Athol Fugard On Playwriting, III

November 14, 2012

Paris Review, The Art of Theater No. 8

Interviewed by Lloyd Richards

My faith in human nature, in the capacity to change, grows with every year. My faith in the essential goodness of life increases. Yet my faith in politics has withered.

For fifteen years I kept thinking to myself, when am I going to get around to writing about those two extraordinary men, Sam and Willie, who were literally my closest, and virtually my only, friends for a period of my childhood. Suddenly one day I put a white boy, Hallie, in with them. There it was. I had it. I was locked in to the tensions, the polarity, the dynamic. I had the chance and the courage to deal with something that I had never dealt with in my life. The particular moment was the spitting event—Hallie spits in the black man’s face. Before that I was convinced I’d created the necessary dynamic simply by putting Hallie in there with Sam and Willie, and that I could write the play without resorting to anything like the vulgarity of spitting on stage. I thought I could deal with all my problems, my guilts, and wash my dirty linen in a place of public entertainment without having to resort to that. But I just couldn’t avoid it. The moment came: I wrote, “Hallie spits in Willie’s face.”

(T)here’s a vulgar aspect to the craft. Even when you’re dealing with the most private, intensely personal moment of pain, if you do it well enough, if you handle it correctly, you immediately pat yourself on the back . . . I might as well be honest about it.

An extraordinary sculptress, Helen Martins, lived in the little village in the Karroo where my house is. For twenty-two years of her life, starting at the age of fifty, she handed herself over to an incredible creative energy. She sculpted away, single-mindedly, with a total obsession. Then, mysteriously, her creativity dried up and she committed suicide. From time to time I’d say to myself, Come on, deal with it. You’re a writer; this is extraordinary. But I kept pushing her aside. Then her story became such an urgent reality inside me, I needed to examine it. The Road to Mecca focuses on the possibility that creative energy can exhaust itself, probably the most frightening reality an artist can face. Every artist lives in total fear of that—I know I do. I kept wondering whether, with an act of terrible prescience, in describing the end of Helen Martins’s creative energy, I was in fact writing my own epitaph.

If you’d like to read what playwrights such as Arthur Miller, Sam Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates — and many more —  have to say about the art and craft of writing for the stage, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.

Part IV of the Athol Fugard series will post next Wednesday.

Wendy Wasserstein On Playwriting II

November 30, 2011

Adapted from: The Art of Theater No. 13

The Paris Review, Interviewed by Laurie Winer

My mother was walking down the street and she ran into the receptionist from the June Taylor School of Dance, where I went as a child. The receptionist asked, How’s Wendy? My mother said, Well, I don’t know. She’s not going to law school, she’s not dating a lawyer; now she’s writing plays. She’s cuckoo.

I thought writing a full-length play was something I didn’t want to do and didn’t know how to do. It seemed old fogyish. But I was on a committee to evaluate the Yale School of Drama, and there was this young woman, a directing student, who told me that what she wanted to do was explode text. I thought of Miss Julie exploding over the Yale School of Drama saying, There goes The Sea Gull! I thought, Well, before you explode it you should know how to do it. I thought, I would just like to try to do this. If in fact playwriting is like stained glass, if it becomes more and more this obscure craft, then it would be interesting to know how to do that craft.

When you write in an episodic mode, you know that the scene will be over. The hardest part, what’s really boring, is getting people on and off the stage. You can’t just bring the lights down and bring them up again. Someone has to say, I’m leaving now . . . . That’s very hard to do. I always think structurally. But for The Sisters Rosensweig it was very hard going. In that play there are four scenes in the first act and three in the second. I should have combined the first two scenes.

I was very sad when The Sisters Rosensweig opened the first time. People like Merv and Gorgeous are fun to write; they’re nice to have in your apartment. They’re really good company. So when you discover those people, they’re talking and you’re not talking anymore. I remember the day I wrote the line for Gorgeous about Benjamin Disraeli being a Jewish philanthropist: I started laughing because I thought, That’s Gorgeous, there you go. The character, not my sister. If you stay with the actual people in your real life, it won’t work. It’s too constraining.

I learn things from watching and listening to people. I’m not much of a reader; I’m slightly dyslexic. Take Merv—he is someone I knew when I was eight years old . . . I remember going to someone’s bar mitzvah in Brooklyn with my mother and young niece. And you know when they take the Torah out? My mother said to Samantha, Quick, kiss the Torah before the rabbi takes it out for cookies and lunch. It was such a crazy image to me.

My plays start with a feeling. The Sisters Rosensweig started when I was living in London writing The Heidi Chronicles. I thought about Americans abroad, and somebody said to me, You’re terribly Jewish, just like my brother-in-law. It was that same feeling I had at Mount Holyoke, a little bit uncomfortable with myself. Like wherever I went I was always wearing a tiara with chinchilla.

I always think of new plays when I’m finishing one . . . . This is a darker play than The Sisters Rosensweig. My plays tend to skip a generation; this one is closer to The Heidi Chronicles, though it is also darker than that play.

This is one in a series that will post  on Wednesdays. If you’d like to read more about what people like Sam Shepard, Harold Pinter, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous — and not so famous — playwrights have to say about the art and craft of writing and directing plays, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button. (This is the second of a three-part post adapted from the Wendy Wasserstein interview in Paris Review. Part three will post next Wednesday.)

Neil Simon On Playwriting II

August 31, 2011

Adapted from: The Craft of the Playwright

The New York Times, May 26, 1985

I like writing women very much. I have shared the confidences of women more than I have of men. Men are more close-mouthed about their real feelings, whereas women, if the situation is right, open up. It’s exotic for me to write about women, because they are so different.

But it always amazes me — when I get a director I like and who likes the play, he understands everything I mean, where the actor doesn’t. The reason I won’t direct a play is that I will watch what a director does and say, “I never thought of it quite that way.”

I have a number of directors that I work with frequently. I haven’t worked with Mike (Nichols) in a number of years, but I did do four plays with Mike, and I did four plays with Gene Saks and other people. You find someone that you have shorthand battles with — you know, you don’t have to have long discussions about it, because they know what you’re looking for. I don’t like to sit at rehearsals all day long, so I like to feel that I am being well represented.

I was going to say that as good a relationship as you can have with a director, and maybe even having had great success with him, it still depends on the play you’re doing. It’s like casting and acting.

I find that actors relate much more to the director than they do to me. I tend to sit back quietly and occasionally will throw in something to the director — less often to the actor. The actor is to me a peculiar person. I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s one I don’t fully understand. They have a much different approach to the material. In the first place, most of the actors that I’ve worked with, they open the script, take the yellow pencil and go through all of their lines — which means to me that that’s what they think the play is about — the yellow lines, their part.

I just have to watch that process, and I see the director able to communicate to them in a way I can’t. I am much more direct in my attitude — if it were up to me, and they said, “How was that?” I would say, “Well, that just stunk. I thought it was really lousy.” I have to say that, because I say it to myself about my own work. It’s hard for me to be diplomatic and hands-off and know how to work with the actors. So I tend to shy away from them.

I’m naive and optimistic enough to think that plays will always be here despite the fact that it’s been a fairly grim season, and we’re losing more and more playwrights to films and to television — places where they’re guaranteed to make money. And the price of tickets makes it so difficult to put on certain kinds of plays that don’t promise to be a big smash hit.

Whenever I go to speak at a school, it’s rarely for the drama class. It’s always for a film class. There are so few drama classes that are interested in the theater. There’ll be about four kids in the group who are interested in plays, but most of them want to know about films. And they all want to direct — the cliché.

This is one in a series that will post  on Wednesdays. If you’d like to read more about what people like Sam Shepard, Harold Pinter, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous — and not so famous — playwrights have to say about the art and craft of writing and directing plays, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.

Neil Simon On Playwriting

August 24, 2011

Adapted from: The Craft of the Playwright

The New York Times, May 26, 1985

I grew up in New York and worked in radio and in television for 10 years. Then I said, “If I don’t start to write a play and start to get out soon, I’ll be writing ‘My Three Sons’ for the rest of my life,” which I did not want to do.

There will never be any satisfaction for me unless I can write what I feel I want to say. And I wrote that first play (“Come Blow Your Horn”) — and it was a matter of life and death for me.

Mike Nichols and I were doing “Plaza Suite” in Boston many years ago, and the first act was too long — it wasn’t that it was too long, we were getting too many laughs in a scene that we thought was basically serious. So Mike and I started to cut out all of the laugh lines, and they started to laugh at other lines that they had never laughed at. They just wanted to laugh!

