, (trade paperback on sale later this week, but a digital copy available now).

Brunetti specifically says to use a notecard for each of them, but I just split a page into 12 squares, since I didn’t have notecards on hand.

The scenarios:

A) the beginning of the world

B) the end of the world

C) a self-portrait, including your entire body

D) something that happened at lunchtime (or breakfast, if it’s still morning)

E) an image from a dream you had recently

F) something that happened in the middle of the world’s existence (something in between cartoon A and cartoon B)

G) What happened right after cartoon F?

H) something that happened early this morning

I) something that has yet to happen

J) pick any of the above panels and draw something that happened immediately afterward (I chose right after cartoon H, which is about my girlfriend and I’s cat waking us up)

K) draw a “riff” on panel J; it could be a different perspective, a different character’s viewpoint, something happening off-panel, or a close-up of a detail on the panel

L) draw something that has nothing to do with any of the panels you’ve drawn so far

Here are my cartoons (row 1: A-C; row 2: D-F; row 3: G-I; row 4: J-L)

Part 2:

Take 4 of the panels and arrange them so they tell a story.  Study if any beat is missing. Rearrange the order and see what has changed–is it still readable or has it now lost its narrative?  Finally, decide on the best order that tells the most concise and engaging story.  Without knowing it, you just brainstormed your way into creating a four-panel comic.  The next exercises in weeks to come will refine this ability.

I decided to organize my panels this way: H, J, K and C.  Essentially the first three were all the exercises asking me to draw parts of what happened this morning (the cat walking me and my girlfriend up) and the last one is a rough looking self-portrait, which is sometimes how I feel when I’ve woken up early to a cat’s hungry meows.

This was a helpful way to ease into creating a four-panel comic; there was some guidance in the prompt about what to draw, but being able to choose which panels to use gave me some flexibility.  I almost always find that working within rules and guidelines like this is, perhaps counter-intuitively, more freeing and creative than having no structure.

That’s it for Week 3 folks!  Tune in next week for Week 4, but you can check out my updates until then on my blog at