Continuing Education

That Special Combination of Words and Pictures

As a kid, Comic Book Illustration instructor Andrew Steers was one of those nerds who saw words and pictures on a page as more than an entertaining diversion, he saw comics as a magical way to bring his imagination to life. A fan of super hero comics like Batman and Spiderman Imagefrom an early age, Steers would eventually translate his love of sequential storytelling into a creative passion. “I am a very visual person so I was always attracted to visual storytelling such as comics, animation and picture books,” he recalls. “The amount of emotion and story that can be packed into an image is impressive. I think the emotional impact of a story told as a comic is what solidified my love of the medium.”

Comics would help root in Steers a deep love of drawing, leading him to pursue formal illustrative skills and ultimately an MFA from Academy of Art University in 2015. “I love the challenge of drawing. When drawing comics you use every foundational skill like figure drawing, perspective, and composition on every page. Drawing is incredibly rewarding and something that I can continuously improve on throughout my life.”

Since its inception, the comic book industry is one dominated by the superhero genre, now more so than ever thanks to the tremendous influx of superhero blockbusters flooding the cinema. “Comics have gone mainstream,” says Steers. “As a kid in the 90s and early 2000s I longed to see my favorite superheroes in movies. For a long time, few movies did comic book characters justice. With the improvements in technology, it became easier to depict epic superhero stories on the big screen. At the same time, they became mega successful at the box office. “

As a longtime comic book fan, Steers knows how the industry has historically given short financial shrift to the creators who actually conceived of the characters we now see on the big screen. “Overall, I think this is good for the industry,” says Steers. “The increase in money Imageand attention comic book characters are getting is positive. I do wish that more of the money would trickle down to the artists and writers of comic books. Also, it would be great for independent creators and non-DC and Marvel stories to get as much attention as the big name characters.”

Steers will be the first to tell you, the comic book medium is capable of supporting so much more than superhero stories and he encourages his students to explore those genres of storytelling that inspire them most. “I encourage my students to tell personal and honest stories that inspire them to draw,” he says. “One of the coolest things about comics today is the wide variety of stories that are being published. In class, we study a wide variety of artists in class from Jim Lee to Adrian Tomine to Osamu Tezuka. I want my students to be introduced to a wide variety of art styles and choose techniques that will work best for their own art.” 

Like so many creative endeavors, the beginner’s dream of making comics comes with volumes of negative backtalk and self-doubt. Steers says the best way to conquer that naysaying voice is to jump the gap and go for it. “Just start drawing and writing! I think so many students have a fear hurdle to get over. They think they can’t draw well enough or come up with a good story. Really, you just have to go for it. You learn so much from the process of creating and it will make you a better artist.”

From Steers’ perspective, a neophyte comic book creator need only be concerned with how their art lands with the reader. “The emotional impact comics can have on a reader really Imageexcites me. I like to think of it as a combination of a movie and a novel, that special combination of words and pictures,” he says. “It is very unique and hits you differently than any other storytelling mediums.”

All well and good, but once a creator has refined their own art, how do they go about getting their work seen? Steers sees self-publishing as the best possible answer. “Self-publishing is an exciting and accessible way for artists to get their work out there,” he says. “The best way to learn about creating comics is to go through the entire process. It is very rewarding to see your book printed out and be able to hold it in your hands and flip through the pages. Having finished work is also a valuable portfolio piece for potential clients to look at.”

Steers hopes his students leave Comic Book Illustration with the tools to create and tell their own stories. “Really, I hope they make art in any form,” he says. “The foundational skills of creating comics can be applied to any art form such as drawing, painting, photography or writing.”

Learn more about Comic Book Illustration.

Get a closer look at Andrew Steers’ artwork by visiting or following him on twitter: @steersdrawings.

All images courtesy of Andrew Steers.