Cartooning 101: An Introduction

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.


Creative lessons from District 9


The surprise hit movie of the summer has got to be the sci-fi thriller District 9. The film is produced by Peter Jackson and conceived and directed by a 29 year old South African named Neill Blomkamp. There are some wonderful lessons to be learned from the story of this very talented artist who began his career as a 3-D animator. Though his family relocated to Canada when Neill was 18, he never forgot the South Africa of his youth, an area ravaged by the effects of apartheid. It is the application of allegory, brought about by Blomkamp’s South African upbringing, that gives District 9 real authenticity and relevance that connects with audiences in in a relatable way. In other words, it is born from the truth of experience.

Blomkamp attended the prestigious Vancouver Film School and worked as a 3-D animator on projects like Stargate SG-1 and Smallville. As a rising young star he directed, wrote, and produced a small short film in 2005 called Alive in Joburg. The clip below is his original film that was to become District 9.

Blomkamp was tapped by Peter Jackson to direct a movie based on the popular video game Halo. When the deal to complete the film fell through, Jackson felt compelled to allow Blomkamp to direct a larger version of Alive in Joburg. Jackson arranged the financing to back the film for $30 million, a tiny budget compared to, say, Transformers 2 which cost in excess of $300 million. And District 9 is far and away a better film. Here’s a link to the trailer of District 9.

Here are 5 things that we can learn from the creative process of Neill Blomkamp.

1. Create from the core of you. This single factor is what sets Blomkamp apart from so many young creators ( and old ones as well) and why his movie is so fresh and feels so original. He incorporated his own personal reflections of the environment he grew up in and translated it into a new story arch. He not only wrote what he knew and what he had experienced but found the right kind of story to share those experiences.
2.Follow your bliss. Blomkamp combined his love for science fiction, his affinity for video games, his talent and background in special effects together with his own life experience to create something real.
3. Let your influences inspire, not conspire. Blomkamp’s creative influences are apparent in District 9. The basic premise for the movie is taken from 1988’s Alien Nation, as well as other science fiction classics like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Independence Day. Even his love of the game Halo is a part of the making of this film. But Blomkamp puts a fresh, new original spin on the genre, and makes it his own. Though the influences are there, they are part of the creative process, not than the creative outcome. It takes creative confidence to achieve that, one that is born from a lot of experience. Sure, Blomkamp is only 29, but he started as a 3-D animator at 16. He listened to that internal voice to create from. The inspirations were only a part of the mix.
4. Give the process time. The gestation period for creative projects varies, but it is often years in the subconscious before it comes to the forefront. I’ve read stories about creators who work amazingly fast (John Hughes, for instance, in one our previous blog posts), but rest assured the seeds for stories, paintings, songs, comics, and screenwriting are planted long before they blossom. Blomkamps short film Alive in Joburg was done in 2005, but it’s story was conceived in the miind of the creator years before it came to the big screen as District 9 in August 2009.
5. Don’t let a defeat dictate your destiny. Creativity of any kind faces obstacles. The moment that Blomkamp learned that the film he was supposed to direct ,“Halo”, had been shelved, my guess is he probably didn’t consider it one of the greatest days of his life. But it was. He went on to direct District 9, a more original film, one that will better position him to achieve more as a director and creator. Every act of creativity takes courage. The road is never easy. In 1982, I had a newspaper editor tell me that I had absolutely no talent, and that I needed to get out of the cartooning business. Rather than let it defeat me, I used it as a driving force to land a cartooning job for a paper in Colorado. It kept me motivated during my 26 year career there (the paper folded in February 2009) and still pushes me to continue to create in new ways as I continue my career. So standing firm in the face of adversity, believing in your creative product and persevering until it comes alive makes the outcome so much sweeter.
Remember: Be Fearless. Create Boldly.

Thinking about creating a Web Comic

I’ve been toying with doing a web comic lately. There is a whole new model for doing a comic strip out side of print media these days, one in which I find very exciting and a bit freeing. Cartoonists who are syndicated are often kept on very tight leashes by editors and publishers who get a bit paranoid when they get a single phone call about something that has upset a reader. How Garry Trudeau, who does Doonesbury, has been able to stand the complaints his strip generates is beyond me. On the internet there are no such restrictions. The problem is monetizing the strip.

copyright Drew Litton 2009

These are a few characters that I’m working on in hopes they will bloom into their very own web comic. Think the Man from U.N.C.L.E. meets the Big Easy meets Lethal Weapon and you have a pretty good idea of the direction I’m goin in. Doing something in the swampland of Lousiana is really exciting to me since I love the setting and the landscape. I’m thinking about documenting the process on Creator’s Incubator as I work out the kinks and move forward towards actually launching it (if indeed I do). It might make an interesting project. Let me know what you think.

