Sunday, March 26, 2006

Barber Shop 7 -readability

Hey go ahead and read the funnies and then I'll give you some bull afterwards.

OK, well I don't know how amused (if at all) you were but I'm going to tell you some other principles of good drawing and storytelling that have to do with readabilty.

By readability I mean how easy (or hard) it is to see the pictures and how well they draw you to the important points of the scene.
If you are already a pro, you probably know all these concepts, so I'm really just offering this stuff to young artists who could use some tools to help drive their ideas home.

Readabilty is made up of these tools:
Where you place your characters, BG and props within the panel (or screen if it's a movie).
I like to use simple staging and I usually focus on the characters.
I see some modern comics and shows that have complicated or cluttered images that make it hard for you to see in an instant what is going on.
I don't believe in filling the panel or screen with wall to wall detail. It makes your images and story hard to read.

Sillhouettes and negative shapes
The characters in this comic have more details than in my cartoons because we don't have to draw as many drawings for a comic as we do for animation. We can spend more time on each drawing in a comic.
Details can be dangerous if not carefully placed or if your characters don't have clear sillhouettes.
Look at the panel 1 on page 1. The barber is holding up his razor. It reads because there is a big space all around the blade. His whole body reads becausem it is a simple sillhouette. There is almost a tangent where his little finger hovers above the mirror's border. Had I noticed, I might have moved his hand up a bit more to clear the border better.
If you look at almost every panel you can see big negative shapes that draw attention to whatever the import action of the scene is.
Negative shapes are just as important as filled shapes-not only in your overall sillhouettes and composition, but even in detailed areas-such as a face. Note that between the characters' eyes and the sillo of the head there are empty spaces that help draw attention to the expressions.
I see a lot of young artists who will fill a whole face with the eyes, nose and mouth, so that there is no empty space in the head. That makes the face a jumble and hard to read.

Line of action
Look at the last panel on page 1. You can draw a line right through the barber's body, then through his neck and his head. This line of action makes him lean forward.
This is a concept that has really been lost in many cartoons today. I'm amazed when I see whole TV shows or movies where the characters are just standing or sitting straight up and down or equally bad-every bit of the body is zig zagging in every direction.
Almost every panel in the comic uses lines of action. I just picked the last panel of page 1 because it is so obvious-but the first panel also uses one for the barber, although more subtle.

Nature is asymmetrical or organic. Math is geometric.
I like art that is organic-that uses the rules of nature rather than the stricter and simpler rules of math.
When you see a scene that has 2 or 3 characters in it and they are all lined up with equal distance between them and they all are on the same angle, that to me is very artificial and boring. Poo on that.

On page 3, look at panels 2 and 5. Note that George and Jimmy are closer to each other than either is to the barber. George and Jimmy are almost one entity. No one is exactly in the middle of the panel either.
This concept of asymmetry is carried all the way to the details of all the forms. No 2 eyes are exactly the same, nothing on a character is exactly the same on one side as the other.
Even the eyes are different shapes on top than they are on the bottom. No perfect ovals.

Now even though this is a cartoon, I feel that making everything seem so natural makes all the crazy stuff that happens in the story more believable.
It's part of why people get so intensely involved in the stories of my cartoons. They just seem more real than what else is current.
It makes the cartoons warm. Many cartoons today are like staring at wallpaper that swears. You may laugh at the dirty jokes but it's very hard to be pulled into the stories because everything is so mechanical or artificial.
I invite cartoon designers and artists to comment on how many times their boss at some modern studio told them to make their drawings more even and mechanical.

Hmmm...a thought about characterization. I mentioned that I like things that seem natural. Well not just in the drawings but in the personalities of the characters too. Some cartoonists and all execs think you can define a character simply with a few rules and catch phrases-Chuck Jones for example. He says Bugs Bunny can never lose and can't ever pick a fight. I say, "Why not?" and so did the other WB directors. Some of Bugs' funniest films are the ones where he loses or is a big heckler-"Tortoise Wins By a Hare" is my all time favorite Bugs cartoon even though he loses.

