Q. Do you have any suggestions on how to become a cartoonist?
A. My best suggestion is to read. Read anything and everything. Read textbooks, literature, magazines, the back of cereal boxes...everything. Cartoonists can only draw what they know, so the more you know about the world around you, the better cartoonist you'll be.
I'd also suggest that you attempt to get your cartoons published somewhere -- no matter how small the venue. This can include high school and college papers, "free" local papers, or your own Web site. Learning to draw cartoons on a regular schedule is very educational -- as is the reader feedback you'll receive from doing it publicly.
Finally, I'd suggest reading Lee Nordling's fantastic book Your Career in the Comics (1995, Andrews McMeel Publishing). This 304-page book is probably the best and most exhaustive non-technical look at how to become a professional cartoonist -- and the advice it offers is first-rate. For a technical how-to, I'd also suggest Brad Guigar's excellent book, "Everything Cartooning". And, if I may be so bold, might I suggest my co-authored book "How To Make Webcomics."
Q. Where do you get your ideas?
A. From everywhere, I suppose. Once you begin to train your eyes to see them, there are humorous ideas that pop up from all sorts of places, situations, and personalities around you. Unfortunately, my memory is horrible, so I'm constantly in search of little pieces of paper to write down my ideas. I've found that the trick lies not so much in finding the ideas, but in finding those darn bits of paper.
Q. What materials do you use to draw your comics? Do you use a computer?
A. For the last 12 years or so, I've used very nice, archival cartooning materials, as I sell my original art online and in galleries. But if you're a young cartoonist just starting out, you certainly don't need to get all fancy-shmancy like that. You can use whatever you have at hand. Cartoons are good like that: no need for pretension or expensive equipment.
But! If you're interested in experimenting with new materials, here's what I use:
- Acid-free vellum Bristol board
- Mechanical .05 pencil
- Archival Faber-Castell Pitt pens, the ones with the "B" (brush) tip. Beautiful, beautiful pen, but it ain't cheap.
- Archival Micron Pigma drafting pens. "08" for lettering, and "2" for borders and heavy lines.
- Staedtler plastic eraser, and a Koh-I-Noor 2800E electric eraser
- I also use this really incredible Japanese brush that that has a refillable reservoir of ink. I don't know the name of it, but it's made by the Kuretake Co. Anywho, I fill it up with "FW"-brand acrylic artists ink (India: 028), and generally use it for patches that need a lot of black. That baby puts down a sea of black in seconds. And if you have a delicate hand, it can also be used for fine brush work. Make sure you have a delicate hand, though: as this brush can be unforgiving if you don't.
As for my process, here are the basic steps:
- I first sketch out the text and images in pencil. I always do my text first, as it lets you know how you need to structure your layout.
- Ink over the pencil sketches
- Erase the pencil lines from underneath the ink. The plastic erasers do an especially good job of lifting the lead without lifting the ink.
- I then scan in the cartoon.
- I clean up tidbits here and there using Photoshop. If it's a Sunday cartoon, I'll then take the additional step of coloring it digitally.
- You can watch the process video above, actually!
Q. When did you first start drawing cartoons?
A. In third grade. And let me tell you, those third-grade cartoons were met with some rave critical reviews.
Q. Who were the cartoonists who most influenced you?
A. Hands down, my biggest inspiration came from Berke Breathed, the cartoonist behind Bloom County. He was a genius in every respect, and Bloom County was by far the best comic strip of its generation. Next to Breathed, I'd also have to include Scott Adams, Jim Toomey and Gary Larson for their writing and pacing; Bill Watterson and David Low for their artistic style; and Walt Kelly for his background art.
Q. How did you get your professional start?
A. In a lot of ways, your first break in any field is always the "biggest break." For that reason, I have to extend a lot of thanks to the editorial staff of the San Diego Union-Tribune for giving me a year-long internship in political cartooning. Their willingness to let a fresh-out-of-college cartoonist learn first-hand at a major newspaper is a rare thing in the publishing world, and they deserve a lot of thanks. That internship really gave me the confidence to know I could make it.
Q. How did you come up with your characters?
A. They all reflect different aspects of my personality, but I think Arthur is by far my favorite. I love the fact that he's not anthropomorphized. He can't walk upright, he doesn't have little hands...he's just a normal duck that happens to talk. But man-o-man, it's that voice that causes trouble.Sheldon first appeared in my college strip, "Four Food Groups," and was originally intended to be a short-lived "guest star." As it turned out, Sheldon was incredibly fun to draw, and I loved the idea of a ten-year-old genius, so he stuck around. Arthur sprang from my love of ducks. When I was a kid, I had two pet ducks: Beaker and (surprise, surprise) Arthur.