Saturday, October 10, 2009

College Days: A return to cartoons

Thanks to everyone for your responses to the 100 Figures Assignment post, and a special shout-out to Chris Houghton for tackling the challenge head-on (see the results). I've heard from a couple more people who've said they're giving it a shot, so best of luck.

Digging through my college portfolio, I unearthed a lot of artwork and memories—some of which I thought I'd share here. When I arrived at college in 1998, I was a kid excited about drawing cartoons and comic strips. But art school had slowly beaten into my brain that cartooning was a lesser art form (I'm sure others can relate). Throughout school I kept up with my comic strip, Blake (see related post), but it rarely crossed over into my college work.

I sensed an opportunity to burst out when I enrolled in the Illustration major junior year, but it wasn't until the end of Spring semester that a plan began to form. This was mid 2001—SpongeBob was on my radar, so I was watching a lot of cartoons again. I checked an illustration annual out of the library and found the work of Gary Baseman. Here was a professional illustrator who was appropriating a vintage cartoon aesthetic. I was working in St. Louis that summer and decided it would be fun to paint a cartoony carnival lunchbox for my then girlfriend (now wife), Loren.

(one of the first posts on Drip! featured this lunchbox)

The Baseman influence is pretty thick (I know). But something had clicked. I enjoyed drawing the exaggerated/distorted forms—especially the large eyes. I recognized that Baseman was tapping into something different than your generic everyday cartoons. And I studied it. More than anything else, I was now armed with a new justification for cartoonyness—if Baseman could get away with it as an artist/illustrator, why couldn't I?

Here's one of my first assignments from senior year, though I can't remember what it was for. Fortunately my professors got a kick out of it. And it felt good to be doing something fresh, while at the same time familiar. I was drawing cartoons again!

Above is an assignment shortly thereafter. This was for an article about internet pornography ruining marriages. The images are part pencil on paper, part digital. I drew with a soft lead, scanned it, and added flat colors in Photoshop. I was going for something that looked acrylic—a very different approach from the gouache paintings I was doing the semester before.

Below is an example of pencil artwork I first scanned...

...and then treated in Photoshop.

I looked everywhere for people who were doing vintage cartoons, discovering that underground comics were a good source for the weird and distressed look as well. I had a few issues of BLAB! handy, a shared copy of a RAW comix anthology in the studio, and I printed out everything I could find on the internet. I went direct to the source, too— consuming cartoons from the 20s and 30s when I hit gold with the Fleischer studio.

At the same time, I was drawing editorial cartoons for the college paper, Student Life, which whipped me into shape. I was assigned about 2 a week, turning around each illustration in a 24-hour period. It quickly became a testing ground. They were all accompanied by text, so the context will be somewhat lost.

There was also the alphabet book assignment, where I had to figure out how to arrange a lot of characters in a scene. I decided on a bug theme:

Ladybugs at the Laundromat

Bugs at the Bus Stop

A Tick Directing Traffic

My "Jinx the Monkey" cartoon would be the culmination of everything. The best way to investigate old-fashioned cartoons would be to make one. I've embedded it below for viewing purposes (for the first time on this blog, actually!)

(apologies for not having playback controls, it's about 3 minutes)

It's hard to believe that bugger is almost 8 years old now. Working in Flash lead to drawing in Flash...blah blah blah...I'm still drawing cartoons today...pretty much for the same reason. They free me up; I don't have to make excuses for drawing weird expressive characters. And it's what comes naturally.

That should be enough rambling to last you the long weekend. I hope this was in some way interesting. The advice I give to every artist is do what you know and love—don't just copy or follow a trend because it strikes you at the moment or seems marketable. Your work (and mind) will be better for it.


Chris Houghton said...

Bob, this is so cool and interesting to see. Thanks for sharing old work and talking about it!

David DeGrand said...

Wow Bob! Your college work is really outstanding! I was an art major in college myself and luckily my professors were all really cool about me inserting cartoon images into pretty much all of my assignments. Cool to see you worked for the school paper as well, I was the illustrator for our paper for 3 years and I couldn't think of a better way to get as much practice in than doing those editorial assignments. Thanks for sharing all the goodies!

Bob Flynn said...

That's cool you illustrated for your college paper, David. I did my comic strip Blake, at first (a carry-over from high school) and then moved on to editorial work senior year.

I always had a few professors that didn't mind cartoons, but art school was a broader experience which was for the better in retrospect. Because it informed how I would eventually embrace cartoons in a different way.

Honolulu Dogfight said...

My goodness! You've always been great! Those Basemen influences are fantastic. I try to instill in my kids the spirit of emulation and assure them that it will bolster their own individual style over time, but they fight back. All of them seem to be original creative geniuses fully formed already. I get sad at times.
I hope we see more old stuff sir, I am enjoying it quite a bit.

Bob Flynn said...

Thanks, George! On the emulation note, people are kidding themselves if they don't realize we emulate everything we see. The bunch of you are always like, I can spot a "Bob Flynn" from a mile away....but all I'm doing is drawing old-timey cartoons. I didn't make that up. Sure I must be bringing something different to it, but it's emulation at its core.

Watterson was the guy I emulated for the longest period of time (just see Blake). It's useful to analyze a drawing and pick it apart. And when you're done, it becomes a part of the vocabulary at your disposal.

Whatever you guys deem "Bob" like is just an amalgam of everything I'm interested in, and have studied. And once in awhile, if you're create something kinda new.

Jason Curtis said...

Great post Bob, both in terms of the artwork and what you wrote. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Your college work is outstanding by the way.

I'm glad that you have been able to follow your heart and do what comes naturally to you as an artist.

Creative pursuits are such a personal endeavor. We pour so much of ourselves into the art we create, and it's a real shame when some people end up producing work not for themselves, but for the sake of following a trend or believing that they have to draw in a certain way.

Mike Rauch said...

Really enjoyed this post. Thanks!

College Research Paper said...

I appreciate the work of all people who share information with others.

Nehru jacket said...

I am interested. we need some more good information. Please add more good information that would help others in such good way.