This is a tricky question to resolve. It concerns creators and makers of all kinds – the difficulty of the blank page and the uncertainty of work processes and the distracting concern for the finished product.
The first thing that you will need is ‘a space’ – this could be a sketchbook or an actual physical space. Or you could work between the two – the good thing about cartooning is that it is portable and only needs a pocketbook and a pencil. Professor Nicholas Roukes (1997) recommends turning your study, studio, or classroom into a ‘laughter laboratory’.
Perhaps the key to the ‘space’ is that it is a relaxing place to be silly, where all ideas and imagery are welcome. This is redolent of the notion that there are no bad ideas in brainstorming – there are no bad ideas in creative play either. This silly space opens us to all kinds of ideas and imagery.
There is much advice from the great and good on the problem of beginning and I have spent some time reading around this. ‘How to’ creation guides tend to begin with a managing of the psychological state of the novice (in relation to creating comics this is often framed by the student concern ‘But I can’t draw!’). Luckily for creating funnies, ‘bad drawing’ (whatever this is…if it even exists) can be exploited deliberately for a more ‘cartoony’ incongruous style. It is funnier if cartoon characters have outsized heads and small bodies, if they are exaggerated, or out of perspective, because we are freed from the reality of the figurative. Interestingly, ‘how to comics’ books overlook the potential of deliberately drawing ‘badly’ to loosen up and liberate the beginner. Yet, if you attend structured life drawing classes, they often have warm-up exercises that include; fast drawing, drawing with your wrong hand, blind drawing, and contour drawing. If runners and pianists warm-up, then why not other creators and makers?
This week, I am experimenting with drawing cartoon birds for the website with a focus on drawing them ‘badly’ or rather incongruously and absurdly. For funnies, it is useful to develop a ‘cartoony’ style that is far from the figurative of the real world. It needs to be clear that the imagery is not about reality, but the imagined world – the surreal, the absurd, the reimagined and the silly. It is a world where nonsense and play are celebrated, where we relax into a liberation of creating just for the fun and the hell of it. This is a world that it is not natural to enter in adulthood, so it will take a while to get used to allowing creative play. Adulthood demands purpose, productivity, and utility to society – it is easy to resist ‘art’ as pointless self-indulgent whimsy (with plenty of good, obvious, and anodyne reasons). But lets embrace the more interesting and alternative possibilities of the other side of the coin with a reframing of purpose, productivity, and utility.
Our purpose is to become cartoon creators and creative/alternative thinkers.
Our productivity is in the process drawings. Here, we disregard the product or outcome, and just focus on creating lots and lots of free imperfect drawings. I like to draw these on cheap paper, as this liberates. You expect to throw these drawings away – ‘drawing for the bin’ is a useful mindset even if you decide to keep the drawings and build on them. It is key to trust that this process of quantity (over the quality of one finished image) will build confidence, skills, ‘cartooning’ style, and develop creative thinking. This is the beginning of ‘humorobics’ as Roukes calls these kinds of humour exercises that build up slowly as your humour muscles get stronger.
Our utility to society is to develop creative alternative thinking and to offer this potential to others in the form of funnies. Funnies have the possible utility of reimagining the world to entertain and even to rethink. People need entertainment and alternative interpretations of the world – we can offer them this, even if they are not amused, they have a momentary escape from their own interpretations.
These three notions can be reread in moments of self-doubt, when you might feel that it is more important to wash the dog than create. You could also remember Einstein’s attributed words:
‘Creativity is intelligence having fun’
He may well have said this, as he often looks like he is having fun with creative intelligence and/or intelligent creativity.
You are smart. Maybe reward your intelligence with a little fun.
(If you really believe you are not smart, then this is your cue to go and wash the dog).