Wednesday, January 24, 2007


What I'm about to say was inspired by a recent blog entry by John Kricfalusi: "Dan Gordon and What Makes a Cartoonist," on "All Kinds of Stuff," Jan. 16, '07. I congratulated John on the article but when I quoted my favorite parts he was appalled that I seemed to have misunderstood the point he was making. Well, John's certainly the expert on what his intended message was but I still like my own deviation from it, which is presented below.

Using John's article as a springboard I now see character artists in the animation industry as being divided into two camps, the illustrators and the cartoonists. Illustrators, like the guy who designed the Robin Hood fox below, draw beautiful, well-proportioned pictures. Cartoonists (like Mad magazine artist Don Martin, above) draw funny pictures. Obviously some artists can do both but most have a bias in one direction or the other. There's no reason for these groups to be antagonistic, after all a good cartoon requires both skills. The problem is that employers, who are almost never cartoonists themselves, favor the illustrators. After all, illustrators make the most professional-looking drawings. Writers, who often have employer's ear, also favor illustrators. Cartoonists chafe at unfunny scripts and will usually try to finess them. Illustrators make the perfect employee because they actually like the guidance provided by long and usually unfunny scripts, they just want to make the pictures look professional. Anyway, the consequence of all this is that cartoonists have to do a lot of hustling to get work, even in the cartoon industry.

Unfortunately a new group has arrived which is ambivilent to both cartoonists and illustrators: the 3D animator. A lot of 3D animators don't see the point in learning how to draw. They never had time to learn in school because 3D is so labor-intensive and besides, they reason that the people they work for will provide the characters. In my darkest moments I sometimes imagine a world where art school graduates not only can't draw but can't even imagine why anyone would want to draw. I rush to add that this is an admittedly unrealistic fantasy. Anime is coming up fast and is still drawing-intensive, even if it favors illustrators. John Kricfalusi loves cartoonists and continues to train them and at least three studios have put the word out that they're interested in hearing pitches for 2D projects.

Talking about John, I forgot to say why he was so disturbed by my talk about cartoonist/illustrator differences. John believes that there's no reason why caroonists shouldn't be able to draw as well as illustrators, if not better. Cartoonists in the past did it routinely, why shouldn't we? In spite of what I said in the opening paragraphs I have to admit that he has a point.


Rod said...


I'm a cartoonist who wound up in 3D.

So not only do I not get to draw funny pictures anymore for my job, but I wrestle with unfunny characters too.

From my experience there are alot of cartoonists in 3D who all miss drawing but had to make the switch to get any work at all.

The walls of the studio where I work are festooned with sketches and funny scribbles.

Kali Fontecchio said...

Actually- I think you still misinterpreted him. Haha!

katzenjammer studios said...

Eddie: You are a summation of what you spend your time doing. I don't think it's really realistic to say that cartoonists can draw "better" (probably meaning more professional, or constructed, or whatever your definition) than illustrators, because that's what illustrator types spend most of their time doing. And that's the cartoonists grievance, that illustrators are often stiff, lifeless, formulaic (simply because illustrator types don't spend time on funny acting like cartoonists). It's like comparing drummers to guitarists. They do different things with different emphasises... emphasii... whatever. To claim that drummers should be just as good at guitar as guitar players simply isn't REALISTIC, although my experience shows me that there are UBER talented individuals (in art, and in music) that can do that.

My distinction of cartoonists is that they go for a visceral appeal to the audience. Illustrators tend to try less for emotional appeal, but go for stronger sense of solidity and draftsmanship.

I do agree, it should not be antagonistic between the camps. Good animation should have both types of animators. If every scene is crazy cartoony all over the place, then it doesn't have the impact of the contrast between meticulous animation and wild cartoony stuff.

Benjamin said...

I wouldn't say the illustrators type go for solidity and draftsmanship over emotion. At least not the really good ones. Say Glen Keane...
The difference to me seems to be that a good cartoonist goes for funny, in one way or another. Funny drawing, laughing with the situation, exaggerating certain emotions to the point that you can't help but laugh at them and feel for them at the same time. Good illustrators on the other hand, usually don't go for funny, but try to express the emotion as honest as they can, in a serious manner. If the character's sad, a good illustrator would try to make you feel compasionate with the character, while a good cartoonist would push it so far that you wish you'd feel compasionate, but you can't help but laugh anyway.

At least that's my take on it.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it ought to be antagonistic between both camps either, Uncle Eddie. And I'll go further and say it isn't antagonistic.

If John K likes the work of Frank Frazetta and Wayne Boring, it's hard to say he hates illustrators.

I can however understand some illustrators frustration with today's "cartoonists" as many of them use the label to mask flaws in basic drawing skills and don't even produce funny drawings.