Human nature is neither simple nor completely predictable. In modern cartoons the execs want you to figure out all 3 traits of a character before you ever animate a cartoon and then never to vary from this mathematical formula again.

Someone a while back told me I didn't understand George Liquor's character. Something to the effect of "George is a republican. Republicans are bad. Cigarette smoking is bad. Therefore George should smoke."

While I welcome the suggestion, I have to say that I grew up with someone very much like George Liquor who hates smoking and is very conservative.

I believe that all humans are full of contradictions and opposing motives. Which is why we are all crazy. And entertaining.

This story is about 2 conservative guys who have a lot of hate for certain things but they also have the capabilty to be soft and gentle. The pages in this post show that contradiction and I think that's what is funny about it.

My favorite panel is the bottom right of page 2 where Harvey just loses it and says what he really thinks about hippies.

Then in an instant both he and George lighten up at the generous suggestion that Harvey give the one decent young lad a couple nicks on the face and all is once again right with the world.

Now buy a Goddamn t-shirt and support natural insanity!


Anonymous said...

Can you say something about how someone can learn the skill of getting those nice smooth professional-looking ink lines in your drawings? Thanks for the great lesson. Simon.

JohnK said...

>>Can you say something about how someone can learn the skill of getting those nice smooth professional-looking ink lines in your drawings?

I'll try to at some point, but you might want to ask Shane Glines on Cartoon Retro, since he did the inking.

Chet said...

hey John,

Is this the last page?

nice expressions in this one.

David Germain said...

Hee hee! You were inspired to do that barber slashing Jimmy's head panel because of Rabbit of Seville (by Chuck Jones c. 1950) right? Although, even though I know the back arm is receding into the distance, it merely looks like it's smaller. Oh well, that's probably the most difficult position to draw an arm anyway. I applaud you for attempting something that challenges you.

I like what you said about readability. One comment I got for my first Censor Monkeys comic is that my narrative structure was hard to read because it did not follow a simple pattern. But hey, I'm working on another one right now. It think it should be better this time.

JohnK said...

>>hey John,

Is this the last page?<<

No, there're a few More Chet.Hang on!

pat o said...

This is just a general question, but could anyone help me with the name of a good book/resource on the history of animation?

jennie Rosenbaum said...

This information is so valuable, not only to comic and cartoon artists but to other visual artists. I wanted to say how much I enjoy reading your comics and lessons on composition and impact - I wish more artists understood these dynamics!

Chris Allison said...


What kinds of exercises do you have artists work with to push their acting abilities? I've heard that you have made some of your artists draw from Preston Blair until their fingers bleed (as I am doing now) to learn appeal, but what about acting? I know you are a big film buff... do you draw from them? Acting classes? Do you suggest people draw from life (like cafe sketching, or in the fashion of the Disney artist Walt Stanchfield?). I'm in school and I see a lot of kids go to a bunch of cliche poses (the old arms out "W" pose, etc.). I'm trying to break out of it, but just need a little guidance. I mean, I've been wanting learn to get more appeal forever with various books. After much searching, Preston Blair was really the answer I was looking for. Hopefully you can narrow the search for acting as well. Thanks.

Joel Bryan said...

More super useful stuff! A lot of it I already knew but it's always helpful to have it reiterated. You have the same theories as a lot of my favorite artists... probably more than a coincidence.

Anyway, I still suck but after reading your posts I suck a little less. Progress!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful! I can't wait to see the last few pages.

Samuel K said...

One thing I've always loved about Ren and Stimpy cartoons, and just any Spumco cartoons in general, is that horrible, impossible things happen, but they all seem to make a certain type of sense, which goes back to how you make things feel natural. Like in this comic, in the third page, George is standing on Jimmy's head. He's got his foot propped on Jimmy's ear. Apply that to the normal ideas of physics and human bodies, and it's insane, but it works right there.

What about those establishing shots in Ren and Stimpy, though? Like when they're living in a big overturned cow or a birdhouse? What exactly was going through the heads of the writers at that point? Was that after you left, or is it some weird joke that I don't get? I still thought it was incredibly funny, simply because it didn't make any sort of sense.

Anonymous said...

Hi John. I bought a George Liquor shirt so can you do me a favour? I revamped my drawing for my painting and now it's done. Could you let me know what you think (or anyone else for that matter)? I really need some constructive critisism from someone other than friends or family who are always saying how wonderful everything is.

p.s. still loving the cartoon. The hippies panel made me laught out loud.

Pedro Vargas said...

Wow, great stuff John! I loved how you compared your tips w/ the drawings in the panels. Why is it that people think symmetrically like they want to be extra perfect, which in fact there's no such thing as perfect? Shouldn't they know about this like everyone else in the world?

R2K said...

I enjoy comics the most I think...


S.G.A said...

This is really something.
I printed this out an read it, As it sunk in , compared it to my own cartoons and some paintgs, I hope people read this. This is really worth internalizing.
I am going to refer to your comments on thisevertime I work on something until I have internalized this, Invaluable for any artist , painter cartoonist animator. Wow , Thank you!!!

lastangelman said...

This is all very useful, instructive and just freakin' fantastic. When you have enough material in the blog, gather up and edit the best bits for your own book on animation theories (The Duck Twacy sequence you linked to in the previous entries was absolutely breathtaking).

akira said...

i never really thought about the important of negative spaces in the face... i noticed a lack of negative spaces in harvey's face but i think that works great for him because by contrast it emphasizes the incredible shape of his neck.. he's a hilarious character and i'd love to see more of him.

i understand the idea of a central line of action but i have a lot of dificulty in determining how all of the limbs should go to strengthen the line of action of the character and make a well balanced pose... any tips on that would be incredibly appreciated.

Marlo Meekins said...


BrianB said...

Great use of the pupil on the Barber. I enjoyed the "Long-Haired Bastards!" panel the best as well. lol

lastangelman said...

For the character George Liquor, where did you get the idea to design his eyes like that? Thank goodness nobody else has ever ripped that design off! IT is so weird and alien. Giving him, say, Barney Rubble or Charlie Brown eyes (. .) just wouldn't cut the mustard. But it is the weirdest exaggeration. It's almost like an amphibean or strange fish eyes. They ain't human, I tells ya'! ;o)

Lee said...

Interestingly enough, I find some of this applies to other art forms as well, even writing. I am particularly interested in the idea of negative space.

John said...

Hey John,
You're a genius and stuff. Grew up on your cartoons and I turned out fine. So glad to find you online and divulging "secrets of the craft" and all that. You're an internet highlight, pal!

BrianB said...

>> For the character George Liquor, where did you get the idea to design his eyes like that? Thank goodness nobody else has ever ripped that design off! IT is so weird and alien. <<

I've always been such a big fan of his design as well. I've forgotten how damn unique it was, the more I seen him and became comfortable with the character. We always hear the Ren and Stimpy origin stories, but never much on George Liquor's design - Outside of who he was inspired by. His eyes are amazing, especially when he's animated. The color design itself is so pleasing. Reminds me of appealing Kitty Kornered is with color and character designs.

John.. please. We need a post(or 4) on character design!

Ivan D said...

I write and draw my own indy comic, and I can say, this was really helpful indeed!

I've been blotting out a lot of background areas with black lately, so that the characters themselves stand out more. It's a pretty cheap trick, but it saves applying detail to a background that probably wont be appreciated or is even necessary in the first place. Have you got any thoughts on background blotting (not sure what the technical name for it is!), John?

Meanwhile I drew some fanart, direct from this cartoon. It was basically just me practicing line weight variations in adobe illustrator, and an excuse to work with one of your a brilliant characters.

Blanco said...

Great panels, i love Harvey's expression when he gets really pisssed at those darn kids.

Anyway, i'm off to killing people and stealing shit.

Ben Williams said...

I agree with the anonymous first post. I would love to hear your ideas about inking and how to achieve a smooth line.

Anonymous said...

I love the clarity in the graphics. Now I understand what a tangent is and how it screws up a drawing. I like how Harvey Kurtzman eliminated tangents in his mid-to-later "Hey Look!"backgrounds... he just eliminated the backgrounds!

I think you nailed George Liquor's personality. We're both conservatives and full of contradictions!

Zoquett said...

Loved the drawings and the explanations!
The expressions of their faces is amazing...

Vanoni! said...

I enjoyed the "Long-Haired Bastards!" panel the best as well. lol

The arm in that panel is worth the price of admission alone. :)

I have to preface the following comment by saying there is a ton of great artwork in this post (and in this comic in general) - but is it just me or does the first page (of this post) seem a tad uninspired?

– Corbett

Eebs said...

Hi JohnK! Just wanted to say that I'm still reading (are you still trying to amass as many comments as possible?) and to thank you for your blog. I myself am not an animator/illustrator of any sort, but I find your posts fascinating and insightful.

Ryan Edwards said...

is this a coloring book?

JohnK said...

>>Hi JohnK! Just wanted to say that I'm still reading (are you still trying to amass as many comments as possible?)

Hi Eebs, I certainly am, so thanks!

And keep spreading the word to other folks if you can!

jorge garrido said...

BEST. POST. EVER. Except for the Clampett one. That rocked

Lex10 said...

Lemme say, art-schmart. What's REALLY inportant here is that this is a present day white American barbershop experience catpured succinctly. Prayer in schools, less gun control, eagles soaring, all add up to the experience and yew better keep yer mouth shut if yew want a haircut that'll get you the ladies!! A+ for content.

JimTex said...

Just a minor question. Are there or were there ever pages 14 & 17 (Barb14 & Barb17)?

Or will those be included in a future edition of "Jimmy and George Go to the Barber Shop - The Lost Episodes" ?

Charlie J. said...

I wore my new George Liquor T-shirt around school today, and It was a big hit with all the R+S fans who said they wanted one so I gave 'em the adress.

San Fran said...

John, awsome blog you have goin on, someone should compile the lessons on cartooning & aninmation stuff that you are giving away for free and make a book, kinda like the Preston Blair. Yeah, and as always someone will get the cash from those sales except you. DAMN BASTARDS!!!!..... I"ll better go buy a T-shirt.

I'll spread the good news to anyone I know about your blog.


Anonymous said...

This was really interesting. Me and my friends put out a cartoony comic book 2 years ago (self published) and they would always obsess over tangents, framing, etc etc... Stuff that I never knew about (they went to school for drawing, I went for film). I learned a lot about it.

Though I still think my best drawings are the ones done really really fast, when I'm not trying too hard. For my comic I was trying to blend my fast-drawing with a nice clean finish and visually appealing look.. (not sloppy...we wanted our self published comic to look clean and professional, not like a lot of the scribbled zines you see being given out at comic conventions))

-Jordan (the comic)

onemanpunkband said...

wow. great post john!

Toren Q Atkinson said...

Yeah, reading your blog is like free art lessons every couple of days. So let me reiterate the comment I made from a couple posts ago, since it was such a late entry you may have missed it:

I appreciate the work you and Katie have done. I am told that cafe press is good for everything BUT t-shirts. If you want to do some He-Hog mugs or mousepads then you can count on my support.

