04 November 2009

Trouble with Comics: The Group Blog of Comic Book Galaxy: Darwyn Cooke Storytelling Workshop: standing desk

A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune of attending a storytelling workshop with Darwyn Cooke. Held in Toronto, the event was the first put on by ArtOriginals in conjunction with an art show of Darwyn's work as well as an evening event with Darwyn.

The workshop was a whopping 4 hours long (running from 10:00 AM - 3:00 PM), and was limited to just 15 people. I got there a bit early and most of the class had already settled into chairs in the 2nd floor gallery space where we were surrounded by Darwyn's work on the walls.

There were a few familiar faces in the crowd including pros Rick Taylor and Ron Kasman, and friend and comic lover Suley Fattah. Rick Taylor and Ron Kasman are renowned comic book enthusiasts who wrote and illustrated for DC Comics. Interestingly, the crowd was quite mixed between artists, writers, cartoonists and animators (I was the only girl though, something I'm pretty comfortable with in the comics world by now).

Creating Comics is Not a Get Rich Scheme
Darwyn was right on time and went right into discussing his theories on writing, drawing and storytelling. First and foremost he made sure to say that getting into comics is not a get rich quick scheme, and to not get any grand ideas of selling our scripts to eager Hollywood producers for big bucks.

When he really gets going, Darwyn says he works 16 hrs/day, 6 days/week. "It's long hours for modest pay, so if you really want to get into this - you'd better like telling stories". When younger kids ask him about breaking in, he said that he likens it to being an athlete trying to get into the NHL, it takes hard work, perseverance and hours of daily practice.

Storytelling Basics
We then moved on to storytelling basics, and this section was gold. "You should be able to boil down your story into a very short sentence or even 1 word". When you're writing your script, refer to that sentence or that word and ask yourself - "Does this scene serve my idea or is it a distratction?"As an example, he pointed to his GN Selina's Big Score, which was all about redemption.
Pictured above, Darwyn goes over rough thumbnails of New Frontier with the group and talked about the rough thumbnails and page count being one of the most important elements of the project.

Darwyn went on to talk about the classic 3-act Story Structure, which breaks down in the following way:
  1. Introduce your characters, main conflict - what's the situation your character has to react to?

  2. Add depth and texture to conflict. Add nuance to your characters. This might contradict the audience's first impressions of the character. Add obstacle for your character to overcome.

  3. Close off. Build up, then hit your climax Resolution, denouement. How has the world changed?
More Tips
Here's some more great points I gleaned from the session (all of which I found myself nodding in agreement with):
  • Character is expressed through behaviour and physicality, this informs your reader.

  • Design your character to express who they are.

  • Get familiar with your characters, draw them until you know them.

  • Try to draw quickly and with passion.

  • Composition, staging and lighting all reflect your idea.

  • Pacing is more important than technique.

  • Redundant narrative is the kiss of death. If it's written, you shouldn't have to show it.
After a one-hour lunch break where Darwyn hilariously pleaded with people not to eat at the big sub chain across the street ("I used to live in this area and for God's sakes, don't eat there!"), class resumed with portfolio reviews with the group. This was an incredibly educational experience. The group was able to view other people's work and hear Darwyn's feedback of what could be improved upon and why. Since Darwyn is a visual guy, he would often pull draw his versions of our work with a sharpie on typewriter paper.

Darwyn was incredibly generous and kind to everyone but managed to give solid feedback of what everyone could improve on. For a lot of people this was to give the background as much love and work as your characters. Diana and Darwyn

Me, pictured above standing, showing my pages from my graphic novel in progress to Darwyn.

All in all this was a great experience and a terrific opportunity that I feel lucky to have taken part in it. Other than the workshop itself, I got to meet the lovely Marsha, and found out over lunch that Darwyn is a big fan of the movie Speed Racer! (me too man, and this almost made my day right there).

Anyway, there's plenty more that was said that I didn't capture, so to get the full experience I encourage anyone who has the chance to hear Darwyn talk to do it. He is inspiring to listen to and it's no wonder he's one of the masters of the craft.

Photos courtesy of Walter Dickinson and Sean Menard of ArtOriginals.

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Blogger Dylanio21 said...

Thanks for the sum-up!
Loved it!
Really wanted to go but didn't have the cash!

I love when he talks.

November 5, 2009 3:18 AM  
Blogger Rich Dannys said...

I've seen Darwyn speak a number of times now.. And have always found him to be very engaging. The passion he has for the subject & material, is impressive. And only makes it that much more inspirational, to listen to & learn from..

Thanks, for an excellent summary on this Workshop!

November 5, 2009 11:18 AM  
Blogger MilkManX said...

Wow this is a wealth of great knowledge!

November 20, 2009 7:50 PM  

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