Teach House Styles


Thursday, November 5, 2009

I studied cartooning at SVA and recently visited CCS, and so how to teach comics has been fluttering around in my mind for a while. What follows is a suggestion of how to run a Cartooning BFA or MFA course, just a potential direction that I think would be worth considering…

Instead of hiring teachers based on their achievements (and many of the current teachers are geniuses, no doubt about it), hire people who previously worked for many years in a now-defunct house style. Someone who drew Archie for years and is now selling their originals at Comic Con? Hire them. Did they draw Hanna-Barbera comics for years? Hire them. Did they ghost draw a daily comic? Hire them. Look for people who knew exactly how to execute a project on a regular basis and know, completely, the ins and outs of that particular assignment. They know everything about how that unique (now outdated) comic job should be done. They lived it.

The courses would be titled their house style—Archie, Hanna-Barbera—or I also think it’d be possible to get someone who has an expert knowledge of something like Little Lulu or Nancy or Astro Boy comics. There would be no courses devoted to “tools,” no penciling or inking classes. People can learn that elsewhere, like in their foundation year drawing classes. When that separation of responsibilities is brought into the cartooning class it’s usually based on an American production model that leads to people struggling with a tool for a whole year when they’re naturally suited to something else. The house style comic courses would require all of the students to draw everything with the same tools: whatever students write with naturally in non-art classes, probably just a ballpoint pen and paper. Everything tool-wise is nuts-and-bolts, no weird “try a Conté crayon” moments or “how to use a rapidograph” lessons. That’s for other classes.

The entire year-long class taught by these teachers would be based solely on teaching their house style. This would do a number of things:

The critiques would actually make sense. The teacher knows exactly how these stories are drawn, paced, structured, etc. Most of the cartooning class critiques I’ve been in are totally scattered, surreal happenings where the teachers are alternating between talking about character design, inking, storytelling, whatever. All of the students have different goals, and they’re often showing four pages of a long project out of context. Believe me: Usually nobody knows what the hell is going on. Everyone having the same goal (example: to tell an Archie story) would level the playing field. The teacher would know what they need to do to make it fit the assignment, how the characters behave, and the students would, over the school year, slowly hone in on the target, critique after critique.

Personal style and originality would be put on hold. In our current cult of originality, the pressure is to have a personal style as soon as possible, and the classroom environments often have this mentality as well. Everyone is freaking out: “What’s my style? What’s my thing?” It’s too much too fast. This race for originality has, over the years, spread from that future-goal timeline to just after college to (now) inside college itself. A safety zone no longer exists. For the most part, hardly anyone is hiring newbies fresh out of college to draw in a house style and then expect them to grow out of it. If these classes are explicitly devoted to learning a specific form, the anxiety for uniqueness would disappear and everyone would breathe out and look at their comics. The college would be the safety zone and after they graduate they’d start doing their own thing.

The more outdated and inapplicable the house style is, the better. They only have the understanding; they’re not being bred for a specific job that currently exists.

These would be year-long courses, so students would devote a substantial amount of time figuring out these comics. Most cartooning courses are extremely rushed-through. That’s understandable, since if you’re trying to teach a general Cartooning course, there’s probably a lot to cover! But these wouldn’t be general Cartooning courses- they’re very specific. And focusing on a specific world of comics for a whole year, I think, would offer more than week-long (one class) samplings of different worlds.

Finally, and maybe this goes without saying, I think there’s a lot to learn from digesting these house styles I’ve suggested. Regardless of what kind of comics you’d want to do later on, it’s probably going to involve some of the same elements that comprise these house styles.

This is all based on the assumption that the students are there (and pay to be there) to learn something, and the teachers exist (and are paid) to try to teach the students things. If they don’t believe that cartooning can be taught, then they aren’t involved in this exchange.

Students will probably hate this plan because they’ll want to work on their own comics. They’ll be pissed off for Sophomore Year, start to do their own thing through/inside a house style Junior Year, and then maybe Senior Year would be open. I donno. I’m still plotting this thing out…


61 Responses to “Teach House Styles”
  1. Andrei says:

    The question is: would you be able to advertise a Disney, or Archie, or Hanna-Barbera house-style course without being sued by the corporation in your course title?

    Also, I don't think you can separate tools from the house style. To draw Archie-style, you have to have complete control over that long, smooth, inflected brushstroke. There is no Archie house style without it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I totally agree with this. Any journalism course worth a damn teaches its students how to write for tabloids, broadsheets, local press, women's magazines, trade press etc. etc. No one's 'born' a R. Crumb or Hunter S. Thompson (they both had to 'hack' in the beginning).

    The same goes for video and film courses (how to certain work according to certain markets, genres, styles etc.). Each 'module' should cover a different style – maybe with the final, personal project giving time for something personal.


  3. JIM RUGG says:

    Very interesting idea. It's similar to doing genre work, in that, the format frees you in regards to certain decision making. If nothing else, the students would likely spend the class looking at and considering a number of elements they might not think about until they are years into a career of cartooning and they've worked out their own personal drawing style.

  4. Jeffrey Meyer says:

    Sounds like you want the Joe Kubert School, more or less.

    Also, this is total fantasy, right? because there is no market any more for "house style" or even recognizable genres, except for the rarest exceptions? It's not a situation we can ever go back to, and it saddens and angers me surely more than you: I'm old enough to have created and submitted (and have published) work simultaneously to dozens of companies, in dozens of styles (while pursuing my own personal stuff as well).

    I also agree with Andrei that tool use should be intrinsic – if not paramount – to learning various cartooning idioms. But then, it's not surprising that you're unconcerned with rendering techniques — most younger cartoonists' linework looks like it was executed by means of wielding an uncircumsized cock loaded with stale ink. Except the girls, of course, whose stuff looks like it was drawn with an erect clitoris dipped in soy sauce.

  5. Jeet Heer says:

    Dan Clowes has said that the only valuable class he took in Art School was taught by real bread-and-butter illustrator who did romance novel covers. This teacher really gave his student craft-knowledge they didn't have.

    So, yeah, this is a great idea. My only worry is that its probably not practical. All the great hack artists are already in their 70s and 80s. It would be hard to find teachers, I would think.

  6. Noah Berlatsky says:

    Good lord, what a horrible idea.

    Teaching craft is great. Deliberately going out of your way to alienate students and teach them useless styles "for their own good" is pretty much the definition of crappy teaching.

    Also, boring students isn't going to energize them for the future when you're finally ready for them to develop their own styles. In most cases, you bore a student, you get a bored student who is energized to text during class and go find something else to do with the rest of their lives afterwards.

    It just seems of a piece with this site's general desire to reduce the audience for comics to, like, twelve people, all of whom are nostalgic for the exact random collection of things you all happen to fetishize.

    Now if you want to teach a manga style course, which would have all these advantages but actually be (a) possibly professionally relevant, and (b) interesting to students, that'd be fine.

  7. afdumin says:

    Personally, I like the idea, but I seriously doubt you could fill a class with enough students who would willing want to set aside their own twenty-something inflated egos for a year in order to learn to draw and structure comics in the more "anonymous" house style. I could be wrong, though.

  8. BVS says:

    personally it sounds interesting. I am an MCAD alumni. you are dead on with what it was like in a comic class critiques. and I still remember well the classmates I had who wanted to draw marvel comics, or shojo style manga and nothing else. They'd become infuriated and indignant anytime they were asked to read something or learn about something outside of their preexisting comics predilections. that being said if this course was in a weekly manga style it's probably about the only way this plan wouldn't result in many students crying, sending outraged emails cc'd to every student and faculty member in the school, and withdrawing from the school in a huff. or at least that's how it would go down at MCAD.
    I've never really talked to anyone who went to the Joe Kubert school. I wonder if this might be sort of what they do? or what they did in their earlier days.

  9. BVS says:

    Jeffrey: I think the idea has less to do with marketability. it's more a way to learn the basics. like taking your first auto mechanics class. everyone is working on the same engine. it's a basic engine that does pretty much the same thing every other kind of engine does. you aren't learning this stuff on this engine with the intention of only learning to fix 1 type of car for the rest of you life, this is the foundation but just part of your education. for comics I guess would be taking something like dell looney toons comics and having that me your basic engine everyone works on.

  10. Patrick k. says:

    I think this is an interesting idea, but the opposite approach to what i think helps people become better and more confident cartoonists.

    There are always students in cartooning and illustration programs who are trying to imitate someone else's style who need to be encouraged to find their own technique. But, requiring them draw in a pre-determined house style would only be counter productive in getting them out of this rut.

