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Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 88
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The best cartooning is efficient visual storytelling-it is as much a matter of writing as it is of drawing. In this book, noted cartoonist and illustrator Ivan Brunetti presents fifteen distinct lessons on the art of cartooning, guiding his readers through wittily written passages on cartooning terminology, techniques, tools, and theory. Supplemented by Brunetti's own illustrations, prepared specially for this book, these lessons move the reader from spontaneous drawings to single-panel strips and complicated multipage stories.

    Through simple, creative exercises and assignments, Brunetti offers an unintimidating approach to a complex art form. He looks at the rhythms of storytelling, the challenges of character design, and the formal elements of comics while composing pages in his own iconic style and experimenting with a variety of tools, media, and approaches. By following the author's sophisticated and engaging perspective on the art of cartooning, aspiring cartoonists of all ages will hone their craft, create their personal style, and discover their own visual language.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-17259-1
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-2)
    (pp. 3-10)

    It is likely the height of arrogance, not to mention utter foolishness, for me to attempt writing a book such as this. Considering that all human effort could perhaps be an Ozymandian folly, the search for meaning, catharsis, and dignity in the humble act of cartooning may seem an especially delusional quest. Perhaps this will end up as simply another “blip” in a long line of misguided, ineffectual primers written by mediocre cartoonists—a limp, halted spike in an already insipid graph of unworthiness. Who, after all, wants to take lessons from losers?

    I would point out only that teaching...

    (pp. 11-24)

    This course provides students with a means for creative self-discovery and the exploration of complex ideas. Students will record their observations, experiences, and memories in a sketchbook and then translate this material into various pictographic narratives of varying lengths. We will explore the rhythms of storytelling, discuss the formal elements of comics, and compose comics pages using this iconic visual language, all the while experimenting with a variety of tools, media, and approaches.

    Week 1: Spontaneous Drawing

    Week 2: Single-Panel Cartoons

    Week 3: Four-Panel Strips

    Week 4: A Simple Page

    Week 5: The Democratic Grid

    Week 6: The Hierarchical Grid...

    (pp. 25-28)

    Cartooning is built upon the Five Cs: calligraphy, composition, clarity, consistency, and communication, each reinforcing the other. We will consider the doodle as the fundament of cartooning. Accordingly, the following exercises should stress minimalism, dynamic drawing, and clear, simple lines.

    Using your sketchbook and a pencil or pen of your choice, spend 3–4 minutes drawing a car. Then, start over and draw it in 2 minutes. Then 1 minute. Then 30 seconds. Then 15 seconds. And then 5 seconds. Draw faster at each step—that is, draw the entire car within the time limit. Repeat this same process for...

    (pp. 29-36)

    This week we will focus on composing a single image that tells a story, and we will also begin to incorporate words as an integral part of the whole. Because we will not always be able to stand over the shoulders of our readers, explaining to them what they are seeing and what it all means, we must develop the ability not only to draw clearly, but also to compose the image so that it makes visual and narrative sense.

    It is at this early stage that I begin to ask tougher questions of the students: What exactly am I...

    (pp. 37-40)

    Not unlike the marks that form letters and words, we can also think of the lines of our drawing as having a “sound”; they can be cacophonous, flow melodiously, or even evoke silence. Think of a thin, curved dotted line, a harshly jagged scrawl, or a thick droop of ink. Can you hear them in your head? Just as calligraphy can represent sound, so too can composition within a panel represent sound: a few horizontal and vertical lines can suggest the repose and stillness of a quiet room, while a jumble of diagonal lines can suggest an unruly, loud mob....

    (pp. 41-44)

    Some of the more impatient students are probably itching to start drawing pages with fancy layouts, characters bursting out of the panels, word balloons shaped like icicles, diagonal borders, and the like. Yet, at this early stage, the serious student would best focus on capturing the nuances of rhythm, movement, character, and gesture before attempting to dazzle us with cleverness, pyrotechnics, or showboating. As in Ovid’s famous dictum, “True Art is to Conceal Art.”

