Showing posts with label trends. Show all posts
Showing posts with label trends. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

All Mediums Have Arbitrary Rules

2 major rules of the modern comic strip medium seem to be:
1) Design the characters so that they don't have faces-make it hard to figure out where the eyes, nose and mouth are.
2) Use the same drawing and poses in every successive panel.
I don't know who makes these rules and wonder if someone broke them, would they get fired? If I were to submit a comic strip to a newspaper editor and you could tell where the faces were and something happened in each panel, would it automatically get rejected just because it didn't follow the rules?

Does the editor actually tell the artists up front: "Make sure you repeat the same drawing in every panel. Don't make anything up." Or, do the artists who grow up reading these kinds of comics just sub-consciously absorb the rules and have never thought about it? Will they read this and have a revelation?:" Wow! Of course! I could do a new drawing in every panel!"

I'm not picking on this strip; I don't even know what it is; I just found it at Ger's great blog. But it looks just like so many other strips that it makes me think that there must be an actual strict rule book.

I think media has always had some sort of arbitrary rules, but they seem more narrow and strict than ever today. I had a pitch meeting once and the executive asked me if my stories followed the acceptable plot formula of all the sitcom cartoons. I didn't even know there was a formula, but they explained it to me with much sincerity. Supposedly, you have to have an "a" plot that takes 8 minutes to establish-then you drop it altogether and purposely frustrate the audience. There also has to be a "b" plot that sneaks in at some pre-ordained moment and who knows, maybe some "c" plot that doesn't go anywhere as well. Do they really think the audience cares about any of this? Or thinks about it?

I may be nuts, but it seems to me that if you have to have everything tailored to an equation, you aren't really going to be very creative. I always thought the idea of being creative was to have the ability to make things up. - and to have great skills that wow the audience. All these formulae and rules tell me that anybody can now do these jobs. You just plug in the assets to the equation. Homer asset, Homer-like character asset, assertive female asset, sarcastic baby asset etc.

As far as the comic strip rule that makes it ok to have characters with no faces, I think that may have started in the 60s with this strip:

The rubber stamp poses might also have started with Tumbleweeds.
I remember thinking how strange this was when I first saw it. Were these mistakes or just laziness? I never would have imagined that one guy's quirks would eventually become a mass religion that would take over the whole art form. Before this strip, there was a wide variety of techniques and everybody had faces, and each panel had different poses. That was expected. Now it isn't.

I'm noticing this mass-trend style thinking more and more today in everything I look at. All movie and TV posters look the same. "Reality" shows all have the same format (or maybe there are 2 or 3 variations). All networks have "bugs" and ads that crawl all over the screen while you are trying to watch your show. These are all things that almost nobody likes. People like variety and interest-yet someone who is in control imitates all the other mistakes that other people in control make.

I wonder if the idea of "creator driven" custom ideas and content will ever become the norm again.

Who came up with the idea that regular everyday dumpy people should try to look tough when they pose for their reality show posters? And did congress sign it into law?

Saturday, May 26, 2007



The animators who founded UPA tried a different tact than Disney. Most of them were highly accomplished animators who could do the rounded fully constructed flowing Disney style animation.

Bobe Cannon was a fantastically gifted full animator who did animation for Clampett, Jones and Avery before he went to UPA.

bobe cannon

For some unknown reason, he decided to totally abandon what he was a genius at.

He and John Hubley (a layout man and BG painter)

and the other UPA guys decided to abandon animation, fun and lush movement and instead focus on "design".

And not always good design either. They just wanted to do something that rebelled against the look and more important, the attitudes of both Disney and Warners.


It's funny when we talk about UPA and flat styles, that we refer to it as "design" at all. No one did before UPA. It was just called "cartooning".

The "design" that UPA did was nothing new to cartoons in general, just sort of new to animation. Chuck Jones had experimented with it in animation (with Bobe Cannon) in 1942 with The Dover Boys.

Magazine cartoons though and comic strips, had been done in similar flat styles and many other non-animation styles for decades.

To me,

Gerald McBoingBoing and Milt Gross' comics are very similar graphically.

Milt Gross had been doing highly stylized comics and strips for a long time-only his stuff wasn't meant to be high-class, it was meant to be fun.

So what's the difference between "design" and "cartoon"? I guess if it's fun, it's a cartoon. If it's bland and sterile, it's design.
That was UPA's revolution. They took the life out of animation.


If you don't know cartoon history and you just grew up watching Cartoon Network, you might think that this flat stuff is something new and "hip". It's not. It's much older than UPA and the more graphic styles in cartoons before UPA didn't come with the wimpy trappings.

Because of our association with UPA's beginnings, we assume that when we do something in a graphic style, we have to also carry over all the other attributes that came with UPA's particular cartoon vision-the blandness, the wimpy world view, the snootiness.

People usually don't analyze or break apart the elements that make up something they like. If we like it we assume that every ingredient in it is equally good.

Then when we develop our own styles, we copy the bad with the good.

That's what we need ANALYSIS for!

Like many artists, I have tons of influences. There are lots of things that inspire me. I try to figure out why they do and I break them down into their separate ingredients.

I then decide which ingredients are the ones that are useful and discard the others that might have just come along with it, but don't actually add anything. There are good things about UPA and Disney-Tex Avery combined them and added his own worldview to them and made cartoons more entertaining than either style.Avery was the exception. Most artists copied the bad part of UPA, the lack of animation, simplistic drawings' slow even timing and lifelessness.

What I dislike about trends and imitators is that usually when people copy existing styles, new or classic, they copy the faults, rather than the positive attributes of the styles they love. They copy surface elements and decoration and don't copy the underlying principles.

People do it with Disney all the time.

Animators who love Disney, copy all the worst elements of Disney, his faults-the sappy stories, the simplistic personalities, the terrible "animation-acting". The formulaic character design.

They can't draw and animate the difficult anatomy, perspective and construction, nor control elaborately composed crowd scenes-no one was better at that than Disney. But anyone can do fake pathos and memorize the arm flailing that we've seen in a hundred features.

This happens with everything that makes a splash. Everyone imitates the superficial aspects of the trend, without adding any personal observations or humanity to it.

There are Simpsons imitations, Ren and Stimpy imitations, Warner Bros. imitations and on an on...all without personal points of view, just shallow imitations.

In the 50s, that happened with UPA. And it happened again in the 90s. (My fault that time)

Why do young artists say they like UPA? Because it makes 'em cool. Hipster Emo time. (It's also easy to fake) It's like when teenagers discover communism. They think it's real cool to go against common sense and experience. But then when they meet the real world head on later, they realize it was youthful folly. You're supposed to grow out of it.

I too fell under the UPA spell for the 3 weeks I wanted to be cool. Then I realized I kept falling asleep during the cartoons. Don't wait till you're 30, still drawing flat and it's too late to learn anything else.

Personally I think it's way cooler to have an open mind and lots of drawing skill, so that you can actually make cartoons with your own point of view.

But I still like a lot of the UPA style commercials!

By the way, it's possible to have construction and design at the same time.

to be continued...