I’ll write a scene that is really funny, and then I try to switch it quickly, because I think that happens in life a lot. You know, in the middle of some wonderful moment you get a phone call with tragic news. There have been a few occasions in plays when I’ve done that, and the audience is really thrown by it. Sometimes it works, and sometimes they resent it. They feel that they’ve been taken or had a little bit.

My experience has been that if you write a situation well enough, the tension is so great that the audience will laugh whether you provide it or not. But many times when it’s either laugh or cry, a lot of them don’t want to cry. And they will pick out a moment — a line, a gesture, whatever it is — to laugh at. It becomes part of the play after a while. I expect it night after night — never having intended it in the beginning. There’s just so much that they can handle. You force the audience to deal with a great deal in the theater.

The thing I think most about when I’m writing is what goes on in the bedroom between the husband and wife. I don’t mean the obvious, but what they really say to each other.

I know when my unconscious is doing the writing, because when my conscious is doing it, it seems familiar to me when I see it later on. Let’s say I haven’t seen the play in eight weeks or something, and I go and watch it. I say, “I didn’t write that. That has nothing to do with me. That came out of somebody else.” I know that’s the unconscious writing. And that’s where the surprises come from. And that’s like mercury. You just grab that if you can; it’s really hard. I can’t pin it down, but I know it’s probably very important to my psyche — that bit of information. I say, “That’s what I’ve been keeping hidden.” It’s a dangerous game. If you don’t grab it, then you don’t have it anymore. But it’s also the most exhilarating. I can get up and go, “What? That was terrific! You just caught a great long fly ball.”

“Brighton Beach Memoirs” took nine years from the inception of the idea. I let it sit for six years. It just kept going in my mind. I would think about it, and six years later I wrote 35 pages. I said, “This is good, but I don’t know how to write the play.” I’d never written a play like that — sort of a tapestry, where everybody’s story is very important. I generally had written plays about two characters and the peripheral characters and how they are involved in it. And it took a long time — another three years. And then I sat down and went right through the play. But the unconscious is doing the work. It’s typing away.

I don’t know what it’s like not to write. I don’t do it every day of the year, and I do take time off, but I feel empty if I don’t have something to work on. The trick is not  to get caught up in something that’s not working just for the sake of working. But I feel very happy when I can say I’ve got an idea for something that I think is worth doing. And then I can leave it alone and not work at all — it can just do its own work there while I go to the beach or play some tennis.

This is one in a series that will post  on Wednesdays. If you’d like to read more about what people like Sam Shepard, Harold Pinter, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous — and not so famous — playwrights have to say about the art and craft of writing and directing plays, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.

David Rabe On Playwriting

August 17, 2011

Adapted from: The Craft of the Playwright

The New York Times, May 26, 1985

I grew up seeing movies, and there was a point where I consciously engaged the question of whether there was a larger opportunity to be free as a writer in the theater or in film. And without any experience in either, it struck me that the theater was more open. But I think now, as I’ve gone on, it’s deeper than that. I don’t know quite what the relationship is, but it’s very, very deep in me, the theater.

See, I think that in the real theatrical tradition that split (between comedy and drama) doesn’t exist as strongly as people think it does. It’s an invention of Aristotle rather than of dramatists. I mean, certainly in a lot of Shakespeare’s tragedies, there are very funny, lively moments.

I’m not a big fan of Aristotle. I think he really did everybody a lot of harm. He interposed himself between the creative act and the the thing itself. The whole formula Aristotle devised serves censorship more than it serves creativity. It serves inhibition, and it stops more writers than it guides . . . I mean, there’s no such thing as an Aristotelian tragedy; he never wrote one. He defines something he didn’t do.

My impulse has been to try to put as much variety of emotion as possible into a play. You know, like a carnival or a roller-coaster ride. To me, the more one play can hold, the better.

The laughs I get are the ones I’m hoping for, for the most part. It’s making the turn without getting resentment from the audience that’s the hard part. If you’ve overdone the comedy part, they just want to keep laughing.

“Hurlyburly” is very tricky for me to talk about, because the turn is abrupter than I think it has to be. The play is long, but it was longer, and there was ground for the turns that is not present.

In the beginning — with “Pavlo Hummel” — I wrote until I had a draft, and I didn’t go to anything else. Once I had a draft, then I started writing “Sticks and Bones.” When I had a draft of that, I went back to the other one. But as time has gone on, I’ve come to put them away more or do a note or a few lines or a page and then come back and maybe work an intense period of time. “Hurleyburly” was like that. I had a note for about six years. It was literally three or four lines. And then I got kicked into starting it, and when I started it, I stayed on it for about three or four months to write the first draft. “Streamers” was built the other way. I wrote a 25-page sort of one-act play. It was actually the first thing I wrote when I got out of the Army. It was sort of the movement of the first act of of the play, only much shorter and without the sergeants. And then that was that, and I put it away. Then, about three or four years later, I rewrote it. It was about 50 pages, and it took about three or four days. And then I’d put it away again. I never thought about it a bit — I just didn’t do anything to it. Anyway it took a total of seven years from the beginning. Suddenly I sat down and in about three or four days rewrote the whole play. And it was a full-length play now. I don’t know how I knew — there’s no way to measure that.

I go through a thing in plays where the play shocks me. I don’t think I’ve ever written anything where there wasn’t a moment when I said, “Oh, I don’t want to write this,” or “Is that me?” Where’s it coming from? I  think my conscious mind is not as intelligent as my unconscious. My conscious mind is very much interested in controlling everything and making it more orderly — making it orderly in a familiar way. Then the unconscious can come up with something original. The only way I can do anything that’s worthwhile is by not getting too far ahead of myself. When I first started writing, if I didn’t know what the next sentence was, I couldn’t allow myself to write the first sentence, so you never got started. But the truth is, you have to say so what, so if you make a mistake you throw it out. It’s just paper.

I think keeping at it, on some level, is no more different from getting started. It’s the feeling that that’s what you’re going to do and have to do. I see a play as a psyche sort of thrashing in the world. And each audience member should identify with the main character and follow it through, man or woman. I mean, if I go see “Medea,” I’d better identify with Medea. I have to write whatever shows up, that’s the way it is.

I find that, in the early part of rehearsal, I’m very quiet, and as time goes on I have more and more to say. If an actor does something I don’t understand . . . then I’m very upset. On the other hand, there are the times when they do a thing that’s so wonderful, that I never dreamed of. And that’s true of directors, too, that suddenly they bring something you just never thought of.

I have the feeling that the theater, since the late 1800’s, has been overridden by the idea of a form called “realism,” which I think has truly run its course.

I think the time has come when people will understand that “the well-made” play was developed out of other ideas, out of Darwin and Newton. I mean, the well-made play is an idea based on how Newton said the universe worked — like a big clock. It said theater was a pictorial, scientific, objective form, so it invented the fourth wall. And it invented realistic behavior. If you had a real elephant on stage, then that was great. It was trying, I think, to be movies.

Until theater can offer an audience something that film can’t it’s going to struggle. It’s robbed itself of some of its major devices. The things that it has to offer are heightened language and soliloquies and that contact with the audience that the “fourth wall” makes unacceptable. It has somehow to reclaim this stuff, I believe.

This is one in a series that will post  on Wednesdays. If you’d like to read more about what people like Sam Shepard, Harold Pinter, Joyce Carol Oates and other famous — and not so famous — playwrights have to say about the art and craft of writing and directing plays, type “On Playwriting” into the small sidebar window and tap the “Search” button.

Quilt Doodle #25

May 16, 2009


Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.


May 9, 2009

An Ink-Stained Memory

The cover of my copy of the 17th edition of Speedball Text Book by Ross F. George, coverpublished by the C. Howard Hunt Pen Company in 1956, has my last name scrawled in the big yellow letter “S” in the title — proof of ownership by a much younger me. The 6″ x 9″ booklet cover is dog-eared by use and abuse over time and, at the bottom of the subtitle text, there is what appears to be spilled India ink on the words “Poster Design for Pen and Brush.” (Click images once or twice for larger views.)

In 1956 I was 19 years old and serving the second year of a three-year enlistment in the U. S. Army. I doubt that I owned the booklet then, but once I left the military — in 1957 — I became a serious art student with the help of the Korean G. I. Bill. Despite having been an avid doodler and tracer of comic book panels and Sunday newspaper comic strips as a kid, Speedball-1I had had few formal art classes in elementary school. Instead of going to high school I attended two years of “commercial art” training in a city vocational school, to which I was sent after failing the eighth grade. In those days “problem” students — very much me at the time — were given the option of repeating the failed grade, learning a trade or — in a case like mine, because of some problems with the law — going to reform school. For me, the study of art of any kind was very seductive, so it was an easy choice. Later, though, I would discover that what I had signed on for was really a sort of “bait and switch” scheme. (More on that later.)

