A few years ago I was showing one of my cartoons to someone who then asked, “How long does it take to draw a cartoon?” The answer varies, of course, depending on how much detail, how many components, etc., are required, but I told him that, on average, it takes me about two hours to go from start to finish. He seemed mildly surprised, but I’m sure that’s because he didn’t have any idea of the process involved.
Just so it’s a matter of record (a record that probably nobody other than maybe another cartoonist would find interesting in the least), I decided for this week’s blog to describe how I go about creating a cartoon. Here goes:
Every cartoon requires three pieces of paper:
1. One 8.5” x 5.5” (or half of an 8.5” x 11”) sheet of paper
2. One 8.5” x 11” sheet of typing paper
3. One 9” x 12” sheet of heavy mixed-media paper
If you count the template I use for blocking out the margins on the typing paper, then I guess there are four sheets required. Before I start drawing, I plot out the margins on the typing and heavy paper (the template I prepared is used to trace the margins for single-panel, double-panel, and triple-panel cartoons so I don’t have to measure them each time). I then measure and mark the margins on the heavy stock in very light pencil, noting only the corners. Since the heavy stock is where the final cartoon will end up, I want to be able to erase those markings later, hence, the lighter pencil.
The half-sheets are what I use for thumbnail sketches. The paper itself is scrap – things I’ve gotten in the mail or whatever that have a blank side. I tear them in half, pile them up, and use them to scratch out the ideas I want to develop. “Thumbnailing” helps to map out the placement of the characters, the props, etc. Because it’s scrap paper, I have no qualms about starting over on another piece if the one I’m working on doesn’t seem to be coming together the way I’d like.
Once I have the thumbnail the way I like it, I draw a more detailed version on the 8.5” x 11” typing paper in pencil. This still gives me the freedom to make changes along the way and to hone the look of the cartoon. It also allows me to draw the lines for the ¼” captions. It’s freeing to know that I can draw guides/aids on the typing paper without having to worry about erasing them because the typing-paper version isn’t the one that becomes the final version. The final version is what the heavy-stock paper is for.
Once I have the pencil drawing completed on the typing paper, I break out my light box, position the pencil drawing on the box, tape in place with a small piece of Scotch tape, and line up the heavy-stock paper on top of the pencil drawing using those guides that I had lightly penciled onto the heavy stock and taping it in place as well.
From there I break out the pen I use for the captions. I always write the captions in first, but it’s especially important if the cartoon will use speech balloons instead of a text-type caption along the bottom. It’s much easier to work around a speech balloon than it is to add the balloon after everything else is drawn. I then take the Sharpie with the ultra-fine tip and trace over the pencil version. I’ve found that it’s still possible, even at this stage, to do minor “polishing” as I feel led. Usually there will be a few lines that need emphasis, so I turn the Sharpie around to the slightly thicker tip and draw those few lines.
Once the cartoon’s main components are in place, I head for the PrismaColor pens, the 16 pens which have both a pointed end and a chiseled end and give me varying shades of gray. (I should add that wife Evelyn has also offered her set of Chameleon color pens, should I run across a need for these beautiful tools. Recently, I did draw a cartoon involving a sunrise and used these colored pens to great effect.) I try not to overdo the shading, but to confine its use to emphasize certain details of the cartoon. If I may offer a personal opinion, I’m not really happy with PrismaColor. Unless I go over the area I’m shading two or three times, I can never get a “solid” result from these pens (you can always see the “brushstrokes,” for lack of a better way to describe it). I’ve been looking for another kind of shading tool, but so far, no luck.
When I’m satisfied that the cartoon is happy and needs no further tweaking, I remove it from the light box. Since the cartoons must eventually fit into the 8.5” x 11” plastic storage sleeves in my three-ring binder, I use a paper cutter to trim the 9” x 12” down to size. I usually draw two cartoons a week, so after the second cartoon is finished and cut to size, I scan the two of them into my computer so I can distribute them to various sources (friends, family, Facebook – you know, the Three F’s). And, voila! Another cartooning session is finished.
Wasn’t that just the most fascinating thing you’ve read in the last five minutes?