Thursday, June 4, 2009


Posted here are samples from a variation on an in-class exercise called "Deaf Gag" where students rough out one of their own panels that they might be having trouble coming up with a caption for, and we "jam" on it by passing it around the room and seeing how many different takes other folks come up with. This has an advantage of being a cumulative experiment where ideas can be incorporated, piggy-backed, snowballed, leap-frogged and pushed in new directions. Some amusing and bizarre combinations are introduced, which in turn might inspire completely random associations and beget even more successive spin-off ideas. This is the same process that happens (mostly) silently in my head when brainstorming; free-association and endless non-sequitors.
And at there most basic level, these little collaborative exercises prime the pump/grease the wheels; get the creative juices flowing as a warm-up into the student's own works. It reinforces the idea that oftentimes a solution is as simple as asking a neighbor for some input, getting a different perspective. Surrounding and oneself in comedy to reset the brain is a technique I often use: listening and watching standup routines, keeping joke books next to the bed and in the outhouse, reading other cartoonists works ... total immersion.

The second critique assignment I hand out is for them to come up with some single-panel cartoons:
Pencil lightly first then ink on Bristol board
Six single panel gag cartoons – at least one must be non-verbal
Advanced students do panels w/wash or color & post on site
Panels should be approx. 6 x 8” in size, vertical or horizontal format.
Use yourself or your characters, use expressions.
Use captions and/or dialogue. Ensure lettering is legible, and overall appearance of work is neat & clean.
Refer to handouts for ideas on formulaic joke ideas + cliched captions/scenarios.
Try using a variety of line weights & textures & spot blacks.

Due in class on Thursday June 4th
*pencils/roughs are due for review on Monday June 1st
This is admittedly one of the hardest things for me to teach, which is ironic given that it's the one genre I do for a living. Deconstructing and analyzing humor often winds up "dissecting the balloon," but I firmly believe that, along with drawing skills, it is a craft that can be learned and taught, and that there isn't any natural-born talent, just some folks have a head start. I find the philosophy of humor endlessly fascinating, and all the related concepts of wordplay: clich├ęs, idioms, proverbs, buzzwords, jargon, onomatopoeia, puns, metaphor, simile, understatement, double entendres, malapropisms, etc. Types of humor are almost as endless (black comedy, irony, slapstick, sick, obscene, parody, caricature, satire, sight gags and so on), and concepts such as congruity, discongruity and incongruity, plus juxtaposition, reversal, pairing of opposites, substitution, distortion and exaggeration are all rich with material.

I'm also reminded of the odds at knocking one out of the park each and every time I step up to the plate: doesn't happen (not enough for me to count on at any rate). These things don't just happen, it takes time and discipline to consistently produce good work - that's true for the craft aspect of the drawings as well as the content. More often than not I have to reconcile myself with the fact that each dud (and sometimes the ratio of total flops outnumber the winners) is still good for something - practise practise practise. I often get the distinct impression that for many cartoonists its a passion that's on autopilot, regardless of critical recognition and respect, the accolades of fans, monetary gain or exposure. Yet another reason why the earlier "Think Before You Ink" exercise is instructional; nevermind the failure rate just keep cranking 'em out.

Still, at the end of a long day, it can be quite the square wheel trying to be funny on command. In fact it's the complete opposite to my personal habit of rising early and working with the mental tabula rasa, before the brain gets cluttered up with the daily influx of bullshit and any creative impulse is slowly ground away by reality. Being surrounded by a bunch of people all working on the same thing still inspires me to no end, and I unfailingly wind up getting some good ideas of my own.

No comments:

Post a Comment