New textbook teaches cartooning

Jessica Abel and Matt Madden, who teach comic art at New York’s School of Visual Arts, have authored Drawing Words and Writing Pictures: A Definitive Course from Concept to Comic in 15 Lessons and were interviewed on National Public Radio.

Abel and Madden have been teaching comic art at New York’s School of Visual Arts for the past eight years. They realized they did not have a definitive, structured text to use in class, so they took on the task of creating a lesson-based textbook for use in college-level, studio-class settings.

They also had another reason for wanting Drawing Words and Writing Pictures. Both Abel and Madden are accomplished comic artists, but neither of them had received formal training. They learned on the job, channeling the little information that was available from various sources.

59 thoughts on “New textbook teaches cartooning

  1. Why would anyone want to create formalized training for cartoonists?

    The best thing about cartooning is that anyone can do it. It’s a populist medium. You don’t need to draw any special way or write any special way. What you need is something interesting to say, which is why so many of the best cartoonists have come from non-art backgrounds (Scott Adams, Garry Trudeau, Bill Mauldin, Ruben Bolling).

    By contrast, art schools have produced a lot of impenetrable work by artists who don’t have any interesting life experience to draw upon (having trouble getting laid doesn’t count).

    Schools like that outfit in Vermont are an evil racket. They’re evil because they convey the utterly fraudulent notion that you need to spend $80,000 to learn how to draw cartoons. They’re a racket because some schlub with no training whatsoever is far more likely to make a living as a cartoonist than one of their graduates.

    I haven’t read Abel and Madden’s book yet. But I’m skeptical of any attempt to boil good cartooning to a formula.

  2. I disagree to a point, Ted.

    There was a time when the only exposure I had to cartooning was the finished product that was hungry to replicate but didn’t know how to go about doing.

    Certainly I was able to pick up pencil and paper and try to mimic what I saw, but the more advanced I got, the more I realized I was missing something.

    I had a couple of books on cartooning that taught me about using bristol and crow-quill pens, and brush work, and proportions of panels and the basic tenants of perspective and all that good stuff.

    You devour it all, filter it, keep what you want and then apply it to what you want to do.

    I know a lot of friends who went to Art Institutes who felt they were sold a bill of goods about post-graduation job placement. If there is a cartooning school doing similar, that’s horrible.

    But I think there’s a lot to be gained from instruction, especially in the field of cartooning.

  3. My favorite cartoonist/humorous illustrator is Arnold Roth. He told me he went to an Art Institute in Philadelphia for about 3 days until he said to himself “Screw this Cr@p” Her never looked back.

    Most if not all of my favorite cartoonists and illustrators have no formal art education whatsoever.

    As an 18 year old high school kid I applied for a scholarship to the School of Visual arts in NYC back in 1977. I believe it was Seymour Chwast who interviewed me. He told me that unless you want to teach, while I was spending 4 years in art school there will be individuals out there getting jobs while you’re studying art history. He also said that you will never be asked by an art director where you went to art school or what degree you have in order to get an illustration assignment. Your portfolio speaks for you. Create the best portfolio you can, constantly modify it and get some work. Screw the degree.

    He was right. In the 25 years I’ve been freelancing and the hundreds of art directors and creative directors I’ve worked with, not one ever asked me about my art education.

    Unless you plan on a career learning to draw for the Disney machine, I agree with Ted…Cartooning schools especially are run by frauds taking money from the gullible.

  4. I’d like to announce an exciting new breakthrough in cartooning:

    The Mike Lester On-line Cartooning Course.

    In it you’ll receive intensive instruction using time tested tricks and techniques used by the Pros which is why our motto is: “Graduation Equals Syndication!!!”
    Just a couple of topics discussed:

    -Speed lines: Which direction?
    -Explosions and Blackface: Racial Tightrope?
    -Crosshatching: Avoiding Parallel lines and other Common Mistakes
    -The 7 Dingbats You Can’t Use in Family Newspapers
    -Throw Away sit-com lines as Complete Story Lines: Why waste them?

    -and many more.

    With my new course ($99.95 / lesson, min. 2 million lessons), the next time someone says,

    “You’re a cartoonist? Heck, I can’t even draw a straight line!”
    You’ll be able to say with confidence,

    “Thanks to Mike, I CAN!!”

  5. My best “teachers” were Dr. Seuss, Charles Schultz, Herblock, and Jules Feiffer.

    I just imitated them over and over and over again, until I gained confidence and developed my own style. They taught me everything I need to know about cartooning and didn’t charge me a plug nickel.

  6. Surely, Corey, you jest when you say you never learned how to draw. Your work proves otherwise.

    At best, art schools “teach” how to draw like your professor, or how your professor thinks you “should” draw. The usual system that cartoonists use to hone their chops is far more effective at producing artists with unique and appealing styles and approaches to the form.

    The usual approach:

    1. Copy/trace over thousands of other people’s comics (in my case, it was Peanuts and Mike Peters’ editorial cartoons).

    2. Work for years in a derivative style without spark.

    3. The muse hits (hopefully)! Something happens. There’s a blinding light, a roar of inspiration. You see what you need to do to make your stuff your own.

    4. Hone your unique style.

    5. Start selling your work.

    6. Realizing that you still will never draw the perfect cartoon, you continue to experiment and finesse your style over the years.

    7. Die.

    It’s always worked. It always will.

  7. I agree with Ted. Formalized education in cartooning doesn’t seem too realistic to me, beyond perhaps some sort of workshop that encourages independent artistic experimentation and growth in cartooning. Especially if different mediums are made availalbe to those cartoonists participating.

    But I would caution that perhaps education and training in the foundations of writing would be a valuable asset for any cartoonist.

  8. I was lucky to have an artistic family that did not frown on my doodlings. Then came MAD magazine. As a paperboy for the Chicago Dailey News, Bill Mauldin was a mentor; along with Walt Kelly.
    Then, out of HS, I made friends with an illustrator that worked for Disney for years. She taught me how to hold the pen or brush correctly. Everything else has been organic, T&E, and repetition.

    I give presentations at elementary schools. Invariably, some youngster will approach me afterwards with a haphazard portfolio. The innate talent of the untrained but creative amazes me!

    PS: for a real treat, go see “Son of Rambow”.
    The hero is a budding cartoonist/storyboard artist.

  9. Maybe it’s “I never learned to hang glide and it haunts me everyday…”

    Either way, everything I ever needed to know I learned from the drunks at the bar my Dad brought me to before smelting class.

    And thanks, Ted… Awfully nice of you to say.

    I now have the endorsement of a print cartooning legend.

    To all you elderly anti-pastry nay-sayers:


  10. Corey: There is nothing wrong with your drawing. It’s fine.

    But….you are correct. You ARE haunted.

    The cartoon priests could perform an exorcism, sprinkling india ink over your prone form.

    OH, wait…. THAT’s your natural state!


    Is cartoon school like political science?

  11. >>>My favorite cartoonist/humorous illustrator is Arnold Roth.
    >>>I now have the endorsement of a print cartooning legend.To all you elderly anti-pastry nay-sayers:IN YOUR CAKE-HOLES!

    My new favorite cartoonist is Corey Pandolph.

  12. >>> would caution that perhaps education and training in the foundations of writing would be a valuable asset for any cartoonist.

    Garey nails this.

    Cartooning is about writing….first and foremost.

    No famous artists school can ever teach that.

  13. There definitely is a market for this book, otherwise I wouldn’t get so many emails from aspiring cartoonists asking for advice.

    I started out copying Peanuts, but reading Mort Gerberg’s “Cartooning – The Art and the Business” saved me from making a lot of mistakes.

  14. “I started out copying Peanuts, but reading Mort Gerbergâ??s â??Cartooning – The Art and the Businessâ? saved me from making a lot of mistakes.”

    But… If you don’t make any mistakes, how do you write jokes?

  15. I’d have to disagree a bit. I’ve attended a cartooning school and it certainly helped. It was run by a working cartoonist and the lessons were inspiring and valuable. Hell, he showed me the right way to letter and my lettering improved 100% – worth the price of admission.

    To have a working, professional cartoonist look at your work and give you hands-on critiques and lessons is very valuable. How many of us here wanted to show our developing work to a professional cartoonist for a critique? Am I the only one?

    Besides, if Jessica Alba is teaching, who wouldn’t want to attend?


    Oh. Nevermind.

  16. Hi Corey

    Gerberg’s book saved me from making “a lot” of mistakes, not “any”. Heck, I’ve made plenty of mistakes and my notebooks are full of sketches and scripts I wouldn’t want other people to see, so yes, mistakes are a useful part of creativity.

    However, getting to be a professional cartoonist is a long, hard slog. Advice from other professionals, whether via a book, email, podcast or blog is a great help.

  17. Aspiring editorial cartoonists can get their portfolios reviewed by the best in the business at the AAEC’s annual convention (the next one is in Seattle in June 2009).

    Moreover, professional cartoonists tend to be generous with their time and criticism. Most will gladly share their feedback and advice with up-and-coming artists if you simply ask them. I still treasure the three page handwritten letter Jeff MacNelly sent me when I was in college. (It took me years to take most of his advice to heart. My loss, as he was right about everything.)

    But if you really wanna pay $80K for tips, hey, I can find ten well-known cartoonists to travel to your home and spend a beer-sloppy evening telling you what you could improve. Hell, we’ll do it for $60K.

  18. I never had a drawing lesson in my life–unless you count spending my childhood reading Peanuts & watching Chuck Jones cartoons 24/7.

    IMHO comic strip cartoonists are born, not made.

    On the other hand, cartoonists focusing in animation require schooling–which is why there’s a lot of online excitement over Eric Goldberg’s new book.

  19. Ahhh! Four years of art school with a bunch of people who already draw better than I do (and always will). Sounds like a special circle of hell just for cartoonists.

  20. “But if you really wanna pay $80K for tips, hey, I can find ten well-known cartoonists to travel to your home and spend a beer-sloppy evening telling you what you could improve. Hell, weâ??ll do it for $60K.”

    Ted, I have a business proposal for you…

  21. Corey and I are starting a cartooning school at Gritty’s pub in Portland, Maine. Our fees are reasonable.

  22. Chuck Jones, Jeff MacNelly, Arnie Roth…all great sources of instruction and inspiration.


    Nude Figure Study 101 (Univ. GA. 1974)

  23. Everything you need to know about how valuable any “learn to cartoon” book or school might be is right here:

    “They also had another reason for wanting Drawing Words and Writing Pictures. Both Abel and Madden are accomplished comic artists, but neither of them had received formal training. They learned on the job, channeling the little information that was available from various sources.”

    This puts them in league with 100% of all the professional cartoonists I have ever known over the course of my 30 years in the profession.

    Think about it.

  24. I forgot to mention that the graduation ceremonies for our cartooning school will be held at Federal Jack’s brew pub in Kennebunkport. President Bush (senior) will be the commencement speaker.

  25. I thought this was an interesting connection. From R. Stevens’ interview with Fleen, about his short-lived print comic:

    Fleen: What positive things are you taking away from all this?

    Stevens: It was grad school. Med school. Boot camp. The editorial help I got working with Ted was awesome. Having another pair of eyes questioning my writing was incredibly helpful. Would never have gotten that anywhere else.

  26. “How to Drink Like a Cartoonist and Draw Like a Drunk”

    -The new self-help, self-deprecating and self-medicating how-to manual for those to lazy to figure out where the art store and Internet are, on their own-

    Foreword by Wiley Miller

    Text and commentary by Ted Rall

    Crude drawings of nude bacon and Satan’s robot by Corey Pandolph.

    Beer provided by Gritty’s and Federal Jack’s.

    Printed on 100% Dolphin hide, in the USA.

    Fall, 2008

  27. Ted,

    A once a year review at an AAEC convention would certainly be a long process. God forbid if you miss it one year. A lot longer than if you can meet with a professional on a regular schedule.

    Yes, letters are nice and so is meeting your favorite cartoonist. However, is that favorite cartoonist going to want to keep writing to you week after week, or want you to show up at his doorstep every few days? I doubt it.

    Not sure where you got the 80K-60K figure from. A quick check of the NY School of Visual Arts Cartooning courses give a two month course (Inking Comics) for $470.00.

    Let’s not forget, Will Eisner was a teacher at the School of Visual Arts. I bet his classes were pretty informative, don’t ya think?

    So what’s your take on development contracts? The Finetoon Fellowship? Are they both wastes of time?

  28. Jason – school may be working for you, but I think I trust Ted, Wiley, Rick and Corey. Love their work and suspect the years they have put into it are more valuable than 4 years at school would be.

    Writing is key to comic strips and those who would be cartoonists would be better off learning to tell a coherent story first. Everything else comes with time and effort.

    School is not a waste of time, but you can do the program and still need to put in a lot of time to perfect your cartoons. I guess anyone who is serious about becoming a cartoonist will find their own way to do it.

    my 2 bits.

  29. From a personal perspective, I learned everything about being a cartoonist from a combination of several things. Subscribed to several arts magazines (HOW, Step by Step, Communications Arts,various business promotional magazines) bought every North Light book on graphic art, Illustration, Self promotion and marketing and cartooning, subscribed to all the source books (Actually just told them I was maybe interested in placing and ad, which I did a couple of years, but they’ll send you a free copy) networked with working cartoonists, joined the GAG, drew constantly and marketed the hell out of myself.

    Best school I ever went to.

  30. If you really want to over analyze this, which I know Corey loves it when people do this, cartooning is very much a solitary craft. All of the advice, guidance and instruction in the world mean nothing until you close the door of your studio, sit down at your drawing table alone and DRAW. You find out what works and what doesn’t work.

    You can have a thousand people shouting in your ear telling you how to draw cartoons, but until you learn it for yourself those voices mean nothing.

  31. So if instruction for cartooning seems like a waste of time, would you say the same to other artists who pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts? A good number of illustrators and artists I know have gone this route and have felt it to be valuable — and many of them deal with the same non-artist issues cartoonist do as freelancers (marketing, promotion, etc). Is there a big difference?

    I ask the question with really no agenda in mind. Just curious to know what the consensus is out there.

  32. “You can have a thousand people shouting in your ear telling you how to draw cartoons, but until you learn it for yourself those voices mean nothing.”