    Your Drawing is like your handwriting…You shouldn't have to think about it…It should just come out naturally, subconsciously, with it's own personality.
    Encouraging students to draw constantly, unconsciously, from life or from their imagination will result in more confident and comfortable cartoonists with their own voices.

    On the other hand, there are valuable pacing and story telling methods students could benefit from in these house-style-comics.

  11. knut says:

    If the point of the exercise is to understand the decision making process that goes into following a house-style why not have them extract the narrative from one house-style comic and translate it into another house-style?

    Like telephone tag!

    I'm totally into the idea of "covering" comics

  12. Nate says:

    Maybe I read the D.S.'s piece too charitably, but it doesn't seem to me that he's arguing for a class where tools and style are separated, or that that the end of the course is to produce students that draw in a particular way. The argument is that by giving students a base-line against which to measure their progress as they learn skills that transfer to sequential storytelling more generally.
    As far as "for your own good" being the definition of crappy teaching, that's only true if that's the sole explanation given. The trick is making the goals of a course explicit to a student so that they know how the class will help them progress as artists.

  13. Frank Santoro says:

    Some of you guys are missing the point. Think Hitchcock. Think "blocking" and "editing". Totally relevant even if the "style" is out of date.

  14. Mark P Hensel says:

    How about a class where the restriction isn't "draw _____ house style" but "draw a four page comics with a brush and this layout" or something similar? Is the house style the point or restricting the students?

  15. knut says:

    It's like music school. You've gotta learn how to play jazz, how to play classical, etc. You don't just show up on day one and say "nah, I play like Lightning Bolt."

    I've got no problem with artists who say "i'm doing it my way from day one". It's just that school isn't for them probably. Play in a garage. School is an intitution and it instills institutional values.

    If your goal as an artist is to buck all those values then that's fine with me too. We always need an avant-garde.

    Just don't set out to to do semi-mainstream or mainstream work and think your going to do it your way.

  16. Cricket says:

    Am I the only one who thinks this whole "find your own voice" vs. "learn a craft" dichotomy is nonsense? A decent teacher can help you do both. (And if your teachers are lousy, no program, no matter how highly-regimented, will help.)

  17. Anonymous says:

    Reading interviews with musicians you see this all the time: "We got together and we started doing covers and over time we began writing our own stuff." or "If you didn't know how to play 'Apache' you couldn't get hired.". In other words you have to be a solid player first and foremost.

    When you've developed solid foundational skills then the individual style, or voice, should and will emerge naturally. Look at Bill Sienkiewicz, for example. There's someone who cut his teeth essentially aping Neal Adams, and although that could be considered his "style" at the time, he was really more concerned with telling a story. If he didn't have that opportunity to build those basic skills during his Moon Knight run, the wild stuff that came later like Elektra:Assassin would have been a mess (although I'm sure some may argue that it still ended up that way).

    I say this "Teach House Styles" concept is a grand idea for teaching basic skills and disciplines.

  18. Juniper the Gooseman says:

    No, you're not the only one, Cricket.

    A whole year devoted to learning an outdated house style is a long time and, depending on where one is going to school, could be very expensive. A semester in having students draw in various house styles — teaching them flexibility as well as how to draw within limitations — might get the point across well enough, I think. In some ways it's like the old master class model, in which students copy master works to try to absorb some of the technique through imitation. Except, in that model, students were imitating da Vinci, not Archie comics. I've found that artists trained in the academic, fine art style — not specifically to draw comics — make for more flexible and creative comics artists, actually.

    I have an MFA in creative writing, not illustration, but I would have found it frustrating and not terribly beneficial to have spent a year of my three-year program writing in an outdated house style (like '50s romance novels, maybe?). (Now that I think about it, though, one of the guys I went to school with did this on his own as he tried to write like Faulkner throughout his grad school career.) I think the foundation of years of writing about literature in an academic voice was similar to the fine arts foundation that I find is beneficial for comics artists. The point is getting a base of skills that is disciplined and focused, and if you're going to spend time doing that, you're better off that it imparts a secondary benefit — like getting strong fine arts skills in the case of artists or good critical thinking and communication skills in the case of writers.

  19. Sean T. Collins says:

    I think this is the kind of idea that an old fart like Dash can appreciate now that he's in his autumn years, but from a practical standpoint, I'm trying to imagine freshman-year film-student me signing up for a "Learn to Make Movies the [Analogously Appropriate] Way" class and coming up empty.

