The Charlie Hebdo affair started me thinking about cartoons, and how powerful they can be.
Back when I was 15 years old, after getting hold of American D.C. comics in Rio de Janeiro (they were unavailable in the UK), my first ambition in life was to go to New York and become a cartoonist. DC comics used to devote their back page to a drawing challenge, which could lead to an apprenticeship at one of the publishing houses. I remember making about 400 attempts to draw the face of Superman girlfriend Lois Lane, and eventually getting it almost right. Ever since then, I’ve found it easy to draw women, harder to draw men. Because I didn’t make 400 attempts to draw Superman.
Somewhere down the track the ambition lapsed, but I’ve always been drawing stuff, and cartoon characters along the Superman/Batman/Silver Surfer lines remain my ideal art form.
But while I find it very easy to write (mostly because I’ve written a journal all my life), and I can knock out a blog post in half an hour, it takes me ages to draw cartoons. And that’s only if I actually get an idea for a cartoon in the first place, which I very seldom do.
So today I took one of several existing ideas for cartoons that I’ve had for a while, and went and did it. It took about 4 hours in total. I got the drawing down on paper in pencil, and then inked up, in about an hour. I then scanned it into a computer and used Microsoft Paint to add colour and text. Somehow or other that took 3 hours. The result is on the right (click on the image for full size version).
It’s quite a nice, humorous idea. But it took far too long. In part that’s because it’s a quite complex perspective drawing. So I suppose one of the lessons to learn is to keep things simple. But most likely it’s also, as everything in life, that practice makes perfect.
But somehow it’s having the initial idea that seems the hardest thing. I’m a bit surprised that I have so few ideas for cartoons. On Sunday, the idea of the “French shouting their love of liberty and tolerance” while excluding smokers from French bistros and restaurants was enough to conjure up the outline idea for a cartoon, but it took two attempts (including almost giving up) before I finally knocked one into shape.
And yet smoking is a very visual thing. And smoke is wonderful stuff that can be made to do anything (as I’m demonstrating in the cartoon above). And excluded smokers huddled outside pubs, in wind and rain, is also highly visual. There ought to be any number of arresting images that can be created, featuring the plight of smokers, the mendacity of Tobacco Control, etc, etc. It’s something that ought to be illustrated. Because illustrations bring home ideas in a very direct way.
Anyway, here’s the Far Side’s Gary Larson. Beautiful idea, and he probably completed it in half an hour: