Create Your Own Cartoon

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Cartoons can be so much fun, so why not make your own?
By Laura Schlereth

Why do we love cartoons so much?

Because cartoons have a magical quality. “They exist in their own animated little world, they can get away with doing or saying all sorts of things we can't do in real life,” says Bryce Hallett, owner of Toronto-based animation studio, Frog Feet Productions, and illustrator of the book Animation Unleashed: 100 Principles Every Animator, Comic Book Writer, Filmmaker, Video Artist, and Game Developer Should Know.

Have you ever tried creating your own cartoon character? Don’t be nervous! Andrew Farrago, a curator at San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum, says there’s something for everybody, so you can use any style you want depending on the story you want to tell.

Some of the greatest cartoons were the first of their kind, such as The Simpsons or Charlie Brown, says Morgan Taylor, the creator of Gustafer Yellowgold, a yellow creature from the sun who lives in Minnesota and stars in a series of animated DVD and CD sets.

“You can dream up the weirdest thing you want. You can make up your own rules when you’re making your own character,” he says.

So, for once, make your own rules! But here are some extra tips on getting started.

Take a Class
Taylor recommends taking a cartoon-drawing class because you’ll learn technical tips, such as weight distribution, and it will also put you outside your comfort zone where you learn to draw stuff you never would have thought to.

Farrago says the Cartoon Art Museum offers a variety of classes. See if your library offers art classes and sign up!

Read Books and Visit Web Sites that Show the Drawing Process
Taylor enjoys seeing pencil drawings of characters in books because it details the process. He recommends How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema.

Ramin Zahed, editor-in-chief of Animation Magazine, recommends Draw the Looney Tunes from Warner Brothers.
One of Zahed’s personal favorites is Creating Characters with Personality: For Film, TV, Animation, Video Games, and Graphic Novels by Tom Bancroft and Glen Keane. Zahed also suggests Web sites that will show you the step-by-step process, such as:


Your Sketchbook? Never Leave Home Without It
“The funny thing about inspiration is that you never know when it’s going to hit you,” Farrago says. “That’s why you always need a pen and paper ready.”

Hallett encourages aspiring cartoonists to be constantly observant. “If you just sit on the bus with your earphones on and your eyes glued to your phone or Gameboy, you're going to miss something,” he says. “People watching is fun. Watch how they interact with each other—mannerisms and behaviors. They can be an endless source of characters.”

Balance Realism with Caricature
Obviously cartoon characters are fun because they look quirky and different from real people. But Taylor thinks having a blend of exaggerated and realistic features will make the character unique but relatable.

He recommends having cartoon-like elements with real-life physics applied to it, such as weight and proportion.

Hallett suggests looking at a real person when drawing a cartoon character to understand shapes and angles and then simplify.

“Break it down to just the most important things that make them unique,” he says. If you can draw a face in only a few lines and still capture their essence, you’ve got it. Then push any exaggerations and distortions as far as your imagination will go!

Practice makes Perfect
“If you’re really serious about it, you need to dedicate time every single day to drawing,” Farrago says. Skills can only be polished by drawing as much as you can.

Recommended Resources

How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way
By Stan Lee and John Buscema
Using such famous Marvel characters as Spider-Man for examples, this comic’s art encyclopedia teaches you how to create your own superhero comic strip.

Animation Unleashed: 100 principles every Animator, Comic Book Writer, Filmmaker, Video Artist, and Game Developer Should Know
By Ellen Besen and Bryce Hallett
This book considers animation a powerful tool for communication and teaches principles for both professionals and beginners on how to “harness the full power of this exciting and ever expanding medium.”

Draw the Looney Tunes
From Warner Brothers
This comprehensive book has vintage cartoons with step-by-step instructions on how to re-create some of the most famous characters of all time.

Creating Characters with Personality: For Film, TV, Animation, Video Games, and Graphic Novels
By Tom Bancroft and Glen Keane
Do this book’s practical exercises not just to learn how to draw but how to convey the personality of a unique character. This book teaches how to put your character in the context of a script so that you get full expression.

A Mouse and a Bunny: Two of the Most Recognizable Faces of the 20th Century
By Laura Schlereth
Can you imagine a lovable cartoon character named Oswald or Mortimer? Well, you probably know him better as Mickey Mouse. Disney’s trademark rodent didn’t start out exactly as you know him today, and he actually has a unique evolutionary history.

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