True cartoonists have the ability to draft well and add the dimension of visual humor through control of proportions, expressions, etc. and not just funny sequencing of actions.

Real cartoonists today are like the Israelites, wandering the desert in search of a home.

Me, I'm an illustrator and proud of it (while secretly jealous of cartoonists, stealing all their theories and applying it to my own work).

I don't really care said...

Why should something called CARTOONS be dominated by illustrators? That's why I never liked the term ANIMATION, because it makes it possible for cartoons to be pretentious and un-fun.

The rarest thing on this planet anymore is a goddamn funny cartoon. That fox is so not funny that it's not funny.

Cartoonists and illustrators should have a big street fight. There should be big clubs with nails, and a bunch of limbs and fists sticking out of a big dirt cloud.

xtracrsP said...

I agree with you Mr Eddie. Sir. Too much emphasis is placed on the writers for the success of a show these days. Animators have somehow become a commodity. The animators should in fact be the highest earners in the 'animation industry'! But the reality is that they're just looked upon as mules. ASSES of animation! I also agree with your take on what john K was trying to express, i.e that cartoonist should be good draftsmen (even if you apparently misinterpreted it as suggested above!).

katzenjammer studios, your analogy of drummers and guitarists does not fit. If you were to compare two different musicians, they have to be using the same instrument-as cartoonist and illustrators essentially use the same instruments (i.e tools).

abwinegar said...

The year 2131, The world is full of Anime show look-alikes no different than 120 years before.

Everyone has a mind control microchip implanted in their heads at birth. They are conformed to a society that does not care for creativity or originality. All they care for is the next new thing and it never comes because they have destroyed it.

Like the executives on John K's blog. The irony like in a Twilight Zone episode.

Jorge Garydoo said...

ffffffffuck! Shit!

Sethdr said...

The real problem is that there are no cartoons on TV. Illustrators and cartoonists should be united.

There are, by the way, a lot of 3D animators out there who can draw, and a lot of illustrators who have a sense of humor;)

Ryan G. said...

Im currently enrolled in animation school in Chicago. I really love the 2D animation courses and am slowly learning to model and animate in 3D.
The school I go to is a technical school. We learn programs that are used in the industry today. Everything from Flash,Adobe Suite, After Effects, Maya, Audio software, Video Software, etc... Unfortunately, the 2D industry is the way it is and the jobs arent as plentiful as jobs that require the skill in using 3D software. If this was solely a 2D animation school, no one would have jobs. The program here does emphasis drawing and the few students here that can draw translate it well to the 3D software. The good 2D animators here also animate well in 3D. Its not that we cant or dont draw anymore, we're trying to find a realistic carreer path to follow.

pappy d said...

I never heard of any antagonism between cartoony & naturalistic artists. To me, the main goal is to practice drawing until the medium becomes transparent. Then you don't have to think about the drawing while you're trying to be creative.

Kids need to copy anyone & everyone they admire. And draw from life too. You're going to find that a good artist's "tricks" are really principles once you see below the waterline. And if you get the principles, you won't have to worry that you'll wind up a horrible mutant from the small gene pool of your artistic influences.

Anonymous said...

These distinctions are imho largely meaningless-or they mean only what the speaker/writer decides they mean(same thing).

I understand the distinctions being made, but I don't agree with the need to make them. What seems to be discussed are permutations of the term "animator"--different kinds. You are not an animator, and neither is John-you're cartoonists. If you were both animators I'd still say that you're cartoony animators, not "illustrators". I wouldn't call any animator an "illustrator". There are animators with a personal style that's less far out, but as you have pointed out that isn't necessarily a bad thing, unless they're assigned to do a pseudo-Scribner scene in a cartoon.

I just rebel against labels of any kind...Glen Keane can animate tremendous forice, great feminine movement and also stuff as pushed as Scribner's(well, almost--no fair to compare one animator to another working on vastly different material). Have you seen his extreme stuff?
It's a slippery slope to pigeonhole artists, especially living ones, with labeled categories(why? to what end?), or compare static print cartoonists like Martin to people whose task is to animate moving characters for film. And also wrong to compare short film aniamtors doing a 7 minute gagfest to a guy whose task is animating a character in "101 Dalmations"[the movie]. JMHO, of course.

Anonymous said...

pardon me anon but imho your ho is lame

LeoBro said...

I understand and agree with John and Eddie's regret that nobody seems to make cartoony cartoons anymore. I also get John's point about how the Cal-Arts style has become cliched, especially because he gave good visual examples.

What I don't get is how longer-form storytelling with animation should be handled. I have a preconception about this, which I'm willing to drop if I can talk myself out of it or be talked out of it. My preconception is that the way you draw your characters should match the way that you want your audience to relate to your characters and your story.

