Sometimes when I draw a batch of comics (I usually draw 20-30 new strips at a time, after writing for a few weeks) I forget things. One of the more embarrassing things is when I sign a strip twice. I always put my signature somewhere on each strip. For some reason, there are times when I forget whether I’ve signed one or not. The thing that amazes me is, there isn’t that much space to put my signature. So if I’ve already signed it, that means I’ve had to find two suitable places for it. Fortunately, I check my strips many times before sending them out; I can usually catch these mistakes before they become public. But if you happen to see my signature twice, that doesn’t mean I’m especially proud of my accomplishment. It just means I’m forgetful.
I’d like to begin rating my jokes in the same manner as maple syrup. You know, kind of like my own private Ebert & Roeper, except without the thumbs. Does anyone know the standards of maple syrup ratings? Dark, Amber, Light…A, B…I’ve seen them on labels, but have no clue as to what they mean. Plus, I’ve found that almost all real maple syrup tastes pretty darn good, regardless of rating. I won’t get all depressed if I run a weeklong series of Amber jokes.
When I got to thinking about the different type of jokes I tell, I wondered about the ones that are quick to come up with and require little dialogue. They don’t happen often, and they often seem so “light” that I wonder if it’s even worth the time to draw them. Not that they aren’t any good – I personally like comics that are witty but don’t employ endless dialogue (think Mutts). It’s just one of those things I think about, as I sit at my drawing table. “This comic takes a while to draw. The person reading it will likely stare for less than 20 seconds, grunt, and move on.”
Should I really make that person sit another 5 seconds? Should I be making “heavier” jokes if I’m going to invest my time into drawing them up real purty-like? I think, no: comics are funny because they are light. If I wanted to write dialogue-heavy, meticulously reworked jokes, I’d write a 500-page novel and be done with it.
It sounds absurd, but this is the kind of debate I have in my head as I draw comics. “Should I even be doing this? What’s the point?” Then I have to prove to myself why I’m doing comics and not anything else. Fortunately, I manage to persuade myself.
It’s about building up just enough self-esteem to continue on. I love seeing the finished product, printed on newsprint. When I get to that point, I’m always happy.
This post started on one topic but ended on an entirely different one.
At the risk of starting my blog on a serious note, I’d like to speak for a moment about ART.
Not Mr. Garfunkel, specifically. Generally.
When I was a kid learning to draw from other people’s comics, I never really knew what the creative process was. I mean, I know what a duck looks like. I know a realistic drawing of a duck can be done by looking at the duck and drawing what you see. But I couldn’t figure out how Chuck Jones got Daffy Duck from a real duck. How many steps were there? Did he first master ducks, then distort the features? I didn’t know.
Further complicating things was a man known only as Pablo Picasso. His drawings (and, okay, some pretty good paintings, too) were so far from “real.” How did he make the connection? I was also wondering, though I wouldn’t have put it to myself that way at the time, how I could look at one of his drawings and immediately understand it as a depiction of a real thing.
An answer came in the form of an old movie of Picasso drawing on a pane of glass. The camera was situated on one side of the glass, looking directly at Picasso. Picasso was looking at the camera. He then went on to draw on the glass. It was perfect! You got to see how he drew, without that annoying “over the shoulder” shot so common when showing cartoonists at the drawing board. And lo and behold, he drew a bull exactly the way he might have on one of his canvasses. He didn’t draw a regular bull, then draw his bull over it and erase the first bull. It was directly from his brain to the page (or, glass).
When drawing something I haven’t drawn before, I still tend to make an attempt at realism first. I’ll draw the gecko as it looks in the photograph. Then I’ll start embellishing. Make the eyes bigger, the fingers more prominent. I’ll streamline things to make the whole picture more cartoony. And of course I have to start imagining the way it moves, to see it from different angles so I don’t end up drawing the same picture over and over. This last part has become much easier as the internet becomes faster and more image-heavy. Instead of having one reference picture, I can find five or ten fairly easily. There are lots of geckos on the internet.
In this way, I think of drawing as a way to get from A to B, but B is an unknown destination. It is terrifying at first (some may say paralyzing), but as you become accustomed to not knowing where you’re headed, you start to like it.
One other thing I got from that movie. Picasso had obviously made a visual language for himself. It wasn’t a formula – that bull looked different every time. But it was a way for him to draw anything and still make it look like he drew it. I think that this is the ultimate goal for a cartoonist. To create a world that is unique yet recognizable, where everything fits together but doesn’t look cut from a mold. That is great cartooning.