The Glory of Stick Figures-beginning to draw stories

In Brazil I was teaching teachers how to draw comics so they could work with students.

I started with the work of Ed Emberley ( posts coming) thinking simple graphic shapes, anyone can draw it! It’s an easy approach to drawing for kids. Yet college graduates, masters degrees and teachers where overwhelmed when the had to combine drawing even just circles and lines with storytelling.

I needed something more basic, simplier to allow them to tell a story and not have to be stuck on teaching just drawing. So I went to stick figures, to see if it could work I layed out a version of Tortoise and the Hare for them.

I found reducing a comic to a kirby grid six panels and full figures in Action only takes almost all the thought out of drawing a comic in terms of fancy shit and allows the focus to be on plot, events and pacing. It also reduces a comic to it’s most basic level for ease of understanding.

It was easier for them to have an entry into drawing the comics without trying to make anything look good, still drawing a normal gesture was hard for them.

Some thoughts

Stephen DeStefano always thought I drew weird (along with the rest of the comics biz, but he at least liked it) because I would start drawing from some point on the figure and follow the lines and shapes, He’ld scream at me, “Wheres the construction? wheres the foundation? how can you draw like that? ” I never understood why it bothered him, I was used to looking at something and drawing from life, he was used to constructing figures from the structure, probably the more logical way to draw comics.

Wife said this morning “Of course it’s easy, it’s a 20 second gesture drawing from life drawing class”.

A plot and visuals in teaching

Image Comics artists overwhelmed the comics world with large pin up shots, near eventless stories and lots and lots of dynamic pictures. Plot and content died, killed on visual glory. In the aftermath editors and writers crawled out of their of their devasted hovels and attacked back. Now superhero comics, which once centered on adventure have moved into philosophical discussions of who’s undies is all uptight.

So why writing a Flash class am I thinking about pictures?

Becasue teaching is about getting ideas across, spreading information to a student clearly.

A tangle of words, can easily lose an idea. In a step by step visual demo you walk through how to do something. The student sees visually what is happenning.

In a verbal description you can wander off to many points and in the complexity of teaching programming it takes three little conditionals and lines of code to make a simple idea work. A master teacher can create projects that simplify the idea without the conditionals and then develop the project to need the conditionals so the student sees the whole process.

In teaching how you lay out the material is the plot. What path you carve through it allows the students to either learn it or forget it. Teaching you look for themes and jokes to repeat and focus the student on ideas that you want them to apply and soak in. But you need visuals to anchor the ideas.

If you have splashy visuals (a done Flash file that performs some cool action) the students gasp and go wow. If you just talk they go un huh sure whatever. But to make it work well you need to balance the flashy visual with the plot with the storytelling pictures that fill in the space.