Monday, November 11, 2013

Alex Toth's Rules

  • Eliminate the superfluous, the unnecessary. Be lazy!
  • Edit your art continuously, at every stage. Save work!
  • Focus on the remaining (important) picture elements.
  • Emphasize what is important in a scene. Save drawing!
  • Isolate such key elements (as one does in a view finder).
  • Closeups only when needed: face(s)-for mood and expression, and objects-small, difficult to distinguish in other ways.
  • To set a scene, a place, to establish a locate, etc., go to a wide shot, angles okay (down/up, etc.)-but again, simply!
  • Then, cut to tighter shots-pace them, for interest, etc....(wide/one shot/two shot/group/close-up/tight close-up).
  • Establish light source, if need be, for dramatic mood and for blacks, drop shadows, etc., on figures & objects and walks, as correctly placed as you can make 'em!
  • Eliminate such light/shadow work in other shots.
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify, throughout!
  • Remember, some scenes will and must be pedestrian, unimportant, and dull- because they are "bridges" between key storytelling scenes. As in any story telling form, movies, TV, books, plays, music, opera, painting, etc., you can't knock 'em dead with every shot. Remember, this is what gives pace to a story, visual commas and periods in a pictorial "paragraph" or "sentence"! These are the resting places in an otherwise moving storm! Use them! Without fear!
  • Some such "rests" or "pauses" can be heightened in pictorial interest by way of a pretty scene of quiet mood-if your locale allows! Don't stretch logic to do it!
  • By learning to eliminate unnecessary objects, figures, and background, etc., you can focus on what is left to draw in the shot-and draw it well enough to "carry" the shot!
  • In other words: strip it all down to essentials and draw the hell out of what is left!
  • All of this advice is based on Roy Crane's critiques of my work-and he is absolutely correct, on all points!
  • In the Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy strips and in Buz Sawyer, with Sundays focused on pal Roscoe Sweeny, his work of fifty-odd years demonstrates its validity! in his work, as in no other of his contemporaries' offerings, you will find an extraordinary sense of balance, in his design of space within a panel frame, a strip, or a page! His simplicity allows us to see the use of shapes within his pictures, how they create tension, action or repose...clearly!
  • He avoided confusing details!
  • To quote something just read: "To add to truth only subtracts from it!!! (Isn't that beautifully put?)
  • Authentic devices, objects, machines, locales, furniture, buildings, lend credibility!
  • As Sickles put it: "Understand how a thing is built and you'll have no trouble drawing it through!"
  • Spend more time thinking-about what and what not to draw, and how-and you'll do less drawing!
  • Pre-plan, pre-think...Thus, save work and time!
  • But-whatever you do, do it well!
  • Tell the story as best you can! Bend to that storm!
  • Be honest to it. Give it all you've got! Enhance it!
  • Study films, photographs, paintings, etc. for composition! For cutting, cropping out of nonessentials, pacing, punch, economy, forceful and direct impact. But also for beauty and subtlety-tension, suspense, action, humor, light and dark, balance, line vs. mass, ad infinitum! Use it all!
  • Analyze everything you see-be critical! Positively so!
  • See-observe-remember! Build up your memory file!
  • Good luck

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Simon Fraser's 10 Rules

1. Left to right. Don't get fancy and you won't lose people.

2. Pay attention to eyes. That's the first thing people look at.

3. Control as much of the process as you can: penciling, inking, coloring, even lettering. You don't have to do it yourself, just get your own people in and keep an eye on it right to the end.

4. Don't hide things you don't know how to draw. Put them front and center so you give yourself a push to improving your skills.

5. Keep practicing drawing from life, drawing from a model, drawing what you see around you. When you stop doing that then you start to dry up and become predictable.

6. Nothing is un-drawable. It might be very very hard, but you CAN do it.

7. If you are working from another writer's script, read thoroughly, then read it again. Let those words become your words and therefore your character's words.

