Thursday, November 19, 2009

Greg Evans on Cartooning

My buddy Mike Lynch found this and I stole it (Mike, you've got to size those YouTube videos to fit your blog, the right edge is cut off!). This is Greg Evans, creator of the syndicated comic strip "Luann," giving a little clinic on cartooning fundamentals to a group of teachers.

A couple of reflections: Evans is a good speaker (I've also seen him in person). A lot of this is really basic stuff, but consider the audience: a group of "civilians" who probably haven't tried to draw anything since first grade and don't think they can--the "I can't even draw a straight line" people (an excuse that bugs me--I can't draw a straight line either, nor do I need to. That's why they invented rulers and t-squares. Straight lines are boring. It's the non-straight lines that have life.) Evans' approach is direct, practical, and accessible. You watch him and think, "I could do that!" Of course Evans has spent 25 years working hard to make it look simple, but even if his audience discovers they can't quite conjure the same action and personality out of simple shapes and lines that he does, they've still learned something that can enrich their lives and jobs.

Evans actually makes a fairly sophisticated point about drawing a character from both the front and profile. This is something I spend time on and try to get right when creating a new character: can I draw them from the front, side, rear, top, three-quarters view? In animation these are called "turnarounds." This is where it helps to construct characters out of fundamental shapes: if your character is basically a spherical head atop a cube body resting on cylindrical legs, you can do anything with them. You may find that your character just doesn't work in certain orientations. Evans mentions Cathy Guisewite's "Cathy," who has no nose and is very seldom drawn in profile. I'm also reminded of the trouble the "Peanuts" animators had showing the characters raising their stubby arms above their big round heads (which was solved by only drawing them doing so in profile). Sometimes you'll figure out a way to live with a character's limitations, sometimes you'll redesign them.

I think anyone can draw. Maybe not everyone wants to, and that's fine. Some are better than others, and most lack the skill to make money doing it (although practice compensates for a lot), but so what? Lots of people write stories, cook gourmet meals, or play sports with no expectation of turning pro, just because they enjoy it. It doesn't have to be perfect; no one needs to see it but you. Give it a shot sometime.

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