Quality of Drawing

Posted by on January 20th, 2011 at 9:53 AM

It pains me, as you can well imagine, to be critical of a cartoonist’s drawing ability. After all, ever since James Thurber at The New Yorker, drawing ability has not been high on the list of skills a cartoonist must possess. But however rudimentary a cartoonist’s drawing skill, it must be at least good enough to reveal whatever visual element is essential to the joke.

And too often Chip Dunham in Overboard doesn’t make the grade. Not frequently perhaps, but too often.

Before we get to specific lapses, here are a couple general ones.

I get the joke in the first strip: fighting takes off pounds, so if you’re a pirate on a diet, you should engage in furious sword-fighting. But what are those guys standing in? Cotton candy? Airbags? Mattresses? Or maybe the stuffing thereof?

Not knowing, for sure, what that stuff is interferes with our appreciation of the joke: baffled by the picture, we’re not sure whether it has anything to do with the joke or not.

The next one is simply an example of egregiously bad drawing: is that an arm? If so, why is it coming out of the cat’s ear?

And what is the object at Scratch’s feet? A take-out box? An anvil?

The mice that infect the ship in this strip are forever problematical for Dunham (and, therefore, for us). They have to be drawn small, but since he uses the same pen point for small creatures and for larger ones, when the strip is reduced for reproduction, all the lines delineating the mice mash together and create a blob. Not so much in the strip above in which the mice are depicted “close up” and large; but in our next example, the rodent population gets a bit obscure.

And it doesn’t help matters that the mouse is wearing some sort of helmet. Isn’t he? Or maybe it’s not a mouse at all. And what’s the object in the dog’s mouth? Looks like a sardine can. Or maybe it’s his leash?

Below that, however, the mouse in the fourth panel is nearly indecipherable. He appears so small that none of the lines defining his face are distinct enough to indicate his features.

But the strip is nonetheless a bonus: until reading this specimen, I never knew why one of the dogs in the strip speaks via speech balloon while the other one “speaks” with a “thought balloon.” Now I know. I think.

And why is the guy in the foreground in the last panel smaller than the people in the background?

The mice are just a blur again in our next instance.

The magic is that we can figure out what those diminutive creatures are. But I always enjoy it when Dunham shows up in his own strip. As he does again in the next example.

Here, inept drawing defeats the cartoonist’s intention. What’s that thing that looks like a skate in the third panel? Oh—I get it: it’s a banana peel. Couldn’t tell without the verbiage.

But the gag—I don’t know about that. What’s the guy doing in the last panel? He’s standing on the wall, right? What’s that have to do with the banana peel, which seems to be swooping up and bypassing the guy standing on the wall.

I guess he’s illustrating the idea of “top flight”—that is, flying, landing on the wall like a fly. Ha.

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