Cartoon and Illustration

“So how’d your reception go?”

It went a little like this:

(My opening remarks)


I’m so very glad that so many of you folks showed up for this event–because, let’s face it–it’s a bit like throwing a birthday party for myself… and if nobody showed up it would just be sad.


Interestingly enough, I am actually turning 50 on Thursday.  Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me…everybody duck down behind your seats and I’ll turn around and you yell “surprise!”


Actually this event has more to do with birthdays that it may seem to on the surface.  You see, Back in August of 1968 my Uncle, Reuben Mendez, showed up for my oldest brother’s birthday bearing a handfull of comic books.  I actually have those comics here–well, reasonable facsimilies–the original copies were pretty beat up by the time I got through elementary school.


In 1968 comic books cost 12¢ a piece.  Uncle Rube (who always had a knack for showing up with the BEST presents for little boys) brought copies of Batman, Detective Comics (also starring Batman), Superman, Superboy, The Flash, and Justice League of America.  That’s 6 comic books.  An investment of 72¢…plus tax, which in those days was 3% (I checked), so that’s 2.16¢ tax and they rounded up–so 75¢ total.


There were certainly other gifts that day, but I could have cared less.  Uncle Rube spent three Quarters on this particular gift and my entire life was affected.  So the lesson here is small things can have big effects!  I’ve spent most of my life in pursuit of trying to create something that moved me in the way I was moved that day.


Enough reminising for now! They asked me to talk about what I do.  So that we can get to the music part of the show, I’ll try to sum this up quickly and if you have specific questions you can ask them during the reception.


When I tell the average person I’m a cartoonist, they almost always ask, “Any specific paper you work for?”  And I have to tell them that I don’t work for any paper; that I draw comic books because I want people to know when I’m lying to them.


That usually shuts off the conversation pretty quickly.  I see that twinkle in the eye when they ask what paper I work for and know that more that likely they want to start a conversation about politics.  And I just don’t like to argue that much.  


However, I will give you some insight into my politics relative to my primary artistic medium:


I still view comic books as being a kid’s medium–optimally.  In spite of the fact that I’ve done a lot of comics that were not intended as children’s literature I’d still like comics to be something that kids can read–just the way I did when I was 4 going on 5.  Good guys versus bad guys–you can add sophisticated ideas if you like, but as far as I’m concerned comics were better when they were kid-friendly.  I’d really like the opportunity to do more of those, not juvenile per se, but rather books that work for both kids and grown ups.  Seems like few know how to do those sorts of stories these days, and the world is a poorer place for it.  I’m working on trying to bring those comics back.


There’s another group of people that I meet–this second group wants to know how to do what I do.  If the first group are those I’d rather not get into a conversation with, the second group probably wishes I’d shut up.  I’m way too enthusiastic about drawing comics, and can talk for hours on the subject.  Some of the people here today (particularly my wife, Karin) can attest to that fact.


But I’m going to try to explain what I do in a nutshell.


“Cartoon” refers to a type of drawing that emphasizes line work.  Because of my prediliction for depicting things in outlines, I am a cartoonist.


“Illustration” apparently refers to any work that is figurative and isn’t fine art–as defined by a lot of people I consider hopeless snobs.  Sorry, but illustration was considered a legitimate fine art until less than a hundred years ago.  So somebody has got it  wrong, and it’s not me.


“Comic Books” are acting on paper (or in pixels with the newer means of delivery), which one creates by using cartoon and illustration techniques.  The three are not synonymous–but are closely interconnected, and any comic book artist worth his or her salt engages in all three at some point or another.


So, in order to be a comic book artist (or graphic novelist, or sequential artist) one must know how to draw, certainly, but also how to act.  So I tell students (defined as anyone who wants to draw comics) that they 1) need to draw a lot, 2) in the process learn anatomy and perspective, and it really helps if they will 3) get some stage time.  Because in comics you have to play all the parts, as well as direct, and design all the costumes, props and sets.


That’s a lot of work, isn’t it?  No wonder it’s taken me so long to get to this point!


So if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to get some stage time with Gypsy Bandwagon–I’ll be playing the part of the percussionist.


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