“Tools for Lettering,” on page 1 of the “Speedball” text, Speedball-2provides a clue as to when I may have acquired the booklet. If you look closely at the “Style C” pen point section you’ll see my faded rubber stamp running vertically up the page — another ownership tag. My address at the time, 3811 Mayberry Avenue, was where my new wife and I lived in the early 1960s. During those years I became something of a “speedball” myself, over-committed in life and in art, trying to make up for lost time and a truncated education. (I had completed high school by scoring well on the General Educational Development test while in the service.) In the span of only a few years I became the father of two sons, was working full time as a clerk for the Social Security Administration and also Speedball-3doing part-time seasonal work in the mail order department of Montgomery Ward (stocking shelves in the toy section). I was also attending evening art classes at the Maryland Institute of Art. And, as if that wasn’t enough, during the same period I signed up for a course in “Editorial and Commercial Cartooning” offered by a correspondence school. Speedball-6It was around this time that I began to collect a modest library of “how-to” art books, with which I planned to master the mysteries of what I hoped would somehow become a career. My simple and — as it turned out — unrealistic, dream was to quickly make big bucks as some sort of artist, in the same way many of my male relatives had become master carpenters and managed to support their families. From the very beginning I figured that art was something I could do, perhaps the only thing I was suited for, and at which I just might be able to make a living.Speedball-20

The Speedball booklet impressed me because of the mix of visuals and beautifully hand-lettered copy. One example of the practical quality of the illustrated craft tips is on page 2, where “Three Points of Contact” of the pen or brush hand in the proper lettering position is demonstrated with a photograph (brush) and in a line drawing (pen). Until I owned the booklet I didn’t know from “Roman,” “Gothic,” and “Text” lettering styles (see page 3). Or that Roman letters could best Speedball-36be made using “C” or “D” Speedball pen points, etc. And that in all lettering, to quote the copy, “Time and effort will be minimized by using the size and style of pen or brush which will form the different letters of any given alphabet without subsequent remodeling of the strokes.”

Now back to what I termed the “bait and switch” of vocational school. The four semesters of half-days I had spent there consisted of the endless practice Speedball-80of basic “show-card” brush strokes (the other half-day devoted to “social studies” and other “academic” subjects). Show cards are those hand-lettered broadsides you still see in the windows of small neighborhood grocery stores, announcing the current sale price of milk and eggs. They were training me to become a sign painter! We students used water-based black or red poster paint and practiced the simple letter segments using old newspapers turned on their sides so that the print columns became uniform guidelines. The exercise was much like the illustration of basic pen strokes shown on page 6 of the Speedball Text Book.

Meanwhile, on page 20 of the booklet, illustrations of pen points were shown stroking Roman letters. Speedball-82Simple, all you had to do to master the basic letter forms was to allow your eyes to follow the direction of the tiny numbered arrows. (There were even microscopic arrows showing where you should “twirl” the point to make a curved section.) As good as those illustrations were, and despite my hours of practice, I never became much good with a speedball pen or red sable lettering brush. I quickly realized that I’d have to develop other skills if I hoped to make a living at a drawing table. It seemed that because of my bipolar-like low boredom threshold and short attention span, Speedball-83and my rush of ambition, I simply didn’t have the patience to practice lettering. Anyway, I was more attracted to what the Speedball booklet taught me about the arty “moods” letter styles convey (see page 36); layout theory (pages 80 to 82); and how something as simple as line direction could convey important information to a viewer (page 83). The beauty part was I came to understand that many of these lettering “rules” also applied to drawing cartoons, a subject that holds my interest to this day.

The beautiful line drawing on page 92 of the booklet, “Early Morning in the Snow,” done with a “C-6” pen point by Charles Stoner, is an example of the aesthetic versatility of at least some of the Speedball products. For many years my personal preference was the “B-6,” with which I did balloon lettering and my rather crude cartoons. The stick figure examples shown on page 94 are close to my drawing style at the time, and they cleverly demonstrate the human body when in a balanced position. The booklet text explains: “Notice also that the supporting foot is directly under the center of gravity.” Other pictures demo the off-balance body, showing a figure actively attempting a broad jump. On other pages in the bookletSpeedball-92 I learned about the use of basic shapes (circles, triangles, rectangles, squares, etc.) with which to begin designing layouts and drawings, along with strategic placement of blacks to direct the viewer’s eye movement left to right, top to bottom through the panels and the pages. Again, these tips have great value for executing all levels and kinds of art, “commercial” and “fine,” not just the lettering on posters and show cards.