    You’re wrong, Garey. I possess a velvet tongue a pitch so perfect that when I speak, women swoon and men buy me drinks. Manly drinks, like Rob Roys and Planter’s Punch.

    -Das Faketh Rockstario has spoken

  33. “Youâ??re wrong, Garey. I possess a velvet tongue a pitch so perfect that when I speak, women swoon and men buy me drinks. Manly drinks, like Rob Roys and Planterâ??s Punch.

    -Das Faketh Rockstario has spoken”

    Word to your mutha.

  34. While I agree with Ted’s original notion that “anyone” can cartoon, there’s obviously a big difference between cartooning for fun and selling your work professionally.

    I’ll admit that my own POV on the whole school debate is more than a little biased simply due to my own background. That said, the most important element that a school can NOT teach is “talent.” It may sound mean, but you’ve either got the goods or you don’t. This doesn’t mean that you need to be a cartooning savant, but you do need to have an innate understanding of what cartooning is all about. That is, you need to be able to THINK like a cartoonist — Scott Adams is a great example.

    With respect to any “How to” book … A person without the goods will open said book and hope/think/believe that it will teach them how to be a cartoonist. But a person with the goods will open said book and find nothing more or less than inspiration … Of course, they can also find this in just about any book, place, situation, or thought.

    In most of my university classes, I was half-listening to the professors lecture while my mind wandered and pen sketched. If you’re a cartoonist and never took post-secondary education, I highly recommend that you “audit” a class one day … You’ll toon-out so fast that you’ll fill an entire sketch book 🙂

  35. I just can’t let this conversation end without this observation.

    Ted said:
    “But if you really wanna pay $80K for tips, hey, I can find ten well-known cartoonists to travel to your home and spend a beer-sloppy evening telling you what you could improve. Hell, weâ??ll do it for $60K.”

    That just makes me laugh – it’s that kind of negotiation that leads to comic strip artists getting 1970 type wages. At least let me counter-offer before you drop the price 20K. LOL.

  36. From my purely novice point of view I find cartooning a combination of classic arts skills combined with writing and your own world view. Only the last one is essential but the first two further how far it goes.

    Mr. Rall I have a deep amount of respect for you and I appreciate the fact that aside from Joe Sacco you are one of the few cartoonists who will risk your neck for the story.

    That said I like your work but it’s rather stunned. It strikes the same cynical cords over and over again. Your artwork suits your humor perfectly, but if you ever desired to express different sentiments you’d be left floundering. Compare this to someone like Clay Bennet, Steve Brodner, (I don’t want to hear anyone blow him off as “just an illustrator”) Eisner, or Walt Kelley. All of them have a strong command of traditional arts skills which allows them to manipulate their art to suit the reaction they’re trying to pull for the crowd. Their work has a far greater range of expression.

    If you want succeed financially all it takes is a lot of hard marketing work. There are a lot of people out there who only have basic writing and drawing skills.

    If you want to do a better job of communicating with your audience there is a much more to it.

    Paying 80k for school is a rip off, and the worst thing you can do is let someone paste their approach on you. However, there are quite a few useful skills that can be picked up through classical training. You can give people the parts but you can’t teach them how to put it together.

  37. Rats, late to the party on this thread; too darn busy grading my â??gullibleâ? studentâ??s work – itâ??s just so hard â??running a racketâ? and being an â??evil fraudâ?. Guess teaching 40-50 hours a week for an average of less than $10 an hour plus no benefits or insurance while juggling freelance disqualifies me from offering an opinion from the ivory tower of liberal academia, but thought I could offer the perspective of my poor stupid students and some fellow ignorant cartoonists in the community.

    Since this site bills itself as â??the source for industry news for the professional cartoonistâ? I include it as a resource for students in my own classes as a prompt for discussion â?? this posting was a great example of what an excellent opportunity folks have to learn lessons for free.

    This time we all got to hear an important message from no less than an official representative of such professional organizations as the President-Elect of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists and an Editor of Acquisitions and Development at the United Media syndicate, and even from some well-established professionals in the field that schools and teachers devoted to the advancement and practice of cartooning are â??evilâ?, â??fraudulentâ? and a â??racketâ? thatâ??s â??run by fraudsâ? and the students are â??gullibleâ?.

    The general consensus was that such opinions sounded defensive and threatened, and not a little bit sad and bitter, especially considering the sources. Reminded us of the continual flame wars between web v.s.print cartoonists, i.e pretty pathetic considering the naive belief we are all supposed to be on the same side and supportive of each otherâ??s efforts.

    But I guess that being syndicated and/or supported by an exclusive clientele literally affords you the ability to belittle and categorically dismiss the efforts of hundreds, even thousands of people who only wish they could be as good as you! You set a real fine example, and by the way, you FAIL.

