“Pencils ready?”

As I prepared to teach drawing comics to children for the first time last January, a friend told me about how as a girl she and her brother would run home after school to watch Captain Mark and his Secret City on TV. Mark Kistler, alias Captain Mark, is an educator who invites kids to practice key drawing concepts by leading them through quick-paced warm-ups and challenges. You can view his energetic approach at this video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgLeSe8pN3s. Kistler’s show (not least his jumpsuit) impressed me, but I wondered: wouldn’t students quickly lose interest in drawing overlapping soup can after overlapping soup can, or in creating flowerpots, cakes, and stools out of the same foreshortened circle? Still, I liked the approach enough and had no better ideas, so I tried it.

We practice drawing Secret City-inspired warm-ups at the start of every Comics class, now in its fourth session. To upper-elementary students aged 8-11, the skill of creating depth on a two-dimensional page is new. As we practiced foreshortening concepts related to depth (overlapping, shading, shadows, surface, contour, density, size), I saw that the repetition wasn’t boring, but useful. It breeds just the right amount of familiarity to complement the anticipation of “what will we make this week?” Thanks, Captain Mark.

The students and I share a passion for making comics. My job as teacher is to notice where their interests lie—expressive characters? witty punchlines? sprawling action epics?—and give them an uncomplicated framework in which to deepen their skills, and thereby deepen their passion. That is a learning process: it took three tries to get a worksheet about lettering to the point where it seemed useful to most of the class. You can see the progression below, as well as excellent work on the final worksheet by current student Lola L.:

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Attempts 1 and 2. Larger size here.
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Attempt 3, and Lola L.’s worksheet. Larger size here.

Captain Mark taught me that repeated practice of key concepts within a simple framework can be a springboard for great invention.

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