Guest post: How to make your own parachute while falling from the sky

Today Professor Dan Werneck from Brazil is going to share with us some of his thoughts—and anxieties—as he prepares to teach his first comics class.  I hope we can convince him to report back here once the course is underway or perhaps after it’s finished to let us know how things all turned out–and what kind of ink he and his students make. In the meantime, this guest post is also an invitation to dialogue so please contribute your ideas in the comments.


I stole the title of this post from Ray Bradbury. He once said that, in order to become a professional writer, you need to jump off a cliff first. After you start to fall, you may start making yourself a parachute. That is exactly what I’ve been doing in the last couple of days, and Matt and Jessica have kindly allowed me to share my parachute, I mean, my ideas with all of you.

Allow me a short introduction. My name is Daniel, and after being punished in kindergarten, pre-school, high school, college, master’s and doctorate programs for reading and making comics, I finally got my PhD and a position as a professor at the best art school in Brazil. Now that I’m playing on the opposite side of the game, I want to give my students at least a little bit of the comics education I never received as an undergrad.

So I proposed a comics workshop to the university, open to the general public. It will be a 60-hour course, meeting weekly, discussing both theory and practice.  I intend to teach students how to make comics and self-publish them, going from script to art to folding, stapling and selling their own comics.

The only problem is, I’ve never done this before.

illustration © Daniel Werneck

What, comics? Oh yeah, I’ve done some. You have never read any of them, and probably never will, but I’ve been making comics off-and-on since I learned how to fold and staple a piece of paper with my scribbles on it. What I’ve never done is teach a comics course.

When I needed to write the course’s syllabus, the first book that came to my mind was, you guessed it, Drawing Words & Writing Pictures. With its well-thought class structure and activities, it is by far the most comprehensive, creative and interesting book on making comics I have ever encountered. Of course Eisner and McCloud have a lot to add with their books, and I intend to force the students to read their stuff too, but to actually organize the course, I’ll have to stand on Matt and Jessica’s shoulders, so I can see further and figure out what to do.

The most difficult thing is to imagine what kind of student will show up. Who wants to make comics? Kids? Teenagers? Adults? Seniors? Men, women, hermaphrodites? I need to be ready for anything. What if my class is invaded by a horde of manga aficionados, and all I want to talk about is Krazy Kat and Peanuts? Or maybe there will be a lot of girls, and my opinions on Spiderman will be boring to them. Worst case scenario: I’ll have have all kinds of people at the same time, and the class will become a Tower of Babel of references.

On the other hand, that would also be the best case scenario. The more different people I find, the more ideas will clash, and the result will be anything but boring. Anyway, I’ll start with some history of comics, because no matter how old they are and what their tastes are, in this day and age it is very reasonable to assume that most of the students will have no idea of who George Herriman, Winsor McCayand Milton Caniff were.

Another strength of this course will be the practice. We’ll be at an art school, and I want to show them all kinds of papers, inks and tools to work with. I’m tired of the same old answers, repeated over and over again: “I use Strathmore bristol boards Col-Erase pencils and Pitt pens”. Boring! Let’s try different papers, pencils, erasers. I’m pretty sure most students I’ll meet have never tried drawing with a nib before. I’ll give them a chance to try, and also screen tones, crayons, wax pencils, tusche, dry pastel, oil pastel, watercolor. Let’s make our own ink, and cut nibs out of birds’ feathers and bamboo sticks! Let’s make our own paper!

Well, I’m getting a bit carried away here, but you get the idea.

Last but not least, I want these students to learn how to actually make their own comic books. I know some of them only want to get a job at Marvel and have a shot at drawing a Wolverine comic, but I want them to experience the pains and pleasures of printing, stapling, folding and selling their own comics; the joy of trading comics with fellow artists, the challenge of selling comics at conventions, or just going out in the streets and selling comics to random people passing by. All of those things are an essential part of comics, no matter if you are a famous big shot or just a new kid.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been researching for the last couple of days.  I know I’ve talked too much here, so now I’d like to hear from you. Do you think I’m doing something wrong with my planning? What do you think my workshop should include? Do you know any other books I should be talking about with the kids? What comics do I have to show them when I talk about comics history? Do you have a good recipe for making ink?

Thanks so much for reading so far, and thanks again Matt and Jessica for letting me use this space, and for their amazingly inspiring book!

Prof. Daniel Werneck, PhD, is a professor at a public university in Brazil. During the day, he teaches animation, using comics as a tool for helping students develop skills such as storytelling, character design, composition, color theory, and many other concepts that are vital for a visual artist. However… after midnight… hagridden by an ancient malediction, Professor Werneck turns into a terrifying creature known simply as ‘Dust’! This horrid freak is a pulp fiction writer and illustrator who edits a dreadful pulp fiction magazine! Dust is currently working on its first graphic novel, due October 2011. Will professor Werneck succeed in stopping this frightening evil monster, getting rid of the curse?


5 Comments to Guest post: How to make your own parachute while falling from the sky

  • by Kevin McCloskey

    On November 16, 2010 at 9:11 pm

    Hello Dan, Here are some thoughts…
    Around 1985 when I was a grad student in Illustration at SVA in NYC I took Art Spiegelman’s comic course. We each a page and then did a mini com and a then group project.
    The group project, Alphabet Soup was wrapped like a can of soup, think Warhol. Each of had to do a mini with bit of a bio strip, a contest and a mock advertisement based on a letter we got via random drawing. I got S and did a bit of a bio story based on an experience I had in Saigon during the war. (Spiegelman hated my contribution on moral and artistic grounds, but that is beside the point.) Spiegelman took the 26 different letter books wrapped in the red and white soup can and placed them at Printed Matter and a few other NYC shops for sale to cover the cost of materials.

    I’ve taught a short course in comics at Kutztown U in Pa, half-semester. 7 weeks meets twice a week for a total of 6 hours per week. Students each made a mini-com. I also had them each do two pages that we put together as a group effort. I was lucky to get a volunteer student editor to set deadlines on this. One student came in late, I had done two pages myself, but since the other guy was late it messed our page count and we eliminated mine. Flunked the guy who didn’t deliver. but he was more crushed and surprised that we went to press w/out him. I got some subsidized copies here, so we printed a batch of 8.5 by 11 folded,used a index stock for cover.

    Of course DWWP is the best text. Also google Jessica Abel’s DIY mini-com page. Besides that as you noted there is McCloud’s book Making Comics which I find more useful than his first, Understanding Comics. Get this newer book called: “Watcha Mean ,What’s a Zine?” Subtitled: The Art of Making Zines and Mini-comics. It is very worthwhile for binding and distribution ideas.

    As far as must reads lit comics, my biases: Maus, La Perdida, The Golem’s Mighty Swing, Persepolis, and get a few issues of Mome to show them. I esp like to share John Porcellino’s “Memoirs (or is it Diary?) of a Mosquito Abatement Man” It starts out with drawings so simple, your students will not be intimidated, and they can watch as his drawings improve over the course of the book. Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor is good to encourage writer/ artist collaborations, and someday when you are hoarse you can show the film.

    I’m assuming ,even though you are in Brazil, your students have a decent command of English. If so, they ought to sign up for the Publisher Weekly free newsletter, PW Comics Week. Also would be great if you can arrange a table at a alternative press expo,comic con, or even street fair, near the end of the semester, and set your crew up. Each student should take a shift and see whose work gets picked up, talked about, and bought.

    Hope this info is some help. I got distracted from what I came to this site for. I better get back to it. Last thought,visit website of Center for Cartoon Studies.
    Boa sorte,
    Kevin McCloskey

  • by Matt

    On November 17, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    Kevin, thanks for sharing all this. I’d never heard of that insane Alphabet Soup project, deranged and brilliant.

  • by Daniel Werneck

    On November 22, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Dear Kevin, thank you so much for your feedback! Your ideas and suggestions are quite synched with what I’ve been planning, specially the end-of-semester fair part. Even if I have to set up a lemonade stand with their comics and have them sell them, I think it is a very important part of the process. The moment they give their first autograph, I think they will be hooked on this forever, and that’s the main goal of this workshop…

    I’ll keep you all informed of how things roll, but first, I need to have the students sign up for the workshop and pay the fees… fingers crossed!

  • by J T Guerrero

    On November 22, 2010 at 4:43 pm

    I don’t teach but I am a student of film. In addition to the books/references mentioned above, I would recommended watching/studying classic films. Most anything from the top 100 or 200 films list or even a favorite of yours.

    To me, what makes comics so engaging is the storyline/character development. Between films and comic story lines, I get hooked!

  • by Kevin McCloskey

    On November 30, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    Hi Dan, Matt,
    Dan since you mentioned your students may include some who are only interested in working for Marvel, I thought I’d add this. I student brought in the new edition of Stan Lee’s book. It is what it is, and it is right for those students. I was surprised that it actually had some good info on software and shading. Here is a link to a free excerpt.

    I had one talented student intern at Marvel, I went to check on the experience. They sat him down scanning old comics to upload, not a very good use of his amazing drawing ability. I’d say even if artists aspire to do only Marvel type art, they should get some experience making their own zines.

    One comics class exercise that is fun is called the Superest.Here is how it is done:
    1. Player 1 draws a character with a power.
    2. Player 2 then draws a character whose power cancels the power of that previous character.
    3. Repeat.
    Two of my former students, Kevin Cornell and Matt Sutter with no help from me, made a a book and a website of it :

Leave a reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

By submitting a comment here you grant Drawing Words Writing Pictures a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate or irrelevant comments will be removed at an admin's discretion.