11/30/14

"Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice" by Ivan Brunetti

In the 1970s I got a copy of Marvel's How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way which I was sure would turn me into a superstar artist and get me a place on the next issue of the Punisher.  From that book I learned some ideas - three point perspective, using "heads" to measure height, good composition and action poses, but somehow the book didn't inspire me to draw.  My results didn't look like John Buscema's or Jack Kirby's artwork (surprise!) and I gave it up.

Flash forward thirty-plus years to when I found Ivan Brunetti's "Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice."  Brian Michael Bendis was at Stumptown Comics Fest talking about teaching comics and mentioned "Cartooning."  He emphasized the "Philosophy" portion of the title. Brunetti believes that images should tell the story, adding dialogue only when it naturally evolves within the story line.  Intrigued, I had to get a copy.

This is not a beginner's art book or a "how to draw" book.  It's specifically for people who want to cartoon -- those who want to distill a story to the simplest necessary artwork, yet still convey the artist's message.  The book is based on Brunetti's 15-week class on cartooning.

If Jack Kirby is the Wagner of the comics world, Brunetti is more like Philip Glass. His images are distilled to only the most necessary lines, leaving lots of white space to for emphasis.  Achieving similar results is deceptively difficult.  Exercise 1.1 in the book is to draw a car in 3 minutes. Then draw it again in 1 minute, then 30 seconds, then 15, then 5 seconds. This exercise helps you understand what is essential to the "car-ness" of the drawing.  The second chapter explores doing a similar exercise for a story.  He presents his version of "Catcher in the Rye" in a single panel.


The lessons cover spontaneous drawing, single-panel cartoons, four-panel strips, pages, grid layout, and more.  He includes tips on his tools, and talks about cartooning on computers versus paper.

Even for people who don't aspire to be artists, it is enlightening to do the exercises proposed in the book. Brunetti covers most of the questions that artists have to answer when putting together a visual story, and provides a vocabulary for discussing the problems.  Trying the exercises will give the reader a better understanding of the problem space.  Even without doing the work, "Cartooning" can be read cover-to-cover (70 pages) or used as a reference or inspiration.  It's worth owning.

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