Jamar Nicholas, award-winning graphic novelist, joined Hun students to share with them his twenty-three-year journey of becoming a cartoonist; tips and tricks on how to succeed in the industry; and to lead an unconventional Q&A session.
Mr. Nicholas, who recently signed a contract with Scholastic as a cartoonist, began the session by introducing his favorite pieces of work to students and walking them through his thought process of creating each character and plot. He shared Leon: Protector of the Playground, the story of a superhero whose powers are common sense and kindness, The GrossE Adventures, and Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of Violence.
While all of these comics are completely different from one another, Mr. Nicholas notes that his goal for each novel that he illustrates is to create characters that readers will connect with.
“I want my readers to look at a character and actually relate to them,” he said. “I want them to care about what’s happening in the story and I want to impact the readers and hopefully change the way they feel.”
After sharing his publications, Mr. Nicholas opened up the floor to students to ask questions and instead of answering the questions orally, he drew the solution to the questions.
Students asked questions such as “How do I get better at drawing hands or feet of characters?” or “What should I be mindful of when drawing characters of different races?”
Mr. Nicholas sketched a few characters on paper while he shared some tricks and tips with Hun students: “First, get in the habit of keeping a sketchbook with you at all times, and if you think you aren’t the best at drawing hands, then fill up an entire sketchbook with drawings of hands. Next, keep a mirror by your sketchbook, and when you are practicing drawing hands, look at your own hand in the mirror and examine it critically and use it as reference for sizing and detail.”
To end the session, the students participated in an exercise of storytelling and practiced how to illustrate a lapse of time through a comic. Mr. Nicholas instructed students to draw four panels; in the first panel, students were asked to draw a character that is hungry and by the fourth panel, the same character had to be full. Students then had to fill in the two middle panels to tell the reader what happened in between.
“The reader’s mind will fill in information very quickly based on just a few visual cues,” he said. “So, this is a test on what you think is important to include in the full story. Remember, as a cartoonist, what the reader sees or doesn’t see is dependent on what you draw.”
Students had time to sketch and then present their comic strips to the rest of the group and receive feedback from Mr. Nicholas.
To wrap up the session, Mr. Nicholas left students with one piece of advice on how to succeed in the industry.
“A lot of young cartoonists tend to look at inspiration to help them find their style, and eventually the inspiration becomes like a training wheel,” Mr. Nicholas said. “To be successful, you have to take off the training wheels. That is when you will find your actual drawing style; when you don’t have anything in front of you except pencil and paper. Your style exists in the moment that you let go of the inspiration and just let your true self draw.”