Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Dan Gordon and what makes a cartoonist

http://potulentpalaver.blogspot.com/2007/01/john-k-wrote-about-dan-gordon-today-so.html

There are 3 related terms for artists who draw "Popular" rather than "Fine" art.

Illustrator: an artist who draws mainly "realistic" images that are subordinated to a story, or article. Sometimes the subject matter is fantastic-like Frazetta's. Sometimes it's mundane, like Norman Rockwell.
Of course, they are designy illustrators too, but my definition mainly means-non-cartoony.


Animator: An artist that moves drawings. During the Golden Age of Cartoons, most animators were cartoonists who learned to move their cartoons. Disney introduced the idea of hiring illustrator types, like Milt Kahl and Marc Davis and taught them to move their less "cartoony" drawings.


Cartoonist: An artist who draws funny and lively and not realistic or designy. This concept started around the turn of the 20th century in newspaper comics and continued in animated cartoons until the 1960s, then died. Now "cartoonist" means someone who can't draw. Witness the current comic strips in the newspaper. Sometimes people call modern animators "cartoonists" and that's wrong too.

During the period from roughly 1920-1950, most animated cartoons were animated in a "cartoony" style. Cartoons were extremely popular mainstream entertainment, so they attracted young cartoonists who wanted to grow up to draw animated cartoons. Most animation then was drawn by cartoonists who as a second thought learned to move them. This produced the greatest age of cartoons.

Both comic strips and animated cartoons inspired funny young kids to want to be "cartoonists", not "animators". The two terms were practically synonymous.


In the 30s, Disney introduced the idea of non-funny animation and hired illustrator types and trained them to animate. "The Illusion of Life" brags about how the original animators like Freddy Moore and Bill Tytla couldn't keep up with the more illustrative type of animation that the feature animators developed in the 1940s. I won't argue the contradictions in this. That's for another post.
These drawings have inspired the Cal Arts style for decades. Everyone is still stealing these expressions, only without the solid construction.


By the 1970s, there were no cartoons in animation anymore. Not on TV and not in the movies.
No one really aspired to grow up to draw the likes of Scooby Doo or Fat Albert. (Actually a couple did, and I wish I had a picture of them to show you.)


People who wanted to be "animators" only had Disney features to look at and really decadent ones at that. This led to the "Cal Arts style".
How many times have you seen this character stolen for modern animated features?
These are what I call "Cal-Arts expressions". They aren't funny, and they don't reflect any observation of or comment on humanity.

This is a style that is the opposite of cartoony. It's about moving things smoothly and using the poses and expressions you have seen a million times in Disney and Bluth movies. These types of artists don't have cartoonist personalities. They aren't wacky or zany. They aren't hard-bitten sarcastic men who take a grim realistic view of life and then make fun of it in their cartoons.

The Cal Arts style looks like it's drawn by suburban kids who had a normal easy life and don't have anything to say about the world except that their Mom is pear shaped. You see the same stereotypical vacant characters in all their cartoons, whether 2d or 3d. When they get to write their own cartoons, they tend to have scenes where the Mowgli descendants marry their normal bland suburban pear-shaped Moms. (Treasure Planet, Iron Giant).

This character is technically well-drawn by a talented artist, but is not very fun or cartoony and the expressions don't reflect anything identifiable. They are Cal-Arts expressions.

In 25 years of me meeting and hiring Cal Arts students I have only met about 3 or 4 "cartoonists". Aaron Springer, Jim Reardon and Jeff Pidgeon spring to mind. Somehow these guys emerged after 4 years and a hundred thousand dollars wasted with a style of their own and their own unique view of the world.

Cal Arts often rejects super talented cartoonists just because they are cartoonists. Katie Rice and Matt Danner, 2 of the most talented artists and quickest learners I have ever worked with were both rejected on the basis of their portfolios which when they were teenagers were already better than most Cal Arts graduates. Cartooniness is now a crime amongst animation people.



A real cartoonist is a contradiction. It's usually someone who sees life realistically and has a sarcastic view of all the hypocrisy and insanity in the world, yet he (she) draws in a really happy lively, funny style.

Don Martin, Tex Avery, Virgil Partch, Bob Clampett, Grim Natwick, Rod Scribner, Irv Spence, Carlo Vinci, Milt Gross.

Mike Fontanelli, me, Eddie Fitzgerald, Mike Kerr, Nick Cross, Katie Rice, Bob Jaques, Vincent Waller, Jim Smith.

Unfortunately for the very few existing modern cartoonists, there is no cartoon industry anymore. Cartoons are no longer mainstream. Not because the audience doesn't want cartoons, but because the executives don't understand and fear them; cartoons are "written" now by idiots, rather than drawn by funny artists with life experiences and a funny world view to share.

In TV we have fake cartoons, imitation Spumco cartoons or "designy" angled Cal Arts stuff. In features we have Cal Arts CG or we have Dreamworks executive bad taste numbskull CG. No cartoony vision anywhere. Now that they have almost eliminated classic cartoons from television I fear there is nothing to inspire nature's next batch of potential young cartoonists, so they will just find some other field of work to get lost in.

It's ridiculous and criminal, because cartoons are the perfect artform for regular folks. Cartoons are the folk and rock music for the unwashed masses. They are every democratic person's birthright and the modern world won't give people their due.

Cartoons are supposed to be FUN and creative.

DAN GORDON DRAWS FUN

Dan Gordon is a great example of a pure cartoonist. I don't know a heck of a lot about him. He was an animator, storyboard artist (writer) and director for the Fleischers and Famous studios in the 30s and early 40s. He disappears from animated cartoon credits for almost 15 years.

He drew lots of really fun comic books in the 1940s and I collect them.

He has an elusive appeal in his drawings. They aren't perfectly constructed or particularly careful, but the characters all seem really alive and motivated from within. They believe in their little adventures and play their parts with gusto.

