Teen Comics Workshop at SDCC

My sixteen-year-old daughter was keen to attend a manga-drawing workshop at SDCC. We arrived at the appointed room nearly an hour early, having been unable to get into the Jim Henson panel I had hoped to see. Our disappointment quickly turned to delight when we discovered that the panel before the manga one was a Teen Comics Workshop featuring several author/illustrators both Jane and I love.

As if getting to hear Gene Luen Yang, Dave Roman, Vera Brosgol, and Thien Pham speak about their work isn’t awesome enough, this happened to be an art workshop, in which these incredibly talented artists were showcasing their tools and techniques before our eyes.

Dave Roman shows the tools he used to draw Astronaut Academy

When we came in, the panelists seemed to be wrapping up a discussion of the penciling stage–I caught something about Bristol board–and moving on to inks. Gene Yang said he’s a convert to Japanese brush pens and wondered where they’d been all his life. Dave Roman told the crowd of riveted kids and teens about how his wife, Smile author/illustrator and brand-new Eisner Award winner Raina Telgemeier, convinced him to try inking with a brush instead of a pen–perhaps because he had a habit of shattering pen nibs and “sending tiny metal shards flying,” Dave said.

To his surprise, he discovered that he much prefers inking with a brush; he likes the range of thicknesses, and the look reminds him of Bill Watterson and other artists he admires.

Dave Roman’s slide demonstrating brush inking

At this point, the panelists decided to skim past the “how to get published” section of their talk because they wanted to get the audience drawing. There commenced a very lively and laughter-filled comics-creation tutorial. Vera Brosgol–whose recent graphic novel, Anya’s Ghost, knocked my socks off–took up her pen and sat ready to sketch, awaiting direction from the eager young audience members. The panelists explained that we would start by creating a character, and they asked the kids to name three physical attributes for this person or creature. The only one I remember is “fast”–I had hopped up to grab paper and pencil from a table in the front of the room, and (perhaps because I was wearing a Smile t-shirt in honor of Raina’s Eisner win) other people in the audience thought I was an official helper and waved me over to deliver drawing supplies to new arrivals. This left a gap in my panel notes but was a ton of fun.

Vera, having received her three physical characteristics from the crowd, produced this delightful character sketch.

Even her hair is fast!

Next in the spotlight was Dave Roman, who took three more suggestions from the crowd (horns was one).

Those are some mighty fine horns

Now it was the audience’s turn to draw. The panelists instructed the kids (and several eager adults, I noticed) to put the characters into a situation filled with trouble–danger, a tight spot, a bad turn of events. The room grew busy; hands flew over paper. Thien Pham worked on his own mini-comic featuring our two characters, a scenario that got a big laugh from the crowd.

So much fun to see Thien’s take on the characters

The artists encouraged kids in the audience to come forward and share their drawings with the room. You can barely make out the charming pencil sketch of one young boy under Thien’s drawing. The kids’ sketches were delightful, with calamities ranging from head-eating dragons to fierce clashes between the fast-haired girl and her ox-horned nemesis, Franq.

Next, the panelists encouraged the audience to draw a page two–a solution to the problem they’d created on page one. Again, kids, teens, and even some grownups came forward to share their masterpieces with the rest of us. I loved the air of excitement and possibility; these four talented artists spoke to the kids as equals, exhorting them to take chances, be inventive, and have fun. It was a wonderfully inspiring and informative experience. My daughter and I wound up being glad the Henson panel (which I’m sure was terrific) was too full to hold us. Jane stuck around for the manga panel, and as for me? I left the Teen Comics Workshop kind of itching to try out one of those cool Japanese brush pens myself.