Creator’s Corner: Exercises In Cartooning: Week 6

I’m a writer, not an artist. But for the next 5 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, to see Week 2’s adventures, click here, to see Week 3’s adventures, click here, to see Week 4’s adventures, click here, and to see Week 5’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 6.1

This is what Brunetti calls a “thought exercise”; while you can jot down notes, it’s not required, and it’s not like the other exercises that require drawing.  Here’s that thought exercise:

Imagine that you’re walking in a desert and you come upon a cube.  Describe (in writing or in your head) that cube.  Think about size, texture, the material the cube is made of, whether the cube does anything (or whether the desert or something else acts on the cube, etc…).

I thought of a small cube that was made of solid silver, gleaming to reflect the whole desert like a mirror.  And–it might be cheating–but because of the desert locale, I pictured a pyramid (also small and made of silver) floating above the cube.  The cube itself sat in the sand on the desert ground.

With that in mind, we move onto the next exercise–one that uses this cube in a comic.

Exercise 6.2

This exercise focuses on creating a one-page comic that tells a story about that cube.  The main focus of this exercise, though, is to break away from a rigid, uniform panel structure and create what Brunetti calls a “hierarchical structure”.

If that sounds like some fancy edubabble, rest assured that you know what he’s talking about.  He’s talking about creating a comic that uses different sized (and possibly differently shaped) panels.  The hierarchical structure implies more subjectivity, according to Brunetti, more of a chance for the creator to emphasize and downplay details, to focus on tone, or to focus on actions in a more purposeful way.

Essentially, he argues that you should use smaller panels to convey a claustrophobic tone or convey smaller actions, effectively slowing the pace.  On the flip side,  using larger panels conveys an expansive and maybe even intimidating tone and–generally speaking–creates a quicker pace to convey big actions.   I’ve made adjustments like these to panel sizes and shapes in Rebirth of the Gangster, but I’ve still mostly adhered to a uniform grid, so this exercise was a fun reminder to vary it a little more.

Here’s my comic, which focuses on panel size but also went a step further (I’m looking for some extra-credit Brunetti!): I place smaller panels inside the bigger panel (sometimes not even using panel borders for those smaller panels) to create an even bigger sense of immensity with the bigger panel and to have some more dynamic storytelling.

I use some smaller panels to slow the pace and focus on small details (the second panel focuses on footprints in the sand and the third focuses on a foot slowly moving forward to leave one of those footprints); I also use a small panel to reiterate the sun and the heat, creating an oppressive tone (which is the closest to a claustrophobic reality this comic will get, being in the desert).

However, the bottom panels create a claustrophobic effect, not in reality but in the feel of the image.  The explorer is still in wide-open desert, but he’s dwarfed by the huge pyramid, so the panels are smaller to make him feel more confined and claustrophobic in comparison to the pyramid.  (I moved away from the cube and focused on a pyramid rising out of the ground).

The biggest panel is clearly the pyramid, but it’s filled with other smaller panels (other smaller moments): The top of the pyramid is in a separate panel to convey that the explorer only sees that at first.  That panel features a “RUMBLE” sound effect which–combined with the explorer rolling down the page in mini-panels and the ground changing (the horizontal lines)–indicates that the pyramid is rising.  I like this approach in general, because it keeps setting and the pyramid alive while still moving story/character forward with small panels, but I still need to figure out how to clarify to the reader that the pyramid is rising.  (Maybe more sound effects and a true small panel on the right side that shows the pyramid rising next to the unsteady feet of the explorer).

All in all, a fun exercise and cool product, despite that area for improvement (and yes I know I don’t have, shall we say a “classical” drawing style, so that’s an area for improvement: I have resigned myself to focusing more on improving storytelling than drafting skills for the time being, which is the bigger issue in the above comic).

Well, that’s it for this week’s cartooning exercise and model.  You can see more of my work at Check out previous week’s in the above links, and I’ll see you for Week 7!