A lot of animators in the 40s and 50s drew comic books on the side and it's really interesting to see how they drew when they didn't have to conform to the studio style or the director's style.http://kinky-boot-beast.blogspot.com/2006/12/comic-book-scans.html

Ken Hultgren drew well and perfectly professionally and in a similar style to Dan Gordon's but it lacks the pure fun element in Dan's comics. It's like an illustrator who has been taught to draw cartoons for a living. Chuck Jones' animators drew comics and they are somewhat bland by comparison.
A HANDSOME PAGE FROM A KEN HULTGREN COMIC

Anyway, here's Dan-as pure a cartoonist who ever held a pencil. This is a guy who is nice to kids.

Thanks to my pal, Tara, who gave me this comic!
http://kinky-boot-beast.blogspot.com/2006/12/giggle-december-1943.html









Here's more Dan Gordon from Kent Butterworth's collection!
http://potulentpalaver.blogspot.com/2007/01/john-k-wrote-about-dan-gordon-today-so.html

Dan later became one of the key creative founders of Hanna Barbera's TV cartoon studio. I have seen a few of his storyboard panels and his drawings of Ed Benedict's characters are great. Stylish and sooo cartoony and fun to look at.

If anyone has any, PLEASE post them and I will link to you!


96 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey John,
another great post which has so much truth, whish I could live where you guys are and breath all the stuff you are surounded!!
Feel free to check my blog and have a look at our student film! I would appreciate some comment from such a great mentor as you are.
I know there is still a lot to learn, but let's just have a look!

Kind regrads,
Tony

Anonymous said...

wonderful insight John! I'm interested in finding an animation school, what's your opinion on that subject?

Shawn Luke said...

Hi, John.
Something I would like to add is that the "Cal-Arts" style is just plain boring too. boring to look at and MIND NUMBINGLY boring to draw. So why is everyone so ga-ga over it? Everybody at my animation school aspired to it ....that and the 'Batman the Animated Series' look style.

JohnK said...

>>So why is everyone so ga-ga over it? Everybody at my animation school aspired to it ....that and the 'Batman the Animated Series' look style.<<

Because most people are sheep.

Anonymous said...

I think they are so ga-ga about it, because it looks so "stylish" and they would like to be the next Bruce Timm or the next Ollie Johnston, or Milt Kahl or whatever. So they tell the story that they have been watching Disney since they were kids and know they are here to continue Walt's lecacy!

Good night,
Tony

Shawn Luke said...

Just like all of us Spumco wanna be's. We're sheep, but do we have the integredy it takes to keep up...hmm

JohnK said...

What the heck is stylish about them?

Max Ward said...

"The Cal Arts style looks like it's drawn by suburban kids who had a normal easy life and don't have anything to say about the world except that their Mom is pear shaped."

Wow, what a great definition.

JohnK said...

I won't hire sheep anymore. I need artists who draw well and have some of their own style.

I don't need people who imitate a couple of expressions they saw in my cartoons.

Anonymous said...

I mean they want to put theirselves the crown on their head by copying those "great" drawings and hear, " ohh, you draw like the disney guys, or like the warner guys". I mean it's ok to copy from the masters, but nothing is more boring as watching 1000 times the same "style" or the same drawing, hearing them say "it's my own style".
I think everyone should believe more in himself, trying to get it out what somebody has inside!

Sorry for my english!

David Gale said...

This article from Wired about Archie comics has some interesting parallels with your last post on the de-evolution of Tom and Jerry.

http://blog.wired.com/tableofmalcontents/2006/12/archie_comics_g.html

bot-worth said...

>> I'm interested in finding an animation school, what's your opinion on that subject?


Read his blog some more and its painfully obvious.



By the way, I really like this blog entry John.
replace Cal-arts style with Anime-Style and you have what I get everytime I try to talk to someone about cartoons. Its fairly disheartening...

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, John. I'm consider myself a cartoonist trapped in an illustrator's body, dabbling in animation. I fought my way through art school with my cartoons, and luckily made it intact---possibly a bit wiser. I couldn't agree more with your opinion of the sorry state of animation. I mainly look to the cartoons of the 1920s and 30s for my inspiration...when animation was new and brimming with experimentation. I check in on your blog all the time for inspiration. Art on!

sean said...

hmmm, i thought i was an illustrator (my major is illustration) but from the way you described it, i am not sure now. it seems to me like there are tons of people reading and digesting the things you say. thats something to be proud of. perhaps we are the future of this gig. how can we find work? if its dead then id say its impossible.

Anonymous said...

"It's about moving things smoothly and using the poses and expressions you have seen a million times in Disney and Bluth movies."

That's so true. People confuse good animation with fluid animation all the time.

This could be one of my favorite posts of yours. That Cal-Arts style is all over places like Deviantart too. They aspire to do the wrong things, they just want smooth lines and end up eliminating any chance of originality or appeal by just focusing on making everything as smooth as possible.

And off-topic, and I don't want to sound like an ass bringing up modern cartoons like this, but can you appreciate things like South Park on a level that Trey Parker and Matt Stone obviously do have something to say about the world and have a unique take of it? To me, it's just another form of expression that isn't as visual as traditional cartoons which is just as valid. Or Mike Judge with King of the Hill and B&B.

JohnK said...

No.
What do they have to say that is original? That whoever they don't like is a fag?

sean said...

"No.
What do they have to say that is original? That whoever they don't like is a fag?"

but what they say is not the funny part, thats the dumb part. they have clever plot lines, that's what's funny to me. they have a way of paralleling what is going on in the real world, except make everyone look like stubborn kids.

of course i am getting sick of south park, so perhaps that is a sign.

Anonymous said...

John, I read on your Myspace that you love Beavis & Butthead. WHY? There is no structure whatsoever in that program and barely qualifies as a cartoon. I'd love to hear why you think it's acceptable.

Kris said...

I assume people like the "Cal Arts style" because it looks pretty. Likewise for anime. These styles include a lot of details and "realistic" human anatomy, two things that are pretty much guaranteed to impress the average person. There is some idea floating around in the world that animation should be judged on how closely it can represent live action, at least when dealing with human characters.

Anonymous said...

Hey John,
I am a long time reader, but first time poster.
I envy you and most of the people who post here because I have almost no drawing talent.

