28 December 2010


Improvisation, at least in a theatrical sense refers to a collaborative form of on stage play that others somehow find amusing. Like you suppose, I't kind of hard and involves making stuff up as you go along. Also, it's totally a learnable skill, and requires a large amount of discipline and structure to create "off the cuff".

Obligatory "Whose Line is it Anyway?" Photo

I'm an avid Improv hobbyist. Once a week, I go make an ass of myself with a bunch of folks at a local community center, playing theater games. There I develop my skills of reincorporation, acceptance, scene building and playing nice with others.

There's awesome books about it, like "Truth in Comedy" by Charna Halper, "Impro"by Keith Johnstone and Viola Spolin's "Improvisation for the Theater" or you can learn for free.

Granted, Improv may not look like it has a lot to do with cartooning but it so totally does.

Did you know Frank Thomas played the Piano? If you know who Frank Thomas is, you probably know that he played the piano, but the late Mr. Thomas, as well as most of Disney's classic animators, played a musical instrument, and even insisted that it was beneficial to their craft.

One of these men is not Frank Thomas.

Jeez, that's like, the zillionth Disney reference I've made! Maybe I'm dangerously obsessed or something. Ollie Johnston looks scary there, doesn't he?

Where was I? Oh, Improv and cartooning, which is sort of like pianos, except they aren't.

So take for example Jean "Moebius" Giraud

Moebius has very little to do with Disney, I think.

Basically one of the most influential Sci-Fi artist/writers in the freaking world. When he started his Sci-Fi themed work which included "The Airtight Garage" and "Arzak", he did the whole damn thing one panel at a time. Seriously. Moebius was all about exploring the unconscious, and as most Sci-Fi is an allegory for stuff, Moebius' realms were an allegory for modes of perception (or so he claims, I dunno, he's French).

Here's another one of my favorite cartoonists, Jill Thompson.

She kinda looks like this. She also drew Sandman
which means Goths everywhere should start doing Improv.

At a comics forum in 2008. Ms. Thompson spoke of the value of Improv training as a writing aid, particularly in developing scenarios and concepts for stories, like for her creations "Scary Godmother" and "Magic Trixie".

Oh yeah, and there's also Scott McCloud.

He actually looks like this: he has no eyes, and it's scary.

Among other things, McCloud's a big proponent of improvised comics. He also has invented the 24 hour comic, which is an excersise that it a lot of fun, whether or not you finish it.

The value of improvisation is that even the creator/performer doesn't know where it's gonna go or how it's gonna end. As a form unto itself or as a tool in early drafts or rehearsal, improvisation provides an invaluable resource to the cartoonist/performer. It's also fun.

26 December 2010

Some More Sketcharoos

So these are from a pocket sketchbook approximately 3"x5" and about 1/2" thick (complete with little bookmark tassel, moleskine style).

This isn't my 'primary' sketchbook, which is usually an 8 1/2"x11" hardcover or larger (now around 11"x14"), but I try to carry it everywhere, like a second wallet. Since you never know when you're gonna catch a moment.

This book actually took about two months to get through, mostly due to it's unusual thickness.

Granted, these posts are incredibly self indulgent. I've committed to posting highlights from each sketchbook I complete, basically to give myself a bit of extra pressure to turn out good product. (whether I do or not is up to you to decide, please comment: critique is encouraged!)

Most (perhaps all) of my sketchbook stuff is rough and gestural. Since my focus is animation, this makes sense, since the loose approach is pretty strongly recommended by what feels like every animation guru and textbook ever (particularly Walt Stanchfield).

13 December 2010

Some George Price

So here's some scans from a wartime George Price book. In my opinion, George "Geo" Price was one of the best draftsmen ever printed in the New Yorker (the gags appearing in this book had shown up in the New Yorker, Saturday Evening Post, Colliers and Life). Although his technique got very geometric in his later years, these 1940's cartoons showcase a great combination of liner fluidity and dynamic angles , reveling in environmental details other cartoonists would simply ignore.