    At any rate Noah is obviously right when he contextualizes this post as part of Comics Comics' teabaggeresque campaign to purge comics of undesirables. Dan, Tim, Frank, who will you be primarying the new TCJ.com with? Also, did you know manga is what the kids are into?

    Jeet, I think citing Daniel Clowes on the utility of art school is getting deep into unreliable narrator territory.

  20. T. Hodler says:

    Sean: "I'm trying to imagine freshman-year film-student me signing up for a 'Learn to Make Movies the [Analogously Appropriate] Way' class and coming up empty."

    That may be true, but I bet they made you study the styles of people like Hitchcock, Lang, and Eisenstein pretty closely. I don't know it that's the equivalent to what Dash means or not, though. I don't know what I think about this idea, actually, though it seems to have some promise. I think it could easily be taken way too far, though.

    Maybe it would work best in addition to more general coursework, with classes that really forced you to inhabit the styles of Kirby, Herriman, Tezuka, etc., but just as assignments rather than years-long projects. I don't really have strong feelings about this, though, and should bow out of the discussion.

  21. Sean T. Collins says:

    Tim: They certainly did. Shit, I took a class on Milos Forman! But (and granted Yale's a theory school and hated letting us pick up a camera at all, but still) it's not like we passed or failed contingent on our ability to pull off Eisensteinian montage or a really nice Vertigo shot during those respective classes/units/whatevers.

  22. Frank Santoro says:

    I'm just going to start drawing in a
    Gilbert Hernandez House Style.

  23. Frank Santoro says:

    or at least try, haha.

  24. RKelly says:

    Thank you Dash. I taught comics and illustration for 7 years and I agree with a lot of this stuff very very much.

    Many of these 4-year BFA schools charge a lot of money for tuition. I don't teach much any more because I watched my school put brand new, state-of-art computers and chairs in the rooms every year instead of hiring teachers who've done it and know how to do it, and I don't quite agree with that. Heck , I'm not even sure they should have been paying me to teach. One of the reasons I don't do it anymore. Yes, there's great, able, smart teachers in these classes but it makes a difference when you're with someone who has done it and knows how to do it and there's some focus and structure.

    And so one of the problems would be "bored students"? I think a quality comics art program is for learning, not for providing a "fun and happy exciting time!" for students. They're supposed to be grown-up, young adults. They don't need to be "energized!" to learn. Small children have trouble being energized and motivated. It's Grown Up Time! They need good instructors. While the school is busy charging massive tuition fees with a 4% annual hike, they should go to someone *like* Scott McLoud, and offer to pay him WHATEVER HE/SHE WANTS to teach.

    Emphasize teaching a trade, specialty, or apprenticeship-Elementary school or college-the American education system would be better for it.

  25. zack soto says:

    While a whole year of one style seems unbearable, a semester or two spent learning what makes several styles tick would be an excellent course, and very useful in the long run..

    This would of course be a class taught concurrently with some advanced drawing and painting classes, and another class where you work on short stories in your medium/mode of choice, etc etc.

  26. jogs6000 says:

    Yeah this sounds a bit unbearable to do an entire year. Plus it would be too sad/nostalgic for the teacher, too! I do agree it's good to have some "focus" during a crit, though. At CCS we have a few assignments where we ape other cartoonists' styles, an example is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jogs6000/2949978234/ . My teacher Steve Bissette was in the first class at the Kubert school, btw. He's devoted some classes to teaching his amazing inking techniques.

  27. Alixopulos says:

    This would be next-to-impossible to pull off, for all the reasons just mentioned by Zack and Jogs6000, but a good idea. It's much better to do it on a basically obsolete style (rather than manga or whatever the fuck mainstream comics are supposed to look like), because it gets out of the way of whatever particular ambition the student has, it depersonalizes it. I've found from trying to re-create a house style that it's a thrilling challenge because of how systemized they are, you're picking up a dead language and expanding your range.

  28. Abhay says:

    "often showing four pages of a long project out of context"

    Having never taken or thought about what's in a normal cartoon class, I don't understand. In a normal class on comic storytelling, the students have to come up with stories and character designs…??

    If I'd had to guess how a normal "cartoon class" worked, I'd imagine they hand you pre-written scripts in a variety of genres (crime, romance, whatever) for a variety of pre-existing characters, so students can focus on layout, composition, lighting, backgrounds, all that good stuff, instead of dividing their focus further.

