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NASHOBA PUBLISHING / DINA SAMFIELD
Worcester artists Andy Fish and Veronica Hebard introduced students to the art of drawing comics at their April 22 “Anyone Can Draw” workshop at the Shirley library. The program was funded by the Friends of the Hazen Memorial Library.
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SHIRLEY — “Everyone take a piece of paper and a pencil to warm up and draw whatever you want to draw,” said artist Andy Fish as he started his drawing workshop at the Hazen Memorial Library. “Like athletes before a big race, you have to stretch your muscles — your artistic muscles.”

He said that for this exercise, “I always look to Frankenstein. I’ve been drawing Frankenstein every day since I was little.” Fish, who has published six graphic novels, and his partner, artist and graphic novel illustrator Veronica Hebard, led the 18 students in their “Anyone Can Draw” workshop through a number of different drawing techniques — including drawing figures, faces and hands — and the basic rules for how to draw for comic books.

After the warm-up, Fish asked his students if they knew what a comic is, and if they read comics. He explained that American comics are generally in full color and 32-pages long. “The Japanese took the idea and made it better,” he said. Japanese comics tend to be more stylized, smaller with more pages, and in black and white. Manga, or Japanese comic books, are often just one part of a long series, and move at a faster pace than American comic books.

Fish explained that comic books generally have an artist and a writer who are not the same person. Hebard is currently working on “Pirates of Mars” with writer J.J. Kahrs, and is the the coloring for Fish’s comic interpretation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”.

“You can find my Dracula comics on the iPhone very soon,” said Fish. “I like to read comics on the iPhone because I am a dork.”

After the warm-up and introductions, Fish asked the class if there is anything they have trouble drawing. The general consensus was that people — particularly their hands and faces — present the biggest challenge, so the duo decided that they would focus on that after a general lesson on drawing a comic book character.

Hebard’s first rule for drawing is to draw lightly, and never erase until at the end, “because erasing can ruin your drawing.”

“When I see erasers,” said Fish. “I usually kick them out of people’s hands.”

Hebard’s next rule for drawing comic book characters is to work in basic shapes. She instructed the class to “draw a big bean with a big squishy bottom.” From there, she deftly illustrated how to add some floppy ears on the sides, a shadow underneath, feet, arms, hands, a face, and some accessories, until every student had drawn his or her own copy of a “Ninja Bunny.”

Her third rule is to draw lots of action and movement.

“In real life, people are always doing stuff, so try to avoid people just standing; people rarely ever do that.” She showed how to draw lines to show movement, and even added some perspiration emanating from her obviously active Ninja Bunny.

Rule four is to take a closer look at yourself. “When you’re drawing something and you can’t think of what it looks like, look in a mirror,” she said. That helps to make sure that thumbs, for example, are drawn on the correct side of each hand.

Rule five is that “It’s OK to just draw over a line and not erase.”

The sixth rule is that areas of black are good for comic books. You can also put in little x’s or hatch marks instead of coloring an area totally black.

The next technique Hebard illustrated was how to draw “speed lines,” which she sketched radiating from the rabbit’s face, all pointing toward its nose. Besides demonstrating motion, these lines also serve to fill in the background.

The last step in this lesson was for everyone to autograph his or her drawing in the bottom right-hand corner.

After Hebard’s creation of Ninja Bunny, Fish led the students in an exercise in drawing faces, and taught three different methods for drawing hands, which he noted can take artists a lot of time.

“Do you know why the Simpsons have only four fingers? It saves time and money,” he said.

Fish, who is the author of four instructional drawing books and has been published in 17 countries, has had his artwork displayed in galleries all around the U.S. He is currently working on both Batman and Dracula graphic novels, and is an adjunct professor of art studies at Emerson College in Boston and WPI in Worcester.

Hebard is an instructor at the Worcester Art Museum who was educated at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. Her work is currently on display in galleries in Boston, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The last part of the class was an illustration of how to design a comic. “Comics have a language they have to follow,” said Hebard. “If you took all the parameters out of a novel, it would be a mess. It’s the same for comics — you have to follow certain rules.”

She then drew her first panel, which showed a large sun. “In some cartoons they show the house first, like in [Nickelodeon sitcom] Drake & Josh, when they show the opening credits. It’s called an ‘establishment shot,'” she said.

“You have to establish the beginnings of a story with your drawings or your reader won’t know what’s going on,” she said as she drew a man in a boat underneath the sun, and then a box with text in it. “We use ‘panels’ to show the reader that this is a separate image. The spaces around the panels are called ‘gutters.’ It’s important that your panels have them.”

She and Fish then asked the class who was speaking if the text was inside of a box. “If text is in a box it’s the narrator who is speaking. If it’s not in a box and is a sound effect, the lettering has to be different,” Hebard illustrated, showing a close-up of a character with large block lettering above it that read “CREAK.”

“Sound effects are kind of cool. If you like lettering, they’re a lot of fun,” said Hebard.

“If you want to do comics, one of the things you have to study is film. Here’s a long shot,” said Fish, pointing to Hebard’s drawing of a distant boat on the water. This panel showed a large dialogue balloon with very small print with the words, “I’m scared.”

“He’s whispering,” said Fish. “A big balloon with small print shows whispering. A small balloon with large print depicts shouting. By mixing it up, it makes it more interesting.”

He also pointed out that the image was in silhouette. “If you want to be a comic book artist, look at some graphic novels and study them.”

Fish pointed out that there are now colleges one can attend to study comic book art. There is actually a Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt. where one can earn a Master of Fine Arts, a one- or two-year certificate of studies, or take summer workshops.

Whether or not you have a desire to draw comics for a living, “The best thing you can do to get better is to draw every day and draw what you don’t like,” he said.