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: