Too often a kid will walk into a library, ask for a book on drawing, and be taken to the requisite “How to Draw a [Blank:]” section on the shelves. These books are the usual standard fare. They all begin by saying you should draw a circle over another circle, etc. etc. Sometimes you’ll get something a little more high end like Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and once in a while an old book on drawing comics will be stuck in between the books on the shelves, dilapidated and well worth replacing with something new and fresh. So it is that I am mighty pleased to announce the following: something new and fresh. When three cartooning experts got together to teach kids about cartoons, the result became Adventures in Cartooning. Fun, funny, and strangely informative, you can just consider this as a kind of Understanding Comics for the under twelve set.
When a princess is determined to be missing from her tower, there’s only one place she could have gone. Clearly an evil dragon has kidnapped her. So it is that a brave knight and the brave knight’s not particularly brave horse Edward set forth to find the dragon and rescue the lady fair. Aiding them is a Magic Cartooning Elf who strikes up a deal with the knight. If the elf is allowed to tell the knight about making comics then he will also lead the rescue party to the dragon. The result is that the elf teaches the knight and the readers about elements like panels, the size of text, backgrounds, and the fact that a reader will only believe what a character tells them to believe. By the end the knight (who is revealed to be the princess in disguise) rescues a batch of enchanted knights from the dragon and even Edward helps to save the day in the end.
What’s so great about this book is that it is directed towards those kids with limited skills. Don’t get me wrong… it’s also useful for those kids who are superb artists and need an introduction to the world of cartooning, but what I find so remarkable is that the book makes it clear that anyone can be a cartoonist. Child readers aren’t limited by their artistic skills but by their imaginations. So the lesson to be learned from this book is basically that if you’re willing to take the time to learn the basics, you too can make your own original cartoons. There’s even an example in the back that’s childish enough to make kids feel okay about making their own cartoons, but that also makes use of backgrounds, different sized panels, and a coherent little story. This isn’t to say that Sturm, Arnold, and Frederick-Frost don’t belie the seemingly simple format with some clever touches of their own. Pay close attention and you’ll see the panels moving downward to suit the story or zeroing in on specific details to set a scene. It’s a subtle mix of looking easy while being sophisticated.
At the back of the book there are easy sections on “cartooning basics”. These pages cover panels, word/thought balloons, and the ways in which certain styles are recognized (in America anyway) as emotions or states of being. Edward is a particular good model for these moods since he is essentially expressionless. Without much in the way of a mouth, his emotions are conveyed through scribbles and lines around his body (or through his eyebrows, which appear periodically). Of course, it doesn’t spell everything out. For example, when Edward is feeling particularly frightened his legs will become wiggly lines. And that’s an unspoken symbol we all can understand, even if it isn’t translated at some point.
If this book does well it might be worth hoping that the creators pursue it into other avenues. Adventures in Cartooning could lead to something like Adventures in Manga, for example. Though it may initially confuse kids (to say nothing of easily confused adults) with its mix of fiction and fact, Adventures in Cartooning has the ability to convince anyone reading it that making your own cartoons is not only fun but also achievable. A great addition to any collection, whether in a library or in a home.
On shelves March 31st.
- Ben Towle (a very informative look from a cartoonist’s point of view),
- A hugely informative behind-the-scenes look at the creation of this book via Newsarama.
- For a closer look at the book, check out this ten page preview courtesy of Publishers Weekly.
- Some of it is visible via Google Books as well.
- A young fan weighs in.