Draw Stronger: Self-Care for Cartoonists and Visual Artists

There are plenty of comics about comics, since artists tend to fall back on “write what you know”. Draw Stronger is a completely different kind of book about making comics, though. As it’s subtitled, it’s about “self-care for cartoonists and visual artists”.

It actually isn’t a comic so much as an illustrated guide, with plenty of cute little doodles demonstrating the different aches illustrators may experience. Most are exaggerated, to be visually distinctive, and a recurring lightning bolt with a face symbolizes pain.

There’s an important caveat that the book isn’t a substitute for going to the doctor, but a component of self-care. Pain is an important warning to change bad habits. Those who draw for a living can often find themselves putting in long hours slumped over or engaging in stressful repetitive motions.

The three sections cover the basics, suggested exercises, and first aid information. In the first, readers learn about pain scales, warning signs to see a doctor, some basic anatomy, different types of injuries, and the importance of good posture. It sets the ground for the sections to come, but I was eager to move on to knowing what to do about any of this.

Draw Stronger

The exercise section compares cartoonists to athletes in the need to train. Some pages are very specific, laying out good hand positions for drawing, while others are more relevant to anyone, such as those emphasizing healthy habits like taking regular breaks and using the right equipment. There are sets of specific exercises for hands, wrists, neck, shoulders, and back. This is where the illustrations are most relevant, showing what the poses should look like.

The last section lays out how to use rest, ice, compression, and elevation. It was useful having that finally explained in detail, for better understanding of what each part of the process achieves.

Draw Stronger is a pretty targeted book, which much of the advice specific to illustrators and cartoonists, but there’s enough general advice (or that can be easily translated) that I’m glad I got a chance to read it. I need to go back through and sample some of the exercises, because my writing posture (couch, feet up, laptop on lap) is nothing to brag about, and no one’s getting any younger. Those aches and pains can sneak up on you, and better to be proactive in preventing them instead of having to treat them. Draw Stronger would be a lovely gift to the young artist in your life, to start them out thinking about health in the long term.

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