Before I started making my next webcomic mini series (that will appear here near the end of the month – you can check out the previous one here), one of the things that helped me to get motivated to make it was reading about expert professional cartoonists online.
During this research, I learnt that the creator of “Calvin And Hobbes” (another amazing comic from my childhood that I’d completely forgotten about) avoids publicity like the plague, with only a few text interviews with him existing on the internet.
As well as being an uncanny glimpse into an unlikely possible future where my own occasional comics somehow become famous, this also made me think about what I like to call “the mystique of the cartoonist”.
Even with cartoonists who regularly interact with the media, cartooning is still something of a private and mysterious activity. Every cartoonist has their own slightly different sense of humour, every cartoonist has their own unique art style and every cartoonist has their own vaguely realistic fictional “universe”. Not to mention that the most important thing that a cartoonist does is often done in private.
Even though I make webcomics occasionally (and cartoonish paintings on a regular basis), whenever I hear a part of an interview with a cartoonist and they say something vague like “… and then it takes me a couple of hours to do the art“, it instantly conjures up mental imagery of some kind intriguingly mysterious secret ritual. Of an expert craftsperson using their magical techniques in secret.
Of course, making comics and cartoons isn’t really anything magical or mysterious. After you’ve planned out your comic, you sit down with a pen, pencil and eraser and you spend 1-2 hours drawing pictures and writing text. After this, you might add paint to the cartoon and/or edit a scanned copy of it on a computer.
If you’ve done this regularly for any period of time, you’ll know that it can sometimes be one of the most mundane and unglamourous things in the world. In fact, it can even feel a bit like a chore sometimes. If you aren’t careful, then this feeling can affect the quality of your art/ writing. In fact, at it’s absolute worst, it can even temporarily put you off of making comics (this happened to me during 2014).
Of course, it can also be the coolest thing in the world. And, if you’ve had a brilliant idea for a comic – then the feeling of satisfaction when you look at your finished comic can be one of the best things in the world. Seeing your awesome idea turned into an actual physical thing (that other people will want to look at) is a feeling that is impossible to describe fully.
So, in a way, I guess that “the mystique of the cartoonist” is more for the benefit of other cartoonists than for people who don’t make cartoons.
When we see famous professional cartoonists talk mysteriously about their work, it makes us feel better about our own cartoons. That is, of course, provided that you don’t make the foolish mistake of being jealous of those cartoonists.
This mistake usually happens when you don’t see yourself as a “real” cartoonist. The only qualifier for whether someone is a “real” cartoonist is whether they make cartoons or not. If you make cartoons, you are a cartoonist – you may not be a professional and you may not be famous, but you are still a cartoonist.
Hearing famous cartoonists talk mysteriously can also secretly make us wonder if this is how other people see our own cartoons. They probably don’t, but as a way to get motivated and to remind ourselves that what we’re doing is meaningful (if a comic makes someone laugh, think, feel an emotion or think “I can do better! In fact, I will!”, then it’s meaningful), there’s nothing better!
So, yes, making comics can be both a mundane and a magical experience at the same time. The mystery that often surrounds making cartoons is more for the sake of other cartoonists than for non-cartoonists. It can be a powerful motivational tool and it can be a way to remind yourself that cartooning can be really cool sometimes (even if it feels more like a chore at other times).
Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