The The Art of Cartooning Art of Cartooning

The The Art of Cartooning Art of Cartooning

by Roy Paul Nelson

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With a little outside help, says veteran cartoonist Roy Paul Nelson, anyone with an interest in art can learn to draw humorous sketches. He proves it in this accessible guide to cartooning, offering beginners and professionals a complete manual for working in one of the world's liveliest art forms.
Briefly tracing the origins of cartooning, Nelson goes on to furnish tips for using proper tools and techniques; drawing the human figure, animals, and backgrounds; composing; doing gag cartoons, comic strips, and panels; creating editorial and advertising cartoons; and much more. Accompanying the easy-to-follow directions are seventy-five illustrations, including many of the author's own.
Designed especially for novices, this concise, readable guide will also serve as a refresher course for seasoned artists.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486147413
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 01/18/2013
Series: Dover Art Instruction
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 128
File size: 10 MB

Read an Excerpt

The Art of Cartooning

By Roy Paul Nelson

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14741-3


The Development of the Cartoon

What is a cartoon?

One dictionary says it's a "sketchy picture or caricature ... intended to affect public opinion." This is a good description of an editorial or political cartoon and, perhaps, a cartoon for an advertiser; our definition, however, should be expanded to include mention of humorous drawings—comic strips, gag cartoons and spot drawings—which have the less ambitious function of simply entertaining.

And what kind of people draw cartoons?

Let me tell you of my first meeting with Dan Mindolovich, who's been attached to a couple of newspapers in the Northwest.

New at Jefferson High School, Portland, I had signed up for a course in cartooning, a unique offering among high schools then. As I walked into the room, I saw in the back a dark-haired fellow, looking at a cartoon, laughing so hard that tears were running down his cheeks. I rushed back, had a look, and admitted, "That's pretty good, all right. Who did it?"

Dan could hardly control himself. "I did." And he was off again.

Virgil (Vip) Partch, that zany cartoonist from Capistrano Beach, California, comes from a "pretty serious family of artists." According to his own account, his forefathers were "pretty square, and they were missionaries and didn't go in too much for Playboy or Punch."

"Then how did you get into the business of comic art?" I once asked him.

I was quite tall as a kid [he said] and my hands and feet were as big as they are now, but I only weighed about ten pounds, and with the cross-eyes and the odd build it was kind of hard to be serious. What really did it was, I was in a little grammar school and we had three rooms and we went all the way through the l2th grade, so each room had about four classes in it. I was in love with a girl who was a couple of years—three years—ahead of me, but she was a gorgeous creature (and to prove that point she became a feature dancer in Tiajuana when she grew up). I was chinning myself once and she was around there, kind of handling the little kids, and while I was chinning myself my belt broke and my pants fell down. Well, you just can't be dignified about a situation like that. I had to cover it up with a jolly old laugh and a little clowning, so I decided right then and there that I'd be a cartoonist.

There's a little bit of clown in the typical cartoonist.

There's a good dose of seriousness, too.

The late Art Young once classified himself as a "Republican," anxious for fame, fond of fine clothes. But having tasted insecurity when he lost a job on the Chicago Tribune, felt shock on seeing the slums in Chicago and New York, come close to death from an illness while studying art in Paris, endured an unhappy marriage, wandered into socialist lectures to pass his evenings—Art Young gradually gave up his conservative ways. He developed an intense hatred for capitalism, war, slums, prudery and pay toilets, among other things. His work went mostly to nonpaying, radical magazines. To sustain himself, he occasionally sold to the general circulation magazines.

But even in these cartoons there was some of the Art Young philosophy. Whenever he got paid for one it reminded him of the Irishman working in America, writing back home: "Jim, come on over. I'm tearing down a Protestant church and getting paid for it besides! "

Twice Young's work brought him into the courts: once when the Associated Press was aroused over his cartoon suggesting that estimable organization was poisoning the minds of its readers and once when the federal government decided Young was conspiring "to obstruct the recruiting and enlistment services of the United States." Both times Young was acquitted. During the second set of trials, with his life at stake, Young fell asleep in the courtroom! It was his way of showing his contempt for the system he was fighting.

Charles Schulz since 1950 has been charming a growing audience with that unlikely collection of kids in "Peanuts": Lucy, the world's champion fuss-budget who has in her library such volumes as The Power of Positive Fussing and Great FussBudgets of Our Time; Linus, the boy who finds solace with a blanket; Schroeder, the young pianist who finds playing a Beethoven sonata very difficult indeed, especially when all the black keys are painted on the keyboard; and of course "Good Ol' Charlie Brown," who has finally come upon the reason nobody likes him: he's unpopular. Those who know Schulz personally know him as a deeply religious person whose reliance on prayer and whose dedication to his church have given him a security that Linus, with only his blanket, could never find. Those who study his strip—and it's worth studying—can detect a good deal of theology there. One strip showed Lucy bawling out Charlie Brown for getting all the answers wrong at school. "I guess I sort of misinterpreted things," said Charlie Brown. "I didn't think being right mattered as long as I was sincere!" Billy Graham was so impressed with that one he reprinted it in Decision, his otherwise cartoonless magazine.