I was interested in hearing your thoughts/opinions on 2 things:
1. Ralph Bakshi
and
2. Teachers Pet (the Disney show)

Your posts have been incredibly interesting, even for me, a person who is not pursuing a career in animation and can not draw at all, but is just a person who has become fascinated with the animation process/techniques which you write about, when I stumbled onto your blog some time ago. Also I have a love for good cartoons, like Ren and Stimpy.

keep up the great work/posts,
Dan

Shawn said...

John, what's your take on illustrators like Jim Flora or Tim Biskup?

Anonymous said...

Again, after reading this, I need someone to hold me. On occasions like these, the truth is a bit ugly.

It seems we have a problem on our hands. Children (not just "educated" adults) are beginning to regurgitate the same crap. When I work with kids, I expect to see some inspiring, free-of-restraint drawings. I am always shocked with disappointment. Kids aren't challenged to think or play anymore. Therefore, they grow into adults who can't think or play.

xtracrsP said...

bot-worth said...

"replace Cal-arts style with Anime-Style and you have what I get everytime I try to talk to someone about cartoons. Its fairly disheartening..."


And what exactly is "Anime-Style" as you define it mr/mrs genius?

Anonymous said...

It's painfully true: illustrators have replaced cartoonists, even on funny projects. Illustrators naturally regard this as a good thing since they regard themselves as superior draughtsmen but they're mistaken.

Lots of gutsy, street-smart emotions and behaviors can only be expressed in cartoons drawn by cartoonists. You become a cartoonist because you're bursting at the seams to act out the weird and wonderfull things you see happening all around you, and which don't seem to interest people in other mediums. If cartoonists ever disappear then a whole spectrum of human activity will go unrecorded and without comment.

Anonymous said...

Intelligent post John, keep that keyboard hot. Now, I don't want to use you like some type of shopping guide, but I'm looking to purchase one of the Looney Toons Golden Collections, which (if any) would you recommend? Surely one of them has, so-to-speak, the classics? Keep in mind I'm no Warner buff, but I'm leaning towards Vol. 3.

Peggy said...

Hey, unrelated to the subject of this post: I ran across this multi-page rant about how modern art nearly destroyed the history of painting and I thought of what you've been saying in this blog. Different field, similar thesis: "in the middle of the twentieth century, skilled creative efforts went to shit".

And the marketing people moved in to sell the shit.

I'm not sure how much of their analysis I agree with; I certainly can't agree that things I love to play with like expressionism, abstraction, and Op tricks are nothing but clever cons!

I bristled at some parts, I nodded in agreement at others, and I'll have to think about some other bits. And some parts of the firey passion for making good fucking art, damnit sounded just like you when you get rolling on the state of animation today.

Stone said...

Many good points. I wouldn't say that there's no hope for cartoons though, it's just that it's dormant or at the very least, has to be rediscovered. Through trial and error, there are kids figuring it out and stumbling upon obscure books in libraries and getting ideas and thinking logically (or illogically) about making genuinely FUN drawings.

The parts about Cal-Arts are too true not to be hilarious. I admit I've been envious over the reputation and clout that admission offers, but I came to realize that there's nothing I can learn there that I couldn't learn by searching out good sources of inspiration and technique on my own. Some of the teachers there are really cool however and it sometimes seems like even they are kind of bored with the general 'mayonaisse-ness' of the student body.

JohnK said...

>>but what they say is not the funny part, thats the dumb part. they have clever plot lines,<<

Well, no they don't but they sure punish you along the way with eye assault and squeaky voices.

Mr. Semaj said...

"The Illusion of Life" brags about how the original animators like Freddy Moore and Bill Tytla couldn't keep up with the more illustrative type of animation that the feature animators developed in the 1940s.

This was one thing about the book I never understood. Most of Disney's more radical animators actually lost their zing as the years went on; it's hard to believe that Ward Kimball's animation for the Cheshire Cat is considered more "advanced" than his animation for Jiminy Cricket.

I guess my repetoire would lean in the "Cal Arts" direction. Not so realistic, but not very cartoony either. (Again, it'll be much easier for me to SHOW you, once I get around to it...)

Would you recommend Rochester Institute of Arts as a good art school, or should I continue borrowing the books from my local library? :-/

Anonymous said...

HAH AH HAHAHAHAHAHA! That old lady kicking Snooper cracks me the hell up. Funniest drawing i've seen in days.

bot-worth said...

>>And what exactly is "Anime-Style" as you define it mr/mrs genius?


When people draw boring pictures but think its interesting for the simple fact that they drew it with some obvious traits of japanese animation.

I thought it was obvious since I related it to what John was saying.

also, lighten up

Anonymous said...

great post as usual.

.. now make with the drawings again.

Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, where would you place Will Eisner?

I enjoyed how you defined cartoonist from animators and illustrators, even if we all steal from each others techniques.

JohnK said...

>>Out of curiosity, where would you place Will Eisner? <<

In cartoon limbo. It's neither cartoony nor realistic.

His BG layouts are clever.

JohnK said...

>>I assume people like the "Cal Arts style" because it looks pretty.<<

It doesn't look pretty at all. It looks boring and stilted and pretty gay overall.

sean said...

"Well, no they don't but they sure punish you along the way with eye assault and squeaky voices."


ok, you win. you got me there. i heard someone else ask, what do you think of tim biskup?

Anonymous said...

You know I've heard musicians say in the past that rock music began to die when becoming a "Rock Star" actually became a "career option"...don't you think the same can be said for the craft of cartooning and animation as well? I mean all of the great artists from the golden age didn't grow up wanting to be animators or cartoonists did they? I've read and heard many of them say they expected to become nothing more than struggling starving painters, or sketch artists, and then fate unveiled this great opportunity for them to express there pent up desires to show off there amazing talents to the world...and on top of it to get paid handsomely for it as well. I've heard Chuck Jones say such things, and other great Animators from that era as well...

