For somebody who claims he’s “not that into mustaches,” cartoonist Phil McAndrew is pretty damn good at drawing them! For this special guest post, he breaks down the creative process behind one of his most popular (mustache-featuring, natch) comic strips. Just so you have an idea of what you’re about to get into, here’s a quick synposis: mustache, drum solo, mustache, motorcycle, true love, mustache. Ready for it?
Are You Man Enough is, by a long shot, the most popular thing I’ve ever drawn. I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but just to give you an idea of how popular it is: It’s got 180,000 views on stumbleupon. It’s my best selling mini-comic. Copies of the hand-made mini-comic version have an actual fuzzy little mustache attached to the cover (I will be printing just enough copies to give away as rewards for my kickstarter project and then probably never printing it again outside of the book!). I usually sell out of it when I exhibit at conventions. It was included on a bunch of “best mini-comics of 2008” lists and even got a little mention on USA Today’s Pop Candy blog. I was officially saluted by The American Mustache Institute having drawn the comic. More than once I’ve had guys that compete in big mustache competitions send me friend requests on Facebook. I’ve had a couple of film students email me, asking if they could make short films based on it. People just seem to really like this comic!
The whole idea for this comic started when one of my cousins got married. My brother Tyler and I were hanging out at the wedding, drinking and joking around. We started talking about how boring weddings can be (for the record, the wedding we were at was actually a lot of fun) and how there’s got to be a more exciting way to display your love for someone… like you should have to perform some sort of amazing feat if you want to get married. An amazing feat to show the girl “I love you this much.” I want to attend that wedding ceremony. Defeat fifty guys in armed combat or jump over a swimming pool on a skateboard or… perform a really cool drum solo.
At the time I was also struggling with having just graduated from college. When you finish college, every single person you encounter congratulates you and then immediately asks: “So what’s next? What are you going to do with the rest of your life? What sort of amazingly lucrative job do you have lined up?” I graduated with a BFA in illustration, which basically means I was handed a really fancy piece of paper that says “This guy is pretty good at drawing pictures!” but I didn’t really have any job prospects at all. I wanted to be a freelance illustrator, but getting to a point where you can pay the bills as a freelance illustration can take years. I’m still struggling with it. It was really frustrating, being asked about my plans for the future by pretty much every single person I knew and only being able to shrug and say “I guess I’m going live in my parent’s attic and continue to draw pictures for a while…”
When I started drawing Are You Man Enough, I set a few rules for myself. I wanted to keep the pencil drawings as loose and vague as possible, using them just as a vague compositional guide. I did most of the actual drawing directly in ink (I’ve stuck with this method for every comic I’ve drawn since). I also decided that I wouldn’t do any digital cleaning up or editing of the images. No white-out. If I made a big mess or splattered some ink or drew an ugly line, I just had to go with it and make it work somehow. I wanted the drawings to have sort of a “stupid energy” to them.
This image of the father’s shirt exploding into tiny scraps of fabric, the chair getting kicked aside, the little table tipping over… I’ve always been really pleased with how this panel came out.
Drum solo panel — I remember spending a lot of time trying to decide exactly which drum sounds to put in this panel. I’ve played drums in a couple bands myself, so this was an important detail for me! If I were to draw this comic again, I think I’d make the drum solo longer. It would go on for two or three panels. Though now that I think about it, I think I did actually originally plan to do it that way and then ended up deciding against it for some reason. I can’t remember why! It may have had something to do with the way the comic flowed from page to page when printed.
“I summoned it with my mustache” — If I remember correctly, I didn’t have this dialogue written until I sat down to actually draw this part. It just came to me suddenly. I think this is my favorite bit of the entire comic. I also remember being very intimidated by the prospect of drawing a motorcycle. But I just sucked it up and told myself “what’s the worst that can happen? You’ll draw a bad motorcycle and then life will go on.” I was pleased with how it turned out.