Cartoonist Lynda Barry Shows You How to Draw Batman in Her UW-Madison Course, “Making Comics”

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.

Barry Batman 1

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.

Barry Batman 2

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:

Barry Batman 3

Barry Batman 4

Barry Batman 5

No mat­ter what any­one tells you (see below), there’s no right way to draw Bat­man!


Relat­ed Con­tent: 

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

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