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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.


  1. Favorite little convention sketches in no particular order

    Robert Kirkman zombie pre-Walking Dead craze
    Kevin Eastman Leonardo
    Roger Langridge Wilburforce J Walrus - uncle scrooge look out!

  2. A friend of mine likens Convention drawing to a perfomance too. Me I do it so little it's usually a fraught affair...

  3. I usually get a sketch of my cat done in the artists preferred style


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About Me

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London, United Kingdom
Eisner and Harvey Award-winning cartoonist responsible for The Muppet Show Comic Book, Thor the Mighty Avenger, Snarked! and Fred the Clown. Would like to save the world through comics.