Teacher's Lounge

Teacher’s guide chapter 12: Constructing a World

Lectures & discussions

12.1 Creating a sense of place

Right up front, we should say that we’re not advocating filling up every panel with exhaustive detail. We’re simply interested in encouraging students to research and/or think through their settings, and to give the project of creating a sense of place high priority, whatever that may mean in an individual’s style.

That said, you of course know that most students’ interest in drawing backgrounds and creating space is minimal, to begin with. This comes out of the way most of us learn to draw: faces and figures, often in the margins of notebooks. We push backgrounds hard, because that’s what it takes to get students interested in them.

There are lots of potential activities you can do with this chapter, such as having students use each of the approaches we suggest on different panels or solo drawings, or creating research-based assignments, like non-fiction comics. For a less-demanding extra, you might have students keep an “I notice” diary for a period of time, as suggested in the “Drawing specifics” sidebar.

Note that we skip over the major issue of perspective here. We just found we didn’t have the room for it, though we plan to include it in the second volume of this textbook. However, some basic work on perspective really should be part of a young cartoonist’s education, whether that comes in the context of your class, or in another class. Consider reviewing the basic concepts of perspective to help students get over some of the problems they’ll encounter when they try to beef up their backgrounds.

12.2 Figuring out the figure 2: heads and hands

As we noted in Chapter 5, when we covered figurettes, we don’t pretend to do much with drawing as a specific skill in this book. However, a basic grasp of head and hand anatomy, even if rendered in cartoony variations, is pretty essential. After all, much of the communication in a good comic is non-verbal, and much of that must be carried by expressive figures. If your students have this kind of material in other classes, feel free to skip it. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to assign it, along with the activity that follows. You can spend some class time drawing and troubleshooting individual students’ work.


No time like the present

Just to make sure all this discussion of noticing and details doesn't stay in the realm of the purely hypothetical, this is a quick activity that can help drive those ideas home. Even the plainest classrooms have fire alarms, specific door designs, light fixtures. Make sure students see these details and notice how they're distinct from others variations.

The head's in your hands

This activity has a number of good drawing exercises any of which could be a stand-alone activity or a space-filler if you have an extra 20 minutes in class. Note that only the first item in the instructions requires working through the lesson in 12.2.

Drawing specifics

As we noted above, the "I notice" notebook is a good, low-impact activity to assign for this chapter. You might also ask students to draw you a catalog of three to five versions of similar objects: trees, fire hydrants, streetlights. They should go out and find various different examples of the assigned objects, and draw them with an eye to noting the details that differ.

Things to keep in mind when drawing from photos

To talk about photo reference issues, consider bringing in photo comics and overly-referenced photo-based comics, as well as ones you consider good examples of using real-world photo reference. You may not agree with us about the drawbacks of photo-realistic comics, but the discussion that comes out of comparing the various approaches can be productive nonetheless.

Further reading

David Chelsea, Perspective! For Comic Book Artists Joseph D’Amelio, Perspective Drawing Handbook Ernest Norling, Perspective Made Easy Ernest W. Watson, Creative Perspective for Artists and Illustrators Look at “Further reading” in Chapter 5, and if you’re interested in learning to draw in a particular mode, like superheroes, or manga, there are tons of books on how to draw in that manner. Just keep in mind that a lot of that stuff is stylistic flourish, and you still need to learn how to draw a head in full rotation and hands in action.  For more specific pointers on learning to see what’s around you and to translate it to drawing, Betty Edwards’s classic The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain has a number of very useful exercises. In Making Comics, Scott McCloud has an extensive chapter on facial expressions. Stephen Rogers Peck, Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist

Continue penciling your six-page story

When possible, it's a good idea to have students work in class, so that you can answer questions as they come up. Make sure students are keeping up the pace. It's easy for some to fall behind at this point.

On-location comics

Depending on the time of year, this can be an enjoyable and productive assignment for students to do. It takes a bit of hustling around, but it has at least two virtues: it teaches them how to incorporate sketching from life into their comics practice, and it gets them to produce a finished comic in a relatively short period of time—one they can make into a minicomic, put on their websites, or submit to an anthology. A good way to teach this is to have the students do the writing exercise in class without telling them they are going to draw it (make sure they use a location they'll be able to visit in person). After they are done writing, you can explain the second half of the assignment. You may find that the final comic ends up considerably different from the text. One other note: be sure students are aware that they can and should use a sketchier, looser drawing style for this assignment. Have them think about what kind of materials they can make portable and use on the road.

Chapter 12: Continue penciling your six-page story

You might want to give students a break and skip this crit in favor of in-class work time. You don't want them to get burned out on these stories. Circulate during class to check students' progress and see if there are individual problems you can help with. If you do want to put the work up, definitely ask specific questions along the lines of the ones in the crit guidelines to get students talking.