Monday, April 27, 2009

My kind of Conservative Cartooning

I don't want anyone to think I'm completely opposed to conservative approaches to cartooning. There are many conservative cartoonists I love.
I'll explain more later and maybe touch on why I think making cartoons with crews rather than alone leads to better results.

Well a lot of people in the comments did my job for me! thanks.

I'll add a little:

When I say "conservative" I don't mean in the political sense of the word. Most artists are by their nature more liberal than the average person in general.

I mean conservative in the sense that they are cautious, afraid to go beyond certain prescribed boundaries. There are only a handful of people in any field really capable and willing to break new ground and move things forward.

The difference between old type conservative and new is basically this:

A conservative cartoonist from the old days prescribes to a complex and sundry set of boundaries. It takes a lot of learning and skill to do this.

The new type of conservative is actually 2 types:

The conservative executive is afraid of everything. Anything at all that doesn't fit a mold, that hasn't already been done a hundred times - but even worse. They are afraid of the basics! Of pure skill - and of making a committed statement to anything. That's why so many animated movies never have their characters actually make it to a finished real pose or expression. It's as if they stop at an inbetween for fear of being too clear or entertaining. (Will Finn and I came up with this theory today)

Modern conservative cartoonists don't have the benefit of solid basics, good schools or high standards in new media to look up to. All they have to work from is superficially copying current styles and trends, without knowing their origins or original purposes - if they ever had any.

Combine these 2 types of modern conservatives and you get lackluster, unskilled and predictable generic modern animation, that with each generation declines (maybe unknowingly) another notch.

Harvey Eisenberg is a conservative yet highly skilled and somewhat stylish cartoonist of the past. More on him in the next post.


Dan szilagyi said...

I think everything needs to have some limit, just having pure freedom of being able to do ANYTHING is not always the best, sometimes you can get really creative since you do have a limit on what you can/can't do and some really great ideas can emerge.

Thanks for sharing your ideas John!

Niki said...

I think you've said that before. I agree, but I also think that they should try to lossen up as much as they can. A thing about making cartoons alone, should we try in a team, even if the rest of the team is artistically naive?

Alex said...

That's good: for a second there, the lesson I took away from that was conservative = EVIL, and liberal = PURE.

'I think everything needs to have some limit, just having pure freedom of being able to do ANYTHING is not always the best, sometimes you can get really creative since you do have a limit on what you can/can't do and some really great ideas can emerge.'

That's true: some persons in the field don't have the wildest imagination, but do have good intentions in what they do. If they didn't WANT to go broad and extreme, that should not be something to be ashamed of.

Trevor Thompson said...

If everything were zany and uncontrolled you'd have a mess. Like the MC Hammer cartoon.

- trevor.

Archie said...

Bit of an odd request John, but i would really really appreciate it if youd did a post on cartoon hands. I've always struggled with making them relevant to the given mood or expression without over or underemphasing them. Drawing them is also difficult.

Thanks, Very much appreciate it.

Zoran Taylor said...

I love cartoonists who swing wildly between conservatism and hysterical fits of exaggeration. It's so human. Chuck Jones did it, but for me Bill Watterson did it best. His talent for observation is always there, but one comic might be nigh-on naturalistic while the next will be full of borrowed animation techniques -multiples, stretch and squash - plus hilarious facial expressions that say entire paragraphs by themselves. (BTW, I posted a collection of my favorite ones and littered it here a few times ages ago, but I'm not gonna put it here again unless anyone cares. It's a bad habit. I'm talking to you, Mighty B and Superjail lobbyists. Even though those shows are pretty good.)

Rudy Tenebre said...

Animation seems to be a collaborative medium in its essence, (not the least of which is simply labor based)... Independent animation seems to attempt to turn its obvious production limitations into 'arty' virtues, and always feels very constrained.

Rudy Tenebre said...

It strikes me I'm stating the obvious in my last comment, yet I ask myself, when have you ever been in a position to make cartoons without the benefit (creatively collaborative or otherwise)of a crew?

(My brother had a beer with one of the Superjail creators quite by chance. He's certainly one of Johnny's hipsters. Could probably give a shit about Warner shorts. He's in a local band called Cheeseburger. Then again, a history of John's sense of dress over the years could qualify him as once pretty hip. Sporting laceless converse and that Rick Springfield hair! Offset by one of those vinyl strap belts only a mongoloid might wear--totally DEVO!)

david gemmill said...

having carbuncle animate your cartoons as opposed to overseas also leads to better results.

