OK, so I gave this post a somewhat inflammatory title to get your attention…and for the record, I don’t really think any of the artists I’m going to discuss “stink,” I actually think they’re all pretty good, just not Enki Bilal sort of good, and I think that they themselves would agree. So with that out of the way, here’s what’s been on my mind. There are quite a few cartoonists who, by their own admission, are not the world’s greatest draftsmen, yet their work is incredibly appealing. Charles Schulz, Lewis Trondheim, Sergio Aragones, and Chester Brown come to mind. So what makes a cartoon appealing, besides sheer technical skill? Since I’m no Sean Gordon Murphy myself, this seems worth thinking about. If you look at enough of this kind of work, patterns begin to emerge, and if you note the similarities in the patterns, you begin to see rules. I have attempted to distill them below:
You always know what you’re looking at; there’s no mistaking what the artist is trying to show you. You’re never scratching your head going, “What IS that?! Is it a cow? Is it a bus?”
Everything is drawn in a consistent way, at a more-or-less consistent quality level; there are no botched panels, nothing sticks out like a sore thumb. If a world is consistent enough, the viewer gets pulled into that reality, and the quirks become part of the ambience. When we read Peanuts, we just accept that we are in Big-Head World.
Even cartoonists like Trondheim who don’t use a ruler and draw everything crooked, still draw scenes with fundamentally correct perspective.
When you look at the work, you immediately know whose work you’re looking at.
All comments are welcome, particularly counter-examples to these rules. I suspect the first rule to get attacked will be the one about correct perspective. Many artists from Picasso onward have deliberately violated perspective to produce impact, but I don’t believe this can be done successfully without KNOWING perspective first. Anyway, what do YOU think?
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