Friday, September 11, 2009

Scholarship in Cartooning

Above: Quick -- who is this a caricature of?

I've met hundreds of people who tell me they are cartoonists. That's how they describe themselves. Some of them are professionals, who make a living from cartooning, others are on their way there. At least that's the plan. "I am a cartoonist," they say.

Anyway, a lot of people, regardless of making money from their cartoons, call themselves professional cartoonists.

Cartooning's not like, let's say, podiatry or being a dentist. There's no standard of scholarship in cartooning; there's no federal or local licensing standard for a cartoonist. And my opinion doesn't matter. People have to like your work -- enough to part with money -- and that puts you on the road to being pro.

Which brings me to the above drawing.

One kinda cartoonist a lot of people know is the caricaturist. I see caricature artists at a lot of events.

If you want to come down to sheer numbers, there must be more Bad Caricature than good. I know some great caricaturists (Mort Drucker, John Reiner, Tom Richmond, Sam Viviano) and I have no idea how they do what they do -- and how they do it so seemingly effortlessly. I admire their work immensely.

At our local county fair, there's always a caricature artist. He's of the big-head-teensy-body school of style. That's OK, if you like that sort of thing. And the drawings are, uh, usually OK. I mean, they know how to draw fat people not-so-fat and ugly people not-so-ugly, etc.

Still, I don't know how this caricature business works. I guess you put out your WILL DRAW YOUR CARICATURE $20 shingle, and then, sit back and see who parts with their money.

And now there are these stick figure things, like the one above I nicked from a friend's MySpace page. They all look like Matt Feazel cartoons (a guy whose work I admire) or like Jeff Kinney drew them (ditto). And I see them on cars. They cost a couple of dollars per figure if you want to buy them for your car, by the way. And people do. Some businessman is getting rich.

And then some businessmen skimp. THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, the one from the 1970s, is out on DVD. Seeing the images is what started this rant. I rented the first disc of the second season which has these menu pages:

OK, who ARE these people?

From the sitcomicsonline descrip:

The main menu screen is a very interesting one. [That's damning with the faintest of praise now isn't it? - Mike] Each disc (and disc side) has a different design featuring a drawing of two (or more) of the regular cast members (caricatures, I think) [The poor guy isn't even sure what to call them - Mike] on a different background drawn to look like a set. Disc 1/Side A features drawings of Carol, Emily and Bob. Disc 1/Side B features Howard and Jerry. Disc 2/Side A features Howard, Carol & Bob, Disc 2/Side B features Emily and Jerry. Disc 3/Side A features Jerry, Bob & Emily, Disc 3/Side B features Howard & Carol.

It's just astonishingly bad work. Heaven knows the story. Maybe the DVD people had an employee whose brother's cousin knew a kid who would do it for free. I don't know. Hard to believe that this art was accepted. It's ugly and it sure looks wrong.

But the way to making money -- becoming a pro -- is to get money for your work.

You can, to paraphrase the 2000 Year Old Man, put you hand on a rock and look up the sky and proclaim TODAY I AM A CARTOONIST and, well, there you have it. And then you go on LiveJournal or DeviantArt or Wordpress and start "publishing."

Sometimes I hear that when you criticize, you are not being supportive. This is fine for a toddler, but this is the real world and you gotta draw Bob Newhart like Bob Newhart, OK?



Unknown said...

That is so amazingly horrible. When I first saw the cropped image on the top of the page I had no idea that was supposed to be Bob Newhart (who I'm a big fan of, and used to watch both of his tv series, and loved him in Catch 22) which is the ultimate goal of any cartoonist. The style reminds me of something Trey and Matt would have done from South Park, but they always make their characters look a little bit like who they're supposed to represent. Pretty abysmal.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen a post like this from you before! You tell 'em!

It's even worse in web design, which I used to dabble in years ago. Every kid that knew a thing or two about HTML would call themselves a web designer. Their portfolios would consist of a) sites they made for themselves, b) sites they made for imaginary clients (seriously).

On the other hand, don't we all have to start somewhere? The first cartoons I mailed to a magazine (at 13 years old) must have looked like crap, I'm sure.

Gregory Kogan said...

^ Ah that's me up there... Didn't realize I wasn't signed it.

Mark Anderson said...

Wow! That's worse than my bastardized Irish accent. Good lord!

dan reynolds said...

I like your thinking in this spot. I did not know who it was and I'm very familiar with Bob Newhart. If you're going to pay someone (or maybe not in this instance)
It IS fascinating that some folks can draw stick figures and make millions. I guess that goes to show success in this business often involves marketing as much (and maybe more, in some cases) as good art. The "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" concept seems to come into play here. Oh, and "pet rocks, too." If you have a good market and advertising plan, you can dress a rock up and get a schmuck, okay LOTS of schmucks, to fork over a 5 spot.

Lenny Boudreau said...

1. I was going to guess it was Jim McKay from the old Wide World of Sports.

2. Look at how much money those Life is Good characters have made. Amazing.

3. When marketing a product to the masses, we need to keep in mind that the majority of people are average. :-)

Tom R said...

Folks- Do not automatically blame the artist for doing a poor job on this. It may very well be the case that Bob Newhart or his "handlers" art directed the living crap out of that piece of art until it no longer looked anything like Newhart. The others have at least a workablke likeness to the people the depict, but the Newhart one is a big, fat miss. I find it hard to believe the artist in question can do a functional job ont he others and miss Newhart so badly.

I could tell you some horror story that would make your ink wells dry up about celebrities/athletes allowed to approve their own likenesses in a caricature project that resulted in my refusing to finish the job or demanding my name not be associated with the final result. No kidding.

Tom R said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom R said...

Oh, and thanks Mike for including my name in that otherwise awesome list of caricature masters.