Overall, what did I take from my study of the Speedball booklet and similar texts so many years ago — I mean beyond the useful tips and exercises? Speedball-94Well, most importantly I think, I came to reluctantly accept the idea that given my late start in the graphics game I would likely never be able to do any of it at the “master” level. What I did get from “Speedball” and other similar texts, though, was enough new knowledge about the craft and business of lettering and cartooning with which to earn a modest living, something for which I’ve been very grateful. So here I am after all these years, still hard at it, still learning new things every day. And still laughing at myself and my false starts and outright failures. Still trying, despite the odds, to become really good at something.

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.

To mark this first year anniversary of (initial post published May 7, 2008), I wanted to post something to which fellow cartoonists’ and other commercial-type ink-slingers of a certain age might relate. And lo, the other day I happened upon my well-thumbed copy of Speedball Textbook. Perfect.


April 13, 2009





If you’re an artist, or have ever tried to become one, you know that the part of the human body hardest to draw is the hand. You can always spot an artist-wannabe when they present “finished art” wherein the hands of the people are hidden in some way—either in pockets, behind backs, under the table, etc., etc. A confident artist, on the other hand (sorry, couldn’t resist it), doesn’t hide hands because he or she has, to at least some degree, mastered their depiction. Actually, the skillful artist loves to draw hands because they know that after the human face, hands are the most expressive parts of the body, especially when it comes to gestures. On the other other hand, some newbie artists give up the game in frustration once they discover the difficulty of drawing hands. Many of those creative folks become photographers instead—as did Yours Truly, at least for a time. Or they try their own hands at cartooning (ditto), where the graphic standards are much lower, especially these days. (See my own limited efforts on this blog, and the many crudely drawn “Post Modern” gag examples in the New Yorker. BTW, the term “Post Modern,” as I understand how it applies to cartooning, means crudely drawn on purpose. The idea is to make an up to date graphic statement “against” professional slickness. Meanwhile, I’ve spent many years trying to become professionally slick. It’s all very confusing.)

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.

The Gag Process

March 9, 2009

How To Draw A “Gag” Cartoon

When meeting someone for the first time I’ve noticed that a quick way to dampen—or drown—any hope of a conversation is to answer their question, “What do you do?” by admitting that I’m a cartoonist. Blurting it out that way is usually followed by deep silence, or at most a single comment such as, “Gee, I’ve never met one of those before.” Most folks do not have a followup when they hear what I do. Occasionally, though, they ask questions such as “How do you get your ideas?” or “Which comes first, the caption or the drawing?” or “How long does it take to draw a cartoon?” Kids, I have found, get right to the point—they want to know: “How much money to you make for a cartoon?”

Even when I’m with someone who has known me for years, talking about the uncommon thing I do for a living can be awkward for both parties. For example, each year when I go for my eye exam the doctor asks, after checking my folder for clues as to my interests, “Still drawing your little cartoons?” I answer in the affirmative even while being slightly offended by the rote way he asks. Then the good doc changes the subject by telling me a story I’ve heard many times before about his experiences as a Flight Surgeon in the U.S. Air Force, and I’m relieved to not have to talk about my trade.

The fact is, I do like to talk about what I do with people who are sincerely interested, so I’ve decided to use this post to answer some of the questions people might want to know about the craft of gag cartooning, things they can use to help them come up with queries of their own the next time they run into a cartoonist at a cocktail party on in a redneck bar.

So, using the gag cartoon I did just last week, here is a short primer on how I approach my “little” craft.

1. Rough Sketch


This is an example of a first attempt to get the idea down, the so-called “thinking with a pencil” phase. These days I do all my hand-drawing, start to finish, in blue pencil on 9″ X 12″ tracing paper. And if there’s a caption, I’m still rewriting it, too.

2. Second Draft & Shading Test


After tracing over the first draft to clean it up a bit, I like to play around with possible shading ideas. And I’m still fiddling with the caption.