    We wish we were so jaded that we could indulge in such hostile and petty condensation, but can now see how a long list of industry awards and big-name clients is even better than having a degree when it comes to having a smug and condescending attitude, and especially when used as a measuring stick to beat off the competition.
    Because thatâ??s what it boils down to: now that people donâ??t have to wait 30, 40+ years to cobble together a self-righteous, self-congratulatory self-education anymore, the only thing in their way is you. They have to wait for you to retire, to get out of the way, and stop creating a bottleneck for the new and upcoming talent that is in my opinion is far better trained and skilled than the work of a handful of bitter dinosaurs who find their work â??impenetrableâ?.
    Fortunately many of you will be spared the experience of an honest critique from an educated perspective because you wouldnâ??t ever deign to set foot in a classroom â?? and while Iâ??d personally love to have you visit my class for a show and tell or workshop session, weâ??d have to have one heck of a bake sale or sell a whole lot of zines to afford your speaking fee.
    But, besides from opining on a blog, youâ??d probably be too busy anyways, and it surely must be hard enough dealing with all those fans who wait for hours in long lines just to get your autograph. Maybe one day our work will be good enough that we’ll be able to afford to pay airfare, hotel accommodations, transportation and convention fees and meet in person… after paying tuition and student loans.
    Oh, but wait â?? now we know that thatâ??s as much of a complete waste of time as an education, because thereâ??s at least one syndicate and one organization where we now know our work isnâ??t welcome. So thanks for saving us the time and money, and now I have a few less resources to teach about opportunities in the field, which makes my job a whole lot easier than it already was!

    Also letâ??s not forget to hold our breath and wait to hear what some of the most vocal critics on this thread have to say about Abel and Maddenâ??s textbook – should they ever lower themselves to actually read it â?? but then again, sounds like some of you are working too hard on your own stuff, i.e. to take time out from drinking and â??getting laidâ?. Itâ??s important to have your priorities in order – at least itâ??ll spare you having to learn anything about being humble and being generous with your time, knowledge and skills with folks that benefit from learning in a structured environment in a formal classroom setting. Guess thatâ??s called comic relief?

  38. May I point out the obvious: not everyone who studies cartooning wants to be a cartoonist. I’ve taught cartooning in various places, from night schools to universities. Around half my students have always been teachers, sales people and professional speakers, who have a clear professional need to acquire some cartooning skills, but don’t want to become cartoonists. They’re looking for a structured, shortcut way to develop enough cartooning skills to help them in their work.

    Another 25 percent or so of students have been hobbyists who just want to have a little fun, and the class is both an entertainment and a structured way to motivate them to make some progress.

    Few if any students ever had the idea of going into cartooning professionally. To those students, and to those who’ve asked me “What should I study to become a cartoonist?” I always advise them to study literature, history and philosophy rather than art.

    I can see Abel and Madden’s type of course being of great benefit to those professional non-cartoonists who want to pick up some skills quickly and with confidence.

    In my experience, REAL professional cartoonists all learned in the same way: by sitting in the back of their elementary and high school classes scribbling in notebooks instead of taking notes. I did this all the way through grad school (studied Applied Linguistics). There should be some sort of cartooning degree in which you submit all your school notebooks. if there are more cartoon scribblings than academic notes, you get the diploma.

  39. For a rank amateur to wade into this very verbose argument is a bit daunting to say the least. But let’s cut to the chase here. For those of us “Boomers” who now have the time, money and life experience after retirement but don’t have enough years to spend to go back to college for a degree in art, this text book in comic drawing could be a blessing. If you are lucky enough to have access to a college or university that will offer Cartooning as a course, cool. The wonders of a good instructor or group critique are beyond imagination. However, if you are not so blessed to have that “Dream Course” then a text that is out there by two solid professionals becomes a guide line to follow for those of us wandering in the waste land of really poorly drawn, horribly composed, and childishly written cartoons. I grew up with the likes of Pogo being read to me by my dad in the Sunday morning comics. It would take my father at least 10 minutes to read the strip to me because he was laughing so hard. I would submit that there are very few in the “professional ranks of cartoonists” who have that have the ability to really take a poke at a local, regional or national problem, make the reader of that panel or strip just howl with laughter and then pause and say, “you know, he just might be onto something.” So in closing, because I am not a “professional,” I would like to share this with you Mr. Rall. I have never even heard of you before, don’t have a clue as to who you are, but from an old man who has seen much silliness in his life, don’t be so quick to jump to a conclusion on something so simple as a book. Worry more about the important things in life like is there too much cinnamon in this apple pie and will it compete with the vanilla in my ice cream that I am going to eat today on this Independence Day. And then just go practice and draw and write. (Guided by a good, well written text book.)

  40. Tom … Mr. Rall is one of the syndicate editors that we aspiring young ones submit our work to for consideration. He’s also a practicing cartoonist.

