How do you draw Batman?
Don’t say you don’t, or that you can’t. According to cartoonist and educator Lynda Barry, we’re all capable of getting Batman down on paper in one form or another.
He may not resemble Adam West or Michael Keaton or anything artists Frank Miller or Neal Adams might render, but so what?
You have the ability to create a recognizable Batman because Batman’s basic shape is universally agreed upon, much like that of a car or a cat. Whether you know it or not, you have internalized that basic shape. This alone confers a degree of proficiency.
As proof of that, Barry would ask you to draw him in 15 seconds. A time constraint of that order has no room for fretting and self doubt. Only frenzied scribbling.
It also levels the playing field a bit. At 15 seconds, a novice’s Batman can hold his own against that of a skilled draftsperson.
Try it. Did you get pointy ears? A cape? A mask of some sort? Legs?
I’ll bet you did.
Once you’ve proved to yourself that you can draw Batman, you’re ready to tackle a more complex assignment: perhaps a four panel strip in which Batman throws up and screams.
This is probably a lot easier than drawing him scaling the side of a building or battling the Joker. Why? Personal experience. Anybody who’s ever lost his or her lunch can draw on the cellular memory of that event.
Fold a piece of paper into quarters and give it a whirl.
Then reward yourself with the video up top, a collection of student-created work from the Making Comics class Barry taught last fall at the great University of Wisconsin.
You may notice that many of the Batmen therein sport big, round heads. Like the 15-second rule, this is the influence of Ivan Brunetti, author of Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice, a book Barry references in both her classes and the recently published Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor.
With everyone’s Batman rocking a Charlie Brown-sized noggin and simple rubber hose style limbs, there’s less temptation to get bogged down in comparisons.
Okay, so maybe some people are better than others when it comes to drawing toilets. No biggie. Keep at it. We improve through practice, and you can’t practice if you don’t start.
Once you’ve drawn Batman throwing up and screaming, there’s no end to the possibilities. Barry has an even bigger collection of student work (second video above), in which you’ll find the Caped Crusader doing laundry, using a laptop, calling in sick to work, reading Understanding Comics, eating Saltines… all the stuff one would expect given that part of the original assignment was to envision oneself as Batman.
More of Lynda Barry’s Batman-related drawing philosophy from Syllabus can be found above and down below:
No matter what anyone tells you (see below), there’s no right way to draw Batman!
Lynda Barry’s Wonderfully Illustrated Syllabus & Homework Assignments from Her UW-Madison Class, “The Unthinkable Mind”
Lynda Barry, Cartoonist Turned Professor, Gives Her Old Fashioned Take on the Future of Education
Cartoonist Lynda Barry Reveals the Best Way to Memorize Poetry
Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday