A few thoughts on the enduring usefulness of index cards:
I fold an index card lengthwise in half, stick it in my back pocket along with a pen, and head out, knowing that if I have an idea, or see something lovely or strange enough worth remembering, I will be able to jot down a couple of words to remind me of it. Sometimes, if I overhear or think of an exact dialogue or a transition, I write it down verbatim. I stick the card in my backpocket. I might be walking along the salt marsh, or out at Phoenix Lake, or in the express line at Safeway, and suddenly I hear something wonderful that makes me want to smile or snap my fingers-as if it has just come back to me-and I take out my index card and scribble it down.
try orienting your index card horizontally instead of vertically. “Going wide” has two immediate benefits. First, it more closely approximates our eyes’ field of view and (perhaps not coincidentally) correlates with the proscenium’s composition space, seen not only in stage plays but also on film and computer screens. Second, it damningly highlights those unconsidered compositions that focus on the figure to the detriment of any surrounding environment. We’ve all seen examples: a character is cut off at the ankles and surrounded at the top, left, and right by an undeliberate emptiness, a vast halo of nothing, a rickety non-space, or what I call the Arch of Uninterestingness.
I’ve used many types of notebooks. Moleskines (anyone else think that’s a gross name?), Field Notes, Composition books, Evernote, but index cards are the sharks of the stationary world – they adapt better than any note taking invention.
Their size allows me to scratch out a poem or sketch on the run without elbowing fellow passengers on the subway.
Don’t draw with cheap felt-tip pens. The ink in drawings made with felt tip pens will fade in a few years, and all you’ll be left with is a bunch of ghostly images, then nothing at all. And these drawings fade even faster when exposed to sunlight. So wise up and use pens with permanent ink, and try to draw on paper that’s not going to yellow and fall apart. (I learned this the hard way.)
Finish your work! Drawing complete stories is really hard, especially when you’re a kid, but there’s nothing like having a finished story-with beginning, middle, and end-to amuse yourself and your friends. Unfinished work just doesn’t cut it.
Save your stuff! Often, as your drawing and writing skills develop, or you get older and start having other more “mature” interests, your earlier cartoon work starts looking lame and clumsy. The usual urge is to toss it-but resist that urge! I guarantee that later in life you’ll be glad you held on to your cartoons, no matter how stupid they look now.
Don’t let your mom throw your cartoons out! Moms have a tendency to do this. You go off for a weekend visit to Aunt Gladys, or you get shipped off to summer camp, or you turn your back for a second, and poof! There go your toys, your comic books, and your brilliant artwork. And no amount of squealing is going to bring that stuff back. So take care of your treasures-keep ’em out of the way of anyone who has some weird hatred of “clutter” – and make sure everyone in your family knows you’re insanely possessive of your stupid, worthless junk. If you make your stand early, before permanent damage is done to your goodies, they may learn not to mess with your mess.
It’s okay to copy other cartoons, but it’s easy to get obsessed with a particular style that you can never master. I spent a solid year trying to draw Batman when I was eleven, and have nothing to show for it but a bunch of crummy-looking, vaguely Batmannish ghosts (see Item #1). So my advice is to copy from a whole bunch of different sources-eventually you’ll figure out a style that fits you.
Get a sketchbook. Do lots and lots of drawings. Fill up the sketchbook. Repeat.
Most how-to-cartoon books are terrible, so don’t get discouraged by their lousy advice. Remember, if the people who put together how-to-cartoon books knew what they were doing, they probably wouldn’t be doing how-to-cartoon books.
Check out the original artwork of cartoonists you admire. You may be in for a surprise. It doesn’t look as slick as the printed stuff, does it? It’s full of smudges, pencil marks, erased lines, and covered-up mistakes. Most young, would-be cartoonists end up getting totally bummed out because their stuff doesn’t look as slick and perfect as the stuff they see in print. But the original work by the pros themselves usually don’t look that good, either. So it’s okay for your original artwork to look a little smudgy, too.
It’s not horrible to be a crummy drawer. There’s room for all sorts of styles in the world. All I can draw are people with big eyeballs and no chins, and I can’t even do that well-but look at me. I get to blab about how to cartoon, and you get to listen to me.
And finally: Be original. It’s okay to copy the cartoons you love, if you must. But please: Eventually edge toward your own ideas and stories. That way I won’t have to track you down and sue you.