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The Politics of Cartoons

Note: with cartoons, political = editorial (for the most part) 

In America’s current political climate, many artists have published cartoons that criticize the (political, societal, etc) system. This is not a new phenomenon. The idea of “political” or “editorial” cartoons has been around since Leonardo da Vinci. da Vinci did a series of caricatures

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Five Caricature Heads by Leonardo da Vinci.  https://www.wikiart.org/en/leonardo-da-vinci/five-caricature-heads

focusing on deformities and the grotesque, in which he would dramatize and parody a person or person’s features. Much later, caricatures would become the basis for political cartoons, using allusions (creating context) to satirize and critique the establishment in a single panel.

Many art historians cite William Hogarth and James Gillroy (both living in the 18th century) as the fathers of the political cartoon. While there were many other influenctial artists along the way, Ben Franklin‘s “Join or Die” cartoon is one of the most important (and popular) American political cartoons as it was the first printed in the United States. Franklin’s cartoon symbolized colonial unity during the French and Indian War and was used again during the Revolutionary War to rally the colonies against Britain. This cartoon is of particular interest because it didn’t critique the enemy but turned the finger towards the self as if to say “Why aren’t we standing together and fighting back?” benjamin-franklin

When the 20th century came around, editorial cartoons grew in popularity thanks to the industrial revolution, expansion of newspaper printing, and World War I. With world wide turmoil, there was much to critique including the League of Nations which many people thought was useless.

FUN FACT: Dr. Seuss made several cartoons speaking out about issues such as “America First”, racism and political corruption. lead_960

Today, political cartoons remain popular due to the current American government and the way social media allows artists to share their work with the world. Magazines like The New Yorker and many newspapers still publish editorial cartoons everyday

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Drew Sheneman  Copyright 2017 Tribune Content Agency

which have made waves on social media as well. The artistic style of political cartoons have changed a lot throughout the past few centuries, but satire and change has always been at the center of the art.

This week’s comic is my commentary on the net neutrality discussions. IMG_1393

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A Reflection on Inktober

If my memory proves correct, I’ve attempted the month-long social media event, known as Inktober, only once before.

What is Inktober?
During the month of October, artists (of all skill levels) are challenged to create something new every day according to a theme. The rules aren’t very strict, allowing people to come up with their own themed lists or post as much or as little as they deem possible. Artists are not required to draw/post every day if they can’t find the time. The goal of Inktober is to give people a reason or the time to really work on their skills. A drawing a day for a month may not result in much visible progress, but it could help an artist to develop a habit.prompt

This year, I thought I’d join in so I could develop my skills for this comics blog. I didn’t have a lot of time, but I thought the attempt was worth it. I wasn’t able to complete the full 31-day challenge but I did as many as I could. I ended up with 20 drawings, some of which were comics while others were doodles. In the end, it was a fantastic challenge. It forced me to be creative every day instead of once a week. Knowing my comics and doodles would be going on social media, I put more effort into the ideas and the products. By attempting to stick with it and come up with decent drawings, I do think I improved. Plus, I gained some Instagram followers!

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Comics Spotlight: Speed Bump and The Argyle Sweater

One panel comics are short and to the point often absurd and pun-derful. With one panel comics, there is no waiting for the punchline and it often lacks a drawn-out narrative. One way to think about one-panels and strips is comparing it to literature formats: Strips are like novels whereas one-panels operate like short stories. While there are several comics like these floating around in the papers and online, two that stand out to me are Speed Bump by Dave Coverly and The Argyle Sweater by Scott HilburnBoth of these comics have an absurd nature to them and take normal concepts and turn them upside down. IMG_E1379For example, Speed Bump might take two concepts, a work vacation, and a sheep herding dog, and mash them together. The Argyle Sweater typically takes concepts, like online dating, and uses characters that seem out of place to act them out. IMG_E1381I especially enjoy these two comics because they make you take a minute to figure it out. While they sometimes rely on dumb punchlines, they often make readers see the mundane in a slightly different light.

Other popular one-panels include The Family Circus, Bizarro, Rhymes with Orange, Cornered, and The Far Side.

With the internet and mobile phones gradually replacing newspapers, many comics have moved online. Some cartoonists have exclusively put their content online and have developed a large following. One of those artists is Doug Savage, creator of Savage Chickens. He uses chickenschickengps2 to talk about very human concepts and it certainly makes for an absurdly funny comic.

Not all one-panel comics need to be funny to be successful. Political/editorial cartoons are often limited to a single panel and use a splash of humor to comment on serious topics. Political cartoons are also usually a bit absurd.

From creating my own one-panel, I discovered that it’s not as simple as it looks. The concept needs to be simple and understandable to a large audience, and you need to deliver the punchline immediately. I first struggled to come up with a good subject, and then I struggled to find the right phrasing to fit it all in. I have a new found respect for all the one-panel artists out there. IMG_1321

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Comics Spotlight: Blondie

On September 8, 1930, Chic Young’s now insanely popular comic strip, Blondie, appeared in newspapers across America. It began with a pretty flapper girl, Blondie Boopadoop, and a bumbling, awkward, billionaire’s son, Dagwood Bumstead. At the beginning, Dagwood was just one of Blondie’s many boyfriends, but eventually, the two fell in love. They tied the knot in 1933, in a highly anticipated and memorable comic strip. As a result of their marriage, Dagwood was almost immediately disinherited and written out of his father’s will and “Dagwood and Blondie had to go out into the world and hack it like the rest of us” (Dean Young).

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Before I drew a comic inspired by Blondie‘s style, I figured I’d practice by drawing the two main characters and the logo.

Today the strip is written and illustrated by Chic’s son, Dean as well as head artist, John Marshall. Dagwood and Blondie’s day-to-day escapades revolve around their work and home lives. The Bumsteads have two teenage children, Alexander and Cookie, and a dog, Daisy, all of whom make frequent appearances in the strip. The strip also features the Bumstead’s neighbors and coworkers.

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A Blondie strip from Oct. 25, 2015, which includes characters from other newspaper strips such as Dustin, Zits, and Baby Blues. 

In its early years, the strip’s success led to the creation of several “Blondie” movies spanning from 1938-1950, and a 26-episode TV series in 1957. Blondie was portrayed by Penny Singleton in the movies and Pamela Britton on TV while Dagwood was played by Arthur Lake in both.

I think the strip’s enduring popularity comes from its ability to represent and show the absurd and hilarious in the mundane. While this is the aim of most comics, Blondie does it particularly well as it comes off extremely relatable and makes me laugh almost every time. Another reason I find Blondie so funny is that I see a bit of my dad’s personality (and maybe a bit of my own) in Dagwood. I think the most incredible thing is that the strip has been in print for almost 90 years. I can’t think of any other comic that has endured so long. The creators must be doing something right!

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My comic inspired by the Blondie comics. I wanted to find a way to include Dagwood’s famous sandwiches and it just so happens that I really DO get excited about sandwiches.

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The Art of Making Comics

Throughout these last few weeks, I’ve been writing about the history of comics and creating my own, sometimes emulating or at least referencing comics I’ve talked about. I think it is necessary for me to create a comic each week and include it. Not only do I enjoy making these comics, the obligation (I’ve set for myself) helps develop my creativity and helps improve my skills. Today, I wanted to share with you how I go about making my own comics.

1) Most of the time, I think about the topic of that week’s blog. From there, an intense brainstorming session takes place. Sometimes no ideas come to me, sometimes they are all horrible ideas, and sometimes, the figurative light bulb goes off. No matter what, I always make a comic.

The important thing is to CREATE—even if it isn’t my best work, it’s worth it just to put something together.

1a) Even if I’m not making a comic for the blog, I’ll start off with a simple idea. I still might brainstorm, but most of the time it just occurs to me that something might make for a funny comic.
2) I make a simple sketch of the potential comic.
3) The sketchbook comes out and pencil goes to paper. I use pencil first because I make LOTS of mistakes.
4) Inking! (Hopefully, I don’t mess up in this stage)
5) Coloring! (If I feel like it…or if I think it’ll enhance the comic)

My process is pretty straightforward and simple, but there it is. If you do something different or have any suggestions, let me know! I would love to hear from you!  

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The Funnies

It comes as no surprise that print newspapers are on a steady decline to obscurity. So what does this mean for the comic strips published in the papers? Will they die out too, or will they continue in the digital realm? It’s hard to say, but with webcomics and apps like Webtoons, comics like Blondie, Beetle Bailey, and Garfield might be able to continue on.

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Garfield by Jim Davis (October 6, 2017)

While the “golden age” of comics tends to focus on comic books, it was a golden age for all comics. Newspaper strips also featured recurring characters and entertaining storylines. These comics were more aimed at small cracks of humor rather than a drawn out story. By creating comics featuring the same characters each day or week (depending on the comic’s publishing schedule with their syndicate) helped keep consistency and a loose focus for the overall comic. It also helped readers connect to the strips and develop a dedicated fanbase. However, it was the ability to have the characters in different situations or center on different topics that appealed the casual scanner of comics as well as readers looking for a little variety.

Typically, most comics (both strips and books) have simple backgrounds so the focus is on the action. Comic strips often simplify the background quite a bit, where some have no background (just white behind the character) while others use a flat color, sometimes to indicate emotion. To indicate place or setting, many comic artists just use a line to represent the ground, counter, or wall, while others will include simple furniture—such as a chair or table—to aid in the storytelling.

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Blondie by Dean Young and John Marshall (October 2, 2017)

Another difference between the two comic forms is the overall art style. Newspaper comics are all about simplicity. Most newspaper cartoonists have a daily strip and can’t afford to spend a lot of time on it. On the other hand, comic book artists have longer deadlines and typically use a more detailed style. I think the simplicity of strips is appealing because they allow a reader to fill in the details and see themselves in the comic if they wish.

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Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (this particular comic is from the collection The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book)

My love of comics began with newspapers. As a little kid, I looked forward to the weekends when I’d get good breakfast and could sit on my dad’s lap while we read the comics. He introduced me to the comics I still love to read today—Blondie, Garfield, Peanuts, Zits—and my all-time-favorite, Calvin and Hobbes. Bill Watterson’s comic about an imaginative, troublemaking 6-year-old and his stuffed tiger remains my favorite because it presents mature themes through a child’s eyes.   

A quick note about my comics for today: I really focused on emulating the simple backgrounds. I often feel the need to fill the background space with something but I never know what to do. I think I’ve learned that comics don’t always need a background, and the simple addition of color can just as effective as a setting.

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A witchy comic I did for Inktober day 3. Here I use the flat color background I was trying to emulate.

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Nessie Vs the Tourists- Inktober day 4

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It’s a Bird…it’s a Plane…it’s the Golden Age of Comics!

Previously on E.A.T.comics: Most historians and scholars say the idea of “comics” began in the late 19th century with The Loves of Mr. Vieux Bois (Topffer) and Hogan’s Alley (Outcault). 

The success of Outcault’s Hogan’s Alley inspired other cartoon artists to work with newspapers and magazines, popularizing the concept of the comic.   Fast forward about 30 years, just before the second World War and comics like Little Orphan Annie (Harold Gray, 1924), Popeye (Elzie Crisler Segar, 1929) and other “pulp heroes” were sold like mini-comic books, at 10 cents a book. Then, in 1938 a new kind of comic was released. Action Comics #1 introduced Superman, “the man of steel”. Written by Jerry Siegel and illustrated by Joe Shuster, Clark Kent/Superman is an alien from the planet Krypton, who works as a journalist at the Daily Planet, uses his various superpowers to protect mankind from the forces of evil. Siegel and Shuster’s creation opened the gates to superhero comic books and the Golden Age of Comics. About a year after Superman

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Batman’s first appearance in Detective Comics #27

made his debut, a bored socialite turned vigilante came onto the scene. Creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane introduced the world to Batman in Detective Comics #27. Unlike Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne does not possess superpowers. He gained popularity with American audiences because he didn’t need superhuman strength or heat vision. Instead, he relied on his gadgets and detective skills. Since their creation, Batman and Superman have become two of the most popular superheroes, both with complicated storylines and a host of villains to save the world from. (Many years later the publications that supported Action Comics and Detective Comics merged and eventually took on the name DC Comics.)