  41. Mike, I appreciate your info on who Mr. Rall is and that you would have to submit your work to him or the likes of him. However, I would question as to how objective he is if he makes the snap judgement that he has made such a statement without going the the book. I just went to Amazon and ordered the book to settle the question for myself in my own mind. I do know this much. If your art is good, it will sell itself and the public is the best judge. Granted you probably have to go through people like Mr. Rall unless you want to be like a local Alaskan artist, Chad Carpenter who worked very hard and hung in there and finally made it on his own because he is good at his craft. Google “Tundra by Chad Carpenter” anid take a look. Again, thanks for filling me in on who this fellow Mr. Rall is.

  42. I was alerted to this thread by one of my authors, Jamie Smith; I’m a publisher (albeit a micropress) of nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, and cartoon collections. I have to say that I value immensely an artist who loves what he or she does enough to encourage it in others, to get out there and teach the skills and techniques he or she has learned. It speaks of a passion for the genre, for one thing, which is important. If I’m going to publish a graphic novelist or cartoonist’s work, then I want an artist with integrity and skill–and teaching is always about learning. The teacher is just as much a student of the people in his or her class as the registered students are–and an author willing to keep stretching themselves–and share what they know–is worth a heck of a lot.

    Rall and Stromoski are revealing a general bias against art education, perhaps education in general. So who cares if you learned it all by the sweat of your brow in the local pub or by copying the line of your favorite cartoonist? Fine. Good. But that’s the hard way, the long way. What’s so terrible about taking a few classes for twelve weeks that cram in a bunch of exercises on shading techniques, color balance, two-dimensional design, tone, contrast, multi-point perspective, etc.? What’s so awful about having a few art history classes under your belt and learning about, say, pointillism or the “color cut-outs” of Matisse or the development of the editorial cartoon and figures like Ben Franklin or Thomas Nast?

    From my perspective, this kind of education simply makes it easier for new artists to develop their style, to enrich their dialogue and inform their drawings, to sharpen their wit. I like it when the authors I work with have an art education. Their work benefits–and because of that, so do they, and so do I.

    Back before and during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, an artist learned his (and it was almost always his) trade by copying the work of a master, and learning to copy it exactly. This is, essentially, what many posters on this thread are describing, except that they did it on their own, when (perhaps), they were expected to be doing something else. Nowadays, art students are taught to learn from the masters, but to develop their own voice, and develop it early. This INCLUDES cartoonists. One no longer MUST learn outside the atelier in order to develop a unique style. This was definitely no longer the case after the advent of, say, art nouveau. So, Mr. Rall, you’re at least 100 years behind the times in terms of standard art teaching technique, I think. But hey, maybe sequential art is behind the times in the Lower 48.

    Stromoski is right: your portfolio will speak for itself. That, however, doesn’t negate the fact that formal training in art (any kind of art, sequential or otherwise) will frequently enable the artist to get a good rich portfolio together. It’s always amazing to me how many people seem to confound an education with “job training.”

    And with regard to marketing–sneering at people because they choose to get an education is just as prejudiced as sneering at people because they decide they learn better on their own. Denigrating this kind of learning is very bad marketing practice: all those people previously interested in your work will have a bad taste in their mouths when they realize that you view them as fools simply because they love to teach or learn in a formal setting.

    Again, from the perspective of a publisher: I want author/artists who absolutely LOVE to encourage others, teach them, learn more–in or outside of school. It’s good publicity, speaks well of the author, reflects well on the publisher–and helps sell their work. And I really want artists who care about the genre at large as well as their own work.

    Jamie Smith supports himself with his cartooning and design work; he is a professional artist. And yes, he teaches. That’s a good thing, from my viewpoint. I have published the work of many of his students, some of whom have gone on to art school, some of whom didn’t. Their styles vary widely, as do their subjects. It’s exciting to see the talent being developed, and great to be able to publish their work–and it’s good enough that I pay them for it. I’m glad to encourage them, and glad to see that they know what they’re doing–that they took the trouble to hone their craft and risk their egos by subjecting it to the exacting eyes of their teacher and their fellow students, as well as a publisher. I don’t think that makes them gullible, or their work impenetrable, or their business skills any less.

  43. >>>Rall and Stromoski are revealing a general bias against art education, perhaps education in general.

    If you go back and accurately re-read my post I said nothing against art education or education in general. I think it’s a common belief that knowing something about the world makes you a better artist.What I did post was simply an observation that many successful cartoonists and illustrators I admire found no need for formal art education. Mine and Ted’s ire was directed at “cartooning” schools. It’s just not something you can teach in my opinion because it’s so personal…akin to teaching someone how to write in their diary.

    Everyone can benefit from some basic instruction on composition, shading etc… But that’s a whole different animal than cartooning. Cartooning is writing and most just can’t do it no matter how many classes they take.

