|I am a Pennsylvania resident, and I am currently working on my own comic book. I primarily draw cartoon art.|
Hello, Erica. I decided to wait until I had a day off to do the critique for you, so that way I would have more time. Grab yourself a cup of coffee, this thing is almost 3,500 words…
First off, a little note about critiques. Whenever you get a critique, remember it is about the work. It’s always about the work. So don’t take them personal. I know, as an artist, we pour out our hearts for the world to see. You spend a lot of time doing the work. That work is, in essence, a part of you. I only bring this up because you’re a bit younger. It is a common thing for younger artists to take critiques personally and become frustrated or angry. Hell, I have been in those shoes myself. I don’t know you personally, so I don’t know your personality. But you come across as a friendly, outgoing person. I just wanted to say this first before I got into anything else. It’s only about the work.
Second, whenever you do receive a critique make sure you take into account the validity of the person giving the critique. It, obviously, helps most if this is coming from another artist. Mason told me you asked him for an opinion about your art, and he said something along the lines of “it’s a bit deformed.” Mason cracks me up. He’s a cool guy. But that really doesn’t help give a focus on what needs to be worked on.
It is entirely up to you how to take a critique. You decide what is of value to you, and if you feel it will help. Also remember that a critique is given through a filter. My own will be how I perceive the work through my own given experience. It doesn’t make me right, as it is only my own opinion in the end.
I’ll just give you a quick rundown of what my background is so you can gauge what I say with my experience. I’m a primarily self-taught artist (really, though, aren’t we all?) and have only taken one college level drawing course. As of right now, I have only drawn 18 total pages of comic art. That means you have completed more pages of comic art than me! I do, however, spend a lot of time reading about art and art theory. Probably more than I should, because you learn more from doing than observing. I’ve probably been drawing for about 25 years or so now. And quite honestly, your art at 18 years old is much better than my own at that age!
Well, let’s get to the good part then, shall we?
I see a tremendous amount of growth from the first few pages up until the last ones. That tells me you are eager to learn, and that you are constantly pushing yourself. That’s great! That is the best attribute an artist can possibly have. I can tell you are putting in lots of time to grow. You are constantly experimenting, which is what every artist needs! Excellent work there! This is something to be proud of.
Another thing that is really good is putting the link in the description to the next page in the descriptions. Every barrier you remove from the audience is another plus to your favor. You have no idea how happy I was that you made it that easy for me! I actually need to look up how to do this, myself!
That being said, when you sent me the link to the comic I realized that I did see that on your page. I’m just like most people. I browse through the gallery, and if something really strikes me I’ll click it to add to my favorites. I didn’t even know that this was the beginning of a comic! I’m a big fan of comic art. If it was more obvious I surely would have come to take a closer gander.
Going through the entirety of the story, the biggest thing that stands out to me are the layouts. Simply put, you need more variation. Many of the pages look exactly the same. You started something early on with diagonals and kept that going mostly throughout. I almost feel like you started doing it, then thought, “well, I need to keep them looking similar so people know it’s the same comic” or something like that.
Art, and comics especially, are a huge amount of psychology. Diagonals in our mind imply motion or energy. By constantly repeating this in your layouts you are causing several problems.
1. It is causing weird cropping of the characters (and dialog) and cramped panels.
2. It’s losing the punch it could have when they are introduced because it’s a constant thing.
Do you have a copy of Naruto handy? Really, any manga will suffice. Go grab it and flip through it. I’ll wait. Did you get it? Good. Find a non action scene. More than likely the panels are all boxes. This represents the stability of the scene. It provides a sense of normality. Now, as the action ramps up (leading up to a fight scene) watch the borders. They gradually start slanting and then become beautiful dynamic angles. After the fight, or tension, is over they ease back into boxes again. Something to think about.
The second thing that stands out is the shots. You are favoring a close up of the head over everything else. As the work matures, I see more variation in the end. But it still happens. When you call for a close up it is to get intimate with a characters emotions. We need to feel what the character is feeling when that happens.
Following up with this, you are doing a lot of tight cropping. What that means is there isn’t much space around the characters for anything, especially the dialog. This is an easy fix. If you aren’t doing thumbnails at this point of your comic making, start! By working small and quickly it’s easy to discover these hiccups before they happen. When you do the thumbs, make sure you plan where all the dialog should go. You will thank your self later (and so will your reader)! In essence, keep negative space around the character in mind as you are drawing.
Something I read once said that no two heads on a page should be the same size. Now, that isn’t a rule. But it will force you to look at the shots you are choosing and make you cognitive of your decisions. Keep them varied!
Now, this improves as you go along, but having close ups makes you lose out on body language. Body language is a very important thing, as much as the emotions of the character. Near the end you have a big improvement of including the bodies of the characters. But they aren’t always acting. Characters always need to act.
If you still have that manga handy, pull it out again. Flip to a random page. Cover up a head on some of the characters. Can you get an idea of what’s happening in their heads? Now uncover the head. Does the emotion help the idea being presented by the body?
Emotions should help the body language, not the other way around. I’m not always sure what is happening in the characters heads. You, as the artist, need to push the idea you have to make it easy for me to understand.
After this critique I want you to look up Animation Flour Exercise. Essentially, it’s something that beginning animators do to learn body language. Using a bag of flour you have to show emotion of the body language. It’s actually super fun to do! What I would like for you to do is look these up, see what others have done. Do some practice on what you see. Then, I would like for you to do several of your own, not copied. Post them on your page and tag me. Don’t put the emotion you are trying for on the paper. Then I will come on and try to guess what they are. It will be fun, I promise!
The next thing I’m seeing is a growing dependency on iconography (I actually had to look this term up, because I wasn’t sure what was called). If you’re not sure what I mean, it’s when the blood vessels come over the characters head for anger, red sweeping across the cheeks for blushing, the blood squirting out a nose for lust, etc. Now, I’m glad you are experimenting! Experimentation is the key for art. But, now this is my opinion, I feel that these should not replace a good expression. They are there for enhancement, not replacement.
I think an area for growth is working on pushing expressions and body language. Make sure the thought of the character is coming across. I’m completely fine with iconography, but if it isn’t there would I still know the emotion? Ask yourself that. Really dig deep with expressions. They are the lifeblood of an artist. The more you do, the more fun they become!
That’s just some general over view of some things I notice. I’m going to go through again and make some quick notes on each page for you. Now, I know this is fan fiction. Just so you know, I’ve never watched Pokemon. That being said, I have no clue what’s happening in the story. I get the idea from your general overview. But if I just read the story I’m left scratching my head. Just something to keep in mind.
P1 This page does a good job of having varied camera angels. Notice how every shot is different? You start with an extreme(ish) close up, move to a medium shot, move to a profile close up, and finally a full body shot. This is good work.
P2 Here is where you start with the diagonals. They aren’t causing a problem yet. You have a good variety of camera work here, as well. You introduce your character names early. That’s good! It reminds me of my parents too. I laughed at this.
P3 All close ups of the face. Some weird cropping issues at the chin area on all panels. All cropping should have a purpose.
P4 Mostly close ups of the face.
P5 The camera is mixed up here. That’s good. The diagonal of the second caption cramps up your panels a bit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen emotion dialog bubbles before. Is that a thing? I would be interested to know. Nice emotion on the last panel!
P6 Here is an example of the diagonal causing you problems. Panel 1, the character is cropped very awkwardly. Then, in panel 2, the character on the left is right under the border. Is it falling on his head? Help him! Hurry! Just kidding. Last panel has some good emotions.
P7 The diagonal makes this weird to read. It forced you to cut parts of your characters off. In panel one, Jake is off-panel. So that bubble that says “What?” should be tailless. Panel 3 you crop the characters head off. Why? If your focus is the Pokemon Ball, then show a close up of it in the hand. Otherwise, why not show the emotion of the character? The last panel you do an off-panel bubble and draw the characters head in it. Is that a thing? If a character is in a scene with another character you don’t need to do that.
P8 I love the pose for panel 1! The pacing on this page is done well, I feel. Nice work. The only thing I’m confused about (because of my lack of knowledge of Pokemon) is I thought when you catch a pokemon they get sucked up in the ball. But the rat was still out. Threw me off a bit. But this is a nice page.
P9 This is probably my favorite page in the story. Here the diagonal actually helps create an interesting composition. The silhouette is done well, and the characters run to the right leading you to the next “page”.
P10 Here is where the color starts! I enjoy your colors. Again, the diagonal causes some cramped characters. But it is actually better than some others. What caused the choice of cropping the characters mouth in panel 3? When we read emotions the eyes and the mouth are what we look at. You are losing impact here by cutting it off. Either go in extreme to just the eyes, or zoom out is my opinion.
P11 Here the diagonal is causing you big problems. It’s causing you to draw the character really small in panel 3, and the dialog barely fits in panel 2. Also, this is where you start to use iconography for the emotions. I feel you are cropping the blue haired character just so he was faster to draw. He is emotionless in panel one, except for the scribble. I like the last close up of the rat.
P12 This is a really strong page. Here is where you actually would want the diagonal panels! The action just ramped up to a fight. Makes it feel more frantic. Now, I noticed that the diagonals did change. They actually are pushed further than the normal. This was a good choice. I can see you really trying to push your work here. Now, here is something a bit more advanced for this page. You start at the top left of the page. This is where our eye enters. You have a great flow for this page! The string leads you to the caterpillar. Down to the flame wheel, follows the string back to the caterpillar again. This is phenomenal! You did an excellent job of leading the eye! But, the last panel is where you lose it. I’ll show you what I mean. Yes, we can flow from the caterpillar to the left to the character. But what you just did to the reader was throw them out of the story! If it was a left-hand page we aren’t even in the book any more! Remember the silhouette page? You move to the right, because you are telling a story that reads left to right. If the last panel would have positioned itself to keep you moving to the right, and thus further into the story, it would have been perfect! But seriously, awesome work on this page.
