Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Diversification - the Cartoonist as Polymath.

Of course, if you want to be pedantic, cartoonists don't really diversify when they send cartoon drawings to different markets, and strictly speaking the 'Polymath' of the early twentieth century was a real 'Renaissance man', an actual 'Homo Universalis' learned broadly in life, the arts and the sciences, whereas what I'm describing is someone who draws cartoons, comics, comix, comic strips, et al. It sounds mightily impressive though, eh?

Explanation: Gag Cartoons are, historically, single-column cartoons, drawn around 5"x3" or 6"x4", mostly line drawings that used to appear every day in newspapers, national and regional, up and down the country. The punchline, when there is one, is usually a pun or a gag, and I think the ideal length (very limited space, remember) is about 6 to 8 words.

Magazine Cartoons began with Punch Magazine. The cartoon can extend to 2 or 3 columns, or even a whole page, and the punchline, if there is one, can be as long or as short as is needed. Space is not a premium where this more sophisticated brand of humour is concerned.

So once again I find myself facing a cultural divide. On the one hand a lot of cartoonists from the UK are content to be simply 'gag cartoonists'; and like the good inverted snobs they all are, they declare that they are proud to be so, despite the fact that there are so few gag cartoon markets in the UK that they can't possibly all be gag cartoonists, and at the same time they are so deeply ashamed of being so that they never tell their neighbours, or anyone else, exactly what they do for a living - instead describing themselves variously as 'graphic artists', or 'illustrators' or just mumbling something incoherent along the lines of 'I draw things'.

This proud declaration, of course, is undermined by the evidence of the work they actually do. Between them they 'illustrate' articles, 'design' greetings cards, 'create' comic strips and panels, publish their own mini comics, 'draw' magazine cartoons, 'illustrate' books and provide safety 'drawings' for manuals and Trade journals, they 'draw' editorial cartoons, some even 'write' the articles they 'illustrate' (Wilbur), in short, they hardly ever fall into the narrow and restrictive category of 'gag cartoonist'. However, they are happy to be labelled so, and consequently, I'm perfectly happy that is the case.

In the US, where I do most of my work, on the other hand, I find that whilst the cartoonists I speak to are happy enough being 'cartoonists', they are acutely aware that such a description should be as mailable as possible. For instance a 'comic book artist' may be a 'cartoonist' and a member of a Cartoonist Club, but she is also a 'comic book artist'. Likewise, the NCS may attract cartoonists from all walks of life, but whilst they are 'cartoonists' together, or collectively, they are also illustrators, comic strip artists, graphic artists and author/illustrators depending on the job they are doing.

Today then, I am a cartoonist and I am drawing cartoons. Just last week, though, I was still a cartoonist, but I was finishing the digital colouring of a greetings card design for Marian Heath Greeting Cards, and at the same time illustrating a graphic novel. This may all sound like semantics, but I can assure you there is much more to it than that, you see, a publication that once bought cartoons may well have dropped them, but it will continue to carry maybe a comic strip, a graphic panel, and pages of illustrations. And those 'features', the strips and the panel may well be handled by a 'Features Editor'. The 'illustrations' are not submitted like cartoons and they are not submitted to the Cartoon Editor; the Art Editor is the person the Illustrator deals with, and it's possible that the Art Editor will also be the person dealing with the comic strip and the panel - all this can be done despite the fact that the Cartoon Editor and the cartoons themselves have been shown the door. Look, it doesn't matter to me what you decide to call yourselves, all I'm saying is this; it may not be a good idea to be too closely associated, all the time, with the catch-all noun 'cartoonist'.

Another thing to bear in mind, these days, is that almost every publisher out there is desperate to sign up Graphic Novel creators. Now, I'm not privy to their private thoughts, but I'm betting that when they are on the hunt for Graphic Novel creators, that is people capable of both writing and illustrating a multi-page story, they are not going to be looking amongst the ranks of the 'gag cartoonists' they find online or in the Gag Cartoonist directories - call it a hunch. Just to be on the safe side, I think maybe an 'Illustrator', is the best thing to be. So that's what I reckon I am now, an Illustrator.

Anyway, as I said, just last week I was finishing a Greetings Card for Marian Heath Greetings Cards. So there I was, 'designing' a card - but it was a cartoon - card - if you get my drift? But then I realised that I was utilizing a number of skills, like 'drawing', like 'writing', there was the 'scanning', and once the digital image was actually on the computer, the 'resizing', the 'layering', 'digital colouring'-'trapping' ... in short I was exercising a whole variety of skills that the phrase 'gag cartoonist' totally fails to signify or connote. And it was right there and then, to quote Bertie Wooster, 'that the scales quite literally fell from my eyes' and I realised that the business of cartooning had changed so much, so dramatically, that word 'cartoonist' could no longer contain all the skills the job now requires one to be proficient in. So, there you go, I'm sorry, 'gag cartoonist' doesn't cover it for me, not now that someone else doesn't add the dots and the colour and the separations and get my work 'camera-ready'.

So anyway, whilst I was working on the 'illustration', it I moved it between Adobe Photoshop and Corel Paintshop Pro (a much cheaper option) depending on what I wanted to do, so I grabbed some layer shots for you, from Paintshop Pro that shows Layering to its full advantage (with both these programmes you can work in layers and both open and save PSD files):

Every element, the skin tones, the door colour, the floor tiles, the line drawing, the hair colour, is each on a separate layer, and the drawing was sent in unflattened; which gives the art department the option to change anything they don't like, such as the patterned floor, or even to produce cards for blondes and cards for redheads, with a minimum of fuss.


euphrosene said...

Evening Rod - good to read your informative posts as always.

I'd like to see more on layering for the totally uninformed!

Cheers Euphrosene

Rod McKie said...

Hi Euphrosene. Haven't heard from you for a bit. Hope all is going well.

Do bear in mind that when I say 'cartoonist' I include the writers. It's just that I think of the writers as part of the cartooning machine so I don't single them out.

Euphrosene said...

It's manic at the moment. I have a new website ( and will soon be bravely uploading my first cartoons, Rod.

I have already uploaded some paintings, so feel free to comment.

btw let me know if you would like me to add your website to my links?

Cheers Euphrosene