    As for instruction books, I agree that there are many that are outstanding, Mort Gerberg’s being the best ever since it deals with the business end of it as well. Most of what I learned about self promotion and marketing came from every book I could get my hand on that dealt with it and publications like HOW, Step by Step and communications arts. I said nothing against textbooks.

    In Ted’s defense, as the submissions editor for a major syndicate, he has to wade through thousands of these submissions a year and gets first hand knowledge of how rare a good comic strip comes across his desk. As membership chairman for the NCS for 6 years, I also had to wade through a sea of amateur submissions who thought their work was worthy for inclusion into a professional society. Most of these applicants stated they’d taken cartooning courses in one form or another and I can tell you honestly 99% were just awful. So you might want to consider why some of us find cartooning schools somewhat dicey. They seem more interested in turning a profit than actually turning out cartoonists. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a business. But I think Ted and I were just making the point that you don’t need it and in some cases you’re better off without it.

  44. “Cartooning is writing and most just canâ??t do it no matter how many classes they take.”

    True, but it’s also funny drawing and appealing characters that attract the eye, variables that are too often forgotten. Most new cartoonists don’t give too much thought about what would be a good character design, which leads to awful looking characters, that aren’t funny, look awkward, and don’t stand out in any way.(I myself am guilty of this) Almost no one can design a good looking character unintentionally. It’s rare, I’m sure it happens but a cartooning book that gets amatures to think a little before they churn out one months worth of crap, can’t hurt.

    The fact that “anyone can do it” leads people who are not very good artists or writers to think that they can actually pull off being a successful cartoonist. The reason Ted weeds through piles of bad submissions is that these people aren’t qualified. They’d never land an interview as an illustrator or writer anywhere else, but anyone can put together a cartoon packet and send it out.
    And the surpising thing is that some of the worst stuff is getting syndicated. The field is flooded with so much garbadge, that some of it is actually getting though!

    I think formal training is fine, I pick everyones brain for ways in which to be a better illustrator. There is so much stuff I would have never figured out in photoshop and illstrator, had I not had people around me to give me tips. I have a bookshelf full of “how to draw” and photoshop and illustrator books. Along with digital Paint masters. I use what I like and disregard the rest. If anything, I think todays new cartoonists are underexposing themselves to different kinds of art.

  45. Rick; those are some good, honest points you raised, and thanks for the clarification, even if I donâ??t agree with your main point. But about your experience separating the wheat from the chaff for membership in the NCS – is that figure right?
    I am very curious about the average, overall number of annual applicants, and the approximate ratio of how many rejected applicants were from programs specifically devoted to studying cartoons.
    I wonder what the eventual impact the rise of such programs will ultimately have on the field. It is perhaps a naiive hope of many teachers to educate students on the criteria of these mysterious and insular back-room decisions, and to try and see the overall field improve. One would think that will make the jobs of editors in the future easier, and organizations would support such programs with enthusiasm instead of cutting of their nose to spite their faces.

    What seems ironic is that for all practical purposes you were, and others in a similar position at the syndicates are, in a default position of teacher, but without any requirement to divulge the specific reasons why the submission â??failsâ?. There is no way of knowing exactly what didnâ??t work or why, and no suggestions as to how to improve. For an aspiring cartoonist the most they can get is standard rejection form maybe even personally signed by an actual live human. In that way itâ??s no different from a juror of an art show in that it oftentimes simply comes down to the opinion of one – you should hope that that person calling the shots has an educated and experienced opinion, and can objectively see past there own biases, but thatâ??s not often the case.

    Most of us are familiar with the odds of syndication, but from my understanding of the industryâ??s bureaucracy is that due to the sheer volume of submissions there are numerous assistant editors that have culled 95% of the herd long before it comes across the desk of an chief editor who actually makes the final call. In the case of the NCS, I understand there is a qualifying stage where an applicant must be endorsed by three other active members, which shifts some of the responsibilities, but begs the question that it is the opinion of those members who have let the â??sea of amateur submissionsâ? reach your door.

    Also, in the case of a syndicate, having a submission in â??Developmentâ? implies you have reached the stage where the powers-that-be take enough interest that they are actually changing the appearance and content of the work to match their vision of what it should be. How that is that any different from some of the criticisms directed at teachers and schools re: influencing the development and style of student work?

  46. Mr. Stromoski, I think that if you are talking about the Matchbook School of Cartooning, of course. You get what you pay for. It’s equivalent to the modern-day spam university where you can get a master’s degree with no work and only $99 down. So yeah, the folks who are going to think you can get something for very little are gullible and are going to get screwed. But you gave the example of somebody influential for you who told you, in reference to art history, “Screw the degree.” And you said you agreed; therefore, I think I quite reasonably interpreted this to mean that you thought little of art education.

    Another note: actual universities and colleges with sequential art departments, or colleges specializing in cartooning or sequential art, are very rare, still. Cartooning has, as you all know, had to face bigotry on the part of the established art community: it’s not REAL art. It’s only been in the last few decades that it has been accepted as such, and treated seriously in art classes. So not too many modern cartooning professionals would have even had a chance at a cartooning or illustration education, although some may have had an art education (in which they probably had to guiltily hide their incriminating drawings from their teachers).

    Cartooning is drawing AND writing. You’ve got to have both skills. That’s the beauty of this kind of art: it challenges the reader and the creator in two spheres at once.

  47. I’m so glad to hear about Mike Lester’s School O’ Cartooning.

    What with his recent passing, I’ve been lost, working on some kind of cartoon of Jesse Helms with a halo over his head.

    But now I’m saved! Having done the equivalent cartoon thousands of times, I know Mike Lester’s the man to show me the way!

  48. I don’t see what the problem is. Things are very different today.

    If you look at Herge’s ‘Tintin in the Land of the Soviets’ and then compare it with ‘Tintin in the Black Isle’ (I choose that because it’s in Scotland), you’ll see that Herge improved fantastically as an illustrator and writer over a period of time. He learned a lot about the craft of cartooning because of the circle of cartoonists he worked with. Left on his lonesome, who knows if Tintin would have developed the way it did?

    Over in Japan, the people inking and pencilling at Naoki Urasawa’s feet, will with time, after learning their craft in the Mangaka’s studio, go on maybe one day to become Mangaka themselves.

    I had the luxury of working for IPC comics in the 1980s and week upon week could see where I was making mistakes. I could do the same with my daily panel and I can do the same today, in print, but not everyone is that lucky.

    The market is very different today, and beginning cartoonists can’t learn their trade in print so easily (let’s be honest, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, it was a lot easier to get into print in some form or other). So they learn their craft on the web, and they learn from books, and they learn from courses like the one mentioned above.

    In my opinion, you could do a lot worse than learn from Jessica Abel and Matt Madden. The pair have helped in the development of many indy cartoonists and mini-comic producers over the years. And let’s face it, that’s where ALL the exciting developments in cartooning have come from; not from the mainstream comic-strippers.

  49. Art Laffer:”What with his recent passing, Iâ??ve been lost, working on some kind of cartoon of Jesse Helms with a halo over his head.

    But now Iâ??m saved! Having done the equivalent cartoon thousands of times, I know Mike Lesterâ??s the man to show me the way!”

    I don’t get it. Explain your connection between JHelms and this topic.

  50. Mr. Laffer: I don’t know you or your connection to cartooning if you have one. But I know a personal attack when I see one. I assume you’re referring to my politics which means you’re a heckler. It’s not my fault you’re probably not a published cartoonist which is why I’m offering classes to the untalented. (certified funds only)

    Now offering remedial courses in:

    -Wit: Clever or a NitWit?
    -Making Cartoonist Friends and Hugging Puppies
    -Manners: (ages 14 and under only)

    Back to the adults: The book and instruction in general of course have value to the novice but what sets people apart is style. Style of writing and style of art and it can’t be taught.

    Robert Weaver: “Style is the result of your most honest labors.”

    My Dad: “The Lord helps those that help themselves -as long as they work like hell.”

  51. I don’t have a problem with art education, education in general, or college-level classes about cartooning. Indeed, I have long crusaded against the absence of editorial cartooning classes at Columbia J-School.

    Art classes can be very helpful to cartoonists. I’ve taken a few, and taken away tips about materials, composition, contrast, etc. that I think were useful.

    What I object to are schools that promise to turn you into a cartoonist, and/or schools that tell you you need a cartooning degree to become a cartoonist. This is the implicit pledge behind the cartooning program at SVA, as well as the raison d’être for the outfit in Vermont I mentioned in the first place.

    If these outfits weren’t preying on ignorant 17-year-olds and their clueless parents, didn’t charge disproportionately high tuition, and didn’t try to turn their charges into cookie-cutter copies of their staffs (in Vermont, for example, the art comix-obsessed staff offers little to no coverage of huge genres of cartooning), they’d be fine.

  52. I was an arts major, I ended up with a BFA, and I wish I could have taken a class or two that taught cartooning, and/or cartooning techniques, especially around the materials side of cartooning. I see that as valuable, potentially rounding out a graphic design or illustration type art degree.

    I think it is misleading for a school, or institution, to teach so specifically “cartooning” — to focus exclusively in one spectrum of the art field. Getting a good education (to me) means the student is exposed to many different departments and disciplines, the student is required to take classes that they may or may not apply to their ultimate degree, but I see this in making a comprehensive education for the many career changes or challenges the student will go through as they develop over a lifetime.

  53. saying people who cant do comics without school arent trying hard enough is like saying drug addicts should be able to quit drugs by being shamed into it.

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