8. Try not to design asymmetrical characters. Also avoid tattoos. 

9. Clarity above all. No fancy layout or visual flourish is worth losing your reader's full comprehension.

10. All rules are completely ignorable, if you can make it work.

You can view Simon Fraser's work at:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Zander Cannon's 10 Rules

1. Every panel will express its subjects' 1) position 2) scale 3) details or 4) emotion. Very rarely can it reliably express more than one of these. Try to vary between each type as much as possible to keep the page interesting and people engaged.

2. Anchor important things along lines or in clusters. Heads of a crowd of people along the horizon is a good one.

3. Thick lines and shadows should define edges of objects, thin lines define details. Edges of weighty, massive objects should be defined by a very thick line or a substantial area of dark color.

4. As often as you can, incorporate word balloons and lettering into the art. Efficient, corporate workflows make this difficult, but if you can manage it, good, well-integrated lettering can make your artwork look 10x better. 

5. More so than ever, there are no 'right tools.' Use what makes sense. If selling commissions or originals is important, use archival tools on nice paper. If efficiency and speed is paramount, work digitally. There are no rules other than what looks good to you.

6. Waste time and experiment on things you love. Become blindingly fast on things you don't.

7. 'Should' is a poisonous word. Don't do what you should do. Draw what you love, what you would love to read, and what tells others how you think and feel.

8. Design your characters so they are recognizable by silhouette or by color, or, ideally, both.

9. Art is the intersection between seeing the lines on paper and seeing what they represent. As soon as you can see both, stop; you're done.

10. Alternate between drawing something that people will see (encouraging you to be polished) and something for just you (inspiring you to be daring) as often as you can. You need both.

You can view Zander Cannon's work at:

Friday, November 1, 2013

Michael DeForge's 10 Rules

1. Figure out your grid. This is one that obviously doesn't apply to everyone. All my comics are on grids. Deciding on which one I'm going to use for any given story ends up dictating a lot of how the rest of the comic is going to read - tone, pacing, the level of detail in the drawing, length, etc.

I like grids with two columns for the "call and response" sort of rhythm they have. It's good for dialogue, gags, keeping a story moving at a steady beat. I find that the six-panel grid is the easiest to design, since it gives you very clean and simple diagonals to work with. I like grids with three columns to stretch the pacing out a bit more and really let characters move around (or across) a page.

2. Don't overdraw.

3. Feel kind of weird and shitty about coloring your comic. If you are drawing a color comic, constantly look at your finished pages and ask yourself, "would this page work just as well without color? Is it doing something that I couldn't accomplish in black and white?" It doesn't really matter what the answers are, but it's an important thing to feel self-conscious about. This applies to any design elements on your page that might be superfluous or purely ornamental, really.

4. Print stuff yourself sometimes. Aside from all the lessons (in economics, in design, in production) that self-publishing teaches you, comics is also one of the cheapest mediums to work in, and it's nice to take advantage of that.

5. Learn how to letter by hand. There are, like, four exceptions to the "hand lettering always looks better" thing, and it's a good skill to have anyway. Even if you end up using a typeface because you can't afford the time to letter everything yourself, just knowing how to do it will make your pages flow better. 

6. Ignore "blocks." I know there isn't one way to deal with writer's/artist's block, so this is just how I do it. I can't take a break during those stretches. If I'm not feeling it, I just have to work through it anyway. Sometimes that means turning out thirty pages of garbage and tossing them in the recycling bin before hitting my stride again. The longer I spend away from the drawing desk, the more I'm thrown out of my routine, the harder it is for me to get back to work.

Drawing for comics is such a weird and different process compared to other types of drawing. Some days, working on a comics page has more in common with organizing a spreadsheet than it does, say, drawing in my sketchbook. So I need to keep that muscle memory there because blablabla it's like exercise etc

In general, I think it's dangerous when cartoonists wait around to be "inspired" to work. Drawing isn't always going to feel like lightning bolts are coming out of your fingertips or playing jazz music. It's work, and on most days it will feel like work. If you've chosen comics as a vocation, a lot of your time is going to be spent measuring panel borders or crosshatching a brick wall, so get ready.

