Thursday, August 06, 2009

Cartoon Classes

The children of the 21st century are bombarded with visual stimuli.

And, I am told, that the result of this steady feeding of pictures is that they have zero attention span. Games and Twitter and the cell phone and TV have zapped the ability to concentrate.

For a couple of hours a day this past July, both in New England and New York, I was given the opportunity to teach cartooning to kids between the ages of 9 and sixteen.

When I plan cartooning classes, all I do is remember what it was like to be a kid. When I was little, I wanted to be able to draw.


Above: a sketchbook drawing of mine of some of the emotions you can convey with cartoons. I keep this sketchbook handy when teaching.

When I was in my 20s, I assisted a comic book artist in New York City. I would work in his Lower East Side apartment studio for about 6 hours after my day job. This was in pre-computer days, and he had HUGE reference files, all bulging with comics. Many big filing cabintes, bulging with newsprint and photocopies. At least once a night, he would come across a comic book with art by Wally Wood or Reed Crandall, and, shoving it under my eye as I was inking, exclaim, "Look at the knowledge! Look at the knowledge."

This was what I wanted when I was a kid. I wanted to know how to draw expressions, how to draw a fist, how to draw the figure in motion, how to tell stories. I wanted the entire college of cartoon knowledge.

But there was no such place. At least, there was no place like that in the small towns I grew up in like Iowa City or Lawrence, KS or Moorhead, MN. I would study the comic books and the comic strips I saw. I read all I could: Steranko's HISTORY OF COMICS, CARTOONING THE ART AND THE BUSINESS by Mort Gerberg (who I would later meet and can now call a friend), POGO by Kelly, BARNABY by Crockett Johnson (those last 2 thanks to my Dad), and any comic strip reprint books in the library.

When it came to getting the cartoon knowledge, I would look everywhere and scavenge what I could.

The nice thing about my cartooning class is that I can pass along that knowledge. For instance, we draw hands. Step by step, I draw on the chalk board and the class draws with me.

And we draw expressions of all kinds.

And as we draw all this together, we create a world of character and motivation. Within a short time, I give them cartoon situations to draw and then they must resolve them on their own. I have a lot of exercises where we start out drawing together and then they have to pick up the ball and write and draw the ending. For instance, this astronaut plants a flag ...

Just a paper and pencil to keep these media-saturated kids busy, and they all rise to the cartoony challenge of what is going to happen to that astronaut? Will the monster eat him? Will he escape? Really. They are all so quietly working on their cartoons. You could hear nib drop.

And we draw people in action, animals, backgrounds, cartoon sound effects, you name it.

I don't have time to teach them everything, but I can give them some knowledge to go forward.

Look out for the next generation of cartoonists. They are very good.

Above: Just one of the many "finish the comic strip" handouts for the class. I draw the first panel, and the kids finish it. Everyone has his or her own take on the resolution.

Above: Another couple of first panel situations.


Mark Anderson said...

I wish when I was a kid I could've taken a Mike Lynch cartoon class! Heck, maybe I'll take one now!

BTW, that "devious" expression - WOW! That's devious indeed!

Nate Fakes said...

I grew up the same way (and funny how you lived in Kansas for awhile, me too - Lindsborg, KS). Anyhow - it was a matter of me teaching myself.

It'll be interesting if the kids these days will actually learn to "draw" or just do that on computers. I haven't seen a kid sketch a picture in years!

Anonymous said...

Great stuff, Mike. I've done a few of these and am constantly amazed and encouraged by kids' imaginations and enthusiasm.

Ah, Steranko's "History of Comics". There's a book I lovingly lingered over for days on end.

Jeff P.

Brian Fies said...

Nice exercises, Mike. You should publish them and start a chain of cartoon school franchises.

I share your and Jeff P.'s enthusiasm for Steranko's "History of Comics." I don't know how old Jeff is but I've got a good bead on you, Mike, and it's funny how toon enthusiasts around our age all share a few common touchstones. (Jerry Robinson's "The Comics" was another one for me, must've read it dozens of times.) We were all sitting in libraries thousands of miles apart reading the same couple of books.

Up-and-comers these days have a wealth of information we didn't: How To books, collections, comics history, graphic novels. But I don't know if they'll experience the delight of discovering a literary brother exposed to and absorbed by the exact same things they were.

Marek Bennett said...

Well put, Mike. Yes, they see it, they feel it... the human spark within them (and by extension within that blank paper and that pen) holds so much more than any ipod-nanoo-yeehaw3000 ever could!

Anonymous said...

Where can I get caricature lessons in person in the NYC area?

Mike Lynch said...

Kevin, you can contact the International Society of Caricature Artists and ask them: