Prose Doodle

May 4, 2011

An Image Problem

Some years’ back, a client of mine commissioned a humorous illustration to be used on a non-governmental organization (N.G.O.) flyer about world population issues. First he had to educate me on the subject, and sent along a thick sheaf of reading material that I quickly skimmed (this was a pro bono effort), underlining sections that I hoped would offer up image ideas.

As one who specializes in cartooning and humorous illustration, I’m more about visuals than words, and after hacking my way through all that verbiage I came away with only some general tidbits about the negative effects overpopulation has on human development, from the N.G.O. point of view. Not an easy-to-draw idea in the stack. Meanwhile, the client had specified that he wanted “an arresting image that would interest people not otherwise attracted to the subject — one picture worth ten-thousand words.“

When I reported that I had had no luck with the first batch of material, the client sent two specific ideas for the illustration. His first concept was six comic strip panels with people talking, talking and talking. They talked about too many rich people living in too many carbon-inefficient McMansions; too many middle-class people in too many cars clogging too many high-speed highways; and too many poor people needing too many government services.

The client’s second idea was visually no better (read: no easier to draw). He suggested a cartoon of a stuffy middle-aged businessman watching a television picture with crowds of poor, homeless city beggars in the first panel; starving kids in Africa in the second panel; and hundreds of polluting factories just south of the Texas/Mexico border. (But hey, at least this time it was only three panels.)

Again, no single “arresting image” suggested by any of that stuff. By wading through all those words, though, somehow my brain became focused (at least the visual half did) on what I needed to not do, which in turn suggested what I should do. The simple concept I came up with was this: The population problem is about infinite hordes of people on the face of a finite planet. But how best to show that? Especially how to show it without getting so complex that people would be almost as bored looking at the image as they would be reading a long research paper on the subject? Even more importantly, since I wasn’t getting paid, how to expend the least amount of time and effort in production?

After a lengthy doodling session I came up the rough idea you see above. The stack of people is a pretty “arresting” image, in my opinion (perhaps influenced by the National Cartoonists Society “Reuben” Award statuette designed by Rube Goldberg). The oblivious commentator off to the right side represents people like me, those of us still under-educated to the importance of the world population crisis. At any rate, my client was pleased.

(Click images for a larger views. To see the final illustration, scroll down to the “Today’s Gag” post of 5/2/11, directly below.)

Copyright © 2011 Jim Sizemore.