In digging around for a blog topic this week, I thought it might be fun to share some cartooning from my sketchbooks. These are scans without any real digital clean-up. If they seem small on this page, click on the image for a larger view.
First, let me be perfectly clear: I am not a professional visual artist or cartoonist. My professional training is in communication. And while I have some undergraduate design courses under my belt and a long standing hobby of drawing and painting, this is not where I earn a living. I starting teaching courses in Visual Rhetoric several years ago, and a favorite unit in that class is on cartoons (particularly political cartoons). Part of my training is also in Performance Studies, which suggests that doing is one of the best ways of learning. So, I took a hand at making cartoons. They may look simple, but they are harder than they appear. Kind of like haiku, that way.
I also share a certain amount of frustration with the scholarly literature of visual rhetoric. Many of these folks do not produce visual messages (of cartoons or other varieties). Not that critics have to be practitioners, but I think there is a great value from actually doing work in the phenomenon you choose to theorize/criticize. My admiration for editorial cartoonists went up exponentially when I tried to make a political cartoon. In addition to the craft of line-art, there is an economy of expression in the one-liner. It ain't easy, and I appreciate these artists' craft because, in part, they have to make it look easy. In my own teaching and scholarship (as well as my performance work), I learn so much from the doing, and I have learned so much from doing cartoons.
So I admit, with some pride in the fact, that I am an amateur. French cultural theorist Roland Barthes similarly claimed the status of amateur and defined it thus: "The Amateur engages in painting, music, sport, science, without the spirit of mastery or competition[...] he establishes himself graciously (for nothing) in the signifier: in the immediately definitive substance of music, of painting[...] he is – he will be perhaps – the counter-bourgeois artist" [Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, 2]. My interest in comics and cartoons is, as the root of "amateur" suggests, in my love for them. I am happy to make them as an act of exploration and appreciation. I am happy to share them in a non-competitive, non-commercial spirit.
The images on this page are from my sketchbooks. Most are from the last two years. They are some of the better pages where I think I hit on a message and an image with the cartoonist's economy of expression. Believe me, they are surrounded by pages and pages of less successful attempts.