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Casting characters, 
creating the look

If you've always wanted to draw a cartoon strip, here are some hints.   You're not alone, lots of people do, and new strips appear in the paper every day.  Although it looks simple enough, it may be hard to get started.
     So let's start by ruling our boxes for your strip.  Just copy the size out of the funnies in the paper, and double it or triple it, depending on how big you want to work.  It's always easier to work bigger.  Lay your drawing out in pencil first, and then get a good pen to 'ink' it.  Every cartoonist has a favorite pen.  (Of course you can do a one-box cartoon, but the gag has to be short and snappy).  You won't have a lot of boxes to tell your funny story.  This is the same as a "one liner" for a stand-up comedian.   All right, now you have your boxes, sort of like a stage, and you're going to draw the actors, making you a cartoon director.

     Are you ready to cast your characters?  First you have to create them.  If you can't think of one to start with, combine the features of different cartoons from different strips; that's a good way to get going.  The goofy guy on the right, for instance, has the features of different cartoon characters you might recognize.  Once you've got the idea, make up your own, be original!  You'll need one or more characters to relate to the main one.

     The next step is a script.  Remember you're not only a cartoon director, but the script writer as well.  But you don't have to write a whole story.  That's the part of a cartoon strip that's easy.  Just write gags or a funny idea, broken up into three or four pictures.


     They are all around you, and follow you wherever you go.  But you must be able to perceive them, to extract the funny value out of what seems to be an ordinary situation.   In fact, you have to be a cartoon sleuth.  It helps if you have a natural sense of humor.  Even if you don't, you can develop a sense of humor, like learning how to ride a bike.

     There is no right or wrong way to draw a cartoon.  Of course, there is a more artistic way, such as, getting proportions and perspective right.  But remember in cartooning, that is an option.  In fact, lots of cartoon editors like cartoons that are definitely not “good” art.  If you are doing offbeat cartoons, you have to keep them consistent.  Always draw, shoes, for example, the same way.  Its easy to rely on big feet and noses.  Most cartoonists who can’t draw well use this technique.  One popular strip draws the nose of the main character so big it fills up most of the box.  In the same strip, the babies are so small, they seem like dolls.  No one seems to care because the gags are funny.  A cartoon must be funny.

     The current trend in backgrounds is to eliminate them as much as possible.  Most of the time in Peanuts, a perennial, the favorite background is just a horizon line.  Of course there are exceptions. Bill Watterson, who drew Calvin and Hobbs, meticulously drew dinosaurs and scenery with elaborate perspective.  That must have been a lot of work.  We all miss Calvin and Hobbs.  Another trick used by strip cartoonists to eliminate backgrounds is to only draw their characters up to their waist.  Sometimes there won’t be hardly any changes in the comic boxes, perhaps just a changed facial expression.

     If you want to put backgrounds in your cartoons, there are no rules against it.  The best way to learn how is to draw scenes is to be observant of the world around you with all its details and differences.  When you ride down a street or road, notice how the scenery subtly changes, and with it the mood.  If you were drawing a cartoon of a bird, the sky and clouds would be your scenery, or the perspective of houses and trees below the bird.  The scenery you depict is to enhance your gag and cartoon character, not to draw a beautiful scene.  You want to place your characters somewhere familiar.  Movies use the same technique.  Your eye must be a camera.  A good exercise is to draw what you saw from memory, and see how you can improve it for a strip by eliminating details.  In cartoons, the less the better.  And the great part of it all is you get to make the decision to have scenery or not.

Take seagulls -- their noisy and graceful swooping around,  nothing particularly funny about them.  But suppose one pooped on your head; you could make up a cartoon about that.  Every strip has its own ‘specialty’ gag.  Dagwood likes to nap, take baths and make giant sandwiches, Snoopy likes to think deep thoughts and write books.  When you make up your cast of characters, try to create one who could be a natural for a gag.
     Always cartoon with a flexible wrist.  If you're like me, you might want to play some music while you draw. I might be doing an elephant doing the hula to “Little Grass Shack.”  When you do a cartoon you should get in the mood. Cartoons should be lighthearted, never mean- spirited, and always wanting to make people feel better about some mistake or embarrassment.

Do I see a worry line on your brow?  perhaps you're thinking, "I wanted to be a cartoonist. I think funny and draw funny, but it sounds like a lot of work."  If that’s what you’re thinking, start thinking funny, because it should be fun all the way.

A few facts about the funnies
The "sight gag" give it a try
Setting the scene for your cartoon
Casting characters, creating the look
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