Secondly, you should absolutely postively look into putting a PayPal "donation" button on your site. I will gladly send $20 or $30 to you and I don't need a t-shirt that I'll only wear when I play tennis (like others, I don't normally wear white). The entertainment and education value of this blog alone is worth the money, but if you want to consider it a down payment on a dark colour* Half-Life the Decaying Molecule or Wally Whimsy t-shirt (or better yet, pyjamas, but that's probably a ways off) I wouldn't balk!

If you (or someone you know) don't mind the work, you could take pre-orders to collect the capital to hire a professional silk-screener to run off a batch of shirts. Until then I'll take a Dimbulb Duck Cafepress light switch cover!

Keep up the fantastic work.

*As a member of a 14-year old rock band I can tell you that the most popular colour shirts are black, brown, blue, and green (probably in that order).

Anonymous said...

George Liquor shouldn't smoke. He should suck unlit cigarettes and give individual names to his favorites, as he becomes addicted to the taste of processed tar. This could give birth to a whole new offshoot of the tobacco industry: Wet, Soggy Sucks.

Mitch K said...

Man, this is solid gold stuff. Thanks budday!

Eebs said...

>>And keep spreading the word to other folks if you can!

I may not be an illustrator, but I AM in advertising. ;) I'm still good for something.

Jennifer said...

To the fans,

For those of you who are hesitant about buying one of the shirts because it's from cafepress, don't be. These shirts are nice.

I just got my shirt today - I got the baby doll shirt with the "puppy" on it. I must admit - I was expecting the worst based on many of your comments about cafepress. I was pleasantly suprised.

The t-shirt is 100% cotton, and the material is very substantial. Ladies, you don't have to worry about people being able to see your bra (unless that's the effect you're going for). The stitching does not look flimsy. The design is not one of those cheesy iron-ons that were popular when I was a kid. It looks like it is in the material - it's the best way I can describe it. The fit is as described on the site - cheaply made garments aren't cut well, so they don't fit right.

For $28USD (includes shipping), the shirt that I got was a good value.

Mish said...

Thanks John.
I take your advice for sacred. I applied to CalArts and was rejected. Your stuff really helps me a lot and I wanna make an animated short soon, utilizing as much of your advice as possible.

JohnK said...

Hi Jennifer

why don't you take a picture of you in your shirt and post it and I will put it up as an ad and you will be famous.

Your pal,


gloriouskyle said...

I'd been waiting to see more of this story! Page 2 here is definitely my favorite, especially that last panel. It's very obvious this was drawn by an experienced animator.
It's also reassuring that I could identify, or at least was a little familiar with, the rules of readability! Good advice here-

johan said...

John, I had a question concerning r and s on spike. Do you think that by having total or at least near creative control that the jokes weren't as funny as the old show. By that I mean that because of the censoring you needed to find that creative way to mess with them by doing something they didn't understand or do it in a way that made you really have to think sometimes on how to portray a joke. Or am I completely of base here? Love everything since mighty mouse by the way.

JohnK said...

>>Do you think that by having total or at least near creative control that the jokes weren't as funny as the old show.


And neither do the packed theatre audiences where I show them. There is non stop laughing and screaming all through them.

The first couple we made with a largely new crew and it took them awhile to get used to the style and show.The first 2 suffered from some weak timing but are still full of great jokes and visuals.

By Ren Seeks Help we were doing better quality than we ever did before.

In Altruists there are more jokes per minute than any other cartoons I've ever done. And every kind of joke imaginable-not just dialogue jokes.

I will run some clips soon.

crsP said...

"The t-shirt is 100% cotton, and the material is very substantial. Ladies, you don't have to worry about people being able to see your bra..."

So that's a no on protruding nipples :o(

Mr Kricfalusi, I would like to ask you kindly to please write a book on how to make great animation. You mentioned previously that you developed all these techniques and methods which you had to teach every animator that came to you with your own well earned scratch, so why not publish and get some payback for all your hard work in the animation industry?

Someone else might just do that very thing and pass off all those techniques off like it came to them in an unholy vision (with a one line nod to you in ultra fine print-to keep the lawyers at bay), then you lose out on all those greenbacks, and I get a watered down version of your original ideas.

