Thursday, October 03, 2013
Drawing Under Pressure
A few thoughts inspired by Cameron Stewart's smart, sensible decision not to draw other people's characters at conventions (details here) – which, I should say up front, I respect enormously.
I think it's entirely right and proper that Cameron doesn't draw stuff he finds a chore. As he points out, it's bad for the person receiving the sketch, it's bad for him at the time and it's possibly even bad for his career.
But me? I really enjoy it.
I haven't always. The first few shows where I did sketches for people I found the whole process really intimidating. For years I didn't charge anything, even if my immediate table-neighbour was charging (and I made no friends that way, I can tell you!), because I felt like it wouldn't be right to charge for a substandard drawing. (Even now I always have a "freebie" tier, because a big part of my audience is kids.)
But somewhere along the line I stopped thinking of convention sketches as substandard finished drawings and started to think of them as a kind of performance. It's a bit like improv theatre. You're given a set of parameters, someone says "go", and you have to see what you can come up with. Once I started to think of it like that, convention sketches suddenly became a lot of fun. And once I started having fun, the sketches themselves became a whole lot better, too.
There are things I don't like drawing, to be sure. Here are a few of them:
• Drawing someone's own character from their self-published comic (or sometimes not even that, just a character sheet) can be a bit of a drag, because I've got no investment in the character – especially if the design is especially complicated (which is another word for "bad" where character design is concerned).
• Drawing portraits of real people while they stand in front of me and wait is seldom fun, mainly because I'm terrible at it.
• Characters I have no familiarity with (I've read virtually no Marvel or DC comics in 20 years, I haven't seen Star Wars since 1977, I've seen almost none of the big superhero movies and I hardly watch TV) that I'm expected to know every detail of – or busk through with poor reference, usually from a tiny iPhone image – can be something of a chore.
• Wolverine can take a flying leap at himself; I find him an utterly repellant character on every level.
I sometimes do these things anyway, because that's kind of what I'm there for. Those kinds of drawings tend to be a small minority of what I'm asked to do, so I choke it down and try to be nice about it.
But most of the time it's a blast.
Things I don't mind sketching:
• Popeye (and related characters)
• Other people's characters which I've actually worked on (I've never quite understood why anybody would want me to draw something I have no association with)
• Superheroes or other famous pop-cultural icons, if I'm allowed to make them my own and/or ridicule them (playing them straight is dull, dull, dull!)
Things I especially like sketching:
• Anything funny/out of the ordinary
• My own characters!
That last one is especially important, because it's what every cartoonist wants to be recognised for in the end: the fruits of their own imaginations, rather than work they did filling in for a dead guy. If you like to collect drawings at conventions and you really want to get a great sketch, then ask a cartoonist to draw a character they actually created themselves. You're virtually guaranteed to get the best they're capable of.