Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Design Quirks: Contrasting Leg Theories

Many Harvey kids have "stubbies" like Canadian beer bottles.
Ketcham's kids tend to have bell-bottom legs.
The basic forms that make up both Harvey and Ketcham kids are very similar. They have the same stock cartoon kid head construction.
The 2 styles have some minor -but recognizable general differences - like the legs.Then each individual character has some specific accessory design element and that's what makes him or her iconic and identifiable.
Usually the hair is a specific design, as in Dennis', Joey's, Margaret's, Audrey's.
Another way to make a generic design identifiable is to have the clothes or some other surface detail be recognizable - Dot's dot dress, Margaret's glasses.

Dot and Audrey are the exact same designs-same body, same face, same dress. Dot's hair is generic. Audrey's is specific. What's the main difference? Dot has dots on her dress.
Underneath these indentifiable details which enable us to instantly recognize the character, the forms are pretty similar.

It's rare that a cartoon character truly has a specific design in its underlying forms. Cartoonists use the same handful of basic shapes over and over again and most are probably not even aware of it. Here's an exception.

13 comments:

Yowp said...

John, I noticed in the panel with the girls holding up Lucretia that Audrey's the only one with the thick legs and arms, although all the girls have the same basic head construction (her arms and legs are more butch than the guys in the same comic).

Was that an attempt to make the characters look somewhat different??

Niki said...

Well Popeye is a space sailor

Oscar Grillo said...

If Hank Ketchman drew Popeye as a little boy. How would he draw it?

Roberto Severino said...

I can think of some other exceptions to the whole notion of how cartoonists tend to recycle basic shapes. The design work of Ed Benedict and Tom Oreb, almost any caricature of a celebrity in a cartoon, sometimes Chuck Jones and his animators (especially in his 50s and early 60s WB cartoons, and later the Tom and Jerry cartoons he directed, but after that, I think his drawing skills start to decline quite a lot compared to what he had been drawing earlier), Rod Scribner, Bob McKimson, most of the Fleischer animators. I'm just talking about animation, rather than comics, so I probably left out a lot, but those are the ones I can think of from the top of my head. Animating that type of stuff sounds really difficult if you don't already know how to animate well in the first place, I assume.

Roberto Severino said...

By the way, I found this. Puke afterwards. This makes whatever Hanna-Barbera was making in the 80s look brilliant by comparison, and that isn't saying much.

SparkyMK3 said...

Nice post John.

By the way, if you had to make a top ten list of Popeye cartoons, what would it be? Also, what do you consider the best Popeye cartoons to study for animation? I have the first two DVD sets and i plan on getting the third one soon.

Thanks if you reply.

HemlockMan said...

The Harvey characters were almost all interchangeable. They had that house look that they traded off with tiny differences for each character. Hot Stuff looked like Spooky who looked like Casper who looked like Richie Rich. And the kids who tagged along with Audrey tagged along under almost exact disguises with Richie Rich. The only huge differences in the characters were the settings, which varied a bit, and the gimmicks for each.

JohnK said...

"The Harvey characters were almost all interchangeable."

That's true of a lot of animation studios too - including Disney.

Michael E. Vernon said...

I miss those stubby little brown Canadian beer bottles. They made a better sound when you blew in them.

nicktheofficeninja said...

Hey John what do you think about Sylvain Chomet's "Triplets of Belleville"? Those are some really unique designs and pushed caricatures. Would you consider them good designs?

RooniMan said...

It's questionable wether or not theres a character as or nearly as specific as Popeye.

Bill Perkins said...

Hi John. If you want too see some great work by Ketchum try to get your hands on a copy of "I Wanna Go Home". Its a combination sketchbook and diary of a sponsered trip he took thru the eastern bloc country's in the early to mid 60's. You can probably locate a copy on Ebay or thru ABEbooks. I think you'd like it.

Steve Hogan said...

Are squat beer bottles so much a Canadian thing? Do they still have 'em?

Those seemed to be on their way out in the 80's when I was just getting around to drinking. You could tell the cheap beer that grandpas drank by the shape of the bottle. Black Label was the main U.S./Canada overlap. I'd like to think George Liquor would've drank those.

I mostly remember Canadian beer being a come on to young American alcoholics living near the border because Brador would get you drunk five minutes before Lowenbrau would.

Of course contemporary Quebec stuff like Unibroue is craaazy.