    Is that not how it works?

  29. looka says:

    I'd take that class!

    I wanna draw (fail at the attempt) in BETO HOUSE STYLE too!

    Manga comes to mind, drawing the same figures and motion in high pitched volume for hundreds of pages. YEAHIKNOW, assistants and all but still – it rocks.

  30. Andrei says:

    Tim: "Maybe it would work best in addition to more general coursework, with classes that really forced you to inhabit the styles of Kirby, Herriman, Tezuka, etc."

    I tend to disagree with that; house styles are eminently teachable (that's what they were designed for), but imitating Kirby or Herriman only ends up producing sad pastiches. It would be better to teach a mid-level but effective house style than to try to impersonate a master of the field. One can master Archie style with enough effort; but any attempt to re-do late 60s Kirby, say, will invariably look half- or rather one thousandth-assed.

    But maybe we should discuss the necessity of BFAs in comics in the first place. As far as I'm concerned, MFA programs have ruined literature (turning it into "literary fiction"), and similar programs may do the same thing to comics.

  31. Frank Santoro says:

    "It would be better to teach a mid-level but effective house style than to try to impersonate a master of the field."

    I agree. I do think however much can be learned from imitating compositions from Kirby, etc. Too many folks focus on their "style" instead. The design of the panels is the key.

  32. T. Hodler says:

    Andrei: You might be right. I don't know. Sixties Kirby almost seems like it WAS the house style for Marvel, but I take your point. In any case, I want to emphasize my ignorance on the subject of teaching comics-making—it's probably best just to pretend I didn't comment.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Some of the comments belie the tyranny of 'self-expression at any cost' we live under. Yeah, yeah just let it all out – and wait for a Simon Cowell to point out how much you suck.

    I've worked at colleges were they taught both film-making and creative writing.

    Guess which ones taught the most useful (even employable) stuff and got the best results (as in able to actually connect to an audience outside boyfriends, parents etc.)? That's right the ones that taught a variety of disciplines and 'house styles'.

    The ones were they could just 'do their own thing' largely resulted in hideous, shapeless indulgences or embarassing, obvious pastiches of students' respective 'heroes'.

    When it comes to narrative arts especially, you need to learn how to 'speak' in other voices – I still have near-nightmares of students who thought the only 'voice' worth listening to was their 'own' (frequently 'borrowed' from someone they foolishly thought we never heard of anyway) – over and over and over again.


  34. Andrei says:

    See, it's funny, I always hear that about Kirby being the Marvel house style, but I really don't see it. Maybe the Kirby of 1963-64, but certainly not the Kirby of 65 and after. He was really too idiosyncratic to be copied. From the point of view of compositions and storytelling, Frank, actually I think people would be better off copying Ditko than Kirby (and I'm saying this though I'm a huge fan of Kirby). But the point about a house style is, it's a specific way of telling a story, a craft that you can master fully. it's kind of like learning how to write a proper expository paper. Then you can go off and do whatever you want, but you have that craft to always fall back on. So I can see it being useful. Then people can go on and discover Kirby on their own.

    In college, I hated my required year-long academic drawing class. But in retrospect, it's the course I got the most from. I think that's a pretty equivalent situation.

  35. Frank Santoro says:

    Students should just buy that new Ditko reprint book and study that. Copy it. I should too.

    There's one story in there that is like the blueprint for early Beto.

  36. T. Hodler says:

    Andrei: It depends on how late into the '60s you're talking about, but through much of the decade, to my understanding, Kirby was literally doing the breakdowns for a lot of Marvel artists, especially relatively new ones like Jim Steranko, but sometimes even people like Bill Everett, Don Heck, Wally Wood, etc. This obviously lessened somewhat as time went on, and all of these guys also did their own thing, but, I don't know, it's not just a myth. Correct me if I'm wrong, Dan or whomever. I don't have my Jack Kirby Collector issues with me!

    PS: This Kirby business doesn't have anything much to do with the main topic everyone else is discussing—sorry for hijacking the thread, Dash.

  37. diana green says:

    Must concur with Ryan, who graduated a year ahead of me and has been doing some lovely work for Oni and DC, among others.
    As a teacher, the most important thing you can do is give the students what they need, not what they think they need. New toys are nice and all, but a computer is just a big dumb pencil. Photoshop (which I love) will make bad art nice and shiny, but it will not make it good art. It's much more important that students learn layout and pacing than it is that they learn some arbitrary house style. Style comes in time, and is singular to every creator. Storytelling can be taught and is crucial.
    Hope this makes some sense- I'm a bit under the weather today.

  38. knut says:

    I'm all for the idea of comics art education, but anyone who's willing to plunk down 4 years of tuition for training in what may be the most economically backwards career on earth is out of their god damned mind!!!!

    Learn to draw in art school no doubt, but you better have a solid plan b when it comes to earning a living.

  39. Jason Overby says:

    It'd be nice to have a go-to "style" to call upon like Herriman or Kirby so that I'm not constantly hamstrung by the infinite possibilities of both form and content. I go back and forth about whether comics is about making narratives out of pictures (like the awesome Gilbert Hernandez) or just a way to merge words and images (like Panter, for instance). I work in both modes – right now the Gilbert H one's the most attractive. Learning the fundamentals of storytelling craft through the application of a "house" form would've been extremely helpful in this regard. But a course following Ivan's Cartooning book would be cool to help develop the handwriting.

  40. William F. Schar says:

    There's a bit of BFA program bashing, some of it directed at my alma mater MCAD. I'm a 2007 graduate with a Comic Art degree.

    No program, especially one on a medium where style is so important. It hinges however upon the student. Sure they may not get the material, but they are school to learn, and should be exercising their brains and artistic skills during a four year program.

    One of my professors speaks highly of the program to this day. He said, "I wish I'd had this kind of opportunity when I was just starting out. It took me 10 years to learn what you guys are learning in 4."

    This comment has stayed with me, and I for one, feel as though most of my peers in my graduating class got the message, and are hard-working trying to live the dream, become creators and successful cartoonists on our own merits.

    College is about learning. Colleges can take a lot of approaches. Good teachers, well rounded courses, curriculum and yes modern day tools to help them compete in a rapidly changing market are necessary. The latest and most advanced computers are one of those tools, and they are tools at MCAD that every single student can find a use within their field of studies.

    Whether it's your style or a house style is irrelevant. Learning basic and important craft and techniques in fine arts and cartooning is what matters. It's observation, that empowers the artist, not style. There is a place out in the world for ANY style, but that style is irrelevant without the right knowledge.

    I got that Knowledge at MCAD, and I think would still be learning all of this without the help of the professors there.

  41. Cricket says:

    Some of the comments belie the tyranny of 'self-expression at any cost' we live under.

    And some comments belie an easy dismissal of ideas we don't like by tossing around words like 'tyranny'. Sheesh.

  42. MK Reed says:

    Dash, next time you come to AWP or something remind me to tell you about when I did portfolio reviews at SVA. Totally traumatizing.

  43. RKelly says:

    I can have school pride and still be critical of the school. It's not "bashing".

  44. Andrei says:


    no, you're totally right about Kirby doing layouts, often to "break in" new artists. I guess I was thinking there more about the surface qualities of his style in the late 60s and 70s–basically what we think of as classic Kirby. (If you try to imitate that you're likely to turn out "The Myth of Opus-8," or something like that.) But, for surface qualities, it was more Buscema and Romita who set the Marvel house style than Kirby or Ditko, who were too weird. I would even argue that, in the 70s at Marvel, their influence in breakdowns, layout, storytelling, was much greater than Kirby's; though they originally had learned from Kirby's layouts, by that point they had diverged from his storytelling style.

  45. Andrei says:

    Diana: "It's much more important that students learn layout and pacing than it is that they learn some arbitrary house style. Style comes in time, and is singular to every creator. Storytelling can be taught and is crucial."

    I actually think that Dash, when discussing "house style," was not referring to drawing style–he was referring specifically to the way they tell stories at Archie (their specific kinds of breakdowns, pacing, framing, etc.)

    This, admittedly, got me thinking–wouldn't it be fun to draw a comic in the Archie style, but told through a lot of moment-to-moment and aspect-to-aspect transitions, held-frame sequences, pan sequences, etc.? One could make it so that every single panel looked perfectly like an Archie panel (so no overlap, shaped panels, nothing of that kind), but the entire story read completely differently.

  46. Andrei says:


    "he was referring specifically to the way they tell stories at Archie"

    –or Hanna-Barbera, or Disney, or whatever.