A lot of stuff leads to better results in an "idealized" production, but John, I'm sure you're familiar with all the limitations the studio system presents. Hence, the alternative of making your own cartoons by yourself....which wasn't possible years ago (realistically), but is possible now!!

Also if you are looking for a super talented group of people to work with you risk the chance of strong egos clashing...which inevitably leads to fights, rifts, the end of a studio/show etc. I don't want to preach to choir, just making a point that is on topic. LOLZ right, mike!

You can't have your cake an eat it too.

And Mike, isn't it the yuppies that are running the WB marketing department the same group of people who get under your skin when they tell you draw tweety as a girl with flower sandals and a bikini. I'd consider that a problem that might affect someone's outlook on the "industry" and the medium they love as they are getting paid to participate in it's destruction.

I guess my idea of working for yourself goes against John's efforts to corral young talent for his own purposes of further exploring his IDEALIZED cartoon projects.

keenom said...

You may not appreciate starstruck fans John, but that's what I am. Not gay, but just a lover of great animation, which stems from a great attitude and sense of what's either funny or interesting. In my book, you're it. Without people like you and Chuck Jones and one of my faves, Walter Lantz, this world would be way too boring. I could honestly live without Chuck and Walter as long as I had you and Ren and "Steempy" Thank you more than I can say.

keenom said...

One other thing- I love Crusader Rabbit, Terrytoons, and Beany and Cecil when they were early cartoons and even puppets. In Mighty Mouse cartoons when the wolf hit the water, dropped from great heights by MM, they made a sound when hittling the water that went "toypaja" That's the sound, spell it any way you like...Jay Ward did lots of cool things for kids. Okay, I'm gone (don't cheer..)

Hans Flagon said...

I'm entertaining myself by applying this meaning of 'conservative' to Alex Toth.

david gemmill said...

Also, i should have added, that I don't mean to sound so negative. I think we all want to see good cartoons being made again. I am just offering another option that most artists neglect. There tends to be a lot of blaming and dissent towards studios/the man, but not that many people are really taking action to either a. work with them or b. go independent

At least blogs like these and others are around to remind people what cartoons are about, but cartoonists old and young need to create things instead of arguing over semantics. Discussion is fine, but where is the new content? Where are cartoons being represented today? anywhere?

Crew or no crew, shorts program or no shorts program, people just need to be creating. you can't wait for the perfect opportunity to drop in your lap.. At least i'm not going to.

craig clark said...

Conservative non- acting? An animator would benefit from the study of pantomime where pose to pose action is paramount to sell an idea. Limits can be liberating, theatrical shorts were limited to 7 minutes, Road Runner cartoons to 10 rules of action.

Build your own limitations that your audience an anticipate and follow, and maybe they will anticipate that animators next cartoon. Great posts John!

Rafi animates said...

Spot on John. Your posts have always been right on point, but the recent ones are quite thought-provoking.

As an independent animator I really value the freedom to experiment and explore avenues I would otherwise not. It's tough to justify it in terms of making a living, but who cares when creating the art is so thrilling, and if other people enjoy watching it, then that's awesome.

I just completed a music video called Follow The Legs, would be interested to know whether you consider it conservative. You can watch it one my site here:

(feel free to not make this comment visible on your blog, if you feel it's a shameless plug - lol)

SoleilSmile said...

The staging is so nice in these samples:)

Williaint said...

I became a new conservative at school, and noticed I couldn't draw like I used to. I was drawing more realistically, and learning some new/better techniques, but I couldn't draw what I wanted to. It may have be how I hold my pencil...

pappy d said...

That definition of a conservative cartoonist sounds like a lot of guys from my generation. He's someone who knows all the rules & doesn't ever break them. His workman-like, uninspired & (for better or worse) predictable work habits make him the bedrock of the industry. You need to team him with an imaginative, energetic & over-enthused youngster right out of college.

The main problem is collaborating with the team who's funding & distributing the cartoon.

I love to collaborate with good artists even more than I hate taking orders.

The only thing more pragmatic than idealism is just doing it.

Phuket web design said...

Nice cartoon i was looking for this issue for read.Any thank you friend.

Stephen Worth said...

I think it's supremely disrespectful to suggest that Mike is contributing to the destruction of cartooning. Anyone who has worked alongside him, as I have, knows that he puts his talent, skill and hard work behind what he says and believes. Both Mike and John have contributed a great deal to cartoonists everywhere by sharing their knowledge on the internet. I appreciate it myself, and it irritates me to see that any fool with a blogger account can make their valuable contributions seem like pearls before swine.

