Speaking of Pictures Some More

Posted by on May 16th, 2010 at 6:28 PM

Strip cartoonists who draw more than they need to in order to tell a joke are actually not in as short a supply as you might think, the evidence of Cathybert, Drabble, F Minus and a few other notorious exemplars to the contrary notwithstanding. After all, why be a cartoonist if you don’t enjoy drawing? And if you enjoy drawing, you’ll probably, from time to time, do more of it than you absolutely need to in one or another of your comic strips. I don’t intend here to catalogue the whole lot of these admirable practitioners of the arts of cartooning, but I’ll foist off on you a couple more examples forthwith.

In this release of his Funky Winkerbean, Tom Batiuk could achieve the same comedic result—a portrait of the winning team contrasted to the losing team—without resorting to the highly complicated task of reflecting the latter in the former’s shiny trophy. But Batiuk chose to do it this way. It adds a dimension to the effect, surely (a nuance about losers being akin to winners: without the one, there is no other, a strenuous implication contained in the reflective function of the trophy), but doing the artwork had to be tricky—and Batiuk could have achieved almost the same effect without all that effort. I’m glad he did it this way, though—it affirms the visual character of the medium. It’s a pleasing image, and it adds that nuance I mentioned, a nice refinement and that meaningful nuance.

We can always find more drawing in Dennis the Menace than is purely essential to the gag. The founder, Hank Ketcham, was celebrated for such artistic excesses, and he trained well his successors, Ron Ferdinand (on Sundays) and Marc Hamilton (on dailies), as we can see here. There’s no narrative reason for the bird’s-eye view of the Mitchell house in the first of three concluding panels I’ve clipped out here from a recent Sunday Dennis; the view is there, doubtless, for the pure sake of creating visual variety. And it’s also a nifty piece of artwork.

And in Hamilton’s two dailies sampled here, there’s only the barest reason for including an extreme close-up of Mr. Wilson in the first panel of the two-panel cartoon. Yes, it reminds us (if we need reminding) who Mr. Wilson is and what he looks like; but the gag doesn’t depend upon his presence. In fact, he seems to be ignoring what is transpiring between his wife and Dennis.

By the same token, the detritus on the coffee table in the next cartoon is superfluous to the gag. It authenticates the scene, but the gag doesn’t need that much authentication. Ditto for the staircase in the background. But such details add to the prevailing decorative effect of the visuals in Dennis. Beyond authentication, such details make pleasing pictures.

Our next examples, both from the pen and brush of Pat Oliphant, are in another category of visual excess.

Oliphant achieves the hilarities of his otherwise biting political cartoons through sheer visual excess: exaggeration turns every image into high comedy, and the resulting ridicule of political figures or positions makes Oliphant’s point. Here, at the top, he doesn’t need to draw Noah’s entire menagerie; but the more, as they say, the merrier, and if nothing else, Oliphant is noted for the merriment of even his most caustic commentaries (swarms of pederast priests eagerly, ludicrously, stampeding in pursuit of small boys, for example).

In our next Oliphant clipping, the very number of the DemocRATS jumping out of the ring adds the hilarity of the numerousness and variety of their panicky fleeing postures to the comedic hysteria of the occasion, making Oliphant’s comment caustic as well as comical, and the comedy enhances the acridity.

Next time: the next step in making pictures serve comedy.

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