Saturday, August 11, 2007

Illustrator, Animator, or Comic Artist?

I've been out of school for 5 years now (a modest milestone), so I've been doing some thinking about how I'm developing as an artist. New interests have gripped me even though I'm basically on the same track as I was when I left school. My formal training is in Illustration, but my influences are predominantly derived from the worlds of Animation and Comics, and maybe Graphic Design to a lesser degree. I've dabbled in all these artforms, but I don't consider myself truly competent in any of them. A lot of the blogs I read are geared towards animators and comic artists, which leads me to question how interested I really am in Illustration. I don't do a ton of formal illustration these days (whatever that means) unless it's for freelance work. So what am I?

I'm most comfortable making pictures—that I can be certain of. But when I want to tell a story or a narrative, I'm increasingly more enamored with the frameworks of animation and comics—in essence, not wanting to rely on a single image to deliver an idea. Is this a failing of me as an Illustrator?

While filling up sketchbooks and exploring a variety ways of making lines and constructing images, I'm comfortable with what I guess is my developing style. And while I recognize my influences, I can't help but wonder why it is that I am so profoundly drawn towards comics and cartoons. The visual languages are definitely similar, and they both arrived in popular culture at around the same time (turn of the 20th century, give or take...animation a decade or so later). I work in flat color and line, but do I value them for their intrinsic characteristics or because I love cartoons and comics?

Without trailing on too long here, I've decided that maybe the word to best describe my trade is "cartooning," making me a Cartoonist. This is what a lot of the earlier pioneers described themselves as (artists like Winsor McCay, T.S. Sullivant, Otto Mesmer, and Milt Gross come to mind). And most of them dabbled in the realms that I'm interested in (Illustration, Animation, and Comics). Not that I need to label myself anything. Perhaps it's more of a exercise in knowing where I fit it in with my predecessors and contemporaries.

Winsor McCay

T.S. Sullivant

Otto Mesmer

Milt Gross

Funny, though, because I wouldn't consider any of these guys direct influences—who with the exception of Max Fleischer and George Herriman, are predominantly contemporary. So for now, I guess I'm a Cartoonist. That may change tomorrow.

UPDATE: D.B. Dowd furthers this discussion over at Graphic Tales. A new blog all of you should get acquainted with.


DB Dowd said...

Bob, I think your query is an intriguing one. I have been thinking about this for awhile now. I'm not so sure whether the title of "one who makes x" (cartoonist, illustrator) is as important as the thing made: an illustration, or a cartoon. Are they apples and oranges, or apples and spaceships? One tends to be more interpretive (of a text, or an implied one) and the other more independent, self-justifying. The issue of sequence does not capture the gag cartoon, so I'm not convinced that the multi-panel question is a decisive one. Really, illustration is a function, and cartoon is a language. Ultimately, I think that the key question is this: what is a cartoon? The answer will be more complex than one suspects. For the record, I think that yes, you are cartoonist, because you make use of cartoon languages to make what you make. A certain kind of visual conventionalization. You've always made cartoons. All of your "illustrations" are cartoons at heart. Finally, these are not equivalent terms, yet the stand in for intertwined and (somewhat) rival domains. Worthy of more thought...

Bob Flynn said...

Thanks for chiming in! My reasoning is routed in a realization that my interests are increasingly getting more widespread (while being utterly related). When an idea comes to me, I find that I have many modes of execution tugging at me. Do I make it into an image? A comic? A series of images? An animated short? They are all equally enjoyable (some more time-consuming). Usually I decide based on which medium serves the idea best, as each has it's strengths and weaknesses.

I have to agree with you that cartoons and illustrations are indeed quite different. But I would pose this question: is all narrative art illustration? Does even a loose or implied story equate to functional art, or art that communicates?

Maybe this is worthy of another posting ;)