Noilly Prattle: Call Me Mr. B. – Seventeen

Friday, August 23, 2013

Call Me Mr. B. – Seventeen

Grades 4,5,6
Cartoon Drawing [MANGA]
Part 1

Manga [comic books]
     Japanese comic books, known as MANGA (which are nothing like their American cousins) are immensely popular with adults as well as kids. They are also gaining international readers as their popularity spills out beyond Japan's island borders.

typical manga bookshelf
        Just about every child (unless he comes from some other planet) in Japan will have a large collection of the colorful, seductive comic books. I know this because my own son had shelves and shelves of them in his room; many of them still remain and serve as room decoration in what is now my study.

girls' comics
        Young people in Japan, especially the girls are not only addicted to reading them, but not a small number are avid illustrators of their favorite characters as well. I, always in the market for interesting ideas for art lessons, decided to capitalize on this ready made enthusiasm for comics, by developing some lessons built around the world of manga and reversing the drawing process. The cartoon artist draws his or her panels and then reduces them to fit the story format in the comic book. For this lesson, I took panels from the comic book and blew them up to normal drawing size by using a grid ratio (see below) to help students expand the small cartoon image into a full size drawing.

popular manga title
        Of course, the stuffier school authorities frown on students having comic books in school. They are supposed to be immersed in “serious literature”. But what child can resist breaking the school rules—that's what they're made for, after all. So, I, being neither naïve nor stuffy, knew and didn't particularly care that they all had manga in their school bags. On the contrary, I depended on it when I started putting manga drawing lessons into my art curriculum.

about the right complexity for an average student
         The technique was fairly simple. I told the kids to bring their manga to class and we would use them to draw a picture of their favorite characters and/or scenes from the stories. I had a few sample pictures that I had done previously to illustrate the technique as I discussed it with them. First I told them to go through the comic book and look for images that they would like to draw. I cautioned them to think about the complexity of the image and choose one that would have a fairly detailed image of a character and enough background detail so as not to be too busy and difficult to draw and not too spare as to be too empty [we call it sabishii 'lonely' in Japanese] and/or uninteresting but deceptively "easy" to draw. The kids had to clear the chosen image with me to ensure that they would be able to handle it. I even pointedly asked them if they had confidence that they could handle an image I had doubts about. I would then gauge the body language and facial expression of the child's answer.  If he/she didn't hesitate I would OK the choice. If not, it was back to the drawing board until they could choose an acceptable image. After approving their choice I handed them a large sheet of white drawing paper.

too simple and uninteresting
too complex and detailed for most kids

        I explained and demonstrated the use of a simple line grid and told them to divide the small image into quarters with a pencil that could be erased afterward. (Many hated to deface their beloved manga books.) Next I told them to do the same thing with the large drawing paper—divide it into quarters. Then it was a matter of looking carefully at the small image and, using the guidelines for placement, enlarge the original image onto the large sheet of paper. The results, of course, depending on the skill of the individual, were varied, but most were able to reproduce an acceptable semblance (with allowance for creativity and whimsicality) of the original image. When the drawing was finished and approved by me, I had the kids trace the entire image in black felt tip marker to imitate the black line effect of the comic book. That concluded to first day of this lesson. An extra day could be added if necessary.

original [top right] and completed drawing showing the guidelines

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