Last year I taught a 2-day comic book workshop at my alma mater.
Many things in my career fill me with a nervous dread, but teaching in particular really upsets the fragile balance of my self-confidence. The proposition of shaping young minds, and all that implies about my credentials, sends me careening down mental roads I’d rather not travel. And yet, somehow, despite the constant nagging fear of being discovered as a fraud, the class actually went pretty well!
It was a small group of seniors, so most of them were already pretty well trained and headed in a definitive direction with their work. Some seemed a lot more dedicated to the craft of comics than others, and many knew less than I expected (which was actually great news for the less confident regions of my brain), so I had some fundamentals to teach them. As it turns out, I knew a bit more about MAKING comics than I thought, even if I’m not an expert on every publication, continuity, artist, character, and team affiliation.
I’m going to pause briefly because I can feel you, dear readers, tensing at your keyboards, preparing for the inevitable “they taught me as much as I taught them.” Well, you can relax, because that’s not where I’m going. My students were, for the most part, motivated, talented, and passionate about art (if not comics). That’s really exciting to see and be around, and that’s an easy feeling to miss when you’ve been out of school for as long as I have. But that’s pretty much where this line of thought terminates. So let’s return to the story.
Helping these kids to tell stories in a dynamic and well thought-out way was exciting.
Partly because it reminded me of the myriad ways in which to approach comics: the near-infinite possibilities in every action, every gesture, every angle and design. There’s always another way to tell a story, and that’s both daunting and invigorating.
But I think, more than that, the experience of teaching this workshop reminded me how fun and it can be to immerse yourself in something, to dedicate your full time and attention to a project, and how rewarding it often is to question whether your first solution is the best one.
In simpler words, to push yourself.
Part of this process for me meant confronting some unpleasant realities about the work I was doing at the time.
I had fallen into a “speed is king” mentality that had me cranking out pages as fast and energetically as I could. Unfortunately, quality had become a casualty on occasion. It wasn’t until I stepped back and began really analyzing comics (and art) again that I was able to see this clearly.
I was lucky enough to be in a position where I could return to this work and fix what really stood out as inadequate. Now I believe the work is stronger than ever, and beyond that, I’ve had something of a breakthrough in the way I approach comics. Things are flowing naturally, and looking both more effortless, and less sloppy. I feel at once comfortable and excited, which is something I’ve been striving for in my sequential work for years.
A large portion of the credit for this breakthrough has to go to my brief stint teaching. I only hope my students got as much out of it as I did.
Illustration by Alex Eckman-Lawn.