Cartooning Tip #4

May 17, 2016

ToonQuote:Peirce-lzClick image to enlarge. This cartoon tip originally appeared in the January-February 2016 issue of The Cartoon!st, the newsletter of the National Cartoonists Society. All series images and texts are copyright © 2016 by the artist.


Today’s Quote

December 30, 2015

jknox“Whoever tied the Mylar birthday balloon to the dead squirrel on Main Street thinks big.

Jennifer L. Knox

Days of Shame & Failure, Bloof Books

Note: I rarely buy poetry, but I like to read about poets—especially one who writes a poem titled “Iowa Plates,” with a first line that would make a great caption-less gag cartoon. I just received the collection in the mail; the poem plus the book title alone is well worth $15 . . .


Today’s Gag

March 20, 2015

BeachDoodle:BlogTo buy reprint and/or other rights for this cartoon, visit my archives at cartoonstock.com, and jantoo.com. You may also have this cartoon reproduced on mugs, t-shirts and other products. Here’s the link: zazzle.com/mugtoons/products

Copyright © 2015 Jim Sizemore.

Chast On Steig

September 14, 2011

As it happens, two of my favorite cartoonist’s are Roz Chast and William Steig. Here we find them together for — as far as I know — the first time. (And what a team!) I lifted this piece from the “Drawn!,” website (to which you can link from the sidebar on this blog). “Drawn!,”  in turn, picked up the item from The Paris Review blog, where it originally appeared on September 1, 2011. (You’ll find a link to Paris Review by tapping Ms. Chast’s name, below.) If you love these two artists, you’ll enjoy — and learn a bunch of interesting stuff —  from this short essay.

Cats, Dogs, Men, Women, Ninnies & Clowns

September 1, 2011 | by Roz Chast

I first noticed William Steig’s covers and cartoons around 1970, when I was a teenager and would page through my parents’ New Yorker magazines. His drawings didn’t look like the rest of the cartoons in the magazine. They didn’t have gag lines. There were no boardrooms, no cocktail parties with people saying witty things to one another. His men and women looked as if they were out of the Past, although I wasn’t completely clear as to what era of the Past they were from. Sometimes the drawings made me laugh, and sometimes they didn’t, but I always wanted to look at them. I had a sense that these cartoons were made by someone who had had to create his own language, both visual and verbal, with which to express his view of the world.

His subjects? Animals, both real and imaginary. Also cowboys, farmers, knights on horseback, damsels in distress, gigantic ladies and teeny-tiny men, grandmas, clowns of indeterminate gender, average joes, families, old couples, young couples, artists, deep thinkers, fools, loners, lovers, and hoboes, among other things.

Blue Moon

Steig’s drawings seem to flow effortlessly from his mind to his pen and onto the paper. I doubt he ever looked at a blank sheet and thought, “I have nothing worthwhile to say today,” or “I can’t draw a car as well as Joe Shmoe, so why don’t I crawl back into bed and wait for the day to be over.” Steig gave himself permission to be playful and experimental. One of the many wonderful things about looking at his drawings is their message, especially to his fellow artists: Draw what you love and what interests you. Draw it how you want to draw it. When we are children we do this instinctively. But somewhere in our passage from childhood to adulthood, the ability to be truly and fearlessly creative is often lost. To quote Pablo Picasso, Steig’s favorite artist, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered

William Steig produced more than fifty books, from early collections like Small Fry (1944) to children’s books like Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (1969) and Shrek! (1990), which he wrote and illustrated late in his career. Unlike many artists who find a style early in their lives and then spend the rest of their careers perfecting it, Steig changed his style over the years. His work from the forties and fifties is fairly conventional. In the drawings of his middle years, his style is more angular and geometric. And in his last decades, his line becomes very fluid and playful, and there is an explosion of color, especially in his children’s books.

Steig, who was a follower of Wilhelm Reich, was deeply interested in psychology. Much of his work looks at society from an outsider’s point of view, observing with humor and compassion the compromises we make when we grow up and try to conform to society’s expectations. His earliest collection (and one of my favorites) was About People (1939). Each page contains a drawing representing a different emotional state, with a caption written underneath in his handwriting. Some combinations of drawing and title are fairly obvious, like the man sitting in a chair calmly smoking a cigarette. Behind the chair is a huge octopus with four tentacles wrapped around the man. The caption is simply “Poise.” But some of the drawings are not of people at all. One contains a roughly drawn spiral, and in the center of the spiral is a black blot with a tiny white dot in the middle. The caption is: “Father’s Angry Eye.”

Self-Contempt

These are not your typical cartoons, and especially not typical of cartooning at the time. They’re offbeat. They’re also about something otherwise intangible: actual emotions.

Hostess

Steig’s interest in psychology continued with Persistent Faces (1945), which explores a variety of visual types, like the “Hostess,” who has alarmingly twinkly eyes and teeth, and a worried man’s face, captioned “Straw in the Wind.” The Agony in the Kindergarten (1950), which he dedicated to Reich, is filled with drawings of children and accompanying statements like “I need that kid like I need a hole in the head,” and “Stop asking so many questions.” Perhaps Steig’s most famous cartoon of this period is “Mother loved me but she died,” from The Lonely Ones (1942). These demonstrate Steig’s ear for language, and also demonstrate his ability to look at life through a child’s eyes.

Just a Dream

Steig was an exceptionally gifted colorist, and he used color in a luminous, instinctive, and expressive way. Even when the goings-on are terrifying, as they often are in Rotten Island (1984)—my favorite of all of his children’s books—they’re never depressing. His dark colors are about a gleeful darkness, the darkness children feel when they know their most trusted adult is going to tell them a spooky story. The color isn’t over-fussed or second-guessed or muddified.

Steig loved pattern. Rugs, sofas, chairs, wallpaper, ladies’ dresses, and men’s shirts were all miniature canvases where he could make up designs—diamonds or flowers or spirals or something that looks like an upside-down banana peel. Even a sky could be patterned with lines or brick-like shapes or decorative cloud puffs.

Carnival

In the preface to his collection Dreams of Glory (1953), Steig writes, “We can laugh at the pretense and pose and foolishness of an irrational ideology and at the same time feel the pity and love—for a living being—that should be ingredients of all humor.” Sometimes I think of the Cartoon World as a big house with a Magazine Panel Cartoon Wing, a Newspaper Daily Strip Wing, a Graphic Novel Wing, an Underground Comics wing, a Superhero Comics wing, an Animation wing, and lots of other wings I don’t know about yet. Steig’s drawings throw open a bunch of windows and let in some fresh air, for which I am deeply grateful. He saw the world of human beings as absurd, hilarious, terrifying, mystifying, and infinitely worth observing.

Roz Chast’s cartoons have been published in magazines such as The New Yorker, Scientific American, and Mother Jones. Her next book is What I Hate: From A to Z. A longer version of this essay will appear in Cats, Dogs, Men, Women, Ninnies, & Clowns: The Lost Art of William Steig.


Today’s Doodle

March 23, 2011



Today’s Gag

August 30, 2010

To purchase reprint and/or other rights for this cartoon, buy a framed print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit the CartoonStock website by clicking the sidebar link.

Copyright © 2010 Jim Sizemore.

Famous Artists Schools

May 7, 2010

On July 29, 2009 I did a post titled “Cartooning Lessons,” in which I described my experiences as a Famous Artists Schools correspondent student back in the early 1960s. The post featured my first FAS cartooning instructor, Randall Enos, who is now a famous illustrator and cartoonist himself. Somehow, Mr. Enos came across my little blog memoir, liked it, and in a comment suggested that I—but wait, let’s let him explain what happened next in his own words, which I copied from his blog post. If you’d like to check out the original Enos post, here’s the link: http://www.drawger.com/bigfoot/?article_id=9751

“Between 1956 and 1964 I worked at The Famous Artists Schools in the correspondence art school. I worked on the Cartoon Course. We would get a student’s assignment and put overlays on it and point out various “trouble” spots and sometimes re-draw the whole situation and then send a letter to accompany the crit. The letters were standard form letters (after all everybody would make the same “mistakes”) but we would “personalize” the letter by inserting certain words that applied specifically to the student’s particular picture. We had lessons on inking, heads, action etc.. There were 4 or 5 of us doing the lessons and we would bounce the student around between us so he or she would have the advantage of more than one point of view. I was the youngest, being hired at the ripeness of twenty years. The others were pretty much retired guys in their 60’s having had careers in the field. One of them had and continued to draw Popeye, another had worked on the Lone Ranger, another on Katzenjammer Kids, another on Captain Marvel Jr. and Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang and Playboy girlie cartoons etc..

“So . . . the other day I’m surfing the web and I come across a blog called “Doodlemeister”. The fellow that runs it named Jim Sizemore had a post where he, in great detail, described critiques of mine he had received when he was an FAS student. It was a trip down memory lane alright. He complained that I had always given him high grades and flattery when he really wanted tough criticism. He pointed out that my overlay comments were a little more to the point than my letters (form letters). I made a comment on his blog post and invited him, if he wished, to send me an assignment NOW and I would give him a free crit. He was 25 then and is in his 70’s now as I am. I promised him, in addition, that this time I definitely would not give him a good grade. Here then is my crit of his “assignment” because he took me up on it.” (Click images for larger views.)

The one disagreement I have with Mr. Enos’ critique is not visual but verbal—his suggested caption, making it about the mythical memory powers of elephants instead of cross-species relationships. In the writing process I considered the memory angle but quickly rejected it as too much the cliché. I  think the relationship idea is the more original—and funnier—choice.

Mr. Enos ended his blog post with these kind—and much too generous—words: “Y’know, the more I look at it . . . the more I like his cartoon better than mine.”

Copyright © 2010 Jim Sizemore.