Everything's funny with lab animals, apparently. The chimp in the chair is the main focal point in the piece, but I adore the loving attention given to the beakers, radio, lab equipment and hoses, yet none of them detract from the main focal point (chair).
Also, I love the secondary gag with the ape about to smash a heavy glass beaker over the guy's head, and how the composition leads the eye to ape one (chair), then directs to ape two (homicidal violence), which suggests a whole story taking place inside a single panel.

Death plants! Geo Price's love of detail wouldn't be so effective without an equal degree of restraint and control. See that roof? Compare the sparseness of the roof to the house's foundation, or the garbage on the ground, and how Price uses linear detail to lead the eye.

God damn, could he draw! The gag isn't that funny, it's just an excuse to see George Price do a boatload of animals and make it look easy.

If you look closer at the postman, he just tells a whole story on his own. The face alone kicks ass, but cover that up. You can still tell how seriously he takes his job, and how he feels about it. The proper posture betrays a certain pride in his work. But, his clothes are a little baggy, the bag hangs pretty heavy, all little clues that he's not very happy about it, and been delivering notices all day.

Another "George Price draws a whole freaking zoo" gag. This time, just birds.

Another "Storytelling Drawing". Price famously had an affinity for attractive clutter, particularly in his early work. But every bit of junk, piping , tire patches on the rubber swan, furthers and "plusses" the gag. Though this is a bit more complex and visually busy than many of Price's remembered contemporaries (and many gag cartoonists working today), no line, no mark on the page is wasted.

I really don't have much to add about this one except I just love the way he draws the folds in the carpet.

10 December 2010

Help a Brother Out.

One of my associates from SCAD, Coleman Engle, is going to France.

This is quite thrilling, as Coleman has been accepted into a comics residency in Angoulême, which is rare for Americans (Coleman is the second EVER). He's going to be drawing a comics album titled V'Ger: "Intergalactic Delivery Boy".

I had the good fortune to travel with Coleman and several other artists, all immensely talented and skilled, as part of a SCAD off-campus program last year, in France, we got to witness the Franco-Belgian Comics scene firsthand . How cool are European comics?Take for instance the Angoulême BD Festival : Imagine the insanity of the San Diego Comic Convention if it actually were about comic books. And now one of us has an opportunity to be a part of that!

So give him money, like, right now. Help get a talented artist the major break he deserves, and represent U.S. in the big comics leagues.

P.S. : As of January, 2011, Coleman has canceled his Kickstarter fund. Best wishes to all your future endeavors, Coleman.

05 December 2010

Imaginary Stuff

So where do you get your ideas?

In interviews various famous and financially successful people from Alan Moore to Frank Zappa have replied "How the hell should I know?" Usually with the gist that their focus is on technique, rather than inspiration.

For instance, in "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain", Betty Edwards insists that the right side, the non-linguistic section of the brain, is the source for human creativity, and being non-verbal, the process implicitly defies explanation.

Then there's the notion that ideas come from someplace else entirely.

Stephen King in his book "Stephen King on Writing" makes mention of a muse ( perhaps tongue in cheek) as a cigar chomping man who lives in a basement with a bag of magic which he shares only if he feels like it.

This is what the book looks like, since nobody wants a picture of the Mucinex Man.

Keith Johnstone, the Improvisational Theater scholar suggests, in his book, "Impro". that ideas come from "someplace else" (or at the very least, not the ego), and later in his book "Impro for Storytellers" mentions "the Great Moose" as the source-god of Improv.

In her book "What it is" Lynda Barry mentions and frequently draws "the Magic Cephalopod", which guides hands in writing and drawing in her rendition of "true creativity".

It could be that Moose, Muses and Magical Sea Beasts are merely metaphors for parts of the human mind that defy verbalization, or even that my examples are just bugfaced crazy.

However, the human body is a conductor for transformational energy (ethereal as that sounds): much like our gastrointestinal systems turn Captain Crunch into excrement, our minds might digest raw material( sensory input, other concepts and influences) into a pile of steamy, warm, new ideas.

(image not available)

But between theories of Moose Gods and Brain Poop I'll have to go with the former, jus' cause it's less gross.