In funnies, it is common to find funny animals as characters – these can be anthropomorphied (animals given human characteristics) or zoomorphised (people given animal characteristics), but it is difficult to notice the distinction in actual examples. Perhaps this is about creator’s intentions rather than the visual rendering?
I have been playing around with birds and animals for funnies for a while now and the very first page of Research Sketchbook 1 (12.02.2020) has a cartoon of my friends Peter and Len as camels. This isn’t funny to anyone beyond us, as it captured one shared lunch, where for some inexplicable reason Peter and Len kept coming back to jokes about camels. At the time, I was reading Simon Critchley’s ‘On Humour,’ which has Charles Le Brun’s zoomorphic imagery at the beginning of each new chapter, so this formed the idea to copy Le Brun’s approach in the cartoon. The camels below are copied directly from Le Brun’s version (Critchley 2002:24):
Another connection to zoomorphism came a month later, when one of the cartoonists (Sam) from the Oxford ‘Drink and Draw’ (04.03.2020) mentioned that she liked to sketch people as ‘bunnies’ or animals. She noted that this made her feel safe if she were ever rumbled drawing people from life, as she could say, ‘does this look like you? Are you a bunny?’ The group also discussed and established that to date none of us had been rumbled while drawing people when out and about. It is particularly easy to draw people in the twenty-first century, with the distractions of heads in phones and tablets, and the likelihood of being discovered is negligible. Nevertheless, this is an interesting idea for developing the funny styles of zoomorphism and for developing awareness of how to convey body positions and gestures within the constraints of an animal body for funnies. Sam suggested turning people into animals as you draw them live, and then turning them back into people later, which is an interesting exercise to develop and practice for future.
In the last week, I decided to focus on the challenge of ‘animalising’ some of my ‘Sketchy Bitches’ drawing group friends over the week. I sent them a message asking for their permission, animal requests, and reference photographs of themselves or clothing that they liked to wear. I ended up with 10 different cartoons to create. This was devised to be the challenge for the week only, but each cartoon has taken a while to develop the funny style and funny slogan. I tend to be too ambitious with projects and this is now a project that will take several weeks, while others wait. Note to self: be less ambitious – do less and achieve more.
My favourite zoomorphism to date is yesterday’s cartoon of Christina (@basicsketchbabe). She requested becoming either a cat, a sloth, or a unicorn. Initially, I ‘noodle-doodled’ draft ideas around the unicorn, but it was particularly difficult to organise a unicorn into human postures. Here are the noodle-doodles (or ‘sketchnotes’):
In the end, I switched to working with Christina as a sloth. I hadn’t noticed how naturally funny these animals are with their cute expressions and seemingly smiling mouths. The idea came to me over my pot of morning tea, which these days I call ‘my pot of zen’ as I sit, think of zen, and allow ideas to come and go. I like this one particularly because the image reflects the caption – it is all about flow in image and word:
I made several ‘mistakes’ creating this picture, but followed Ralph Steadman’s observation (The Economist 2013) that he doesn’t worry about mistakes, because they are opportunities to do something different. There was first an accidental line in the tree branch, so this line was incorporated into the branch becoming bamboo. Secondly, when I was inking up and creating the eyes, I noticed that the beginning of the eyes as closed, were better than the intention of open eyes. In both cases, these happy accidents improved the work.
Sue Kenney from our Leamington cartooning circle recently pointed out that she liked the way that I have flowing clean lines in my work, which is different from her energetic, messy style. This was useful, because I hadn’t really thought about my developing style or voice. This style is the result of building in elements that I particularly like, so here this includes; white space, simplicity and flowing lines. The flowing lines are influenced by art deco sculptures, where every element connects to every other, and also the incredible work of American ‘characterist’ Al Hirshfeld (he resisted the term ‘caricaturist’ for this kinder term of capturing character fondly):
It is beyond me to create imagery of the calibre of Hirshfeld, but my approach to flowing lines is a way for me to honour his wonderful work. The flowing lines are a little complicated to explain and to create, but essentially parts of the image connect to others in often invisible flow lines. Recently, I have also started to draw images inside invisible circles to create simple structure – I know that they are there to help the flow and design, but the reader doesn’t. These circles have lately become ‘enso’ from zen traditions, as an enso is a circle drawn in one brushstroke to express a free moment to create. They are also described in complicated terms as circles of enlightenment amongst other ideas. I like to imagine that drawing the enso creates a sort of doorway or portal to create something new. This is my private practice approach and not relevant for my research, as everyone needs to find their own style and voice. However, it is useful for creators to also build elements that they like into their own creations and it may well be worth creating an exercise to do this.
Critchley, S. (2002) On Humour. (London, USA, Canada: Routledge)
Economist, YouTube Channel (2013) ‘The Art of Ralph Steadman: A Savage Satirist’ available at: https://youtu.be/i6omL2ukk9c (accessed 29.01.2021)
Hirshfeld, A. (2015) The Hirshfeld Century – Portrait of an Artist and his Age. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf)