Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Good Art to Copy From Comic Covers

The quickest way to teach yourself all these principles I've been talking about is to copy drawings that use them. A lot of 1940s comic books were drawn by professional animation artists who knew their principles well. They would especially knock themselves out on the covers.
These all have
good compositions
lines of action
construction - perspective
negative spaces

and on top of all that - interesting and tricky camera angles

If you copy these drawings, do it step by step from the basic elements first and then on down level by level to the final details. (Like how I broke down Tom) Don't start with the wrinkles, stripes, spots, textures etc. Do those last - and keep them small and not sticking out too much from the silhouettes.

Ignore the clothes when you first break down these drawings. Draw Goofy's head right through his neck and into his torso in a continuous smooth line of action. Then on top of that, wrap the clothes around his construction. Same with Mickey.

These animal balloons look complex at first, but they aren't if you ignore the details and draw the solid forms first. Then wrap the details, layer by layer onto the forms.

This won't be easy at first, but the more you do it, the sooner it will all make sense and you will start to gain skill and confidence.
Then you can crap on the folks who refuse to learn anything traditionally and still can't draw anything remotely professional or appealing. They will be so jealous of you. And you'll get the better job.


Doug said...

John - thank you. I love these posts (and there are many in your blog) where you really try to foster young and new cartoonists. There's no better way to learn that I've found than your blog!!

Niki said...

I've bookmarked this page, I'll be coming back often

craigp said...

these are great. it's nice to draw from characters reacting to something other than the stand alone characters in Preston Blair's book.

Anonymous said...

Printing these now.

Wonder how many hapless do-gooders were duped into buying Whitman crapola in the 80s, thinking it was the same DELL righteousness carried on from the 50s. Those poor souls.

Digging these Stuff-to-Copy posts, John!

[Moth] said...

Great covers!!! I'll copy them.

I remember when I was a child (about 10 years old) I used to go to my local art school, at the comic-cartoon class, where they did teach us in a similar way you do –but without so many good examples and material. They told us about construction and different levels. And they told us to copy, copy, copy. But not from great cartoon artists, but for anything we liked at all.

I don't blame them for that, it was just an out-of-school activity to get us away from home and get to know friends and learn something. I actuallly learned a lot; just like now... actually I think i'm doing kind of a master with yout blog, John.

Now I'm working in a digital text book publisher; and we have to draw insanely fast to get all books in time for the next course. I feel bad because I don't have time to think about what I am going to draw, but just get the pencil and do what I can so I can move fast to the next one. And it's really difficult to get drawings you're satisfied with that way. Have you ever been in that squeezed timing?

Sorry for that long post.

SibbSabb said...

Exactly, craigP. The best advice I read from this blog was to design your character's poses based on a story in mind (paraphrased by me). This way the poses look and feel more organic than your generic 'oh, wait, I'm so sad' pose. Why is your character sad? And then what happens? Why? etc.

Louise Smythe said...

oooooooh that "donald duck in ancient persia" one looks hella difficult! definitely worth drawing it, though. i'll do these on my plane ride back to school.

HemlockMan said...

The covers for Dell's FOUR COLOR title were among the finest of any publisher. And they were consistently excellent.

Putty CAD said...

Thanks Mister K, another useful post. The ghost is a great example of the way the cloth should wrap around the shapes like you keep telling us! I should pin that image to my forehead! LOL



ArtF said...

Great advice , as always, John.

Lucas Nine said...

By the way: it's a chance to study great line art, controlled but organic and natural at the same time. Far from the stiff line art from nowadays (automatic “thick outlines-thin innerlines”, the “illustrator” look, etc.)

jeremy said...

These are great examples, John. I learned so much just copying two examples. Wish I drew faster so i could do more. Thanks for helping us put it all together with such thoughtfully chosen material.

Trevor Thompson said...

Hey John,

will you critique our copies even if we don't get done until the wee hours of the morning ( because I have work until five and then puppet-painting duty until seven-thirty )?

- trevor.

JohnK said...

If you follow to the letter the steps I have shown in how to break down and construct a drawing.

So far none of your drawings show that you use construction to draw with.

But you can self check a few first the way I showed eons ago

by putting your copy in photoshop on top of the original to see where you are off.

Ted said...

I generally dislike the the look of the characters in Looney Tunes (and much of the Lantz) comic art in a way that I don't dislike similar stuff from the other studios (in the classic period; all the comics eventually were bad). Maybe it's because I like the LT and Lantz stuff more than the other studios, so I was programmed to expect a certain look more than for the others. That Rocking Horse Thieves cover is nice tho.

Trevor Thompson said...

Hey John,

thanks for the frank response! I agree.

My hard drive crashed and computer is in the shop (I'm at work, where I can use the scanner). Is there another way to check the drawings without Photoshop?

- trevor.

Anonymous said...

If ya need more VIP:


Lucas Nine said...

Hurry up, check this wonder:


Wooden puppets animated by Georges Pal in 1938 (in color)

tobor68 said...

@trevor: try "the gimp" it's as good as photoshop and it's free.

try overlaying the drawings against a window or a light box.

Elana Pritchard said...

Thanks teach, in you face losers!

Cartoon Critique! said...

If you want your construction homework critiqued go to

Cartoon Critique! said...

Sorry, I didn't mean for it to sound like I was calling all you guys losers- that was more directed at stupid hipsters who think they know everything already. I've known so many of them!

Anonymous said...

Since I'm still pretty busy, I've decided to increase my input, and, as a result, my output. I'm taking these covers (plus the Preston Blair book, several Bob Clampett model sheets, and stuff I like of yours, John) and I'm making them into a Xeroxed Animator's Bible.

Wish me luck! Doodles within a month!

Sodapop said...

So basically you say we should draw the skeletons/wire frames/basic shapes underneath our figures before the details? That's what makes them solid? All this time I was sitting around trying to figure out what makes something a solid figure--I guess if it looks like you could move it all right in a three-d space, it's solid. Aaaah. Enlightenment.

What surprises me is that...well...to be honest, that's such a basic concept. Even if you're not doing cartooning you ought to be doing the shapes first, right? Or am I a complete nutcase for assuming that this was one of the first things an artist is supposed to learn, along with how to use media etc etc?

I don't think I'm being very clear. But I think I just grasped something, thank you.

montodeflino said...

HeY John

This Is off topic but what do you think of this picture.


Kelly Toon said...

Here's my first shot! Overlayed in photoshop it looks wonky, but I think it feels pretty solid, at any rate. These covers are all AWESOME, thanks for posting them!

Bugs Bunny and the Rocking Horse Thieves

JohnK said...

That's excellent Kelly

I will critique it in a post this week.

Very minor critique.

Kelly Toon said...

well gawrsh, thanks Mr. K!!

Kelly Toon said...

Also, if I were to critique it myself I'd say that porky needs more skull on top, bugs' head is too big and too tilted forward, and something went wrong in the lower arm/hand area on porky. Porky has buggy eyes and his nose is pointing up too high. Bug's lifted arm doesn't curve out and back enough, it's too up and down. The reins on the horse are too symmetrical and wide on the bottom loop. The perspective on the front of the horse's nose is crooked.

Very much looking forward to hearing your thoughts! Also a question: I imagine that once I have done enough of these copies, I will be able to place the strokes in one smooth go. Right now I methodically go lightly over and over the same line until it has the right curve and position. Any tips on line quality, or is it just repetition?

Now it is almost 5 AM and I think I should get in bed =_=