He could create the next Superman...
July 3, 2011 1:55 AM   Subscribe

Tips for a very young budding comic book writer: my eight-year-old son is really into drawing his own superhero comics filled with made-up characters and hilarious (to his parents, at least) visual jokes.

Today I met a guy who's in the NZ Comics Collective, a loose group of writers who gather for workshops every month to work on their individual projects. I asked if my son could go along for a look and he said that would be great, hooray! But we were at Armageddon at the time and it was too busy to get more details. What sort of things should he take, and what should he expect? What are the chances of someone taking a mentor-type role for him, or is it more likely they will be too focussed on their own work?

I know nothing about how comic writers and artists actually produce their work so even the basics would be helpful -- even if you can point me to a good website for my son to check out beforehand.

On a side note: these guys had a table at Armageddon selling comics by NZ writers and one comic was written by a 9-year-old and produced by his dad. They obviously support all local talent. (We bought a copy.)
posted by tracicle to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Has he read The Man in the Ceiling? (I suspect he has, but if not--get on it, pronto!)

It was one of my favorite books as a kid, and I don't even like comics. It inspired me to write a short story; I can only imagine how much a kid who actually likes (and is good at) drawing comics would enjoy it. The book is about a kid...who writes and draws comics. Even though his talents are un(der)appreciated by his family, he keeps at it and eventually produces something he's really proud of.

So, while it doesn't answer your question, it seems like a must-read for your son.
posted by phunniemee at 2:28 AM on July 3, 2011

I am not certain that this is an answer, but this whole situation reminds me of Axe Cop... a lot! I suspect that the creator of Axe Cop might have words of wisdom for you.
posted by milqman at 2:32 AM on July 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Try Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. It may be too advanced for a 9 year old, but it's probably something you could work through with him.
posted by chrisulonic at 3:49 AM on July 3, 2011

Best answer: At eight years old, I would simply take the approach of encouraging him to simply continue his creating and drawing, without any overt direction toward an actual career in comics. Too much specific direction could very well feel more like pressure from the parents to "become" something specific, and turn his love for something into a chore and responsibility.

Certainly, expose him to things he might enjoy or has asked about. But, at his age, my feeling is that the best approach is simply to let him further develop on his own terms with lots of enthusiastic encouragement, and avoid overt career direction.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:37 AM on July 3, 2011 [10 favorites]

Try Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. It may be too advanced for a 9 year old, but it's probably something you could work through with him.

Yeah, I read Understanding Comics repeatedly around 9-12 years old and when I came back to it at 19 I realized that I know all of this, like, almost inherently. It pretty much informed my reading comics permanently.
posted by griphus at 8:38 AM on July 3, 2011

Also, McCloud's third book Making Comics Skip the 2nd one. I has some dated ideas about distribution and such. I'd say, Understanding is the theory, Making is the practice. I think Making might be more accessible to him at this age.
posted by hot_monster at 8:59 AM on July 3, 2011

forgot to say, 2nd what Thorzdad says.
posted by hot_monster at 9:00 AM on July 3, 2011

Yes, Understanding Comics but also it's 2nd follow-up, Making Comics might be even BETTER.

but really, get both. McCloud explains complex topics SOO well and sequential art is really the absolute best way to present these topics.
posted by Brainy at 9:01 AM on July 3, 2011

Best answer: Adventures in Cartooning is aimed at his age group. Depending on his tastes, though, it may be a little young for him (you can see a preview of it here).

For your own understanding, along with McCloud's books mentioned above, Drawing Words and Writing Pictures (along with the books of the same name) will probably help you see how comics are put together.

Mostly, my recommendations is for both of you to read comics. Instruction is good but it's helpful to see some of those things put into practice.

And I think what you've already done -- talking to creators and reaching out to the community -- is an excellent way to help him out. It's hard to say if he'll find a specific mentor, but I know some comics creators with kids around the age of yours and those kids are making comics. (And those who make kids comics tend to love when kids are excited and making their own. And those of us who just love comics and may not necessarily made them also love kids making comics.) Finding a good comic book store -- one that's friendly and welcoming to kids and families -- will also help.

But I'd also echo to just let him go at it. Making comics is a learning process and he already has a good headstart.

(Sadly, I don't really have any good NZ-specific resources for you -- most of what I know of the comics scene is pretty much all based in the U.S.)
posted by darksong at 10:18 AM on July 3, 2011

I'm a comics artist in the US. I don't know anything about the NZ scene you describe, but I do attend a weekly meetup of comics people to work and socialize. If your son were coming to my group to check things out, I would encourage him to bring a couple of examples of his work (to help him introduce himself) and whatever drawings supplies he normally uses. He might also want to think about some questions he'd like to ask these people--for example, how he might publish his work, if that's his goal.
posted by milk white peacock at 2:02 PM on July 3, 2011

Best answer: You mention "writer" a lot in your post - are you suggesting that your son is mostly focused on the writing of the comics? Or are you asking about guidance for him in terms of the art? I'm guessing that if he's like me when I was his age, it's both the writing and the drawing. Here's what I can recommend for either scenario:

1) Get out of his way. I'm not trying to be mean, just saying - his creative tendencies are like a hardy weed. They'll likely grow unless you actively squash them. A lot of this is dependent on the nature of your relationship with him, of course, but if you "encourage" him too hard, he may well stop enjoying it. Or maybe just the opposite - it could make him try harder. It's complicated.
But if I were you, I'd focus on simply providing opportunities for him to grab on to, like keeping an eye out for community centre art programs, art camps, creative writing classes. Find 'em and give him the options. Getting creative in a social context is awesome.