Cartoon scholars have suggested that the great French artist, Honoré Daumier, is the "Father of Modern Caricature" ("caricature" being a term at one time synonymous with "cartooning"). In England, working in the 1700's, the genius painter and engraver, William Hogarth, earned a reputation as a satirist through his drawings and engravings. In our country, Benjamin Franklin (who else?) is thought of as our first cartoonist (you remember his 1754 "Join or Die" cartoon reproduced in the history books).

These early cartoonists were a grim bunch. They had a job to do, evils to correct, countries to educate. The laughs were to come later.

The first big name among full-time American cartoonists was serious-minded Thomas Nast. A widely circulated magazine, Harper's Weekly, gave Nast an enthusiastic audience during the Civil War and afterward. Nast was a strong advocate of the cause of the North, a steadfast admirer of U. S. Grant, an unwavering critic of Horace Greeley. A Republican, he is credited with having invented the elephant symbol for the party and reviving the donkey symbol (some say he invented it) for the Democrats. The tiger, which stood for Tammany Hall, was another Nast idea. Nast had a mania about Tammany; within a few years he turned out some fifty cartoons against Democrat "Boss" Tweed, who apparently feared the cartoons more than any of the articles attacking his corrupt city administration. So accurate were his caricatures of Tweed that the politician, after he fled to Spain, was picked up by police there who recognized him from Nast's drawings.


The cartoon's power to influence public opinion probably has dwindled during our century. Students who go back to the political cartoons of the last century are surprised to see how much more outspoken generally the cartoonists were then than now. The 1800's were the era of "personal journalism" when cartoonists and their editors were more inclined to be bitterly one-sided. They were less inclined to worry about mass circulation or mass readership. They were not afraid to offend minority groups or even large groups of readers. Take the obit cartoon by Joseph Keppler upon the death of the Mormon leader Brigham Young. It showed a row of women in bed, crying, with a wreath hung from the center of the bedboard. Or consider Bernhard Gillam's cruel portrayal of James G. Blaine as a man unveiled, with all his past sins tattooed over his body, one of a series that, according to Roger Butterfield in The American Past, "played an important part in wrecking Blaine's Presidential hopes."

Not that the people under attack always laughed it off. Blaine considered prosecuting the editor of Puck, which published the tattooed man cartoons, on an obscenity charge but then reconsidered. There was a governor in Pennsylvania who got so upset over his administrators' being pictured as various kinds of animals that he rammed through a law in 1903 making "animalizing" of public officials illegal. A cartoonist in Philadelphia promptly drew a cartoon showing each official as some kind of vegetable. The law soon died.

Libel laws, generally, were less strict in those days. Most cartoonists working for newspapers, syndicates or magazines today, I think, would like to have operated during that uninhibited era.

Freedom to be one-sided was only part of the story. There was less distraction from other journalistic media then. The cartoon-carrying newspapers and magazines had no competition from radio, television or the movies; the editorial cartoon was an item to be studied and to be talked about.

This meant that the cartoonist of the 1800's could produce a more complicated drawing. He made wide use of crosshatches. There was a great deal of detail. The "balloons" above the characters' heads were filled with much type of a small size.

After the Civil War cartoonists were signing their names to their drawings and earning a great deal of notoriety. They were still working, principally, for magazines. It wasn't until the newspaper circulation battles of the 1890's that cartoonists, in any appreciable numbers, found jobs on newspapers. The newspapers not only appropriated the idea of editorial cartoons from the magazines and hired away the cartoonists; they also borrowed the idea of printing in colors. The Sunday comic supplements were born during this period.

Moving from magazines to newspapers was quite a change for a cartoonist. In the first place, he had to adjust his approach. The cartoon ideas had been based often on Greek mythology, or on Shakespeare, or on other classics made analogous to situations in Congress or in the administration. But newspapers were becoming preoccupied with "the average reader," and this meant their cartoons had to be understood by such a reader.

A more serious problem faced the cartoonist on a newspaper: frequent deadlines. Cartoons had to be produced every day.


At the turn of the century, a new type of cartoon—the comic strip—was developed. Assigned an entertainment function rather than an opinion-making function, the comic strip was part of the publishers' plans to build huge circulations. The era of personal journalism was passing. The era of mass communications was here.

The earliest comic strips, too, had a great deal more sting than those of today. It was ribald art, peculiarly American. Some of the earliest of the comic strip or humorous panel artists were F. Opper, also an editorial cartoonist, whom art Critic Thomas Craven calls "the funniest man ever connected with the American press," Eugene Zimmerman and T. A. (Tad) Dorgan. Craven, in Cartoon Cavalcade (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1943), reprints a number of these men. So does Coulton Waugh in The Comics (The Macmillan Company, New York, 1946) and Stephen Becker in Comic Art in America (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1959). You'll want to get acquainted with these books. Your librarian can help you find books which show the work of the early political artists. One good one is Allan Nevins' and Frank Weiten-kampf's A Century of Political Cartoons (Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1944). In bound newspaper files in the library you'll find the work of the first rollicking comic artists as originally printed. If you haven't seen "Indoor Sports," or 'The Yellow Kid," or the early "Katzenjammer Kids" and "Mutt and Jeff," or "Happy Hooligan," or "Alphonse and Gaston," or "Abie the Agent," or "Polly and Her Pals," or "Toonerville Trolly" or "Krazy Kat," you're in for a most rewarding experience.

