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Damonkey Business: Quick Draw McGraw

How to Quick Draw McGraw Yourself Into A Better 'Toonist

A few nights ago, while in a drug-filled haze (the prescription kind), I hopped online for what was supposed to be a few minutes to chat with my wife, only to be slapped across the face with the Holy Trout of Revelation.

We had hardly been chatting for said few minutes when she sent me a link to some online Pictionary-type game – using your mouse or tablet, you simply draw stuff and other people are supposed to guess what it is. Next thing you know, we're playing until well past midnight, and my current "The Plague" state of being (read as a bad hybrid case of flu and strep throat) was temporarily forgotten as we both lost ourselves in the simple fun of a shared, mouse-driven doodlefest. We eventually forced ourselves to sign off, and I headed for bed, reburdened with The Plague and a need for more Neo Citran.

As I drifted off and tuned into BrainTV's nighttime sleepcast, however, it occurred to me how playing a game like that on a regular basis could make me a better 'toonist.

And for once, this wasn't the meds talking.

Think about it: whenever you've played this kind of game with family or friends (and I KNOW you have), you'll notice that the ones who win consistently are not necessarily the ones with the most "artistic" talent, but rather those who can successfully depict something using the fewest lines or details, in the shortest amount of time.

For webtoonists, especially the 99.7 percent who can only afford to do this in their spare time or as a hobby, time IS of a certain essence. Since the brunt of their existence is reserved for dealing with all those Necessary Evils of what we call Reality (work, sleep, eating, groping... you know the Evils), they have precious few moments to devote to the One Webcomic Dream. As such, it only makes sense that finding ways to draw quickly would be a desirable skill.

If one practises drawing stuff with time limits, one learns to intuitively gauge which lines are important, and which are superfluous – in other words, one learns to draw with maximum efficiency. In fact, timed drawings are a classic art school warm-up exercise; the instructor will usually have a model pose for periods of a minute or two, and the students have to draw the model as quickly as they can, as best as they can. Then the model changes poses, and the exercise starts again.

Sure, this may seem impossible at first, but with a bit of practice, you'd be surprised at how quickly you can draw a recognizable human figure. You'd be surprised at how you can train your brain to process visual info and transmit it to your hands for posthaste penning purposes. You'd be surprised at how, with practice, you can draw something in five minutes that looks as good as if you had drawn it in an hour.

But wait – that's not all! Playing these games also teaches you to focus on the IMAGE side of sequential storytelling. Since you can’t use words in these visual charades games, you have to learn to tell your stories (i.e., offer up clues for the words in question) using only images. You learn the value of icons and the importance of clarity. There are always ways of depicting ANYTHING in a comic, and the best artists can do so without having to resort to word balloons or labels actually TELLING you what the object in question is supposed to be.

There's nothing wrong with being a webcomic artist who wants to recreate the Sistine Chapel with excruciating detail in the background of every panel they make, if that's what they want to do. However, consider this analogy: pro boxers know that throwing a bajillion hamfist punches will not guarantee victory – more often than not, it will only tire them out. Making each punch count – no matter how few are thrown – is the secret to a spotless record.

Similarly, the best webcomic creators know to not waste precious time and energy when delivering their devastating punchlines. Look at one of the reigning webcomic world champions, Sinfest. There really aren’t that many lines in his work, but MAN, do each of his lines have an impact – massive KO power in a handful of strokes!

If you can train yourself to be more efficient at drawing quickly and practically, you may find yourself getting more bang for your bordered humor buck – and Pictionary-type games make for one helluva fun and inexpensive learning tool. Who needs expensive coaches and trainers, or even art school, when you've got pencil, paper, and an egg timer?

Forget all the fancy footwork. In the end, one good punch is all it takes, dontcha know.