Saturday, March 19, 2005

My friend, Jonas, posted an article about Common Mistakes Made by Aspiring Cartoonists in his blog yesterday and in reply to my short "comment" said that I should post an article about my philosophy on cartooning, as well as ponderables in my experiences as a professional cartoonist. Why not, right? This is going to be a bit tricky though since I never really taught anything to anyone about my experiences in cartooning save for that one short lecture in De La Salle University a couple of months ago. And okay, since I myself didn't got any advice from other professionals when I was starting these things that I picked up along the way are those that I learned through countless mistakes and praises I received (it's a lot like playing hopscotch where you hop around avoiding things and hoping you land on the right spot or something) and it's not in any way THE rules of cartooning but it does comes pretty close to having a succesful career in cartooning and enjoying it.

First thing I learned in cartooning and comic strip making is to ask yourself why you're going into it? You may think it's kooky to think why I would put this down as a matter of priority over all the other matters but if you've been in the business as long as I have you bet you'll putting this one up first too. There's a general perception (and a deceptive one at that) that going into the cartooning business in a cinch. All you have to do is come with a few characters (a boy, his best bud, a girl, and a few authority figures like a boss, a teacher, a coach, etc.), add a few talking animals and a ridiculous situation and Bingo! you have a hit! All you have to do now is lie back basking in the afterglow of adulation of countless fanboys or fangirls screaming your name at the top of their lungs. Right? Ahhh... could be. Probably. Maybe. But if that's the reason you're entering this profession then I suggest you enter one of those talent show contests they show on TV and stay there. If you're entering the comics business thinking you could get stinking rich from the money pouring in from all the plushies, pins, buttons, and other possible merchandise like the Japanese do with their cutie creations then you're in it for the wrong reasons. Bottomline is if you're thinking of going into the cartooning business because you think it's the easiest thing in the world to do then I suggest turn around and walk away. Because cartooning and comic strip making demands tight discipline. Contrary to what other people think, the life of a cartoonist or comic strip artist is one of seriousness where careful research and doing a lot of thinking is the order of the day. That's the deceptive part. Most of the time you'd find cartoonists lounging around reading comic books, magazines, playing video games or with toys, or probably just staring off into space. While others would think this is all a lazy immature excuse to goof off, for us it's a process for the most important and hardest part of all, conceptualizing (more on this in the future). Then of course there are the similarities in situations with authors and comic book artists where rejections and unappreciation of one's work tend to stretch the patience to its limit. But unlike those other two professions I've mentioned, comic strip artists will need to lengthen their patience a bit more while fighting against the potential loss of dignity because it's also one of the most unappreciated careers in the world.

Good comic book artists easily gain sizeable followings primarily because of the opportunities afforded to them by big print companies. Ask any comic enthusiast around these parts and they could easily rattle off dozens of these artists' names from the top of their heads but if you ask them to come up with a list of cartoonists from the top of their heads chances are they'd only be able to come up with some five or six names (most of them are either foreigners, retired, or dead). Like I said before there's this general perception that cartoonists can whip up ideas off the top of their heads to come up with ideas while comic books artists have to labor for days (and nights) on end to come up with their pages. But can we really pull off our materials like rabbits out a hat? I can't claim to speak for all cartoonists but speaking from my experience the task of coming up with an idea or a story that would fit just right in a couple of boxes is no walk in the park. No truer words were said whose description was it that said, comic strip artists have to juggle the roles of being a producer, director, scriptwriter, editor, lightman, cameraman, costume designer, boom operator, dolly grip, best grip, etc. on a regular basis and still come up with a good idea at the end of the day for the next day's performance (cartoon characters fill the role of the actors). It would be a good if the artist's work merits a glance from the reader. It would even be better if the reader takes a little of their time to send a feedback and nothing drives an artist better than to receive a word or two from their audience. It would heartbreaking if the reader passes over it thinking it isn't worth his or her time. Consequently it would be disastrous if the reader thinks it all a futile exercise and nothing of worth could be gleaned from that space. The other wrong idea for going into the cartooning business is the lure of merchandising possibilites or the obsessive idea concerning it. Rather a cartoonist should concern him or herself first with telling a good story, minding the lives of his or her stable of characters, and thoroughly deliberating the kind of message he or she is spreading through their work. If and when they can settle all these with no problem at all then I don't see why that cartoonist can't go into the business of merchandising AFTER the fact. I myself encourage it as it would serve as a good source of financial support to their cartooning business.

One may have varied answers to the primary question why they want to be a cartoonist, but the bottomline to it should first and foremost be because you love your work and the idea of pursuing a career in cartooning is noble rather than novel. You should love it enough to have a real sense of ownership, whether you're an artist or a craftsman you wouldn't be able to survive without this genuine love for your work. Breathe life into your characters like a good author would do. Conceptualize how they would look like as a good artist should. Fame is fleeting and harvesting the adulation and praises should not be your main concern as comic readers are fickle minded and unpredictable. You, as a cartoonist, should realize that you're journeying between these two worlds at the same time and maintaining a good sense of balance between these two worlds should be your goal. These things I've mentioned so far are just of the few things we cartoonists go through. Although there are stragglers getting on board thinking it they could do it without counting what it would cost them, I observed that some of these resort to either two things that happen as they go along: the first is that their work suffers a great deal either in the writing department or the art department. The loss of balance in either one of these two present a potential great loss of audience numbers; the second is that they drop out of the race altogether. Some of those who persist with the ordeal would either learn the tricks of the trade and become great cartoonists by way of strenghtening their writing or drawing skills to compensate for their other weakness or they learn nothing at all and become ludicrous examples that newspaper editors are forced to drop off eventually. I would tackle the matter of the responsibility of the artist through the message they're getting across to their readers in the future but if you read these through and you still think cartooning is the easiest thing in the world to do then I suggest you get it through your head the second time just to be sure then hop on aboard the bandwagon.

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