The one-line (or more correctly, one-quotation) gag cartoon is the newest of the print-media cartoon forms. Prior to the 1920's, entertainment cartoons in the magazines had been nothing more than illustrated jokes of the "he: she: he:" variety. Now, nearly every magazine running cartoons has cut down on the caption and added impact to the drawing. And of course there are no "balloons" of conversation inside the drawing. What printed matter there is, is confined to one or two sentences, all spoken by the same character (the one with his mouth open in the cartoon). A fairly recent trend is the omission of a gag line altogether. The picture tells the entire story.


Tools and Techniques

You're ready to begin drawing.

You have a corner somewhere, by a window, preferably on the north side of the house for a steady, even light. Ideally you have a drawing table; if not, you have a drawing board to prop against a table. You'll have some sort of a lamp for night work. There should be another small table—a taboret—nearby on which you can keep your supplies.

Here's what you need:

Paper. Construction paper, detail paper, or a good bond paper is all right; Bristol board or illustration board is better. Stathmore is excellent. A rough texture for pencil and brush, a smooth texture for pen.

Pencils. An HB, B and 2B (hard, medium and soft) to start. You'll need a blue one too.

Pens. Gillott 170, 290 and 404 (fine, flexible fine, and coarse) will give you a good range of drawing pens. Several Speedballs in the "C" and "D" series will come in handy for any lettering you'll do.

Penholders. One will do. You'll appreciate a half a dozen.

Brushes. Red sable; Nos. 1 and 4 to start.

Ink. Black, India.

Lampblack. A tube. For wash drawings.

Chinese white. A tube. Or a jar of white poster paint. For making corrections.

Erasers. Art gum and soft rubber. Maybe even one for ink.

Rubber cement. Small jar.

Masking tape. For fastening your work to the board.



Triangles. At least a 30-60. A 45 would be useful too.

Ruling pen.

Razor blades. Single edge. For sharpening pencils, scratching away errors, working on scratch-board drawings, etc.

Scissors. One pair. A paper cutter would be better.

Perhaps you can get along without some of these items, but I'd say this is a pretty basic list. Certainly you can—and probably will—add to it. Of course, you'll need some boxes and jars to keep your supplies in. As you get more involved in cartooning, you'll begin to haunt the local art store to keep abreast of new materials on the market. If you have no art store nearby, you can shop by mail, through the catalogue issued by Arthur Brown & Bro., Inc., New York, or some similar art supply firm. A perusal of magazines like American Artist will interest you, too.


Most cartoonists rough in their drawings first in pencil, then trace over the lines with ink, using a pen or brush. Some, who don't want to be bothered erasing pencil lines afterward, do the preliminary work with a blue pencil. Blue, provided it is light enough, does not reproduce under ordinary printing procedures.

You should always draw the pen toward you, or from left to right. Don't try pushing it away from you. The point will dig into the paper, sputtering ink as it falters. Don't dip the pen too deeply into the ink. Try different points on different papers until you find a combination that pleases you, that seems to fit your style. As exercises, you'll want to dash off a series of long parallel lines, then a series of short choppy ones, then a series of crosshatches (lines running over each other in opposite directions). You'll want to experiment with all kinds of patterns that can be made with a pen.

With a brush you have considerably more freedom; you can race in any direction. And the faster you work, the more satisfying the result can be. This tool is made for "loose" handling. You'll probably want a scrap of paper nearby on which you can "roll" out the point each time you dip it into the ink.

It is imperative to wipe clean a pen point and to wash out, with cold or lukewarm water and soap, a brush immediately after use. I buy only the very highest quality brushes, because the point they hold is all-important to me; but through proper care I give a brush a long life.

After you have mastered one tool or after you have used one type of paper many times, make it a point to switch to something new. You'll make many exciting discoveries as you go along.

For many years, the only drawing tool I used was a Gillott 170 pen on Bristol board. Reluctantly, I picked up a brush one day to try to produce a drawing with a heavier feel. It was tricky to handle. I almost decided to give it up. But today I use a brush—a No. 0 or 1—almost exclusively, and on any kind of paper, including printer's cover stock, typing paper and even paper towels.


Excerpted from The Art of Cartooning by Roy Paul Nelson. Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Page,
1 - The Development of the Cartoon,
2 - Tools and Techniques,
3 - The Figure,
4 - Hands and Feet,
5 - Heads and Faces,
6 - Animals,
7 - Backgrounds,
8 - Composition,
9 - Gag Cartoons,
10 - Comic Strips and Panels,
11 - Editorial Cartoons,
12 - Illustrative and Advertising Cartoons,
13 - Lettering,
14 - An Audience For What You Draw,

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