Wow! Yesterday, Bill Watterson, today Berke Breathed. Cool. Enjoy these links.
Penguins and things
I got the chance to meet Berke Breathed early in my career while visiting a girlfriend of mine who was attending UT Austin. Berke was the second most famous guy on campus at the time just behind this running back named Earl Campbell. Breathed had just published a book of his wildly popular cartoon strip “The Academia Waltz” that he was doing for the Daily Texan, UT’s student newspaper.
The thing that struck me most when first meeting Berke was how absolutely accidental the whole cartooning thing was for him. Here I was, doing everything I could to become a cartoonist, drawing constantly, studying the art form and immersing myself in anything that had to do with comics. And there was Berke, doodling these amazingly hilarious strips about college life, seemingly unaware he was creating brilliance along the way, with this “I could really care less about cartoons” kind of attitude. It was, as you can imagine, somewhat maddening. We crossed paths now and then throughout the years but, unfortunately, never became friends.
But his work was another matter. It became, at the time anyway, the ultimate example of a successful comic strip. Millions of adoring fans, millions of dollars in the bank account and millions of cartoonists who wanted to be just like him. The first complete anthology of Bloom County strips is now available, a worthy exploration into, perhaps, the last great social-political cartoon commentator of our time (no offense to Garry Trudeau and Doonesbury). I highly recommend it.
One of the things that has driven me crazy about Breathed is his flippant and canned answers he has given in the numerous interviews he has given during his career. It was if he was running a marketing campaign to spin his career into cutesy, dismissive quotes, with little substance or insight into the real human being who drew penguins with big noses and influenced an entire generation with his own unique brand of humor and satire. Finally someone got it right. Rather than bore you any further with my ramblings into the creative genius of Berke Breathed, I’ll simply point you to this new LA Times interview, where finally, Breathed drops his guard long enough to show us the real and authentic voice behind Bloom County.
Cartooning 101: An introduction
This particular study of the art of Cartooning is intended for kids ages 12 and older. I’ll do a simpler one for the little tykes later on.
So you think that you might want to be a Cartoonist, huh? You want the million dollar mansions, the Mercedes in the driveway, and the 3 rounds of golf that you get to play every week, because, hey, it only takes a few minutes a day to bang out a cartoon, right. Oh, and don’t forget the groupies. Groupies just like the ones that used to follow Led Zeppelin around back in the 70’s. You want thousands of those.
Before I tell you the truth, you might want to sit down. First off, there aren’t many cartoonists who own mansions. I know. You’ve read all about Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts raking in billions every year, just on Snoopy pajamas alone.
Or maybe you saw an interview with Jim Davis, whose ability to put Garfield images on everything from lasagna boxes to moon rocks, has made him a frequent guest on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”.
Yeah. Sure, there are those guys. But, for everyone of them, there are thousands of cartoonists who live from paycheck to paycheck or, worse, handout to handout. It’s not a career for the faint of heart. No mansions, no Mercedes, no golf, and NO groupies. Ok. Maybe Berke Breathed, creator of Bloom County, might actually be able to attest to groupies (it had something to do with the allure of a Penguin with a big nose), but for the rest of us, no groupies.
So at this point you may be asking yourself, then why do it? Why torture yourself with the deadlines, and the low pay and the general disrespect you get daily from editors who think that people only worship at the feet of writers. Cartoonists? We’re the low rent district. So why, why, why?
In a word. Love. We love to draw funny little pictures that make fun of the editors who pay the art form no respect. We love the ability to skewer the politicians who are running amuck throughout our communities with a single solitary image that reduces them to tears. And we love to lampoon everything from a tall soy, no fat, latte, to the poor fool who can’t afford one, which sometimes is one of us. We were the ones who learned how to draw cartoons in Algebra class. The ones who scrawled stuff on the desks at school. The ones who would rather watch a great episode of Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner as opposed to, say, something redeeming on the Discovery channel. If that describes you, then welcome. You are one of the ones. If not, that’s OK. I’ve heard the Guitar Hero and Rock Band come with groupies…So there you go. I hope you’ll stick with us regardless because, well, just remember this…When you see a few funny drawings making fun of people who are playing Guitar Hero for hours on end, you’ll want to know where they come from.
So, now, where does that leave us class. At the beginning. In these posts I’ll be covering a variety of subjects that I hope will bring you some insight and some tips and techniques that can help you become a cartoonist, or perhaps, a better one.
We’ll deal with stuff like “where DO YOU get your ideas?”, tools of the trade, the penciling and inking process of putting it all together to make a cartoon. We’ll deal with Wacom tablets, scanners and some Photoshop basics to help you color stuff for publication or the web. We’ll talk about syndication, otherwise known as “Lawyers, Guns and Money” (just kidding about the guns part), web comics, which is where the future lies, and other models of monetizing your cartoons. Above all, I think we’ll have blast that will put us on the road to becoming one of the most noble and honorable of professions: The Cartoonist.
Stay tooned for our first chapter, which will take us into the scary and frightening mind of the Cartoonist. We’ll explore the thought process, exactly how and where to get ideas and inspiration from. We’ll reach deeply into the human soul and psyche to find out precisely where “EHHH, What’s Up Doc” really comes from. So hang on to your seat cushions. We’re about to enter the Cartoonists Zone.