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Creating my own comics

This comic, which Austin created for this story, is about the first time he made a comic in class. Illustration by Austin Skootsky, 16, Hamilton HS


I was in math class and I was bored. The minutes in class felt as if they were dragging into hours and I couldn’t bear to listen to the teacher ramble on. I began doodling on the pages of my notebook and after 10 minutes, I thought of a joke. Why not make it into a comic?

I took a fresh sheet of lined paper out of a folder. I marked the borders of the strip with shaky lines (I didn’t have a ruler), and I planned how I would tell my joke. The comic was based on a pun: one character remarks that he got tickets for “the Stones.” The other, assuming he means the band The Rolling Stones, is very excited. However, in the final panel, it’s revealed that they were actually tickets for a museum exhibit about geology. As I began deciding how to lay out the comic, I drew inspiration from newspaper comics, specifically the longer Sunday comics.

I have liked comics since first grade, and I used to read the comics in the newspaper every day. Get Fuzzy, Pearls Before Swine and Peanuts were some of my favorites. My family’s refrigerator was covered with strips I had taped up. Knowing how my family and I had laughed at comics over the years, I was excited to see if I could create one that was funny too.

I drew boxes for the panels, and after that, I illustrated the characters and wrote the dialogue. I worked the entire period. Since I sat at the back of the class, it was easy to avoid the teacher. By the time class was dismissed, I had finished. My drawings were basic—my characters’ heads were perfect circles, they had no ears or necks, their eyes were dots and their hands were like lumps—but it was still a comic strip. Considering that I was a seventh grader with little experience, I was proud of it. I would rather have a poorly drawn comic than a beautiful set of solved equations.

After class I showed the comic to some of my friends, and they laughed. If they hadn’t thought it was funny, I probably would have given up that first day. However, their positive reactions encouraged me.

I spent every math class after that creating comics. The lectures were so boring that as soon as I got to class I took out a sheet of paper and started drawing. Fifty minutes was the perfect amount of time for me to make a one-page comic. These would usually contain about six to eight panels, and each was an episode in the lives of two characters I had created, Philbert and Gilfred. I made up the names on the spot. They both had strange personalities, but Gilfred was usually the more realistic of the two. Many jokes played off Philbert’s insanity (buying 300 crates of water bottles), and Gilfred’s more level-headed responses (trying to stop Gilfred from buying so much water).

With my limited skills, I could make only simple comics  

I stuck with these two characters because I could not draw well enough to create more. I relied on the head, especially the hair, to tell my characters apart because I couldn’t draw clothes well. The problem was that I could draw only about four hairstyles. If I had six characters, some would end up looking identical! To avoid this problem, many of my other characters were robots, mythical creatures or aliens because they didn’t look like Philbert or Gilfred.

The comics I drew were random jokes and gags. One revolved around the idea of confusing “lox” (salmon served on bagels) for “locks.” When Gilfred offers Philbert lox, Philbert becomes confused and asks why they’re eating metal. The strip continues with food-related communication problems—Philbert rejecting some cobbler because he isn’t a cannibal. Though they featured the same characters, the comics did not have continuity from one to the next. I wanted anyone to be able to enjoy a comic without having read previous ones. Whenever I finished a comic, I would show it to my friends, although I never let my parents know what I was doing during math class. Even though I spent most of my time on my comics, the class was easy and I’m good at math so I ended up getting an A in the class.

After a month, I felt ambitious. I came up with a new concept, but I knew I couldn’t tell the whole story in one page. As a result, my first multi-page comic was born, a story about Philbert and Gilfred’s battle (with lasers and explosions) for their last doughnut. Each page took one class period, so I worked on it for two weeks.

The same year in class, I began writing and drawing a full-length graphic novel. It featured the same characters, Philbert and Gilfred. This time they were on a quest to find the gods of music to receive the power to beat the game Guitar Hero, but along the way they are forced to save the world.

This story had magic, time travel and attempted assassinations. There were times when I couldn’t draw what I needed for the story because of my poor art skills, which was frustrating. I finished about 60 pages of the novel before the school year ended, but I never completed it. During the summer, I was busy with programs and camps so the graphic novel, along with my folder of all my comics, was lost. At the time it didn’t bother me too much; these were just things I did in class while I was bored. Now, though, I wish I still had those strips.

During eighth and ninth grade I continued drawing, but I no longer drew a comic every day. With more homework and more interesting math classes, I did not have as much time. For a few months in the beginning of eighth grade, I didn’t draw a single panel.

My interest reignited halfway through eighth grade when I discovered web comics. While on the Internet one day, I found some videos in which someone had animated the first few strips of a web comic they liked called 8-Bit Theater. Intrigued, I Googled the comic and began reading. Since then, I have loved finding and reading new web comics. Artists often have blogs that accompany their own comics and they mention other web comics they like. I’ve also found others through The Webcomic List (thewebcomiclist.com).

When I discover a web comic I like, I’ll immediately go through the archives and read every strip, even if there are hundreds. Web comics offer a creator complete freedom. Newspaper comics are supposed to be family-friendly (no swearing) and stick to a simple, one-line format for most cartoons, but web comics can have a different layout for each strip depending on the comic’s needs. If the cartoonists want to make a longer, more detailed comic with more panels one day, they can; if they want their strips to be shorter, they’re allowed. Some of my favorite web comics are Bug, Edmund Finney’s Quest to Find the Meaning of Life, Guinea Something Good and Nedroid.

These web comics inspired me. Web comics that have run for years show improvement in the artwork over time, and I realized that I could get better too. The comics also showed me that there are many different styles of drawing. Some use a manga-inspired style, such as the comic Megatokyo; while the artist who created the comic Sheldon uses cartoonish drawings; and some even use stick figures! By studying the different ways people draw, I was able to improve as I practiced at home.

So for the next two years, I spent many hours drawing, and my art has improved. I can draw necks and ears. Also, while my first comics recycled the same faces over and over, I am now much better at drawing a unique face for every character, and now I can use as many characters as I need. I usually design new characters for every strip so I can practice different hairstyles, clothing and other features. Even though I haven’t used my original two characters, Philbert and Gilfred, since seventh grade, I have begun creating one-page joke comics again. I make about two every month.

I’ve found others who share my passion

This year I started a comics magazine at my school that publishes student-made comics and drawings. It started with a few of my friends, but some others joined when they heard about it. Though it’s only nine people now, we hope to expand in the future and have a large number of consistent contributors. During meetings we collect the work the members have created and make deadlines for the next issues. Then we eat lunch and talk. We recently published our first issue, containing four comics. They were distributed for free on campus.

Some day soon I want to create a web comic. I’d draw and ink it first. Then I’d scan it and edit it in Photoshop and upload it to the Internet. It’s pretty amazing to me how far I’ve come since those boring seventh grade math classes.