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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Un-United Nations

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The King is Dead, Long Earn the King!

This week marks the 35th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. While Elvis rests-in-peace he continues to make around $50 million annually. According to Forbes magazine, since 1977 Elvis has been The King of all dead celebrity earners. While other dead celebrities may come and go, Forbes says that Elvis has always been in the top three when it comes to afterlife earning power. This is due to a combination of his music publishing royalties and merchandising. Elvis merchandising was unparalleled during his lifetime, and it continues to go on almost four decades after his death.

Today's cartoon is by no means an anti-Elvis statement. What I’m baffled by is the excessive merchandising, and the people who embrace it.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Summer School Pt. 3 - Typical Gag Types

Over the last two weeks we’ve been having a discussion about the hows and whys of cartooning. We have covered subjects such as; the creative process, idea generation, method, personal style, and content.  Today we’ll wrap up our three weeks of cartoon appreciation with a look at common types of gags. To be honest, I’ve never really been quite comfortable with the term “gag”.  It makes me think of cats expelling hairballs and so forth. Anyway, we will briefly cover some typical gag types using examples from this blog.

In the early days, I had no clue as to how one creates a gag or writes a punch line. I had learned the basics of cartooning but the gag writing process was a mystery. So I made it a point to carefully observe the construction of gags in primarily single panel cartoons that are found in newspapers, magazines, and anthologies. I studied many of my favorite cartoonists like Gary Larsen (The Far Side) for example. Over time I noticed patterns starting to emerge. Some of these basic gag/joke patterns are listed below. This is by no means all of the possible variations, and a given cartoon can easily be a combination of two or three types of gags. I don’t know how other cartoonists classify their joke material, but here is my personal list. Many of these are self-evident by their names.

Substitution- Most "Far Side" cartoons are of the Substitution variety. Substituting something for what is normally expected. The Octopi Movement  In this case we have a typical domestic situation but with eight-legged sea creatures.

Reversal- This is self-explanatory. Herring Houdini  Harry Houdini was famous for performing underwater escapes among other things. This cartoon also works as a Substitution, or even a Parallel see below.

Extreme- taking something to an illogical extreme, or an unexpected extrapolation. Self-Portrait

Oversimplification- reducing something to an illogical extreme. Virtual

Literal- taking a situation or something too literally. The B-Word  In this case using the “b-word” as it was originally intended.

Surreal- an off the wall scenario.  Hoax  Need I say more? This one raises many questions.

Pun/Wordplay-  Clown Fish A pun based upon an old saying. This one would also qualify as a Cliche.

Cliche- taking a cliched scenario or saying and giving it a new twist. The idea of castaways on a deserted island has been done so many times as to have become a cartoon cliche. Marooned  I do one of these "island" cartoons each year as a challenge to myself.

Anticipation- anticipating what will happen next. Beware This toon also has an Extreme element.

Incongruous- placing unrelated things together.  Foundling This also works as a Parallel.

Parallel- I think that Parallels are easier to show than to explain.  His, Hers, It's 
I hope you have found this series of posts to be fun and informative. Perhaps now you'll see cartoons in a different way. I look forward to your comments.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Summer School Pt. 2: Method, Style & Content in Cartooning

Simplicity: Unlike most other things in life, cartooning has very few rules. Those rules however, must be obeyed. In this case that's easy because the main one to remember is simplicity. A famous Bard once said something like; “Brevity is the soul of wit”. Extraneous detail is distracting and counter-productive. In cartooning, every line must have a purpose and every word counts. Cartooning is an art form that is the very definition of  less-is-more. Cartooning is a visual language that relies heavily upon symbols. One must make it a point to study icons and symbols. Study how they are used and what it is that makes them universally recognizable. Part of the fun and challenge for me is to distill a drawing or gag down to the least amount of information possible, while still effectively conveying the message. In my work I strive for a bold, uncluttered look that will reproduce well no matter what the size or format.

Style: Developing a personal style takes time and it is a process that cannot be rushed. To develop your individual style, the first thing to do is to study and copy (for practice -- not plagiarism) the artists you enjoy the most. This is true for any artistic endeavor. Over time your own style, voice and sensibility will emerge. Your style will be defined by the sum of your skills and limitations. If you are passionate about what you create, then your style will continue to evolve.

Content:  Generally there are two basic choices in regard to content. Those choices being topical and timeless. Within topicality there are two types; cultural and political. Political cartoons have the shortest shelf life, and they can (sadly) become irrelevant within weeks. Culturally topical subjects have a longer life that can extend for months, and even years. The timeless subjects are related to the human condition, those things that have been and always will be true about people. This is the type of content I prefer. Some of the best advice I ever got was to read the classics of literature in order to understand the human condition. It was also suggested to me that I make an effort to be controversial. What that means is finding a way to disturb people simply in order to get attention. Angering and upsetting people is easy, and any idiot can do that. We see this everyday. I believe it takes more talent and skill to amuse large numbers of people, and to perhaps get them thinking. At this point in my career I don’t care to alienate. Maybe after I’m famous I can piss people off...and I'll still probably be rewarded for it.

Next week will be our last installment of Summer School where we'll discuss the different types of cartoon gags, and how to recognize them.