Learning Comics and Cartoons

Cartoons and Comics

Over on Comics Comics late last year Dash set up a conversation on his theory of teaching and learning a comics “house style” in college as opposed to a free-form approach. According to his proposal, everyone in such a class would study the formal qualities that make a selected house style work, and thus everyone would have the same baseline to critique the work from. Students would be studying proven, professional material full of solid examples of composition, pacing, and storytelling. When relieved of the pressure of becoming an instant comics auteur with a personal, fully-developed style and voice, students would instead be absorbing practical knowledge in school that would theoretically be used later in their personal, post-collegiate work.

John Kricfalusi has long argued a similar approach for students that want to work professionally in cartoon animation. His argument is practical. He has written of the need to educate the next generation of cartoonists in the methods that he uses on his own productions because in the past he has found that with each new production he launches, he needs to train his crew from the ground up to get the studio working at full potential. His learn-the-basics-first approach also focuses on copying a “house style” of animated cartoon drawing, the prototypical 1940s Hollywood cartoons featured in Preston Blair’s book. John’s blog is here and his ideal cartoon college curriculum is here where he has organized years of his insights into one place.

One post on John’s blog nicely defines the reasons to study what he recommends:

“The kind of animation I promote on my blog is entertainment animation that requires a lot of people to work on the same cartoons. We all have to share the same language and grammar, or there’s no way we can make a comprehensive community effort. Not every artist in a studio can just go his own way and make whatever mistakes he wants to make and call it his style. Each artist is subject to a director and a story, and needs the tools with which to make the story work. Or he won’t be useful.

You can be an independent animator if you don’t want to be part of a team, and that’s fine. No rules and if you work real hard and learn to promote yourself as a rebel, a small but maybe dedicated audience will be your reward.

The better you can draw though, the more choices you will have.”

Dash’s theoretical classroom goal—to study the essentials of comics creation—would be achievable, but it wouldn’t have a direct, obvious connection to a post-college job as much as a theoretical John K course in animation would. That is part of Dash’s point: “The more outdated and inapplicable the house style is, the better. They only have the understanding; they’re not being bred for a specific job that currently exists”. Students and instructors would need to take a leap of faith into such a reduced and highly focused course.

Dash’s thought exercise is a good conversation starter about how we should go about teaching and learning the language of comics (and by extension, animation, film, etc.).

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