    In the following exercise, we will again be working without words. I understand these “silent” comics might be frustrating for you; allow me to explain. We...

    (pp. 45-48)

    By “democratic,” I am referring to a grid of panels that are all exactly the same size, from which we can infer their equal weight and value in the “grand scheme” of the page. We can also think of this type of grid as an invisible template; it does not call immediate attention to itself, but invites us to an unimpeded narrative flow, acting as a living “calendar” of events, sweeping or microscopic. The democratic grid need not be uninteresting or undistinguished; with a spirited approach, it can be the apotheosis of elegance, simplicity, and sophistication.

    We humans intuitively divide...

    (pp. 49-52)

    We can liken drawing a comic to creating a miniature reality on the page, or, as Chris Ware has said, “dreaming on paper.” Let us consider the dream: is it autobiography or fiction? On the one hand, dreams are leaps of imagination, evidence of the plasticity of the information stored in your brain, recombining in sometimes fantastic, startling ways that you could never imagine in waking life—thus a form of fiction. At the same time, that fiction could come only from your own particular brain and the stimuli it has processed and retained. Every character in your dream is...

  12. WEEK 7: TOOLS
    (pp. 53-56)

    Intelligence, thoughtfulness, and sensitivity make an artist—not the blithe, confident application of brushstrokes. We master our tools so that we can tell our stories, navigating our way through self-doubt as we stumble and search for truth, not so that we can extrovertedly make our pens “sing.” The depth of an artist’s intellect and perceptiveness is always evident in his drawing, but not so much in the surface qualities (the “prettiness” of the art) as in the compositional solidity and the sum total of thought and experience that informs each line, no matter how spontaneous or rough.

    Never rest on...

  13. WEEK 8: STYLE
    (pp. 57-60)

    Last week, we experienced firsthand how each tool naturally guides us toward the particular set of marks for which it is best suited. We need not slavishly and laboriously imitate the surface effects of one tool by forcing them out of another. After many failures, we will develop empathy for our tools and discover their intended purpose, and soon enough they will begin to “behave” appropriately. As Jim Woodring once said, “Craft is control.” Control is a consequence of your firm but loving hand; it develops best with practice, without obtrusion. Remember, it is a poor craftsman who blames his...

    (pp. 61-64)

    The Sunday newspaper comic strips of the first half of the 20th century, printed in color and oversized, provided ample “canvases” for cartoonists to incorporate ornamental designs, ancillary strips featuring minor (or entirely separate) characters from the main narrative, even meditative metapanels—all interlocked in the overall page structure.

    As an integral part of the whole, color can solidify spaces, harmonize compositions, or strike necessary discordant notes; it is yet another expressive tool at the cartoonist’s disposal. Color, according to Goethe, is not a static quantity, but the interchange of light and shadow, or “a degree of darkness, allied to...

    (pp. 65-72)

    And so, we arrive at our last assignment: a story of four pages in length, on any subject, drawn in any dimension, in black and white or in color, using any tools or techniques, with any layout you wish. This will give you the opportunity to consider the center “spread” as a potential composition, and the story as a whole as yet another level to the composition. The story could be fiction, non-fiction, biography, autobiography, journalism, or a genre of your own invention. Allow yourself 5 weeks of work for this final project. The challenge will be to divide the...

    (pp. 73-74)

    Well, how did it turn out? I hope you are satisfied with (perhaps even proud of) your final story and that you have found the course both challenging and edifying. If I have done my job, you should see a noticeable progression in your work from 15 weeks ago to now. At the same time, I also hope you can look at your work objectively and identify some areas where there is room for improvement. As Richard Taylor warned, “The mediocre eye is never able to recognize mediocrity—that’s the penalty of ignorance.”

    Unfortunately, you will probably have to draw...

    (pp. 75-77)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 78-78)