Creator’s Incubator # 1

Welcome to the first ever Creator’s Incubator. Since it’s the inaugural edition, I thought it would be appropriate to give you a few behind the scenes stuff about my creative process.

Individual cartoons have their own set of sparks, so I thought I’d give you some of the everyday variety.
I like to surround myself with cartoon collectibles and cartoon art in the studio. It makes me feel at home.Here’s just a few samples from my home studio.



Five things that help me Create:
1. Reading. Newspapers, magazines, websites, billboards, t-shirts, movie posters, anything visual It’s the most important part of creating sports cartoons. After I read I let it soak in for a while.
2. Silence is golden for thinking up ideas. I can listen to music or CNN after I pencil the cartoon and I’m ready to ink, but not before.
3. Word play. I write down topics and free associate a visual metaphor for what it is I want to say in the cartoon. In my case it’s usually an opinion I have about a topic I’m drawing on.
4. Ink don’t think. The worst thing to do is force an idea. Ideas form when you’re most relaxed, even if you are under deadline. If I get really stuck I’ll put the subject I’m drawing about in the most outrageous situation I can imagine. Case in point. This Phelps cartoon.
5. Bang my head up against the wall and hope that something besides hair comes out.

Creativational Quote of the day: An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.
Edwin Land

Created on this date: 1963 – Beatles record “She Loves You” & “I’ll Get You”

The Rhino Recommends: This fantastic book about the founding of Pixar and the innovation and creativity it took to pull it all together.

There you have it. I hope you’ll join us here and at for the next edition of the Creator’s Incubator

Welcome to the Creator’s Incubator


Welcome to my Laboratory, “The Creator’s Incubator”.

What’s it all about?

The single most asked question I get as a cartoonist is “Where do you get your ideas”? Aside from the answer “ I drink a lot and sleep late” once given in jest by cartoonist Gahan Wilson, I’ve always stumbled my way through it.

I’ve long been intrigued by the creative process and have often wanted to find a way to answer that elusive “ideas” question. So I decided why not feature daily insights, tips, and suggestions about this thing called creativity and how we can all apply it to our daily lives. Why not go “inside-the-lab” with stories about other creators and how they hatch their amazing works of art. We’ll delve into it all, including music, writing, character development, movie and TV show development, cartoons, comics, comedy and just about anything else that can be created. We’ll make it interactive, so that you too can share your own creative thoughts and insights. Think of it as one big Creative Community. A Creators Incubator. That said, it’s time for the grand tour.

The Creator’s Incubator upcoming Features
Sparks: Those things that inspire creativity. For instance, one of the most fascinating stories about the creation process of the Beatles infamous Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club album revolved around the John Lennon song, “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite”. The songs lyrics came directly from a circus poster Lennon had found in an antiques store. That’s a spark.

Creativational Quotes: Quotes to motivate the creative spirit in us all, like this:
“A creation of importance can only be produced when its author isolates himself, it is a child of solitude.”
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe-

Creative tips: Like this one… Ever read billboards? Sometimes they can provide great ways to create powerful, well defined ways to communicate ideas. The key is in the simplicity and in the way one grabs your attention. Just don’t drive off the road doing it.

The Rhino Recommends: Once a week the Incubator will give it’s recommendation of a book, a movie, cd or blog that can offer something valuable to the creative process. Not exactly Oprah, but you get the idea.

Inside-the-Lab. We’ll go behind the scenes into someone’s creative process giving you some cool information about how other creative people come up with their stuff and how you might use it at work or in your daily sure to read my daily cartoons as well.

Created on this date: Highlights of the worlds most creative achievements, like this:
On June 29, 1964 the 1st draft of Star Trek’s pilot “Cage” was released.

Readers comments, tips and insights. The interactive part of the Incubator.

Ask the Rhino. Send in your questions about creativity directly to the Rhino. He’ll answer one good one a week.

There you have it. I hope you’ll join us here for the Creator’s Incubator starting July 1.