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Comics Syllabus: A Comics Newbie’s Quest to Dabble Deeper

Dana Staves

Staff Writer

Going through life with an apron tied on and a pen in her hand, Dana Staves writes about books and food. She also writes a little fiction. She lives in Maryland with her wife, their son, and their cat.

Last winter, trying desperately to wrangle my thoughts and redevelop a writing discipline after having my son, all I could think of was drawing. Lucy Knisley had ruined me; or, to put it more accurately, I had been bit by the comics bug. I was (am?) a total comics newbie, never having read them when I was younger. But I knew I wanted to read more, expand my horizons beyond the few graphic novels/memoirs I had read. And I wanted to learn how to draw. The problem? I don’t know the first thing about drawing. So what does a former English professor do when she wants to learn a new skill? She makes herself a comics syllabus. I would learn about comics, I would learn to draw, and I would dabble deeper in this new (to me) genre, and maybe in all of that, I would learn to see my world and express it in some way.

Comics Syllabus to Dabble Deeper, Page One | Book Riot

I had been checking in on Lucy Knisley’s Instagram feed each day since my son was born; her son is about six weeks older than mine, and I found so much comfort and solidarity in her daily sketches about mom life. I longed to be able to express myself in the same way. I felt like I was missing my son’s life, missing those moments of his first year that Knisley seemed to see with such clarity. And while my feelings ended up being partly due to undiagnosed postpartum depression, I blamed it on my shortcomings as a mother and an artist.

I made my syllabus and a schedule, and I bought my online drawing course from Craftsy, and I went to Michael’s and spent a LOT of money, and I started in earnest. I lasted two weeks before I got in over my head, before my baby stopped sleeping again, before life diverted me. Wine bottles sat on my printer, waiting to be sketched, but I couldn’t find the time or energy. My syllabus got moved to a back burner. I still sketch—not well, and not with any real discipline.

Author sketch, girl with umbrella | Book Riot, Comics Syllabus to Dabble Deeper

When I mentioned my comics syllabus to some fellow Rioters, they encouraged me to share it. I worried because I wrote it (write it) as a comics newbie; I made a comics syllabus because I know so little, but I want to dabble deeper. I wanted to engage on a slightly deeper level with this genre I admire.

Dear readers, perhaps you know the feeling?

Comics Syllabus for Comics 101 |

So I reformatted my syllabus so I could share it here with you. I’ve included my reading list, a little bit of information about my objectives and reasons for starting this project. There’s the first 30% of my schedule because as I got into the drawing lessons, I realized how intensive they were. I had not budgeted enough time to do the reading assignments AND my art class. My reckless optimism bit me in the butt, as it always does. Forgive me for not having a full schedule; the scope of the project got so much bigger than I anticipated.

But in a way, I’m glad that happened. Because it made me sit down with those lessons again. It made me start thinking about stories I want to write. Images of women in capes once again occupied my brain, and y’all, that’s always a good time. In preparing these materials for this post, it reignited the fire I feel when I read comics, when I see visuals and text put together in such a way that takes me places and works my heart and brain. Comics are magic the way poems are magic, and I’m really happy to be engaging with the magic again.

And that’s what this kind of exercise is about:  engaging with the magic of a storytelling medium. So if you feel so inclined, dabble with me. Dig in and find your comics space. Sketch badly. (Or maybe you sketch well? Good for you!) Love comics with a reckless optimism that makes your hand move and your heart happy.

And while you’re at it, you can see what this comics newbie came up with and check out my Comics Syllabus Dabble Deeper.