Thursday, August 02, 2001

Stan Lee I'm not, but I keep trying

I've always been a fan of comics. As a kid, I can remember wanting to go to the grocery store every time my grandparents went, because I knew I could talk them into sparing 50 cents for the latest issue of "The Lost World of the Warlord," "The Incredible Hulk" or "The Uncanny X-Men" - and every now and then I even talked them into a little more for "The Savage Sword of Conan."

I remember going into the store with my grandparents or my mom and going directly to the magazine rack, where I'd look at comics while they shopped. I'd always pick a few that I'd ask for. Sometimes they'd come home with me, sometimes not. I had much more luck with my grandparents than my mom.

Most of those comics are, unfortunately, gone. Unlike the neatly-packed and well-organized boxes of plastic-bagged comics I have now, I didn't think of them as collectibles. I read them several times and then they were discarded - usually stained and torn, and occasionally colored on.

Still, I was always fascinated by the artwork and the idea of these brightly-costumed, muscular heroes who used their superpowers to save the world.

To be completely honest, I'm pretty sure I dreamed of growing up to become one of them, no matter how unrealistic. I think I always expected my mutant powers to develop in my teen years - and, in truth, I'm still waiting. The only one I've noticed so far is the uncanny ability to make everything I touch go haywire - not very useful.

Comics have changed a lot since the days when I could get my weekly fix for 50 cents or less. Back then, they were made cheaply and intended to be disposable entertainment for kids just like me at the comic stand in the grocery store. Now, many of them are better packaged with stiff covers and printed on slick pages - built to last for collectors. There's also a downside to that, though. All of the few titles I still collect cost over $2 per issue - an amount of money that would have seemed like a small fortune to me in those days.

The change in price also makes me wonder how many kids today will grow up with comics the way I did. I don't know if many grandparents will be as willing to drop $2-3 on a comic book. Then again, as far as I know, a lot of grocery stores don't even sell comics anymore. The grocery store or drug store comic book rack where I spent so many hours as a kid is perhaps becoming a thing of the past.

My fascination with comic art hasn't disappeared, though. I've even gone so far as to attempt to create my own comic book a few times. The first attempt, I believe, was in junior high. I came up with a character I named Vigilante.

Even then, I knew my weaknesses when it came to art. Vigilante's torso was built like a WWF wrestler, but he wore a mask that covered his face, eliminating the need for me to give him one. His hands, too, were always balled into fists and always rested on his hips. It didn't take me long to realize that, since this was the only pose I could draw well, an entire comic would be pretty boring.

I tried again in high school. This time I would be the writer, while a friend of mine - and a pretty good artist - would do the artwork. This one had a chance, but it never quite materialized.

Recently I decided to give it another shot, when I received "How to Draw Those Bodacious Bad Babes of Comics" by Frank McLaughlin and Mike Gold.

First, let me say that you need to read the book all the way through before attempting the exercises. It's a little inconsistent in that some of the early exercises include facial features and hands before the writers have discussed them. The reader will be a little lost if he hasn't read ahead.

Despite any confusion that might cause, the book has some solid tips and puts the artists' techniques in simple language. They made it sound so easy that I had to pull out my sketchbook and give one of the exercises a shot.

I don't think Stan Lee will be giving me a call to launch his next comic. But it was one of the better drawings I've done. Of course, this was drawn from an exercise, so I had a finished reference point to look at. It was much less difficult than drawing a character out of my imagination, which I haven't worked up the confidence to try yet.

I still have the same weaknesses. I thank McLaughlin and Gold for putting a mask on the character in this exercise, or it would have been a complete disaster. As it is, the face still could use a lot of work. And I won't even talk about the hands, which are closer to talons. Hmm ... every superhero has to have an Achilles' heel, though. Maybe hers is arthritis.

"How to Draw Those Bodacious Bad Babes of Comics" does have a good examination of facial features and hands, but it was hard for me to apply the exercises to my own drawing. As much as I like to draw, I guess I've just got to face the fact that's not where my talents lie.

The book did help my figure drawing a little, but that's always been my strong point. Still, it was an enjoyable read that offered a good overview and some interesting insights into drawing female comic characters, both good and evil.

It's not quite as in-depth as some other books on the subject of comic art, but it's a solid starting point - especially for someone who just wants to draw for the enjoyment of it.

For now, I guess I'll content myself with reading comics and appreciating the artwork of people who know what they're doing. But when those mutant powers finally reveal themselves, who knows?

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