When you grandstand like this at the expense of people who obviously have plenty of skill, experience and talent, you're putting yourself up for comparison against the people you're disrespecting. That really isn't a contest you're going to want to enter. Most idiots are smart enough to post anonymously to avoid that.

"Better to keep your mouth closed and risk being thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt." -Mark Twain

Zoran Taylor said...

I swear this is the first time Steve has ever commented without officially bidding us adieu! Letting the Twain set in, I guess...

pappy d said...


A hack artist is just an artist who takes orders.

--John Cage

I'm not ashamed of it. If it wasn't for work-for-hire, I wouldn't have nearly so much skill & experience. Without that, talent isn't of much practical use.

So, as an animation archivist, would you please tell the court, in your expert opinion, did Mike or did he not tart up Tweety in drag & send him out on the streets for money.

JohnK said...

>>You need to team him with an imaginative, energetic & over-enthused youngster right out of college.<<

To Pappy:

I couldn't disagree more!

This IS what they do and it's the biggest mistake of many shorts programs.

First, a kid out of college doesn't know anything. He has no experience yet.

Second, it destroys the motive to earn your keep, learn how things work (or don't) and be on the directors' side to help him make a good cartoon.

Now, everyone working under every director is not motivated to be loyal to him. He is just waiting to start his own cartoon and then have people under him waiting their turn.

Everyone wants to start at the top now, a horrible evil perpetrated by the networks.

pappy d said...

Maybe I'm not seeing your broader vision. I was thinking along the lines of: Don't match an inexperienced rider with an inexperienced horse.

I don't think of working within a "complex and sundry set of boundaries" so much as working within a set of rules (how) which are bounded by principles (why). Sometimes you break the rules. You get an inspiration. It just feels right & then you check it against the principles & if it was a good idea to begin with, it will be justified. This is really satisfying because you feel both intuitive & clever.

Kids have lots of these inspirations. Their default position is "Yes". Old guys bear the scars of ten thousand lashes of "No" & over time that can dull your zeal. An old guy can explain whether an idea does or doesn't work in terms of 'why' or 'how' or even reverse-engineer a solution working backward from principles. The kid has learned something & the old guy is excited about his work again.

If a crew member isn't at least professionally dedicated to the project, he is wasting his own time. The thought of giving up part of your life for nothing but a little bit of money is horrifying to me.

Loyalty seems too interpersonal a quality to expect from employees but the director deserves faith from his crew in his role as director. In this sense, the director is a little like God.

Without the director, production is like the cold impersonal cosmos. Nature has no laws, really; only necessity. Laws & meaning itself are the work of gods &/or men. Of course, your motive might be the necessity of filling a 4-hour block of congressionally-mandated airtime & the meaning is: We get paid. In that case, you can get along fine with a sheet-timer. The actual product doesn't matter, so why not pursue a career in office politics?

The director is also responsible for the intelligent design of the universe, right down to the physics that apply there.

And the director is always right.

He may not be right at first, but this is only a test of faith. Eventually he will be right & if he has even a grain of modesty, he's going to be deeply grateful for all the help he can get.

mike f. said...

[And Mike, isn't it the yuppies that are running the WB marketing department the same group of people who get under your skin when they tell you draw tweety as a girl with flower sandals and a bikini. I'd consider that a problem that might affect someone's outlook on the "industry" and the medium they love as they are getting paid to participate in it's destruction.]

Um, I assume you're referring to me, David, yes? The sentence is so riddled with half-assed assumptions, I don't quite know where to begin addressing it. (I'll leave your yuppie fixation alone for the time being.)

For the record, no one has ever asked me to draw Tweety "as a girl with flower sandals and a bikini". They wouldn't dare - they know better. I’m not sure where you get your information, but you sure as hell didn’t ask me.

Most of the character art I draw at WB isn't even for the American market: it ends up overseas, in London and the rest of Europe. I use the WWII Clampett models for inspiration as much as I can, (circa 1943 or so.) Non-Clampett characters I draw according to their earliest classic look. For instance, I’ll draw the Coyote and Roadrunner from Jones' Fast And Furry-ous (1948).

Occasionally, I'll see one of my drawings that was altered by a licensee, months or years after it left my hands. This is infuriating, to say the least. My original drawings are kept in a file in my office - marked “Exhibit A”. No one touches those, no one can change them except me. And they're here for you to look at and judge any time you choose, David.

I find that it's always best to get the facts from the source.

Ed said...

Just curious... you said it's getting worse with every generation, does that mean that with your absolute revulsion to the cartoons of the eighties you think that todays cartoons are worse than those?

Amazing Flower said...

my favorite cartoon when i was a kid.

Love from Singapore Florist :)