When I watch a Bugs Bunny cartoon, I'm drawn into a world in which just about anything can happen. I'm asked to suspend my disbelief that a rabbit could talk, and in return I'm rewarded with a wise-cracking rabbit who says funny things. I'm not expecting a deep psychological story, or a scary thriller. I'm expecting something ridiculous and funny. The drawings should be consistent with that.

But what if you want to make a movie like Iron Giant? Here is a story about a little boy growing up in the '50s who encounters an actual robot from space. The heart of this story depends on our believing that this is a "real" boy who meets something that would normally seem unreal, but here it is! (Use of contrast.) If you make the boy "cartoony" then the story falls apart. At least, that's my preconception. Or would you say that Iron Giant should not have been animated in the first place?

I've learned so much from John's and Eddie's blog, I'm prepared to learn something new here as well. I've tried to imagine how, say, Ed Benedict would have designed that boy. I would love to see that. It might have been more appealing than the one we got. But I can't imagine how it could be "cartoony" and still work in the context of the movie.

Your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

its the same thing with the simpsons, its terrible now, but when it was good, it was because of the writing more than the animation

Anonymous said...

pardon me anon but imho your ho is lame

Thanks for the thoughtful contribution! Plenty to chew on there.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

perhaps if chuck jones did really subtle understated vaginas and tex avery drew the wacky bouncin tits

APT said...

I think I've got it figured out! Heres a little analogy:

Cartoonists are like poets.
Illustrators are simply authors.

Poets use their craft to express emotions in the most intimate way, and won't let realism or even the syntax of language get in the way of that. Poets rewrite the laws of language just like cartoonists rewrite the laws of physics.

Authors on the other hand have a different purpose. They focus on communicating a story to the reader in the clearest way possible. They gladly adhere to formal language rarely stray from the path of realism (with good results).

I once heard a theory that poems are like candy and stories are like home-cooked meals. Candy is great, but you can't have too much of it or it'll make you sick. The same might be said of cartoonist cartoons versus illustrator cartoons.

Still, I believe that poets can write better stories than authors, and have. Think Shakespeare. He was really more of a poet than a playwright, since his poetry echoes throughout his plays. Well anyway, the point here is that John is right: cartoonists can beat out illustrators and should. But the problem is that great cartoons are harder to make. Just like poetry is harder to right.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think the Cartoonist vs Illustrator argument in regards to animation is a bit of a red herring. That is, it isn't necessarily because of the artist or draftsman as much as the environment they are working within.

Ferinstance, I might be able to make a case that all of the things John K raves for or rails against, is due to constraints of limited animation. When I see a cal arts short on frederator or whatever, I don't always see lack of vision, as much as the constaints of a student having to oversimplify just to get the work done. You get a round head with big eyes and minimal acting just because it is easier and faster to animate. You see lively animation (even when limited animation) devolve to model sheet tracing for similar reasons, having to pump the stuff out so fast.

Quality can take time, which is why execs give the deals to kids with an idea even if the stuff is created in some twilight world of motion captured flash animation.

If it could be done with puppets, they would.

Lee-Roy said...

who made the comment about eddie and john k doing hentai. that's friggin hilarious. i'd pay good money to see that!

Sean Worsham said...

My argument would be is why can't an illustrator draw funny cartoons or vice versa? To me it greatly depends on the artist. Everyone's life takes a different path. An illustrator can be dedicated to organization but still would like to escape once in awhile and go out drinking and partying with babes. At that point that illustrator can go out and draw the most funny cartoon drawings in his restaurant napkins. I'm sure many of you can do this and I'm sure many of you have. On the other hand a cartoonist can go through the biggest breakdown in his life (in this case breaking up with his loved one) and then ease him/herself by making the most inspirational dramatic painting that could beat the best of the illustrators.

I'd say it's easier to pigeonhole an artist into one area. The truth is the best artists can do both styles and do them both quite well and can move to either style at the mere drop of a thought.

Limiting yourself doesn't free you, it only makes you feel trapped in a corner. Opening your eyes out there lets you see the world.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Leobro: Are funny features possible? That would require a whole post to answer and maybe I'll do just that. Thanks for the idea!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Sean: I believe in pigeonholing as long as you retain an open mind. My belief is that the human mind understands things by attempting to fit them into simplistic models. Take away the models and people wouldn't be able to think, at least not quickly.

Anonymous said...

mortals might not be able to think, not cartoonists

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Oops! Sorry John! Of course your argument was that there are 3 categories of animation artist, the third consisting of cartoonist animators working in the Cal Arts style. My synopsis of your argument failed to mention that.

I still like my two-category interpretation even though some animation artists don't fit comfortably into it.