For a long while, I have been struggling with getting characters to move convincingly around comics panels and pages. This has become a long-drawn-out process of impatience and overthinking. Most of the time, I’m impatient to get the idea down, other times I overthink solving this motion commotion, which has resulted in experiments with ‘keyhole men’ (Hall 2009:11-12), ‘brick men’ (Scriberia 2017:27), ‘match stick men’ (Byrne 2008:54-57), ‘oval’ men (Hamm 1967:35), and this week in playing around with the graffiti artist, Stik’s version of stickmen, (note, perhaps we should use ‘stick figure’ to be more inclusive?), which are really beautiful evocative brick figures. (How he does this so successfully with so little is another question entirely!),
Today, I might have solved this conundrum in the simplest way possible with a quiet return to the simple old ‘stickman’ figure. Perhaps much time and wrangling could have been saved, if I had started my practice with basic sticks and bricks, but I started with a finished solid character like this one,
My cartoon avatar was created looking directly at the viewer (me). This makes sense if you consider that the reader is also me talking to me – and I often tend to give myself life advice in comics diary doodles (note to self: I need to buy better quality sketchbooks, where there is no bleed through for the ‘doodle diary’),
These characters become sort of life coaches and perform little acts in self-awareness – something that is not a personal strength, so these provide a useful function. They might also resemble other autographic practitioners who use their practice with the similar function of self-care or as ways to wellbeing (note to self: look into this). However, my intention was not to give myself advice, but to liberate into different ways to thinking, and to have fun experimenting with visual humour. For this, it would be useful to be able to look and move in different direction.
The problem is if you have a set character, then you have to convincingly move all of the parts and pieces around, so that they look consistent – noses, hair, and bodies. This is tricky, as can be witnessed in various pages of the sketchbook. The trickiest is to move my upturned nose into profile and three-quarter views,
Today, I turned to the experts and picked up John Byrne’s ‘Cartooning’ (2008:54-57), where he suggests first doodling a stick figure in a pose, as a frame (or skeleton) and then building the character on top. Could it be this simple? I did a first attempt, which worked, but then struggled with a profile version sitting down. This is probably because the original stick pose was not convincing enough (Byrne does suggest playing around with the stick people until you have the right version). He also suggests finding ways to get to the right stick figure, such as:
- draw stick figures from live observation or from TV,
- draw from an artist’s model or action figure (such as a Ken/Barbie doll)
- draw from friends and family
You could also draw from Eadweard Muybridge photographs (1955) or online photographs in a Google search. There are other cartoonists who suggest the stick figure (Bishop 2006:54-57, Hall 2009:46, Hamm 1967:39, Walker 2000:77 ), but with added complications of balls for joints and too-elegant complicated examples to give me confidence to commence.
My plan for the week ahead is to practice drawing stick figures from life and TV and then adding my character onto some of these skeletons. Thank you, John Byrne, for this simple way to start movement!
Bishop, F. (2006) The Cartoonist’s Bible. UK: Search Press.
Byrne, J. (2008) Cartooning. London: Collins
Hall, R (2009) The Cartoonist Workbook. London: A&C Black Publishers Limited.
Hamm, J (1967) Cartooning The Head & Figure. New York: Putnam Publishing Group.
Muybridge, E (1955) The Human Figure in Motion New York: Dover Publications.
Scriberia (2017) How to Draw Anything. Great Britain: Querus.
Stik, Instagram feed – @stik
Walker, M. (2000)The Lexicon of Comicana. Lincoln, USA: Authors Guild.