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

demo-12

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

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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

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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

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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

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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 CartoonStock.com 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

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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.