  47. Rich Barrett says:

    I've never been to cartooning school but I did study illustration at Syracuse University in the 1990s and the entire sophmore year program was very analogous to what Dash has proposed here.

    Every single assignment we had that year had to be executed by taking slide photographs of our staged scenes and tracing them onto artboard, much the way a lot of classic illustrators once worked (including the old guys teaching the classes). Since everyone was tracing, everyone's work looked exactly the same that year.

    Most of the students of course hated it. It was an entire year (1/4 of our whole experience) that was spent working in an outdated fashion and not developing our own style. But looking back on it I can see what they were maybe trying to do and it was probably along the lines of what Dash is proposing – building a baseline – but I don't think the point came across well enough to most of us at the time. I don't think the professors presented it properly and a fair number of students were still tracing slides right through senior year.

  48. knut says:

    I can't believe you guys are debating which artist defined the Marvel house style. John Buscema, duh! "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way" ring a bell?

    Which leads me to my next idea…

    Kramers Ergot 8: How to Draw Kramers Ergot the Marvel Way

    Comics cutting edge sign on in ambitious "house style" experiment…

  49. Julian says:

    I remember you briefly touching on this idea at your SVA talk at MoCCA. At the time I thought it was more concerned with marketability than with developing an underlying skill set. The way you explain it here though, I think its a very good idea; though if its going to be as much of an intensive as you describe I think a semester makes more sense than a year long schedule.

  50. Julian says:

    I also think, to riff on Noah's little rant, that it would be a good idea to go with manga as an object of study. A lot of american artists that try and imitate manga these days get way too caught up with how it looks and don't give enough thought into how it moves.

  51. Anonymous says:

    The problem with way too many mainstream U.S. comics is how they forefront shape and texture over composition and storytelling (95% of Vertigo and Marvel Ultimates being exhibit 'A'). As much as I like All-Star Superman, it does feel like a 'plod' frequently (not much sense of 'movement' for an inventive fantasy).

    I'm not being nostalgic saying even the most run-of-the-mill Silver Age hacks had a much better grasp of telling an engaging story than many of today's 'star' artists. The better storytellers of 'alternative comics' tend to be the ones who grew up on Silver Age standards – like the Hernandez Bros and Dan Clowes (ie. they can 'move' a lot of information along with economy – something that Dan Decarlo and Jesse Marsh shared with Ditko and Kirby). The E.C. fetishists from the generation before them (like the Zap artists) tended more towards decorative impact.

    One isn't necessarily bettwer than the other, but this is why different styles/periods/approaches need to be taught.

    I wasn't dismissing 'ideas I don't like' – I'm just weary after years of too much 'me-me-me' indulgences without any sense of style, communication or discilpline. Its an educational approach I've seen encouraged too often in recent years. But I'm probably in a minority when I find at least half of any 'alt' anthology unreadable.


  52. Cricket says:

    Okay, I hear you, Guber. A little thin-skinned of me.

    I do think some distinction probably should be made between students who want to work in the mainstream industry, and those who are interested in something more personal. Sure, maybe that's a blurry line, but I do think different things motivate those two sets, and while the latter can certainly benefit from some craft and structural training, you're going to have a tough time convincing many of those kids to enroll in a program that essentially tells them to forget about developing their own ideas for a few years.

  53. Anonymous says:

    Well, there's a wider sociological implication about what 'education' means now – there's a place I worked where they ended up letting 'creative writing' be defined as hip-hop lyrics (an not much else to keep the kids happy).

    I've got nothing against youth subcultures or indeed highly personal 'outsider' or 'underground' arts – but why the hell go to college to learn that? if you want to 'rebel' – it may help to know what you're reacting against.

    I'm not even sure it broadens things out as much as narrow them – its like consulting four year olds on how we should teach reading.


  54. Noah Berlatsky says:

    But hip-hop lyrics are great…way better than contemporary poetry, for example, which does often get taught in schools.

    And when's the last time you talked to a four-year old? I talk to my six-year old about what he wants to read and how he wants to be taught reading all the time. There's a back and forth, sure, but he's definitely involved and consulted in the process. And, yes, thanks, it's working quite well.

    If you are trying to teach people something, it makes sense to consult them about what they want to learn and how. It's not the only consideration, but dismissing student input as egotistical or overly ambitious (which I think Dash comes close to doing here) is a quick path to bored students, irritated teachers, and no one learning much of anything (and ideally in the classroom, the teacher should be learning more than the students.)