2) Keep inspirational material around the house. You don't have to keep buying him books, though he should have Calvin & Hobbes right now. Others are Bone, The Far Side, Tin Tin, and perhaps Pogo. For more current fare, check out Amulet, Smile, Anya's Ghost, Unsinkable Walker Bean... There are a bunch. Definitely Understanding Comics. He already knows how to make comics: you put a pencil on paper. Done. That's all he needs to know.
I don't know what you read, but it may be handy to have a bookshelf of "dad's books" - stuff that he's not specifically supposed to read but that he will anyway while you're gone. In my case, this was big photography books from Nat Geo (from which I learned a lot about composition) and some beautiful history and travel books.
I'd avoid the superhero stuff, but that's my personal preference. Most of it is abominably written and the art is uninspiring. Garbage in, garbage out. I mean, he'll read them anyway, but personally I wouldnt go out of my way to supply them.

3) Edumacation. I was lucky to have teachers throughout my education that always emphasized the fundamentals of drawing. Perspective, anatomy, proportion, value, composition, etc. I know friends who have not been so lucky. Find out what his teachers are feeding him. If he ends up with incompetent, wavy-gravy art teachers, you may investigate options to instill those fundamentals, such as community centre programs or entry level programs in local universities or colleges. But this is all a few years down the road. Right now maybe some basic books will help him discover the joys of perspective. (Being able to create the illusion of depth blew my fricking mind at that age).
You ask about a possible "mentor" - I think it might be unlikely, but all artists are different, and if your son were to develop a repoire with a local artist, that would be kind of cool. To me, this scenario seems more likely with an art teacher of some sort.
Knowing the people who go to the drawing jams I've been to, and knowing the things that get drawn, I'd keep an eight-yr-old the hell away from that.

4) He's still really young. The comic thing may pass, but more likely it may shift towards something like animation, film, photography... Or he could be a comic maker to his very core. Keep in mind that the comic industry right now is kind of a mess, and it's hard to say what it'll look like even a few years down the road. Maybe DC will have rebooted a few more times. But the internet will probably still be going strong (knock on wood), and if he's posting his stuff, and it's excellent, people will notice. Even if it's not excellent, but he gets good at drawing pokemons or Harry potter GIFs, people will notice.

Right now, just let him enjoy the process, and be open to the possibility that he may become an accountant who loves to paint as a hobby. Some people cannot draw professionally. I went to school with one or two. They are brilliant and talented, but their art may just be for them. Ahh, but again I'm skipping ahead too far.

Man, this is already really long and I could go on forever. Drop me a line if you like - I think my email's in my profile. I was your son when I was his age. I eventually went into animation. Now I alternate between animation and comics, and I've got a couple Eisner moms to show for it. Neat! No movie deals yet, though.
posted by TangoCharlie at 11:19 PM on July 3, 2011

Response by poster: Thorzdad et al: don't worry, I'm not pushing my son towards a life of comic-artist drudgery! He is, however, very gifted and has a tendency to fixate on his passions, which are, in this order, making comics (that is, both writing and drawing), and making music. We try to find ways to engage and extend him (hi, I'm a teacher) when he is passionate about something. He may well go along the once and decide he's quite happy writing his own books on stapled sheets of refill. We will love him even if he's an accountant. :-)
posted by tracicle at 11:28 PM on July 3, 2011

Best answer: TangoCharlie's on the right track. While he's still developing his artistic skills, he should also learn more realistic styles of drawing. It may seem boring, or not what he ultimately wants to draw, but it'll make things a lot easier down the road with whatever kind of cartooning he ends up pursuing.

It's great that you're not pegging him to just be an artist, which is a trap some parents might fall into if their kid shows a talent in one particular field (like sports). But also, the more diverse his academic background, the more knowledge he would have to work with as far as being a comics writer. If he likes astronomy and physics, it could inspire ideas for a sci-fi comic, etc.

And having other creative outlets like music is great as well. Acting (eg, school plays) also has benefits for cartooning, and watching a wide range of old movies would help with storytelling.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 1:49 PM on July 4, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you all for your diverse answers; they are all appreciated. :-)
posted by tracicle at 10:38 PM on July 4, 2011

What was fun for my daughter was putting her comics on the web for a summer project. I posted it to Projects here and she loved getting feedback from people around the world. Although the experience was challenging at times, she still loves comics today!
posted by mikepop at 6:17 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

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