P13 All the shots are similar, close up front shots. Only one panel turns the head to a three quarter view. Also, I’m not really following what is happening in the story. I’m going to assume it’s because I don’t know Pokemon. I like the expression in panel 4! The light going into the head would have been a good mini cliffhanger for a page turn. You put the reveal on the same page.
P14 All the shots are the same.
P15 The art on this page is very strong! I’m guessing that it was a bit of time from the last page to this one? The coloring is looking better. Good highlights! A bit picky, but all your characters are facing front again.
P16 Cropping issues. Why not zoom out a little more so we could see Rati’s expression fully? Half his face is off the page. I get the idea, but you loose the full impact. Last panel has a weird crop on the face too. It’s not bad, but if it wasn’t colored I wouldn’t know who was talking.
P17 Nice variation on the shots. The extreme close up works well with the dialog in the panel, along with the sinister eye. Great call on that! Oddly, the cropping in panel 3 doesn’t bother me much. It makes for an interesting composition. I like how all the characters are looking in the same direction, showing that they are all looking toward the same thing.
P18 Decent page! Mixed up shots, and the emotions are varied. Good work.
P19 You are starting to use over the shoulder shots! Awesome. The last panel is so tight in the diagonal the reader can barely see what is going on. Again, if it wasn’t colored I would have no idea who is there. Color should enhance the art, not define it. I really love the kick to the face panel. Nice foreshortening, and the other character is turned so the reader can see the expression! (notice how I talk about expressions a lot?)
P20 The shots are well done on this page. Here I am confused in the story again, though. Does Jake see Rati as he is? You’re missing some beats here, I feel. The page ends with a nice mini cliffhanger! We want to turn the page to see what happens.
P21 The only thing about this page is panel 4. Rati is crushed under the diagonal. I like how you saved the most important story beat for the biggest panel. I can see you are learning things from the comics you read!
P22 The only thing that gets me on this page is the final panel. Who is the green thing? Is that Jake and Alex? I get the idea you wanted to show that she somehow got big and menacing. If that was so, you didn’t set up the previous panels to show what was going on. We need reference.
P23 Good cliffhanger, as well as the variation of shots. The storytelling is much clearer here.
P24 In panel 3, you cropped the character with the dialog. So to add the anger marks you had them floating. Since they are supposed to be blood vessels popping, it is kinda weird that they float in midair! The last panel has good acting.
P25 Nice ghosting. Same thing with the blood vessel. With the diagonals I have no idea what’s happening in panels 2 and 3.
P26 All close ups. I like the blue hair guys expression. No clue what an ultra ball is. But the comments make me think that it was an opportunity for a joke about the characters.
P27 Three panels to show the ultra ball falling? Each panel should do something to push the story forward. This is something known as padding. Extra fluff to make a story longer. If you take that out, does it change the story at all? Then it doesn’t need to be there. The close up makes it hard to see the emotions in the final panel. I had to stick my nose on the screen to see the mouths!
P28 Good page overall. Nice work!
P29 Now this isn’t necessarily wrong, but you have no gutter between panel 1 and 2. It reads as one panel except for the cropping of the character, which you barely crop out. That makes me wonder the decision for the crop. Was it to show that it is a different panel? Just so you know, it is commonly accepted that the gutter is where the actions occur in between panels. So if the character turns his head, he needs some space to have “time” to do so. Comics are all about time. I like the last panel. Nice composition. The blur effects are a nice touch.
I’m going to stop there for the comic.
Like I said, there is a HUGE amount of growth from beginning to end!
Overall, I would like to see you push your characters to their limits. Emotions, body language, even the angels you portray them at. If you think you can’t do something, force yourself to! I would really like to see you do the flour exercise. Maybe do some emotion studies. Look at reference. Also, don’t feel confined to manga to do studies. Look at real artwork, photographs, other artists work! I’m going to post a few books, and links for you to look through.
Make sure every shot has a purpose, and the characters are framed well within it. Think of the negative space and dialog. Do thumbnails.
I hope that this was inspirational, and more importantly, helpful. You are already a great artist. I feel that if you push yourself you will be amazing. Keep practicing, keep trying new things, and you will keep growing.
Great art blog by a Disney animator.
My favorite comic site, mostly for writers. But it has tons of great information.
Books to check out:
Understanding Comics, Making Comics by Scott McCloud. Great primers into the subject.
Picture This by Molly Bang. Talks about the effects an image has on a viewer.
Framed Ink by Marcos Mateu-Mestre. Another composition book by an amazing comic artist. I reference this all the time.