“The Man of Steel” and “The Dark Knight” weren’t the only big name superheroes in the fight against evil. “The First Avenger”,

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Captain America #1

aka Captain America, was launched in 1941 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby of Timely Comics (later Marvel). Unlike the DC heroes, Cap premiered in a comic under his own name (Captain America #1).  Once a scrawny boy desperate to join the army, Steve Rogers was created to be a super soldier in the midst of WWII. His all-American boy persona and Nazi-fighting adventures were hugely popular with American audiences. These three superheroes have graced the panels of comic books for nearly 80 years. Not only did they pave the way for other superhero stories, but other comic book genres as well. All three have sold thousands of issues, had TV shows and movies, and remain popular figures in current pop culture.  

While the years of the era are disputed, most agree that the Golden Age started around 1938 with Superman and ended in the early 50s. Superhero comic books’ popularity began to decline after WWII. But comic books did not die here. They continued to flourish, giving rise to genres such as westerns, sci-fi, romance, crime and horror.

Who is your favorite Golden Age superhero?

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Marvel or DC? A lot of people take sides, but not me. Both are great.

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A Short History of Comics

 

Ancient Funnies

Ever wonder who created the first comic? Depending on your definition, most scholars agree that the modern idea of comics began to take form in the late 19th century. However, a loose interpretation of comics can be traced back to ancient times.

 

For modern audiences, comics are the combination of words and pictures that narrate a story.

That being said, there is no one definition that encompasses what a comic is. At their core, comics can also be described simply as “sequential art” with a story. Using this loose definition, some scholars, notably Scott McCloud, trace the origin further back citing Egyptian hieroglyphs, Mayan pottery, and even cave art. Having looked at these examples, I definitely think ancient sequential art, especially hieroglyphs act as precursors, but they don’t quite fit my definition of comics.

Simple cartoons have circulated in broadsheets, pamphlets, books, and newspapers since the birth of the printing press. As cartoons added text—often at the top or bottom of the cartoon— and became more satirical, the closer they resembled modern comics. Rodolphe Töpffer is often credited by both Americans and Europe

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One of Outcault’s Hogan’s Alley strips. Mickey Dugan, better known as the Yellow Kid, listens to his new phonograph.

 

as with creating the first comic strip, The Loves of Mr. Vieux Bois in 1837. American comics are believed to have originated with Richard Outcault’s Down in Hogan’s Alley featuring a mischievous child called “the Yellow Kid”. Outcault’s strip was first published in The New York World in 1895 and led to the creation of newspaper strips. Early Sunday comics were full pages, colored cartoons. Around this same time, Japanese artists were developing what would eventually be considered manga.

 

Yellow Ellen

This is how I imagine myself if I were the Yellow Kid.

Join me next week as I explore comics’ Golden Age, Superman, Batman, and many more fun characters!

 

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The Love of Comics

From comic strips to comic apps and from comic books to webcomics, comics are everywhere and people LOVE them. But what is it about them that people love so much? Some people read comics for the stories, some for the art, and others for the humor or the characters. Readers may also find relatability is the best part of a comic.  And then there are people who read for the whole package. In short, each person picks up a newspaper, a comic book, or opens an app for a different reason. The beauty of it is the experience is totally unique and personal. Two people may read the same strip and both may find it funny, but they’ll have different reasons for finding it humorous.

Why do I love comics? Simply, I am one of those people who loves comics for the whole package. By combining art and humor, one can tell a story in a way books and TV shows cannot—they are visual and linguistic at the same time. Comics can be both simple and complex or stupid and smart. They have the ability to disguise intelligent themes as something simple and entertaining and can teach you more than you know. People can relate to comic characters when they see a piece of themselves in a certain character or situation. The possibilities are endless.

Why do you love comics?