3. Inked Line Draft


Using another sheet of tracing paper, I ink the lines I want to have in the final art. (Sometimes I don’t use ink at all and settle for the pencil lines.) I can afford to be pretty sloppy at this point because I know everything I do is subject to change later on in the process, after I’ve scanned the image.

4. Inked & Shaded Draft


Still using my trusty blue pencil, and the second draft as a guide, I shade in the areas selected. Now I’m ready to scan the image into Photoshop.

5. Comprehensive Draft


Once I have a high resolution copy in my computer, I switch from color mode to gray scale and adjust the “levels”—the value scale from white to black—keeping as many of the grays as possible. Then it’s just a matter of making scores of small and large adjustments to come to a satisfactory final image, hopefully one that retains the feeling of being completely hand-drawn. I call this combination of hand and computer work “pencil painting.” Then I add the final version of the caption, upload the image to in London, and post a copy here on DoodleMeister. (You may want to compare the comprehensive draft above with the final art, below.)

6. Final Art


If you have questions about my gag cartooning process, or about cartooning in general, add a comment below. I’ll be happy to answer even if I have to make something up. (The original March 6 post featuring this cartoon may be seen directly below.)

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.

The E-Tower

September 24, 2008

What I Did On My Summer Vacation—In 1973

One thing I packed for my first (and so far only) international trip was my new camera, a Minolta 35 mm SLR (single lens reflex). The whole business of doing photography with such a sophisticated instrument, rather than my old Kodak Instamatic, was so strange to me at the time I had to refer to the manual whenever I attempted to use it. So I was careful to bring along the little white instructional booklet, too.

It was August, 1973, and I was on my way to Paris to meet my new girlfriend, having been introduced to her at a party the previous May. She was a schoolteacher out of class for the summer and living with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend (an Italian waiter the sibling had met in Rome), in a one-room apartment on the Left Bank. It was all very romantic, and the sisters’ were old hands at international travel, having made the European scene for several summers running. My girlfriend, with her knowledge of the country and her high school French would be my guide, or so I assumed. The tip-off that perhaps she wasn’t “in the know” so much herself was the fact that August was the month when well-off Paris residents abandoned the hot city, leaving it to hordes of low-end tourists. Actually, August was the only time most schoolteachers could afford to vacation in Paris. That was my situation, too, being a low-grade (in every sense) Visual Information Specialist at the Social Security Administration, one with child support payments to make.

As I boarded the Paris flight I promised myself that at no time during the eighteen days in France would I make a single “touristy” photograph of a famous monument, such as, for instance, the Eiffel Tower. If I did choose to photograph a popular site, I would figure out how to do it in a fresh way—as an abstraction, perhaps, or from a great distance framed by trees, or with something completely unexpected in the foreground, something ugly, like a wall plastered with handbills. The goal was to produce what on the surface appeared to be “bad” snapshots, but which in fact had required a lot of thought and would provoke an unexpected response in the viewer, a response at once intellectual and emotional. It wasn’t that (in “postmodern” lingo) I wanted so much to “deconstruct” the tourist snapshot—I doubt I knew the term back then—but I was determined to avoid committing that photographic sin of sins, the visual cliché. Of course all this was a tall order for an amateur photographer. Looking back, I now realize that rather than being a photographic trail-blazer I was simply a visual snob.

I was very young, though, and in love with love and at the same time passionately trying to master a new craft while in a new country where I didn’t speak the language and was completely dependent on my new girlfriend for even the basics, like food and lodging and where to find a bathroom. And after little more than two weeks of walking the streets of Paris, motoring through town after small town in Southern France and “making images” not “taking pictures” of cathedrals, castles rooftops and markets, I was homesick and more than ready to board the flight back to the U. S. I was also mildly depressed, having convinced myself even before I saw the processed slides that I had failed in my quest for a series of perfect “anti-travel” images.

It’s appropriate that this tale of misguided youth (but not misspent, since in retrospect I loved the experience) ends in irony. When my girlfriend asked me to pose for one last snapshot, I agreed, and of course she wanted the Eiffel Tower in the background. I’m too ashamed to show the resulting image, but at least that’s one creative sin which will be forever on her head, not mine.

“The E-Tower” is the first in a series of short travel-photo essays which will post on this site from time-to-time. (Click images for larger views.) Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.