Thursday, October 22, 2009

Johnny Hart's Cartoon Physics

Johnny Hart's drawings look simple on the surface but they are very clever, I think. He has a great natural sense of cartoon physics or cause and effect - how one event leads logically (or illogically) to another.
It looks like he could have been influenced by Roadrunner cartoons.
His drawings have a lot of tension and feeling in them too. Each drawing contains a lot of complex information. ...and the continuity of the successive drawings is brilliant. He only has a small number of panels to describe a lot of action. Making the decisions of what parts in between the action you can leave out and still get the idea and gag across is very brain-intensive. I have trouble with that. I want to show every tiny fraction of action in my continuity and it tends to drag out the cartoons longer than necessary.
On the other hand, Hart is one of my biggest influences and largely sub-consciously. My storyboard scribble style is much like his finished drawing style. Fast and just what is essential, without worrying about making a perfectly polished drawing.
This is how I see the function of storyboards-to convey the continuity and essential part of the gag, feelings and story.
What's really hard is hanging on to these essentials from department to department in an animation studio, where the successive polishers smooth out the finish, but sand down the guts.

Look how much information and feeling is packed in that middle panel of the Dinosaur smashing into the tree. You see the impact as the main action. The tree is being ripped out by the roots as a secondary action and the roots are dragging in the opposite direction of the tree. On top of that, all the dirt is flying off the roots. The leaves are being smashed against the top of the tree in heavy bunches and a few individual leaves for texture.

Then the tree impact is causing Peter to fly out of the leaves on a raft (why does he have a raft in a tree?)

Hart is conveying pacing in still drawings, without the luxury of animation and real time. Very impressive.

You have to be a very good editor to draw powerful comic strips like this.


Anonymous said...

These B.C. strips are loads of fun to look at. The caveman that is testing his new "suspension system" for his wheel is my favourite from the bunch.

Thank you for sharing these gems, John.

From an aspiring animator/ cartoonist.

Brett W. Thompson said...


Corax said...

I... can't believe I've never seen these before. These gags are hilarious. That bit where he's spun around the tree and pogo'd by the rock is absolutely brilliant.

Tim Nguyen said...

I don't think that is a raft, more like a bed. The character mentions weightlessness which could refer to the feeling of being weightless when going to or during sleep. And he's sleeping in a tree because it'll keep him safe from the predators out there. In dunno, just my thoughts on it--but that would be me thinking too much to make things seem rational.

Anyway, I like this post and the cartoon work presented. Definitely will be a great influence indeed. Great stuff and keep it up!

Chris_Garrison said...

I think the "raft" was just a platform he'd built in the tree, a rudimentary tree house he'd been lying in.

... I'm sure glad the blog is back!! (Is it?) I was really sad and mad.

thomas said...

>>He only has a small number of panels to describe a lot of action. Making the decisions of what parts in between the action you can leave out and still get the idea and gag across is very brain-intensive.<<

I think this is a skill that's been lost. It's kind of like a visual haiku. Cartoonists used to have a dialogue with their audience, and they could anticipate them to have the ability to fill in the blanks. So, they didn't have to spell everything out.

Thanks very much for bringing the blog back!!

Severin said...

B.C. was my favorite strip as a kid. My dad had a bunch of them, including "B.C. on the Rocks," stored in boxes left over from his childhood, along with Sad Sack and a bunch of Warner, Harvey, and Gold Key comics. I'll try and scan them some time, but they're in pretty bad shape.

sunny kharbanda said...

I love the gags in these old B.C. strips. I never realized the economy in the number of drawings till you pointed them out. Great stuff!

Are you still looking at Preston Blair lessons, John? In case you are, here are some overlays from lesson 3.

Lesson 3 overlays


Andy J. Latham said...

Wow these are great. So good that I've ordered the book from's only about £3 :D

Kelseigh said...

I was a HUGE fan of BC when I was a kid, and I've still got most of those old paperbacks. I remember the raft incident clearly, it followed a series of strips where he was lying on a raft in a river, and shot at high speed off the top of a waterfall, ending up in the tree. If I remember right, he decided to stay up there, but I forget the reason now.

It had never occurred to me to look at Hart's early stuff as storyboards, but it's an inspired thought. Now that I'm getting into the field myself, I'm going to dig out those old books with a new eye.

Amanda H. said...

The only think I really like about B.C. is the sound effects and the action. Sometimes the puns are eye-rolling bad.

Dan C said...

I used to love BC as a kid. I remember trying to copy the cartoons, trying to figure out what made them funny and fun to look at. I couldn't understand a lot of the gags but that didn't stop me repeating them, to my friends' confusion.