It has only occurred to me recently that it is important to develop a ‘comics voice’ for characters, so that it is practical to create work quickly and confidently. By ‘comics voice’ I mean a consistent, replicable style for characters, where they are easy to identify and to build in a remembered and practiced visual lexicon.
It surprises me that it has taken several years to put this in the foreground of practice, as this seems to be needed at the beginning. Part of this is my ignorance as I stagger around in the dark trying to discover what I need, and the other part is my focus on ‘the think over the ink’ – something that Bob Mankoff (editor of cartoons at the New Yorker) states in the ‘Naked Cartoonist’ (2002) to underline that ideas are more important than drawing style for creating humorous comics.
At the moment, my students are in the first month of beginning to develop a comics practice and one of their biggest obstacles is the concern of not being able to draw. One of them also pointed out their wish in their weekly written reflection ‘to create characters of my family members and friends in my art style’, which made me consider this as significant. In connection, I also noted that in my cartooning circle, ‘The Leam Funnies,’ the only member who draws without concern is the member whose brother showed her how to create a specific comics style and comics voice. She always build the same type of bodies and faces, which frees her up to enjoy building ideas. This leads to the thought that developing a comics voice can get you to enjoying and processing the ideas more quickly.
Of course, both my students and members of ‘The Leam Funnies’ can draw well enough to communicate the message and idea contained in a single or multiple panels. It is their learned expectation of drawing as realistic that build this obstacle. One of my students recently said in class that the DC/ Marvel style is ‘our standard for drawing as part of our culture’. This is interesting and perhaps questionable, as the visual culture in the UK also contains memes, and webcomics and cartoons that include many drawing styles and popular DIY approaches to comics making. However, it is noteworthy to observe that the enormous recent success of the superhero genre in the UK can eclipse other comics genres and drawing styles.
I endeavour to counter students’ concerns regarding drawing by introducing them to popular creators who use limited drawing means to communicate messages and ideas, including Chaz Hutton who creates single-panel cartoons on post-it notes (2016),
And web cartoonist Alex Norris who aims ‘to make a lot with a little’ and notes that they ‘intentionally make bad art, so I don’t have to wait to be good enough!’ Their overall advice is to ‘make something that you can make now’ (Norris in conversation with LDC on 21.02.22),
I also encourage students to use a ‘brick people’ (rather than stick men) to create characters that are easy to replicate and move around. This is an approach advocated by Scriberia, the London based graphic notetaking company, in their book and training,
Popular Scottish cartoonist Tom Gauld often uses a similar type of brick people in his cartoons and strips,
Finally, I encourage students to use ‘The Noun Project’ for inspiration for ways to draw minimally with icons. The Noun Project is a sort of wiki of free images shared by creators that can provide all kinds of short cuts to rendering objects and ideas. One of my Masters students who began by stating that they couldn’t draw, decided to their own surprise to create their dissertation using a mixture of text and visual metaphors inspired by the Noun Project and did so enjoyably and successfully.
Still, there are no quick fixes to change entrenched personal and cultural schemas of ‘I can’t draw,’ ‘drawing should be realistic’ and ‘comics need to be DC/Marvel style’. It takes time to develop a liberated practice that concerns itself primarily with the ideas discovered in a playful and positive creative process.
Nevertheless, I am setting myself the challenge of retroactively considering a comics voice for characters. This begins with my own graphic character, who has been intuitively drawn regularly in my Comics Diary. I plan to dismantle the style of this character and adapt and rebuild this character into a ‘comics voice’ for all characters. This comics voice should be easy to remember and replicate, and also a useful foundation for characters to move and to express themselves through all kinds of stories. More on this practice in future posts…
Mankoff, R (2002) The Naked Cartoonist.
Gauld, T (2023) available at:
Hutton, C (2016) A Sticky Note Guide to Life.
Hutton, C (2023) available at:
Norris, A (2023) available at:
The Noun Project, available at:
Scriberia (2017) How to Draw Anything.