...Also, sense your pretty much on the topic of "Culture Wars" I wanted to bring up two interesting points as well. Did you know as far as countries in the world go we are at the bottom of the list as far as government funding for the arts is concerned? I mean at the BOTTOM!!! Don't you think that's a big deal? I'm sure if you even went back in history you'd find that all the great cultures that excelled by defining them selves with great works of art, all have had FAR more support from there Governments and Leaders than even the Nations of today that are near the top of that very same list. I mean support both financially AND emotionally, and in many cases religiously as well too. Don't you think THAT is having an affect on our regressive culture's state today as well? The lack of interest, appreciation, and financial support from our current government for our Arts? In World War II there was amazing support for the arts! Granted it was mostly propaganda based, but I'm sure you get the point I'm trying to make.

Benjamin De Schrijver said...

I won't even bother expressing my opinions, cause I believe they won't even be considered anyway. Some people simply have different tastes. But I would like to get a fact straight. I'm not sure what the Illusion of Life exactly says (only read it once about 2 years ago), but Tytla was never unable to follow the more illustrative type work. He left/was fired after the Disney strike, and after coming back to the studio, he left because the atmosphere at the studio had completely shifted. Supposedly, he was one of the most sophisticated draftsman at the studio. And I wouldn't exactly call the demon in Fantasia cartoony.

JohnK said...

>>Supposedly, he was one of the most sophisticated draftsman at the studio. And I wouldn't exactly call the demon in Fantasia cartoony.<<

Neither would I. That's what makes Frank and Ollie's claims about him so crazy.

Anonymous said...

Posts like this make me glad I didnt go to Cal-Arts.
I went to a small local art school.
Like, the first day of school was about why anime was the cheapest lamest form of animation around.
Oddly, later we watched Looney Toons, Ralph Bakshi, and some Richard Williams stuff.
I miss that class.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating article. If I were to be honest, I probably see myself a lot more in the "cliche" camp of cartoonists and not enough in the other, perhaps because when I draw I tend to think structually first and emotionally second. This gave me a lot to think about.

Anonymous said...

I like that comic book pages, odd stuff for me, cause I think it has never been puplished here in Spain. I can see the influence in your work. The pose of the dog with the brush in the second pannel, third page is totally a kind of pose you'd use with Dirty Dog or some other characters.

I think The Iron Giant is a pretty good movie for what is worth. It doesn't try to be cartoony and that mom drawing is a little generic, but there were some funny moments in it, especially with that Kent Mansley character. It actually was better than both the majority of modern animated movies and real action movies. But yeah, it wasn't a cartoon. There is an extra in the Iron Giant dvd, there is a guy working in these Brad Bird films, whose name I have sadly forget, that designed the "Duck and Cover" sequence in Iron Giant, and he seems a talented guy and one that can make funny stuff too. But most of his gags are lost in the final movies. I've always found this kind of thing is really annoying.

I guess guys like Craig McCracken or Genndy Tartakovsky could be considered cartoonists too, though like you said somewhere, they are dangerously leaning towards to the "design" type and using more and more flash-like drawings. Still, I think the gags and character behaviour in something like Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends are pretty enjoyable.

Since you seem to be commenting in this post most than you often do, I'll try to get the answer to something as well. I respect you don't like South Park's plots, though I think they have some good ones, there are a lot of crappy ones too, and at the same time I enjoy Beavis and Butthead, but I don't think they're super-clever. Anyways, what do you have to object to the Simpsons' writting? I don't really know whether you dislike it or not, I know you dislike the drawings, and I think you dislike the fact that it is not written by cartoonists and perhaps that it's not too surreal. But you can't say it is less clever or funny than Beavis and Butthead, imo. Also, would you call Beavis and Butthead a cartoon?

Aaron said...

I don't get what is so horrible about different styles. I can see being upset that people are copying the same style over and over instead of developing their own voice, but I don't see how a cartoon that has the hard angles look is so bad.

I don't want all my cartoons to be big rubbery stretchy exagerations. I like animation in all shapes and colors and sizes.

It sounds more like you don't like the way the one style looks, and so anything that is similar must be bad as well. It's all subjective.

Anonymous said...

Styles come and go. "Cartoony" just so happens to not be in fashion at the moment. The CalArts style was especially popular in the 80's and 90's, when animation suddenly became popular again thanks to Disney actually kicking their arses into making films that weren't so rushed out of the door like that ugly Xerox crap. Currently it's all about either anime or that sort of UPA rip off style a lot of American cartoons use.

I think it's safe to say that America is at a low point in it's animation history, but it has been worse. You don't see the CalArts style so much now, because everyone is doing CGI features instead, which is something else completely.

Now it's not just about being able to draw cartoon-y on paper: there are so many over styles and techniques out there than ever before, that animation may hopefully start to see it's massive potential if execs would allow it. All the good animation is being made by everyone else in the world now. America's industry has been corrupted too much now in just about every medium it invented.

While I would love to see more cartoon-y stuff out there, we can't really go blaming everyone who draws differently else for not wanting to do it, by just calling everything else boring and gay, as you so well put it. I personally enjoy most styles of animation, as I love the medium so much, but still refuse to watch most of the crap on TV and in cinemas. Maybe if we got some more of this great somewhere-other-than-America stuff, we would have more to watch.

Er...I'm rambling now, so I'll shut up.

Kevin W. Martinez said...

This partiuclar quote from Peggy's art article spoke volumes to me:

"On the contrary they have been propagandized by modernism into believing that only those works that break boundaries, ignore standards, and show no interest in skill or technique can be truly "original" or "inspired.""

Does that sound familiar to anyone?

Anonymous said...

>>I'm sure if you even went back in history you'd find that all the great cultures that excelled by defining them selves with great works of art, all have had FAR more support from there Governments and Leaders than even the Nations of today that are near the top of that very same list.<<

Well the problem here is that we cannot go back in time. WWII was half a century ago. At some point, we are going to have to adapt to the idea of becoming prolific and strong without the help/support of the government. Sadly, I think much of my generation uses this as an excuse to simply not do anything. Of course there is a ton of inspiring work happening... But we're still losing out to the sink hole that is the WWF lovin' Midwest.

It doesn't start with government, it starts at home with family or friends (to sound a bit like "The More You Know"). Kids are told they are better off being a quarter back or a grocery store clerk, rather than attempt something that will make them happy. There is plenty that the government should be doing but we can't count on them to change our complete outlook on certain subjects. The governent might still be holding our hands but it's in a creepy, "daddy's lying to you" kind of way.

JohnK said...

"Cartoony" isn't a style. It's like saying "Musicy" which we do have to say today. Music that is musical.

J. J. Hunsecker said...

"There is an extra in the Iron Giant dvd, there is a guy working in these Brad Bird films, whose name I have sadly forget, that designed the "Duck and Cover" sequence in Iron Giant, and he seems a talented guy and one that can make funny stuff too. But most of his gags are lost in the final movies. I've always found this kind of thing is really annoying."

The name you're looking for is Teddy Newton.

alejantoraz said...

What do you think about Gay Larson?

(Fan from spain)

Anonymous said...

It makes me feel sad I wanted to go to Cal Arts back in my youth. Sad very sad :(......

Anonymous said...

Life experiences do make a artist reflect on life. You can find funny things in your own life. You can put satire on life experiences and come up with all sorts of gags.

Like the kids that have it easy their whole lives. When they go out into the world and life kicks them around a bit. Example: Marriage, kids, divorce, money issues, losing a good job, stealing money out of their parents bank accounts, mugging old ladies, can't find match or lighter to light up your crack pipe.

Things like that build character. You can find satire or have a sarcastic view of the world when reflecting on your life and find things that are funny.

Like the old saying, "One day when we look back at this, we'll just laugh, and laugh."

Anonymous said...

Roberto González: His name is Teddy Newton, and yes, he is hilarious. It's a damn shame that all too often his ideas go nowhere in the industry he's stuck in.

>>I won't hire sheep anymore. I need artists who draw well and have some of their own style.<<

I don't know if you'd really want that John. Aren't sheep the folks who wholeheartedly do as they're told? Wouldn't that make life easier for the director? Perhaps you meant sheep with some brain.

I'm considered somewhat of a blacksheep in my school, in that I sex-up my assignments to keep from being mediocre. 1 out of 2 professors hate me (but 2 out of 3 students get a good laugh out of my work). Everyone's trying to pound into my head that if I really want to work in industry, I have to bend over, relax my bowels, and conform. That sounds like a sheep to me.

cemenTIMental said...

The Cal Arts style looks like it's drawn by suburban kids who had a normal easy life and don't have anything to say about the world except that their Mom is pear shaped.
Haha, brilliant!

cemenTIMental said...


And what exactly is "Anime-Style" as you define it mr/mrs genius?

Well that's the thing isn't it!? Saying "anime style" is like saying "cartoon style" - totally vague and meaningless.

In terms of western drawing/animation, what "anime style" usually means is an nth-generation cargo-cult copy of a copy of a copy of some fanart of an anime series by people who don't understand the underlying reasons and rules for the 'style' any more than the Cal Arts copyists.

I've never once seen a non-japanese piece of "anime style" art that could actually pass for even the very cheapest of professional Japanese anime. But somehow people generally don't even seem to be able to tell the difference, and that shockingly includes the hoards of wannabe western "anime artists" who draw the stuff!

>_<

Uh total digression/rant. Sorry :)

Anyway the Japanese will probably bring back 'cartoony'... In my opinion Yuasa Masaaki's recent work, for example, contains everything John K points out is lacking in current US cartoons, and then some! Tho I'm not sure if John would agree... and am kind of scared to find out. :(

Anonymous said...

Great post John! I really hate the cookie cutter Cal Art style, I never knew what it was called. (I did like the Disney's Robin Hood cartoon made in the 70's I think, it did have that style going. It's not until you wake up and see it was a continuing style from then on. It's everywhere, I suppose it appeals to the masses because it's uniform and doesn't take much thought to watch, kinda the extreme boring type of cartoon also great for outsourcing. Name recognition plays a factor when you say "Disney" it gives the masses the oohh wow factor...

Anonymous said...

Wow! So much brain food...

John, your definitions are fascinating. I can see why it's necessary that you have your own definitions, because the language around this stuff is so confused.

I might be in a kind of sub-Eisner limbo myself, for the time being...

You make being a (real) cartoonist sound like the most appealing thing in the whole world. I can definitely recognise the aspects of seeing the hypocrisy in the world but still wanting to produce a joyful vision.

Peggy: Hi! The article you linked to comes from the Art Renewal Centre people, who are a frustrating bunch. Yes, there is a lot of (angry) logic in their literature, manifestoes etc, in their descriptions of the crippling effects of modern art. They sort of have the right logic leading to slightly skewed conlusions. They have a pretty hard line on training and skills, which sounds good, but in fact they aspire to the teaching structure of the 19th century French academies I think, which to my mind is a step too far toward anal stagnant conservatism.

If they got their way, we'd have to re-do the whole of Romanticism, and that would be a pain in the arse. And they don't seem to have a sense of humour, I don't think they'd have much time for cartoons. My main problem with them is that the actual work they endorse/produce is a kind of neoclassical (photo) realism that isn't generally of much interest to me. And it's reactionary. I subscribed to their mailing list for a while and they're a very uptight bunch of gripers. They don't even seem to like each other very much.

Anyway, despite that all seeming pretty off-topic, I feel it sort of is relevent because the frustration I get with groups like the ARC is exactly what I don't get here. John's words are carefully chosen and logical, and if one followed all his theories, one would have a good chance of making something beautiful looking and beneficial to mankind. All of mankind, not just the uptight gripers.

I know I probably shouldn't pollute the beautifully clear lessons of this blog with talk of stinky old fine art, but the blasted A-word has surfaced recently... and I think my point is that as someone who probably ultimately just wants to find a way of making a living as a painter, I've found more useful teaching and more SENSE here than I have amongst any of the competing factions of word-spewing self-important artsters. I think what everyone needs is to join the big ideas and the actual art up a little bit more. I like John (and Eddie's) humanist use of the word 'theory' a lot.

Aaron said:

>>>It sounds more like you don't like the way the one style looks, and so anything that is similar must be bad as well. It's all subjective.

Statements like this seem to get made a lot... I disagree, it's not ALL subjective. If it was, we'd all be submitting to a world of chaos and pointlessness and there wouldn't be much point in striving to do anything good at all. 'Good' wouldn't exist. And I think you're probably misrepresenting John's points. In a sane conversation, there's a tension between subjective experience and objective standards/governing rules. There is order in the universe. There is beauty. There are people who can draw and people who can't.

To my eyes John has shown repeatedly that he's able to judge everything on its merits. If you feel differently about a given cartoon or style, don't let that be a reason to completely abandon the concept of quality. These tensions can be productive, they aren't a reason to just give up listening and retreat into a world of self-indulgence where you never have to analyse or justify your decisions/opinions.

And more to the point, the argument 'It's all subjective' or 'it's all a matter of personal taste' abdicates everyone of all responsibility to strive to be excellent and even to think. It's an argument for braindead passivity. Things are a lot more interesting than that!

No offense to you personally Aaron :-), it just gets my goat. I'm just trying to communicate something, I'm not actually looking for an argument. This relativism thing comes up a lot.

Gabriel said...

but i suppose you can never know too much, right? If a cartoonist also manages to draw realistically, it will only enhance his tool kit. I know a lot of great cartoonists probably couldnt' draw realistic, but a lot of serious illustrators can't draw cartoony either. I know a guy who does awesome pencil portraits, but he wants to work in animation and his cartoony stuff suck. I don't have the guts to tell him (and i don't know if i should anyway).
So John, how would you rate your realistic drawings, if you ever do any? And is drawing realistic a fundamental skill for a person who aspires to draw mainly cartoony things?

Anonymous said...

I just put some thought into this and y'know what, not every artist out there has to simply latch onto one style whether you are Cartoonist or Illustrator. I can do both pretty damn well and in the end I am more comfortable for it. Sometimes I like watching a realistic movie or playing a realistic video game, or appreciate the work of Marvel Comic's John Buscema or the great paintings of Alex Ross so sue me. But when I get bored with that I can always watch a funny Warner Bros, Hanna-Barbera or Spumco cartoon and forget my troubles and laugh at life. You're right John, the term of Cartooning and Illustration tends to be blurred nowadays and cartoonists are looked down upon as a result. I too am a cartoonist (and proud of it and don't care what others have to say, you, Eddie, Chad, Katie and the rest kick ass in my eyes) but I don't have to be ashamed at the fact I draw realistically too and can appreciate even the works of your former coworkers' Bruce Timm's stylistic approach. For me it's learning to appreciate each style for it's strength as opposed to just concentrating on just one style all the time (although I can do that too).

I guess maybe I'm not too ashamed I wanted to go into Cal Arts as a kid, I'm just hungry to learn other ways of Illustrating and meeting nice folks. I can always cartoon on the side when I want and that's what I do!

Anonymous said...

I just put some thought into this and y'know what, not every artist out there has to simply latch onto one style whether you are Cartoonist or Illustrator. I can do both pretty damn well and in the end I am more comfortable for it. Sometimes I like watching a realistic movie or playing a realistic video game, or appreciate the work of Marvel Comic's John Buscema or the great paintings of Alex Ross so sue me. But when I get bored with that I can always watch a funny Warner Bros, Hanna-Barbera or Spumco cartoon and forget my troubles and laugh at life. You're right John, the term of Cartooning and Illustration tends to be blurred nowadays and cartoonists are looked down upon as a result. I too am a cartoonist (and proud of it and don't care what others have to say, you, Eddie, Chad, Katie and the rest kick ass in my eyes) but I don't have to be ashamed at the fact I draw realistically too and can appreciate even the works of your former coworkers' Bruce Timm's stylistic approach. For me it's learning to appreciate each style for it's strength as opposed to just concentrating on just one style all the time (although I can do that too).

I guess maybe I'm not too ashamed I wanted to go into Cal Arts as a kid, I'm just hungry to learn other ways of Illustrating and meeting nice folks. I can always cartoon on the side when I want and that's what I do!

Anonymous said...

I guess what I am saying is you can never learn too much...

Anonymous said...

Shocking opinions, but backed (illustrated) up with lots of yummy example images.

Keep up the good work my friends!

Anonymous said...

I remember reading those comics- they're so cute! Animators drawing comics makes sense.

So I was reading my Sergio Aragones book at school, and my friend said, "hey, I know him, I was his apprentice when I was 13 or so. He's a family friend, really nice, funny guy."

JohnK said...

Hi Sean

I think you misread what I posted. I don't have anything against being able to draw "realistically". Haven't I posted lots of Frazetta and Kirby and other artists?

Cal Arts is not "realistic". It's a soulless cliche. No life. No attitude. No verve. It's not fun to look at like a cartoon drawing is.

No humanity.

I was just using that style to contrast against the lively cartoony work by Dan Gordon-who has his own unique cartoony style, not a rippoff of other people's expressions and stock poses.

Jorge Garrido said...

It's a privilege and an honor to have your animated film or drawings be considered a cartoon and only a select few have earned that right these days. (Amazingly, most, if not all of them, are somehow involved with Spumco or John) Maybe one day I can be a cartoonist!

Family Guy and South Park certainly havn't earned that right, even if I do find South Park's WRITING hilarious.

In stroke of irony, I was researching Dan Gordon after viewing this post and his Wikipedia article lists him as Dan Gordon(Animator) Weird, huh?

Anonymous said...

>I think you misread what I posted. >I don't have anything against being >able to draw "realistically". >Haven't I posted lots of Frazetta >and Kirby and other artists?


I understand now John,

Thanks for the heads up, I almost thought you entered extremist territory for a second and I would've left your blog for good (haha just kidding I could never do that, your posts are too intelligent and entertaining for me to quit now). :)

It's been awhile since I read your post on Frazetta and Kirby (although with Kirby I'd say he's more stylized as that's what Timm tends to follow more) and less realistic than his DC comics/ Hanna-Barbera counterpart Alex Toth. It's hard for me to reference your old posts since the links to them seem to be broken on the right of your blog page whenever I try to access them.

Good blogging as always man, if it wasn't for you I wouldn't have started blogging myself. Say hello to Chad and Corey for me when you have the chance.

-Sean

Hryma said...

You havn't said 'poofy' yet.

S.G.A said...

