Le Blob: Beyond Stick Figures
by Greg Stump, McClure Middle School & Room 9 Community School
For any writer or artist, deadlines can be a blessing and a curse: the same pressure that temporarily quiets internal second-guessing also encourages cutting corners when possible. One of the deadline-influenced characters I created for a weekly newspaper comic strip was a mostly-featureless, gumdrop-shaped mound of goo named The Blob. The primitive design of the character was hardly original; it looked roughly like the classic comic strip character The Schmoo (from Al Capp’s Li’l Abner), except that it had flippers instead of legs. But having such a quickly- and easily-drawn character in my ensemble cast meant that I could always come up with a Blob strip if I was pressed for time.
This year, as a WITS writer-in-residence at McClure middle school and Room 9 community school, I’m using what I learned as a cartoonist on deadline to help introduce students to the comics medium. Having my students create their own blob characters and stories has proved to be an effective method for getting them to practice a crucial aspect of comics creation: the ability to draw a character consistently, from a variety of angles and distances. The simpler a character is, the less an artist will struggle with representing it moving through space, and the more apt he or she will be to position the character in a way that’s appropriate to the scene and story.
Blobs, it turns out, are also a good tool for weaning students off of stick figures, which — despite their charms — are a bit limited as a tool for teaching comics. Meant to represent people, stick figures don’t much look like them, or different from each other. (Attempts at differentiating them by adding hair or glasses just look weird and distracting, to my eye). Blobs, on the other hand, are human-ish, rather than human, and it’s up to the creator to decide what kind of world the characters live in.
My counsel to students that lack confidence or experience with their drawing is that it’s no more difficult to draw an egg-shaped blob than a stick figure. Like a Mr. Potato Head toy, the character is mostly a blank slate, and the fun is in deciding what to add. It also satisfies the impulse to copy while simultaneously allowing for the opportunity to make a basic but personalized character. Of course, it may just be that my students seem to like the activity because they like the word “blob,” bookended as it is by satisfying “buh” sounds. So far this year, the blob characters I’ve encountered include “Blobbo,” “Da Blob,” and “Bob the Blob,” among many other others. If I had to pick a favorite, though, it just might be “Le Blob,” a beret-wearing, mustachioed blob of (apparently) Gallic lineage that was created by Room 9’s Jasper H., and is shown below.
Extra bonus: If you look closely at the following comic, you’ll notice that the character appears not only from the front but from the side and from the back, when it’s appropriate to the action, and at the end of the story — when it’s important for the reader to see the character fully ensconced on a island surrounded by the ocean — we see the character at its smallest (far-away) size. This is actually quite a challenge to do consistently with a complex character; with a blob, though, ce nest pas un problème.