Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Learning along the way

More than once (read all too often) I'll do a cartoon that I think is really funny, but the humor is apparently lost on many others. Sometimes it's because the gag is way too obscure (like the visualization of my childhood imaginary, did that one fall flat). Sometimes the cartoon's just not drawn right.

When I started with "Downtown" (later On-the -Town) I was really thrilled to be an actual cartoonist for an actual publication that was being seen by actual viewers. And I was still very naive and also a little too full of myself. Somehow, it seemed to me that every idea that flowed from my pen was a gift to mankind. My editor, Roger Bruinkool, quickly set about to knock that post-adolescent notion right out of my head.

The reality-check began with a simple little gag I drew as a reflection on a heat wave that was ongoing.

Now, I knew that the ice cream guy was inside of his refrigerated pushcart. Roger insisted that it looked as if he was simply standing behind it. Doh! Unlike everyone else in the world, I often don't take criticism very well, and what really torqued me off was that my editor was himself a visual artist. He was often critical of my execution, and I was just as often annoyed with his lack of perception...though he was just about always right...which in itself was pretty annoying too. Well, when you're at press time with a hole to fill, the cartoon generally runs weather the boss "gets it" or not, as in the case of Elmo the ice cream man.

It was not so with this next example. Later in 1982 Roger asked me to do the cover for the December issue with a downtown Christmas theme. THE COVER!!! Man, I was thrilled. So I came up with an idea of an army of identical happy Santas as holiday shoppers in the downtown business district (back when Grand Rapids still had a downtown business district). Strung above them appearing as garland were continuous strings of Hs (as in aitches) and Os (ohs). The effect was a continuous line of ho ho hos going across the top third of the panel. Again, it was a sight gag, which I'm some times a little too enthralled with. It was great and I was eager to bring it in to the office and bask in the glow of praise and approval.

I laid it out in front of Roger. He adjusted his glasses and without any expression examined the piece.

"Well this won't work at all"

I was stunned and insulted, and began a lame argument. Before I was able to make a complete ass of myself, Roger pointed out the obvious:

"This 'hohohoho' stuff becomes meaningless. All of the action [the Santas] is below the fold".

By golly, he was right, and that's when I learned what "below the fold" meant in designing a cover for a tabloid-style paper. What the viewer sees is the top half of the paper as it sits in the display rack. If the gag is dependent upon the imagery in the lower half it ain't going to work. I was getting educated in the ways of real cartooning.

Roger had me fix it by simply losing the hohohoho and spreading out the Santa action. Its a much better cover his way (dammit).

Here's another sight gag. From the feedback I received, it seems that most readers got it.

Live and learn.

Here's a Pembroke strip. First published in 1985, I run it here to commemorate the current spate of weather that grips this neck of the woods.

Staying warm, and humble, on South Mountain.


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