Monday, May 22, 2006

Darbi Hannah Interviews Me!

Darbi Hannah, from San Luis Obispo, interviewed me last week. She's in 5th grade and is a future cartoonist. She has a great head start–don't you think "Darbi Hannah" is the perfect name for a cartoonist?

My husband (above, red turtleneck) is one of my biggest inspirations.

What inspired you to be a cartoonist/illustrator?

My mom was my first inspiration. She loves to sing, and when I was a kid, she took voice lessons and would never stop practicing, even when my friends came over. It was embarassing to be out in the back yard playing, and suddenly you'd hear her doing scales, going higher and higher, and making funny sounds, not real words. I would pretend not to notice, but sooner or later somebody would ask what that noise was. I vowed to do something, anything that was QUIET when I grew up. Another person who inspires me is my husband, who is kind of funny.

Today, do you create cartoons by hand, or computer?
I work by hand, on the computer. I use a Wacom tablet that's attached to my computer, and draw on it by holding the cordless pen in my hand. So I definitely consider drawing on the computer "working by hand." I can't stress how much I love my computer. I love it with all my heart, and I think it shows in the characters I draw. I would never be an illustrator if I couldn't use the computer. I would make too much of a mess.

What are some things that can go wrong while creating a cartoon character?
Say your art director asks you to do an illustration of a monster. You send in the sketch, and the art director says, "Make the monster a little nicer. Kids don't like creatures that are scary." Comments like that can make you lose heart, because deep down inside you know that kids LOVE scary creatures. (Darbi, let me know if you think I'm wrong!) Nope! I think that's totally right! When you feel like you're doing something fakey, you aren't so excited about it. Of course if you're supposed to be doing a cartoon of a very nice character, that's different–though it's not as much fun. Other bad things that can happen . . . let's see . . . it can be disastrous when you spill coffee or chocolate pudding on your computer or on your drawing.

What exactly is a cartoon?

I cheated and looked up "cartoon" in the dictionary. It says: "a simple drawing showing the features of its subjects in a humorously exaggerated way." Basically, I agree with that definition, but as your next question suggests, there are many different kinds of cartoons, and some aren't funny.

Are there different types of cartoons in the world?
Yes! There are funny ones and sad ones (Maus by Art Spiegelman). Cartoons on paper, cartoons made for the internet and TV. Graffiti–cartoons on walls and streets. Japanese manga and anime. Political cartoons. Animated cartoons and still cartoons. Flip books!

How much time does it take to make a single cartoon character?
If you have total control of the cartoon character, it can take anywhere from a few seconds to weeks. Also, cartoon characters can evolve over the years. (Charlie Brown looked a lot different when he first appeared than he did years later.) Sometimes the most powerful and lively cartoon characters are done very quickly. On the other hand, if lots of people have to approve the final cartoon character, it can take longer! If you end up having to go through an approval process that takes a really long time, sometimes the cartoon character gets tired and loses a lot of its life.

Is it harder to create 3D cartoons, or 2D? Why?
It must be harder to do 3D cartoons, because I've never done them! Sometimes I'll put a little shading on my drawings, but not much. I think that's another thing that would take some of the spontaneity out of my work. (I'm just speaking for myself here.) I like art that is flat and garish. I use Photoshop and Illustrator, which are basically 2D programs. And I use Flash for moving cartoons. I don't use any 3D programs like 3D Studio Max or Maya. But now you've got me curious. Maybe I should learn a 3D program.

Do cartoons really send out a hidden message?
Hidden messages are always fun, and cartoonists like to have fun. I think that successful humor is always a little bit like a joke between good friends. And sometimes it's fun when you don't "get" the whole thing all at once.

How long have you been doing cartoons?
I think I might have a few panel cartoons I did when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. One is about making your bed, and goes: A hobo with a bucktooth knocks on the door and asks if he can sleep inside for the night. The woman (who looks a lot like my mom) says, "Sure, as long as you make your bed." He says, "No problem, mam." She hands him an armful of sticks and feathers and a bolt of cloth and some Elmer's glue. He says, "Um, what's this?" She says: "It's to make your bed with." Another one is about a McDonald's golden arches bridge, but I'll spare you the details on that one. As far back as I can remember, I always drew on everything: the sidewalk, dirty windows, the sand, the wall, my clothes, my hands, sometimes on paper.

Finally, which cartoonists inspire you the most?
On TV, Matt Groening (The Simpsons). In our newspaper: Charles Schultz, Don Asmussen (The Bad Reporter), and Scott Adams (Dilbert). In the illustration world: Seymour Chwast. In the book world: The Rotten Ralph books, Mark Alan Stamaty, Lynda Barry, Saul Steinberg, Maira Kalman. I was trying to think what these artists have in common. You never mistake their art for anybody else's. They all seem to be true to themselves. They don't try to be nice and sweet, and they don't try to please everybody on the planet. Also, their ideas are just as powerful as their drawings.
Note to Darbi: Please send me one of your cartoons with a hidden message!