A few days ago on my walk down to Lincoln Center a multitude of new cartoon ideas came to me. Maybe it was because it was a gorgeous day, or that I was walking in the fresh air. Or, maybe it was simply that I’d turned off my phone so I could be mindful of just walking. In any case, I thought I’d share a closer look at the anatomy of a cartoon – mine, to be precise – plus what happens when the cartoon doesn’t exactly turn out like you dreamed.
Anatomy of a cartoon (the basics)…
For me, the basics usually come as a visual idea. I see something funny and that triggers a “What if?” line of questioning. The other day one of the triggers was a Hop on Hop Off tour bus passing by. I noticed several people on the bus absorbed with their devices. That made me think that it might be funny to depict a tour bus of device-absorbed tourists oblivious to a Manhattan landmark as they pass by.
My idea seemed so brilliant that I devoted the better part of yesterday – Memorial Day – to first sketching out my idea and then shading it in. (When I say “better part” I mean ALL DAY!) As you can see below, there’s quite some detail to this illustration…
The final result was…
As you can see, there are some real problems with my cartoon. First, there’s the fact that my Guggenheim looks even more like a toilet plunger than it does in real life. And then, the supposedly funny element – the people on their devices – is just too small, busy and confusing to read as funny.
However, I was determined that the problem wasn’t with my idea but with the drawing. So I redrew the illustration. (You’ll see that I fixed the curve of the lines on the Guggenheim so it looks more distinguished.)
Unfortunately, even in my revised sketch there were still problems!
I realized that since the tourists were going to be depicted at such a small scale, they needed to be doing a uniform activity. Unfortunately, having them all holding their cellphones the same way was still confusing…there were just too many arms and too many cellphones! Furthermore, it wouldn’t be realistic to have everyone on the bus holding their cellphone the same way. (To be funny, a cartoon does need to be plausible in a basic way…something to definitely keep in mind when contemplating the overall anatomy of a cartoon!) Unfortunately, once I removed the cell phones, the premise of my entire original idea was gone and I couldn’t figure out a way to fabricate a new thread.
In case you’re wondering, the “Walk” sign now has a whirling dervish on it. (Yes, I know. Get out the magnifying glass!) That was my feeble attempt at 11 p.m. to create a connection between the “swirls” of the Guggenheim, the gob-smacked bus tourists and the little man now looking at the sign on the sidewalk.
Is all lost? Should I have abandoned my attempts at a reasonable hour and turned on Poldark instead? Did I learn anything from this flubbed creation?
The short answer to the last question is YES! And here’s why:
Rejection as a creative catalyst…
If you are as passionate about what you do as I am, there are golden opportunities in even a creative flop. In the case above, I learned the following:
- The curves of a large cylindrical shape such as the Guggenheim are still an important part of creating perspective.
- Drawing cars takes practice.
- The visual humor in a caption-less cartoon needs to be big enough so that the reader can actually see it.
- Repetitive groupings of small elements can be funny, but the action still needs to be plausible.
- Rest and time away from a creation is essential for gaining perspective. (Plus, Aidan Turner is easy on the eyes.)
Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.Henry Ford