Cartoons: Not Just for Kids

Sure, everyone remembers watching cartoons as kids, and most animated movies are geared toward children. It’s much easier to do the types of characters and actions that kids appreciate as animation than with actors and film. Think about it: kids like animals, some of which don’t even exist in real life (dragons, unicorns, monsters, etc) and kids expect pretty much all of them to talk. Imagine the costumes and effects that would have to be created to do those things as a real film and you’ll understand why it’s typically animation.

But cartoons aren’t just for kids. In Japan, there is a whole culture surrounding adult themed cartoons (anime) and comics (magna). We mostly call them “graphic novels” to make it sound better than a “comic book” but that’s pretty much what they are. However, being cartoons does not make them less valuable or minimize their content. If you don’t believe me, go read Maus or Pyongyang. These are not silly illustrations for easy laughs you find in the Sunday paper. These are real subjects drawn in such a way that it enhances the story and becomes part of it in a way that words cannot. There are plenty more, ranging from historical pieces to biographies to fantasy to everything in between. Go to your local library and take a look, or head to a comic book store – you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you find.

I also think that political cartoons can sometimes be more effective than the rest of a magazine or newspaper put together. There’s something about an illustration that makes us pay a little more attention to the meaning. We’re not skimming through or only reading the first paragraph. It’s something that we actually notice, something that has the potential to stay in our memory for a lot longer than simple words can. Look at the career of Terry Mosher (aka Aislin). Some of his drawings got him into some pretty hot water – he was the first English-speaker who dared to draw an unflattering picture (well, the pig feet aren’t very attractive) of the Queen, or the one of Prime Minister Mulroney face down in the snow (which earned him a rebuke in the House of Commons). Yet, even after years of these kinds of things, he was honored with the Order of Canada. Why? Because his work is actually a valuable medium of public expression, that’s why! My parents couldn’t tell you anything about the rest of the news that day but boy do they remember that picture of PM Mulroney in the snow!

Then there are shows like Et Dieu créa…Leflaque, which is both a CGI show about a (somewhat atypical) family and a political satire rolled into one very popular show. If you’ve ever seen it, or anything like it, you know this is not one of those shows geared toward children. It is an excellent example of what you can do with the medium of cartoons – something that educates, that makes you laugh, that expresses views in a satirical but effective way. There are other shows out there like it, you just have to know where to look.

Let’s not forget where some of the most popular characters of the day come from: all those action hero movies all got their start as comic strips or books! Don’t tell me their success is all due to kids plunking down money to buy those movie tickets and watching the series on TV.

Comics have a place in the lives of every adult. If you lose your prejudices and keep an open mind, you’re sure to find a writer and medium that you enjoy!

This is my Starving Artist Phase

The image of a starving artist may be trite but it is really true. I must make ends meet as a student in transit between my education and eventual career. I hope this phase doesn’t last long, but in the interim I am finding ways to make money while in school. I am very frugal and never splurge on anything but supplies. Forget after-school drinks, movies, time at the arcade, or trips away.  I can only spend no holds barred on paint, paper, and the like. I save on prepared canvases for acrylic or oil paintings by stretching them myself. They cost way less. You buy the put together frame in any size and uncoated linen that comes by the yard in various widths. With my handy dandy staple gun, I can stretch the cloth across the frame (making it taut with a metal clamp) and attach it in strategic places. Then the gesso goes on and I am ready to roll, at a reduced price.

Buying used books is the most well-known student trick to save money. Who cares if your texts are pristine and unscathed? I don’t even mind all the little notes in the margins from previous readers. They point me to what is important. Of course, when I am done with a course I will sell the book back. Clever and smart, right? Books are a huge expenditure that destroys any budget.

I also avoid eating out too often and buy sandwiches at school or the nearby convenience store. Fast-food is notoriously cheap so the way to save is order only what you need. My latest economy tactic is to ditch the car and ride a commuter bike, after I found the best one at I can get to class in time, store books in the attached compartment, and avoid the cost of gas. Now I pedal away in the bike lane and park with all the other students in the same boat. Sure, we all prefer cars or vans, but it is not practical yet. Someday, I will make up for it. My old car was on the rocks anyway so I am happy to see it go. Repairs can quickly eat up anyone’s savings in no time. When student cars are more than used, the time in the shop rises. When you know it is on its last legs, get that bike.

If you have other ideas to economize, I am all ears.  Students are known to get creative when it comes to hoarding their pennies. I have a part-time job, but one of my best moves is to sell my art. There are impromptu student expos in the adjacent park. The locals come ambling over to get a bargain. Their bargain is our income. We don’t need that much! I have learned what sells. I love to do cartoons and the kids love them to decorate their rooms. Other university students also indulge for the same reason.

Another Difficult Assignment

As an art student, I try to put myself in places where I might get inspiration for my work. If I am stuck in my classroom seat in the midst of an assignment, I have to rely on my imagination. Fortunately I have the gift of recall so I can muster up some imagery if I have some previous experience with a subject, or even if I have just seen pictures online or in books. My brain is a storehouse for artwork production.  This is how it all works. I do have another idiosyncrasy. I tend to turn everything into a cartoon in my mind or on paper. It pleases me but not always my art professor. You never know when this bent will make an appearance.

Today I have to draw a beach scene with normal people and for some reason I am struggling with concentration and it isn’t coming out just right. I have been to the shore a million times over the years so that isn’t the problem. It is such a generic subject and should not be difficult to execute. Why I am overworking the beach umbrellas, I have no idea. I can’t decide on the colors, sizes and placement. I want the composition to show a rhythmic play of these circular shapes. I believe this is a good approach, but somehow these utilitarian objects look strange.

After starting this post to vent my frustration, I sit back and think clearly about my last trip to the beach. Sure, there were umbrellas galore. On hot sunny days they pop up everywhere to shelter people from the intense rays of the sun. Mothers put their children underneath their shelter as they apply sunscreen in globs. Food in coolers is protected from the heat. Besides doing their job helping sunbathers and swimmers enjoy their day, the beach umbrellas from Just Beach Things look so cool, like colorful giant lollypops poking out from the sand.

Now that I have spewed a few words, I am more relaxed and ready to try again. I start over with the umbrellas and now the shape looks right. The professor peeks over my shoulder and nods with approval. This causes other students to come and take a look. Suddenly we are all up and exchanging opinions of each other’s work. It became a critique session and while helpful it stopped the creativity from flowing as we assessed the responses. Mine were favorable so I jumped back in and finished the assignment. Time was almost up. It wasn’t mean to be a big deal but it became one for some odd reason. I was pleased with the results and super happy with the beach umbrellas. I had modeled them on the many I had seen when on vacation. I did include one odd ball version with a really funny decoration. Cartoon figures danced around the edge of the central umbrella, proclaiming their existence with glee. Did anyone notice?