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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.

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