Comics Class Explores Principles and Theories on Drawing

Illustration by Minh Hua | Campus Beat Reporter

Sabrina Bui
Staff Writer

Caroline Allen, a three-decade faculty member at UC Santa Barbara, will be hosting a new class called Words and Pictures: Making Comics and Illustrated Books. The class, which will be held during the upcoming fall quarter, is based on the teachings of American cartoonist Lynda Barry, whom Allen admires and identifies with.

Allen’s admiration of Barry was apparent in her infectiously positive interview with The Bottom Line, referencing Barry several times throughout the conversation. After reading Barry’s book, “What It Is, and taking two workshops with her, Allen became interested in offering a class that aligned with the cartoonist’s principles and theories on drawing.

“She comes up with exercises that help people bring drawing back into their lives so they don’t worry if they’re good or not,” Allen said. “It’s just a matter of creating a lively line and letting the activity propel the story and being really committed to not knowing where you’re going next.”

Students who take the class can expect to do plenty of hands-on exercises that combine the disciplines of art and writing, making Allen’s new class unique from other classes the college offers to its Creative Studies students.

“To write and draw at the same time is a very specific skill set,” she said. “[It’s about] letting the drawing propel the writing, and vice versa.”

But the artwork produced is an afterthought for students in the class, according to Allen. Instead, the main takeaway is a much more valuable skill: being able to silence one’s inner critic to let the art flow freely.

“They can expect to learn how to let themselves be creative without always judging themselves harshly before they actually do the thing,” Allen said. “The byproduct will be a composition book full of ideas and exercises they have done and a thirty-page book they’ve written and illustrated.”

Allen is a UCSB alumna who received her undergraduate degree in literature from the College of Creative Studies, and holds a master’s degree in composition. Prior to coming to the university, Allen had a brief stint at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena as an illustration major. Although she never completed her degree, the motivation to pursue formal artistic studies never left her.

Not one to give up, Allen maintained her creative proclivities even after a discouraging experience during her time at art school. “There was a lot of humiliation involved in the art center process,” she said. “Linda Barry would say when she was a little kid … there were only two questions: is it good or does it suck? Those aren’t very useful questions but those are the questions you get with an art center education.”

In art, Allen saw nuances and subjectivity that the educators at ArtCenter did not. For example, she disagreed with the formal standards that art educators evaluated works against, pointing to comics that purposefully defied such standards.

“Maybe the thing that makes it bad in one way makes it really great in another,” she said. “In the comic world, there’s a lot of purposefully crude mark making that’s expressive in a way that fully rendered, polished work isn’t.”

While Allen is teaching a class about the comic world, she stated it’s a skill that she is still learning herself. Currently, she is working on illustrators for a book by English professor Kay Young, entitled “I’ve Never Been So Unannoyed: Iceland for the Lady Traveler, based on a trip to Iceland the pair took together. Allen is also illustrating an autobiographical book in collaboration with her students about going to high school at a boarding school with a lecherous art teacher.

“It’s a sort of Me Too movement book,” she said. “I didn’t start out to write about him, but he became such an important part of it.”

Allen has maintained her passion for art throughout her life, still producing artwork today. It’s left many to wonder how she has been able to continue with creative work, a field plagued with burnout and insecurity. To Allen, the key to working in the creative field is not allowing self-doubt to stand in the way of creativity. “Don’t get discouraged,” she said. “Just keep doing the work, whatever that is.”