7. Set deadlines. Set yourself a reasonable quota of pages you can do every week (or month) and force yourself to meet those deadlines. Ignore your friends, lose sleep, let your health decline, etc. Allow other things in your life organize themselves around your art. Feel awful about yourself when you fail to meet those deadlines. Eventually feel good about periodically letting yourself off the hook after you've been meeting them for a while. Eventually, these routines become so internalized that you no longer need to police yourself as much.

8. Learn when to draw generic and when to draw specific. This is an intuitive thing. Sometimes a cartoon house that looks like a triangle on top of a rectangle is the best possible choice for a panel.

9. Overshoot. Every new project should feel like you're attempting something a little outside of your skill set. (This might actually be the case)

10. Take advantage of the low stakes. The fact that there isn't any money in comics isn't ideal, but there are advantages to not having anybody pay attention to what we're doing. If you succeed, nobody really cares, and if you fail, nobody really cares, which means there's a lot of freedom to experiment. These things are cheap to make and you're taking a smaller financial blow by xeroxing 200 copies of a comic nobody buys than by (for instance) pressing 200 copies of a 7" nobody listens to.

You can view Michael DeForge's work at:

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Jeffrey Brown's 10 Rules

1. Think about your audience. But don't cater to them. You should keep in mind that you're making comics that someone else will read, so things should be clear and comprehensible, and not so esoteric that no one else will get it. That doesn't mean you should just try to make something with the idea that it's for a particular market or demographic.

2. Don't pay attention to reviews. Of course, it's impossible to completely ignore the world's response to your work. In fact, the whole point of putting work into the world is to get a response. When you inevitably read those reviews you're trying to avoid, at least try and get something from them - sometimes there's actually constructive criticism that can improve your work. Internet comments sections and Amazon reviews should be avoided at all costs, though.

3. Don't compare yourself and your work to others. Don't feel like you're a failure because you're 5 years older than such-and-such cartoonist was when they got their six digit book deal. Or because your work never comes close to being as good as that of your idol. There will always be someone better and some other work that will always be better than anything you ever make in your entire life. Chances are, those people are different from you, and the work you make is different, and none of that makes your work any less worthwhile.

4. Make work without ulterior motives. Make comics to express your ideas, not to do other stuff like getting revenge, impressing someone, win back an ex, etc. Except change the world, that's probably okay to try.

5. Be willing to compromise in your work. But never compromise your work. Learn when you can bend to an editor or publisher's wishes and when you should demand your work's integrity be maintained. Sometimes they'll make your work better, sometimes they'll only make it more marketable, sometimes they'll ruin it. Think big picture and long term with what you want from your comics.

6. Don't Settle. Don't give a half-hearted effort. Draw your crowd scenes, your feet, your complicated machinery. If your story requires a tedious ten pages of thing-you-don't-feel-like-drawing, find a way to do it instead of deciding that can really be done in just two pages. Unless it really can be done in two pages.

7. Enjoy it. Comics are hard work - and they should be - but it's work you should be enjoying. If you're not enjoying it (at some point in the process - either the act of writing and drawing, or holding the finished book, or whenever), then you're either drawing the wrong comics or you should reconsider if drawing comics is really what you want to be doing. If you're not enjoying it because you're not making any money from drawing it, then you really may need to think about doing something else, like banking.

8. Trust yourself. If you're relatively happy with the work you've made, then chances are, with 7 billion people in the world, there's thousands and thousands of other people who will also be happy with your work. You'll still need to get your work to those people. And there'll also be at least a couple billion people who actively hate what you've done, and several billion who will be absolutely apathetic toward it. Don't worry about all those people, just worry about those first thousand. Make the comics you want to make.

9. Don't be afraid to put your work out into the world. If no one sees it, what's the point? By all means, keep making work even if you're not going to let anyone see it, just don't be afraid of what people will think or say. Just making art is more than most people can take credit for, and putting it out into the world will put you in even smaller, better company. All that's left is to keep at it until you're making really good work.

10. Work! Work, work, work. Work all the time. Make lots of work. Do the work. If you're not actually working on it, you'll never actually make anything. That seems obvious, but there are plenty of people who talk about the ideas they have and never actually do anything with them. Most people probably think great ideas are rare, but actually great ideas are everywhere. Pretty much everyone in the world has one or two great ideas every year. What's rare is people who actually follow through and make those ideas a reality. You have to work.

You can view Jeffrey Brown's work at:

Monday, October 28, 2013

John Allison's 10 Rules

1. Get good, then get fast, then get good and fast. For every stride you make, you'll introduce a load of mistakes. I'd gain in one area, but find another one slipped a bit. I'd begin to improve at inking, but start making heads taller and taller, then have to rein that in. Or my anatomy would get better, but as it did, I'd start drawing with a line that was too thin or too fat. Don't worry about it. Take a moment to step back and look objectively at what you're doing every once in a while.

2. If you're going to read the good reviews, you have to read the bad reviews. You probably shouldn't read any of your reviews, and you certainly shouldn't make decisions based on what strangers say about your work, but the faults people see in your work, no matter how they sting, probably have a root somewhere.

3. Vary your diet. Comics made by people who only read comics read like comics made by people who only read comics.

4. There's no such thing as perfection. You can't make a page perfect. Just get it done. Move on. 95% done is good enough 99% of the time.

5. Allow yourself to be bored. There are a million ways to distract yourself today. Turn your phone off when you go out, give yourself time to let your mind wander. That's when a lot of the best work gets done. Computer games aren't productive. Checking Twitter/email/Tumblr every three minutes to see if anything has happened isn't productive. It's counter-productive. You're wasting your limited lifespan. 

6. The good stuff is what comes when the bad stuff is out of the way. If you feel like you're in a rut, but you have to keep going, have faith that good work will come again. In the meantime, challenge yourself with the uninspiring material, make it more than it currently is. And remember that most people won't notice the difference. Something that feels flat and tired to you might be someone's favorite comic you ever did.

7. Stay healthy. Making comics is hard. Treat yourself like an athlete! If the work you do with a five-alarm hangover is better than the work you do well rested, you're an incredibly singular specimen.

8. People want to see a little of themselves reflected back at them in a story. You should make work for yourself first and foremost, but remember that you don't want to be the only person who wants to read it.

9. The devil is in the detail. Don't go for the easy joke, the stereotype, the rote rendition. They've all been done. And you'll do all of them at first. But as best you can, go for something new. You'll be rewarded for it.

10. Make a place that readers want to visit. The best comics creators make settings you want to crawl inside and characters you want to know. Do whatever you can to make that happen. Use everything you can from your life, from the things you enjoy, to build a place that readers want to be.

You can view John Allison's work

Friday, October 25, 2013

Sam Henderson's 10 Rules

1.      Use what you feel comfortable with--eventually. Some people use markers or ballpoints or copy paper, some even use a dowel rod. There's no one correct way of executing anything. But it's best to start with conventional tools first. Start with india ink, bristol, T-square, gummy eraser, comfy chair, blah blah blah, just like everyone else more qualified than me will tell you.

2.      No halos. My own pet peeve. Even some of my favorite cartoonists do it. I can't stop you. It really bothers me when a person or object is standing in front of a black background with a white outline around them. It suggests you're passive-aggressively trying to impress people with the quality of your line. If the thing in the foreground is also black, maybe have some kind of light shining on it to make it stand out, but don't make it look like it's glowing in the dark. Don't get me started on balloon tails crossing.

3.      Keep a sketchbook. You never know when an idea will hit you out of nowhere that you'll forget if you don't write it down. It also keeps you in practice. If you don't draw something new every day, lack of drawing will become habit and you might not be able to recover. It's like when guys are told their dicks will fall of from atrophy.

4.      Use blue pencil. Computers may make one more lazy, but that's the drawback. I can't tell you what tools to use or not, that's something to figure out for yourself. The blue pencil is something everyone should have though. It won't show up on scanners and you can make mistakes without having to erase them. Everyone should use one.

5.      Take from sources. A more polite way of recommending you steal. Not plagiarize, but don't be afraid of being derivative. Kliban begat the Far Side, Doonesbury begat Bloom County, Simpsons begat Family Guy, the influences may be blatant but whether you like them or not they're original in their own right. Kirby is derived from Shakespeare which is derived from Greek tragedies which are in turn based on tales told by cavemen, and on and on. There's no such thing as an original idea when it comes down to it, so you don't have to be a major innovator to be considered unique.

6.      Follow the grammar of comics. Use panel borders, gutters, and the like, and call them those things, no matter how corny they might be. Don't show off. Just like the English language requires certain parts of speech and punctuation used properly, so too does comics.

7.      Market not only to comic fans. People often tell me something like “My favorite comics are yours and Batman.” It's the subject matter that should resonate, not the medium. Nobody assumes because you listen to a certain kind of music, you listen to everything just because it's music. Is your comic like Breaking Bad? South Park? Dancing with the Stars? A Woody Allen movie? Pick something you feel is similar to yours, but the common ground should never be that what you do also has words and pictures made with ink on paper.

8.      Don't work for free. It's okay to do free things for friends or students. Just don't heed the promises of strangers who say they will give you “exposure.” Cartooning is a job like any other. Just let these people try telling their printer, post office, landlord, etc. the same conditions and see where that gets them.

9.      Don't care what people think. No subject matter is off limits. This isn't to say that you should sit down and think “what can I do that will offend people?” Just that you shouldn't care if it does. A tragedy for some is just a statistic for others. Not to suddenly become a sociopath, use the same boundaries you always have. I may find some things may not be appropriate, but don't censor yourself because I say so.

10.  Do as I say, not as I do. Let's see, what other corny sayings can I use? “Those who can't, teach.” “You have to get 1000 bad drawings out of you before you do one good one.” “One man's meat is another man's poison.” “You can't please everyone.” Yeah, those work too. I'm forty-four, have been doing comics professionally for over twenty years, had high-prestige clients, but I'm still learning. I'm not one to show exactly how to do comics or say how I do something is the only way. I don't even put clothes on people or make them other colors or genders unless it's necessary for the gag. My work is based more on ideas than craft. That doesn't mean yours should be. My stuff may be crude, but that doesn't mean I only can understand or appreciate things equally crude. I've centered on this style from trying other ways to figure out what's best suited for me. Other cartoonists might think everything I've said is a load of crap and I can live with that. My advice is to just take in as much as possible from everything you hear or say and use what you feel is best for you.


Bonus Tip #1:  Don't Be a Cartoonist. You have a life of starvation and poverty ahead of you. There are enough of you already. I was bitten by the bug early on, but it's not too late for you. 

Bonus Tip #2: Schulz doesn't have a "T" in it. Whether a classicist or iconoclast or intuitive, we can all agree Charles Schulz is one of the most influential cartoonists, some may say artists, of the twentieth century, yet most of the time I see his name misspelled. Enough already. You wouldn't get away with misspelling “apple” or “telephone.” It's somewhat understandable with so much lazy journalism, but there's no excuse for cartoonists to write “Schultz.” If you do, you should have your hands broken and be forbidden to attend any convention for life. Same goes for Winsor McCay and Jules Feiffer.

You can view Sam Henderson's work at: