The blog of Richard Thompson, caricaturist, creator of "Cul de Sac," and winner of the 2011 Reuben Award for Outstanding Cartoonist of the Year.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Today's Cul de Sac, August 15 2010

I don't have access to the B&W file for this strip right now, so this is a screen shot of the color file on Gocomics. Sunday strips are more often than not about something fun to draw that's not too hard. This one started out as a vague idea of drawing Alice in a shrub, much like one I'd done as a daily strip for June 24th (below) and pulling gradually back to show the shrub turning into a vast viney, jungly place with lots of little yellow eyes popping open in the dark masses of foliage. But I didn't know why; was she just imagining this and going from relief at her seclusion to fright at her loneliness? It probably would've worked, but I took the I-want-to-draw-foliage idea and dragged it in another direction.

Whatever. Alice's Tarzan Shrub holds enough potential for variation that it's earned a role as another place in the strip, along with her manhole cover and Petey's bed. Using repetitive scenery in a strip is one of the basic rules, obviously; it's a comic strip version of seeing the world in a grain of sand (which may be a little pretentious, but I'm at the beach so I've got sand on the brain. Also in my shoes and pants). 

Working on a strip for even just this little while has made me more aware of how important places are in a comic strip, even these days when it's difficult to squeeze any landscape or background in behind the talking heads. It reassures the reader to see the same place, the same sets, used day to day and lets a cartoonist build the tiny world his characters need. 

And another thing I've noticed is; I like fairly simply staged action on a stage without to much depth to it. The brilliant illustrator & author Lane Smith wrote something on his blog about preferring to stage everything on the same flat plane as it makes the humor more deadpan, and likening it to such classic comedy as Buster Keaton movies. That's my favorite way of directing a strip- the only real movement is the characters, usually left to right, and the camera sits there and takes it all in. There's little change if any in the point of view and it exaggerates the smallest actions or changes of expression. It can be a lazy way to work, which is fine by me, but it can cut down on the strip's visual interest. Like, look at this recent Velia Dear by the wonderful Rina Piccolo.

Her camera swooped down from the rooftops without any fuss and kept the focus and the depth of field. I worry when I try that kind of thing for fear that it'll get incoherent and also because I'm scared of heights.


Terry Beatty said...

I was surprised on reading the first volume of the Complete Peanuts to see Schulz varying his "camera angles" and drawing elaborate perspective shots in the early strips. Didn't take him too long to abandon that and go the flat route. Flat is funny -- no doubt about it.

JoshM said...

And Watterson and Kelly ... it's remarkable when you stop and look at their dailies how often the great comic draftsmen just put their characters in front of a plain white background.

And yet, when I do it, it tends to look flat and dull. Maybe you need to be a Watterson or Kelly to get away with it...?

fritzoid said...

"Maybe you need to be a Watterson or Kelly to get away with it...?"

...or a Thompson (I'm sure the oversight was unintentional).

For my own stuff, I hate drawing backgrounds but I like how my characters look in front of them. I DO like to change up my camera angles from time to time, though (that doesn't mean I always do it WELL). I still keep most of the action in the middleground (I also hate drawing my characters small; their proportions always end up off). One thing I stole from Vaughn Bode is to occasionally have objects intrude into the panel in the foreground. It can create a really nice effect.

If you look at the very early days of "Bloom County", Breathed would often have three of the four panels composed identically, but the fourth (not always the last) would be some bizarre overhead/three-quarters/forced-perspective shot. I found that very jarring. (He improved over time.)

Mike said...

It's really a matter of finding your voice. Lynn Johnston, in the latter years of FBOFW, liked to block out the scenes and even took Polaroids of her assistants, etc., in poses. She dressed each panel as if she were a set designer. Each strip was a mini-play.

By contrast, Bunny Hoest and John Reiner keep the Lockhorns in a very small universe because the one-panel format doesn't allow a lot of development, but also because the comic is focused on simple, character-driven gags.

Given that you have a character-driven strip that relies on a highly imaginative little girl, I think you're treading a good middle ground, with limited "sets" but fun, sometimes elaborate art.

It's an important question, because I'm seeing a half dozen newer strips where the art is such that sight-gags don't work -- you can't really tell the characters apart and you can't spot an anomaly in the scene because it's not stable enough to suggest that something is out of place. These folks REALLY need to find their creative legs. You're doing fine.

rama hughes said...

these posts are magnificent, richard. infotainment at its very best.

Ushindi said...

I have nothing but admiration for ANYONE who makes recognizable pictures with pen or paint (I can't, to save my life).

And then, to weave these drawings into a humorous story/cartoon that keep me coming back time after time is nothing short of magical, to my mind.

Neil J Murphy said...

My favorite perspectives of yours are the ones where you've split a single scene (the inside of the van, the dinner table)into the multiple panels of the strip.