Teaching is pretty cool.

I occasionally teach cartooning classes, and they go about like the cartoon above.  Nobody wants to hear that they’re starting at the basics, but they’re usually startled by what the basics ARE. Typically, the basics are the ‘secrets’ they’ve shown up to learn.

Just a hint for ya-  the biggest, baddest, meaning thing to learn about cartooning?  You create them in reverse order than you read them.  No kidding.

The average student (not just kids, but adults too) will do this weird default thing when you ask them to doodle up a cartoon.  They draw a box, draw a character in it, then go “Hmmmmm” while they try to figure out what the character will say.  Once that panel’s done, they’ll start on the next panel.  I guess they assume (I started to say “I guess they think…” but there’s not much thinking going into it yet) that they’ll draw a third and fourth panel like this and somehow a gag will happen by the fourth panel (or by the last page, if they’re comic book enthusiasts)

But starting at the first panel and advancing along with no idea what’s coming next is how you READ a comic strip.  Why it’s also how we instinctively try to create one is anyone’s guess.

To create a comic strip (or comic book) you have to know what the theme, the idea, and the script are FIRST.  Then you can decide how many panels (or pages) your comic has to be, and you can lay out all the panels or pages, letter it all, then draw the balloons, bubbles and boxes, then draw the characters and backgrounds.  See?  Backward to the way you’d assume it should be.

I love teaching those classes and seeing the light come on in one or two students’ eyes. You know they’ve taken another step along a path toward being a cartoonist, one of the ones that’ll never say “Oh, yeah, I used to draw pretty good when I was a kid…” but will continue to draw and doodle and entertain themselves and others for their whole lives.