Vol. 12, No. 2,856W - The American Reporter - March 18, 2006

by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent

SEATTLE, Wash. -- I am in recovery from my first effort to teach cartoon= ing to three little boys. If only I'd thought of it in time, I would have = done homage to George Herriman, creator of Krazy Kat and the greatest of Am= erican comic strip artists, by calling it the Kartoon Kamp.

It was my daughter's idea and was in fact little more than a kind of babysitting, but then there were moments when teaching at Princeton seemed much the same.

My pupils were my grandson Ben Duchin (9), and Sam and Jack Dunnington, (9 and 7) sons of Mary Ann Gwinn, Book Editor of the Seattle Times, and her husband, Steve. Rachel, a little girl from across the street, was madly curious to know what was up, but wisely dekamped after one day in the society of rough ink-stained boys.

The week-long seminar began in a traditional manner: I set them to copying images from the pages of Cartoonist Profiles, the distinguished quarterly of the profession.

"Copying!?" they objected. I assured them that my own arduous traini= ng had begun with trying to draw a plausible Donald Duck, including the wad= dle.

But the next day I turned them loose, to demonstrate their originality. I drew sets of eyes in their notebooks -- lazy, stupid, sinister, astonished, malevolent -- and they had to build a face around them.

"The eyes are the windows to the soul," I said.

"What is the soul?" asked the youngest, but I was not about to be dive= rted from kartooning into theology and, God forgive me, ignored him.

When= Ben had finished this, he said, "Could I please have some more eyes?"

"Ugh!" said Sam, who was, in this group, the grown-up.

The assignment from then on was homework: to produce one four-frame comi= c strip a day. There had to be a continuing character throughout the strip.

I told them of the course I'd once given at Princeton in the history of = the American Comic Strip (which had to be called Pictorial Narrative, to pr= eserve the dignity of the catalogue).

One of my students had turned in each week a strip in which the characte= r was a fried egg. A fried egg on a bicycle, a fried egg flirting with a f= emale fried egg, and so on. You try it.

Undaunted, Jack said, "Could I draw a clam?"

And he did. For the next four days he brought in a four-panel strip fea= turing one character, a clam, his two limpid eyes peering from the inner da= rkness of his shell, mad for love and adventure.

What I taught my charges I cannot say, but if you asked them they might = say that I was obsessed with the importance of the frame. Without a frame, = there is no picture, I said. Try doing a close-up without a frame! I caugh= t myself shouting. Even an empty frame is almost apicture!!

But when their innocent eyes grew large with the suspicion that their = teacher had lost it, I relented, and said that speech balloons, properly pl= aced (questions on the left, answers to the right), were also important.

= What truly fetched them, in the end, was the copyright sign. I showed them= the little "c" inside a circle, and explained that this, along with their = name and the date, would insure them against the unauthorized use of their = work.

From then on, it was a race to see who first guaranteed himself agains= t the furtive plagiarist that is the bane of every cartoonist's existence. = If my friend Bob Crumb could get paid for every rip-off of his "Mr. Natura= l," he would be farther along on Easy Street than he in fact is.

Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus ofCompara= tive Literature at Princeton University.

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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