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

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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.


Mort Cohen’s VP Doodle

July 19, 2008

After reading my July 18, 2008 request for doodles, Mort Cohen sent along the above caricature attached to an e-mail message. (Many thanks, Mort.) He says he was playing around in Photoshop, electronically doodling, trying to figure out different ways to color the image, and came up with this enhancement to our own Vice President Cheney. I think it’s a very good likeness and I’m also intrigued by the “fog” or “mist” of color from which the VP appears to be emerging. Since Mort doesn’t tell us what it is, we’re free to speculate. Does the fog/mist represent Truth, Beauty and the American Way, or is our VP wandering around in some sort of moral fog? It’s always fun when an artist gives us an opportunity to participate in his or her creative process. Mort didn’t nail it down so we get to collaborate; it’s our call. What do you think the blue mist is? Meanwhile, if you’d like to have your own doodle published on DoodMeister.com, send it to: jimscartoons@aol.com. Your submission will be my permission to post.

Today’s Doodle

May 13, 2008

The Writer At His Cafe

As you can see, this is a doodle dating from February, 1996. I did it on the back of a 9″ x 12″ pad of 2-ply plate finish Bristol, which is “excellent,” the manufacturer claims, for “pencil, ink, & airbrush.” In this case I used ink but ignored the high-quality drawing paper and went for the cheap packaging instead. That, in a nutshell, speaks to the fun of doodling: Anything that pops into your mind, anytime, and executed on any handy surface. (I always prefer the fresh liveliness of my sketches and doodles compared to what seems to me the staid stiffness of the finished work.)

A few minutes ago it occurred to me to add the “thought balloon.” (I used the Photoshop program I keep handy and which I claim is excellent for electronic doodling.) When I finally think of something clever to doodle into that balloon—an image or some words—I’ll add it, and share it later with you. Meanwhile, I’m interested in what you think. Is the writer thinking about something he’s written, or a love note that he’s composing as we watch, or something else altogether? An image of a woman who has just left him, perhaps? An elephant? Whatever. (I’ll show you my doodle if you’ll show me yours.) Submit your idea in the comment section below, which will constitute your permission to publish it, with all due credit of course, and with my heartfelt thanks. Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.