This was well needed and over due... cool.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the praise, John! I'm proud to be on your 'good list'!

Thanks also for the Dan Gordon pages - you're right, they're so much fun! Great use of 'lighting' and spot blacks, too!

Shawn Luke said...

I might be way off base here, but to me 'cartoony' or 'cartoonist' is the equivolent of 'jazzy' or a 'jazz' musician in the music industry. Particularly that of the 20's, 30's and 40's.

When Bob Clampett syncs his cartoons up with all that swing music, there's a unique synergy there that somehow relates the two on a cosmic scale and makes them very much alike.

Anonymous said...

Dan Gordon was a terrific cartoonist and a great storyteller. His "Superkatt" comics were hilarious.

Gordon & Hultgren were good friends, apparently, both got out of animation about the same time (early '40s) and worked in comics almost exclusively for the next 10 years or so. Hultgren sometimes featured Gordon's characters in his stories (with apologies to dang) and vice versa - I think they probably influenced each other. (and no doubt spent lots of time drinking together - Gordon was known to enjoy an occasional cocktail)

Hultgren also did a good book on drawing animals, which has a lot of good basic information in it.


I gave Steve Worth a ton of scans of Gordon's comics at the archive.

Also Posted some pages at:

http://potulentpalaver.blogspot.com/

murrayb said...

This post could be spun into some sort of manifesto, lets get the revolution going!!

Would it be fair to call the Cal Arts style "milt kahl style" since he did the majority of the disney film Design? bluth and bird interned under Milt. Milt's taste was ALL craft, and is very persuasive when you are learning at a calarts-ish school. He and Norman Rockwell go hand in hand, and Iron Giant had both those influences.
Its super cheese americana like frank capra and forrest gump.

Craft is what suburban moms respect. Like those kiosk at the mall where people redraw photographs of Elvis and John Lennon, all carefully shaded, or robert bateman paintings of cougars with frames that match your couch. Cal arts students are trying to please their pear shaped Moms. Execs cash in.

No craft- like south park and family guy is therefore immediately avant garde hipness to the moron Joe dirts who want to be cool. bad artists cash in.

What to do?

JohnK said...

>>
Would it be fair to call the Cal Arts style "milt kahl style" since he did the majority of the disney film Design? <<

Hi Murray,

no one is doing "Milt Kahl style". Everyone loves him, but his "style" is good solid drawing.

All people imitate today are some of his stock expressions and movements and square fingers, but without the vast amount of skill he had.

They imitate what he wasn't good at-the cheesy acting.

How many times have we seen Shere Khan's expressions and pose stolen? Or Wart's and his big brother?

Anytime anyone draws a prince's father, it's the fat one from Sleeping Beauty, only drawn badly.

I don't understand this kind of mentality but it's everywhere and especially at Cal Arts, the home of Satan.

Most animators today steal specific expressions and poses from animators who invented them and then use them over and over again out of context, instead of learning to draw and observe life for themselves so that they can draw their own observations and share them with the audience in an entertaining and fun way.

Alex said...

EVERYONE-look and laught at this picture

http://photos1.blogger.com/img/33/3434/640/calarts%20class%201976withtype.jpg

S.G.A said...

Well, I was reading some of the comments,... different strokes for different folks just doesn't cut it...
How many different ways can Mr. K hammer home the same things... Although this post was pretty good.
It seems to be either you get it or you don't... and if if don't get what he has written , "especially " in this post, well than to me( and this is just my own opinion) you are sort of half alive... All the stuff that I have always been drawn to growing up... whcih was not the stuff of my own generation... I was handed Scooby doo tranformers and carebears... But what knocked me out as kid was alot of the stuff Mr. K so often shows as examples... Whcih I had to get from yard sales etc..
The Stuff that has spawned the Cal Arts style, seems half dead to me always has .. timid an d afraid to speak up, it doesn't matter how technically accomplished it is , it seems done by those who are afraid to look at the world, it's afaid to show it's balls... You can be cute and ballsy... And that seems to be what Mr. K is trying to poiunt out to those who have the eyes and the courage to see diffrently.

S.G.A said...

For what it's worth I figured out as a kid, that all the Disney/Don Bluth stuff had interchangeable faces, I figured it out when I saw fox and the hound then american tail.. Then thought that's boring... and I gave up on wanting to be animator when I saw tiny toons... Ren & stimpy made me happy but I thought , thats only one cartoon, and learned how to paint instead... Cartoons now are just awful, My kid calls the Adult Swim cartoons Colorforms... And he's right that's just how they move.. He hates South Park,... He summed South Park up nicely; "All they do is yell!" , "I hate it" ,... Why don't they MOVE right!"
I agree.

I don't really care said...

Back in '72 a cal-arts scout came to my high school. By the time he left I thought it was the Big Rock Candy Mountain. I wanted to go for a couple of years. I got the admissions kit and it stressed animal studies. There I was, happy making rubber hose and pear and sausage characters and they apparently wanted me to get ready for the Aristocats or Robin Hood.

I had no interest in it. I liked funny, stupid stuff. I really wanted to go to a funny, stupid stuff school. Couldn't find one.

This blog is the closest thing I've ever seen to a funny stupid stuff school.

Mr. Semaj said...

I know I asked this before, but...

Would you recommend Rochester Institute of Arts as a good art school, or should I continue borrowing the animation books from my local library? :-/

Stone said...

Going along with what you were saying about Cal-Arts kids' style being really boring and attributing it to the fact that many of the students going there are generally privelaged suburban kids that really have nothing personal to say or are too timid to say it. Perhaps that's why many Cal-Arts students are so successful... Most of America has nothing to say for itself. They've got middle-america down to a science!

El Feto Imperfeto said...

You don't have to aprove this and publish it in the blog, nor answer it nor even read it, if you don't want to :P, but there it goes. I know it is off-topic and it must feel like nothing but fawning. But I need to express my gratitude to you, that's it.

What you are doing with these posts is amazing, I really never thought about drawing this seriously before reading you.
You are making me discover concepts and ideas I never realised before, "filling blanks", giving names to concepts I only saw "blurred and from a distance".