  55. Dustin Harbin says:

    As a self-taught cartoonist of only middling talent, I would leap LEAP at the chance to take a year long course in nearly any house style, just for the discipline and the chops I'd get out of it. I could do a year of Archie or Don Heck or Curt Swan, no sweat. Or Caniff, oo-boy.

    Although truthfully, I'd probably prefer to do a year of Jaime or Guy Davis or some modern person whose work I feel more connected to, but I don't think a real connection is the point. Not to me anyway–the value would be in the discipline and the kinda zen focus on a style and the vocabulary necessary to deliver that style.

  56. Cricket says:

    I've got nothing against youth subcultures or indeed highly personal 'outsider' or 'underground' arts – but why the hell go to college to learn that?

    Well, you can go to college to learn drawing, composition, narrative structure, and so on. These things are of use no matter what kind of art you make. (Even the kinds of work you dislike!)

    if you want to 'rebel' – it may help to know what you're reacting against.

    Is it 'rebellion' to simply not be interested in mainstream industry comics? Honestly, I've never really cared for that stuff, but I don't think that makes me a rebel. Or part of a 'youth culture'. Or an 'underground artist'.

  57. Anonymous says:

    Noah –

    I wasn't dismissing input from those being taught. What I am apprehensive about (I live in the U.K. if that matters) is how education is becoming increasingly ahistorical, decontextualized and limited by pop-cult trends in order to prioritise 'entertainmnent value' with students.

    I'm speaking from experience, but when the students were consulted on what subjects they wanted to 'study' it was narrow and market-led (ie. sports, pop stars and whatever horror movie movie remake was out that week). Education should produce knowledgable and skilled adults, not reduce adult responsibility to childish whims directed by advertising departments. The worst example of this was teacher (desperate to be 'down' with the kids) who wrote his class hand-outs in text message abbreviation and slang that was out of date by the end of the semester.

    This doesn't mean I'm dismissing pop culture as worthy of study (I studied it too) – but I'm weary of fads and personal indulgences being taught as the be-all and end-all of educational achievement.


  58. DJM says:

    I just got a stack of old Blondie comics. Man, I'd kill to have the kind of chops Paul Fung Jr. does. The pacing, composition, motion…everything is gold. You can tell he really loved and understood the basic mechanics of his craft. And drawing them in someone else's style forced a nice, rich clarity out of him.

  59. DJM says:

    And to comment on the topic (SORRY!), I think this would be a very good course. Not for first year students, but for juniors and seniors. You have to be a good cartoonist to be able to cartoon like someone else. The first few years would be foundation, and this class would be a good test, forcing the students out of their comfort zones/interests and focus on what makes a story really tick, appealing, and clear. With everyone working on the same characters/style/script, there would be very little competition. I wouldn't have the same guy teach the whole year, but have a different teacher each semester for comparison and contrast.

  60. Luke Pski says:

    I'm not so interested in the comics at college subject, but I'd love to see a few talented and eager cartoonists get together and actually create work ( lots of it) in a bullpen/"house style" mode. Isn't that what we're really getting at here? I mean a physical studio, three or four regular titles, writers, pencillers, inkers, editors, etc., working together under one roof.
    It's not like people working together on things a lot like comics is weird, you know? Why has auteurism become the standard? There's room for all of, I think— I think people are figuring that out, too. I see a lot less preciousness going on, and I like it.
    It seems silly not to use different peoples skills in concert in order to get work out at a regular clip.

    It's a pipe dream, yes, but it's not like working alone as a cartoonist is less ridiculous in terms of financial reward. I think it's more ridiculous, not only in $ terms, but in how not working with other people can really limit growth. Even if it flopped, it'd be a real noteworthy experiment.

    I'd love it if Benjamin Marra's new imprint did something along those lines, if Frank and Dash worked out something like that.
    Imagine the possibilities! I could rant forever about it; I just think the kind of comics we're talking about need to get over this resistance to the idea that while they might be art, they're also product. It's some kind of lame post punk ethic, or something.I like that idea, personally. I'm much more excited about approaching comics from that angle than getting some forced weirdness from cartoonists that are interested in presenting themselves as artists in the art college sense of the word.

  61. […] on Comics Comics late last year Dash set up a conversation on his theory of teaching and learning a comics […]

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