I'm not sure if there is demand for such a tome, or if it's just me. But hey, I'm selfish.

JohnK said...

>>Mr Kricfalusi, I would like to ask you kindly to please write a book on how to make great animation.

If you find me a publisher who will put it out, I'd be glad to.

Anonymous said...

Truly understanding 'Asymmetry' begins with knowing how to spell it..

Anonymous said...

To let everyone know,

I received my George Liquor shirt from cafepress a few days ago and boy do I feel like an AMERICAN wearing it! It is very high quality, I strongly recommend buying one. I've washed it twice and it still looks good. Buy one! If not for your country, do it for John K.

Max Ward

Eric C. said...

John, So us some inside pictures in Spumco. The Littered Ren & Stimpy Art. A Picture of the Spumco Big-shots. You, Jim, Eddie, Vincent, The Spumco Veterans and Of Course Kittie Rice.

And also tell us some stories about you, Eddie and Bob Clampett.

Thank you,


JohnK said...

>>Truly understanding 'Asymmetry' begins with knowing how to spell it..

good catch!

I'm starting to understand it now...

Ivy said...

This is my most favorite post yet. I wish I had a pocket-sized you to sit on my desk and just talk forever about your theories. It's always fascinating. On another subject though, I can't believe anyone would have the balls to tell you you don't understand George Liquor's character. That's hilarious.

David Germain said...

>>Mr Kricfalusi, I would like to ask you kindly to please write a book on how to make great animation.

If you find me a publisher who will put it out, I'd be glad to.

Hey, John, Jerry Beck has had some books published. Maybe he could recommend a good publisher for you.

P.C. Unfunny said...

"If you find me a publisher who will put it out, I'd be glad to."

I hope you do John because you're the only one who is making adult cartoons funny AND have good animation,a lost concept these days.

Anonymous said...

YEAH MAN!!!!!!!

Get some of your best characitures on mugs over at cafepress!!! I'd love to get some of those!

Like the one of the old lady.....yeah.... ccan't remember who it was... awesome.

Marcus said...

It would be awesome if you rolled all this advice up into a new and comprehensive animation book.

The *good* preston blair book is no longer in print and getting harder to find by the day. Plus, you have a natural tact for teaching animation explaining all concepts and techniques clearly as we can definitively see from this blog.

This would also enable you to "evangelize" within the animation industry at an even more grassroots level. This could have a profound effect on the masses of animators who haven't considered your advice before

Like you said, the current blair book is trash, and the original one is becoming hard to find.

Why not step up and create a quality alternative?

JohnK said...

>>Like you said, the current blair book is trash, and the original one is becoming hard to find.

I didn't say it was "trash". It's just not as succinct as the first book.

Mish said...

>>I didn't say it was "trash". It's just not as succinct as the first book.>>

Wait, it's just a reprint of the old one! How can it be any worse?

jorge garrido said...

^No the reprint of the yellow book cover has a squirrel on it. The new not as good one is a brand new book with an elephant

ape magic said...

As a current animation student, this blog is a goldmine. Your art is the best, the baboon from a yard too far still haunts my dreams. I think i would go to such lengths for hog jowls though

NateBear said...

PHEW! I use lots of silhouettes and simple staging otherwise my comics are COMPLETELY illegible. but i always felt bad about like i'm not good enough to draw backgrounds. but Johnk, you made me feel better abotu it.
and i have no idea why i've completely abandoned line of action since back when i copied from animation books. i just lost consciousness of it i think. but now i can't wait to implement this shit :D

PS: i hope you don't mind me calling you Johnk (sounds like "JONK!").

Guitar Master said...

I wish I could blog as good as you, but what I can do is give you a nice Guitar Lesson!

andrewdm said...

the bugs bunny cartoons where he lost were so good because it almost never happened!