I'm just realising how good this kind of artists you mention were,
confirming how poor is my skill, and understanding that here you are giving for free a way of doing things "good" as to pursue absorbing it.

In my totally amateur country I have always found how awful it is when everybody looks ANY drawing and says "it's great". Regardless it is animation, a comic strip, a movie, good or bad. There is no critic about anything. The «it is all subjective» "argument" comes out all the time, and justifies to stop efforting and developing a "style" of your own which consists in not knowing how to draw. And that's it. Feels like if the idea was "Everyone who draws makes it greatly". Nothing matters. If it is a drawing, it is OK. Nobody seems to stop and watch at all, no judging at all. I needed so much to find this kind of solid concepts just to start to really learn for once.

On one hand it hurts to see that lots of my --wrong-- convictions are falling apart, but on the other hand, it's great to find these feelings and theories free for the taking after all that time questioning what would be good and bad, why some stuff stinks and why some other doesn't. Thanks to this kind of posts I am rethinking of anything I have done, what I thought was "good". Now I have to wash away all those mistakes I have learned and start to really learn. It's a huge thing to do, but I'll try.

Hope I made myself at least a little clear.



* * *

Abstract: thank you.

JohnK said...

>>Would you recommend Rochester Institute of Arts as a good art school, or should I continue borrowing the animation books from my local library? :-/<<

Neither. The Preston Blair book is the only book you need. The rest you can learn by practicing and studying old cartoons.

Julián höek said...

hi john.
and what do you think about the independet and more experimental type of animators like norman mclaren, ryan larkin, jan svankmajer, lotte reiniger, caroline leaf, jiri trnka and all the others who do this kind of animation?

thanks
julian

Anonymous said...

Will Eisner in cartoon limbo...wow.

I'm taking the John K Taste Test Spectacu-O-Lar Challenge...I'll post a bunch of my attempts at cartoony drawings tommorrow.

Thanks for the nod.

PCUnfunny said...

"On the contrary they have been propagandized by modernism into believing that only those works that break boundaries, ignore standards, and show no interest in skill or technique can be truly "original" or "inspired.""

I couldn't agree more with this quote. These so called "cartoonist" today have not learned any of the basics and are simply on the persuit there own "style". I guess that "style" is flat and ugly.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting thread. Just wanted to pop in to say that I'm enjoying this discussion immensely. The Cal-Arts style is a bit of a worn-out cliche - the style is so evident in nearly all the major studio feature films that it has become predictable. And when something is predictable, it needs to be given a swift kick in the pants. Great analysis, John!

Michael Lithium said...

We may not know what John things about Tim Biskup, but we know what Tim Biskup thinks about John:

http://www.heliomag.com/7-things-you-should-know-about-tim-biskup.html

Go to #4

Anonymous said...

Hey John you give good blog- better than anyone. Thanks putting my name up there with all those legends. In fact I look at your blog just to see if you mention my name! Nyuk!

Anonymous said...

Amen, and thank you.

Patrick said...

Even though I desagree with John K on many things- where it comes to Cal Arts, i agree with him.

These kids have no souls (and most humans dont otherwise we wouldnt have this world) so when they leave the pain factory of school in the middle of the country, Cal Arts takes them, gives them the Priest Jibe- (which you do many times John but not in this case) and then sends them out to the world!

And guess what- the idiots in Hollywood hire them because they MISS the Pear shaped mother, and her godforsaken apple pie- because they were out parting and having intercorse right in front of her in the 60'-70's, saying they were rebels!

Yeah... MOTHER****** the worst gen ever to exist on earth talk crap about how things not right now. So they try to say IM sorry in the best way...

Norman Rockwell, with robots (even though I liked the film a lot)

These cal arts bastards in this business, are 2 BAD drawings from working in the porno biz (which i say its akin to a bad martini) to pay there school fees. They would have been better off as live action water boys for a B movie- so they can move on and become what they were born to be...Sheep, who breed more Sheep, that Breed More sheep, that still dont have a soul.

Marcos Gp said...

why peple are so angry?

Ian Worrel said...

I have one thing to say to all of you who hate CalArts students.

I don't care if you hate me, but be decent enough to know me first. At a minimum, make eye contact with me.

samacleod said...

>>I really hate the cookie cutter Cal Art style, I never knew what it was called. <<

>>I had no interest in it [CALARTS]. I liked funny, stupid stuff. I really wanted to go to a funny, stupid stuff school. Couldn't find one.<<

>>The Cal-Arts style is a bit of a worn-out cliche<<

Ouch. Man, you guys need a hug or something. Why don't you buy a punching bag for all this agression. John K, I heard you were at the CalArts show. That's awesome. Isn't it obvious that every group of artists brings with it the generic and the unique? Probably more generic in most cases, but why is CalArts getting the bad name for something that happens at ALL schools????? That's just lame. I've never been inspired by my fellow students. More so in many cases than anyone out of Disney!!! Styles should depend on the STORY BEING TOLD...finding the appropriate designs that can pull of the performance demands. If you want a comedy, drama, action...they would most likely have very different designs.

stadam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sherm said...

Hey, John...I just posted a FANTASTIC Dan Gordon story up at: http://cartoonsnap.blogspot.com/2007/08/dan-gordons-cookie-comics.html

...along with links where you can find LOTS more Dan Gordon comics to download! Thanks fore turning me on to his work! And thanks for your ever-inspiring blog!

Captain Napalm said...

I dunno, man - as much as I hate the generic CalArts style most of the time, those girls are kinda sexy!

oppo said...

"In 25 years of me meeting and hiring Cal Arts students I have only met about 3 or 4 "cartoonists". Aaron Springer, Jim Reardon and Jeff Pidgeon spring to mind."


Is that just a section of Cal Arts people who are "cartoonists", or did you make a point to leave out Nate Kanfer and Rich Moore?

Cameron Robertson said...

The animation art from the year 1920s is now gloomy because there is no longer a cartoon industry. It is saddening now that a cartoonist is hard to come by. Seems like all those comic strips and cartoon collections have been put in storage. Furthermore, we have reached a digital era. Thus, we see lesser pen and paper cartoon artists nowadays. They are still in need but not at such a high demand.