Be a stand-up artist, interact with the readers

Artwork by JunMing // Reference No.: JM0178

I was trying to achieve two things in this piece. One, to articulate what goes on in my mind every time when I am stuck at a traffic light. And in doing so, incite a feeling of familiarity with readers who have a similar experience. Two, I wanted the readers to perform an activity together with me in their mind when they are reading this cartoon. I wanted them to do the countdown in the first three panels.

Much like a stand-up comedy, interaction and engagement with the readers can be achieved with cartooning as well. Although much of what happens will be within the mental space of the readers, it does bring the cartoon to live in a certain way. Think of it this way, if you share your drawings with an audience, it starts to travel and distribute itself in the minds of the readers. It claims a certain mental space in them. As time goes, the image gradually disappears, leaving those that managed to make some ‘noise’.

In the above, my attempt was to create some sort of ‘noise’ through the counting down process. And note, the design was for a gradual close up from three to one. So there is movement along with the count which aims to cement the image further with the readers.

It was a cartooning experiment. Hopefully it worked.



Connecting the camera and the rifle

Artwork by JunMing // Reference No.: JM0177

The predecessor of this piece was rather different from what you are seeing now. It was about how the photographer was using his camera in a rifle-like manner. A three-panel drawing with an ending where he was on the receiving end of a huge rifle recoil. And that was it. The punch I had intended for was really about the act of ‘shooting’ and the similarity between a camera and a rifle.

The change came when I was pushing the idea a little further. What comes next? What happens when you ‘pull the trigger’ on a camera? What would you kill? One idea then leads to another. I started to establish the connection between a photographer and a hunter. Images of a hunting trip starts to take shape. That’s when Hopper (the dog) became the final piece of jigsaw and answering the last question…

What exactly would be the byproduct of a ‘camera-rifle’?

I think I did fairly well setting this up. The storytelling or sequencing, in my opinion was pretty smooth considering the fact that we have to do this in four panels. An area where I probably love to alter (if given a chance) would be the colour use. Embarrassing ans I am not at all proud of the way I did the colours. Amateurish and excessive. Enough said. Point taken for future drawings.

Lots of effort put into achieving the ‘recoil’ effect from the camera. I was acting it out most of the time to get a good visual result. The trick is also in the hands. How it holds the camera in the first panel and what the final posture would be when he was experiencing the recoil.

Nonetheless, it was always a bundle of fun when I get to work on dynamic figure drawings.


Let them feel that they know the plot

Sun Tzu, a renowned military strategist once mentioned that some of the best tactics in war is to lead the enemy into believing that they know your plan. Once they feel that they know your plan, you are then in a position to launch a surprise attack.

In the above cartoon, I was playing slightly with the reader’s perception of value. The lead in the cartoon seems to be really serious in selecting an art piece. However, he doesn’t look wealthy in this case. He seems more like a common man just visiting the art gallery after work. So with those hints, it guides the readers to perceive him as someone that might be hoping to buy something more pragmatic or functional. That said, after the second panel, readers may be feeling that he must have brought home something valuable, something important given that level of seriousness that he displayed in panel one and two.

The reveal comes in the final panel where a large painting with just the letter ‘Z’ shows up in his bedroom. And as we all know, ‘Z’ is the letter that is associated with being asleep in the cartooning language. It’s a far cry from what readers may have in their mind given his earlier attitude in the selection process. The intent is to play with the reader’s anticipation through a build up process seen in the first three panels. In the reader’s mind, they would have arrived at the fourth panel when they were at the second or the third. But that is their perception. The cartoonist then takes that anticipation and twist it into something else.

Very often, I am trying to achieve this ‘jolt’ in the reader’s mind. To let them get there before I reveal. I think such conflict provides a strong engagement with the readers and hopefully bring them much joy in the reading process.


Designing the journey and bringing the readers along

Artwork by JunMing // Reference No.: JM0102

In my earlier posts I have often mentioned that it is important to engage the readers. To get them involved in the journey. Once there is skin in the game, the cartooning experience would be far more enjoyable for the readers, as well as the cartoonist.

The quality of the journey is therefore critical. It has to be believable. If the tone and ambience of the drawing is too ‘light’, it keeps the readers from connecting with the sequence. Hence, for it to work, we have to build up the imaginery dimension in a such a fashion that the readers could draw relevance to. In the above piece, the physical design of the library has to be close to the real thing. Similarly, the dynamism of the ‘search’ action and the angle of the cinematic lens have to be realistic as well.

Once there is buy in on the readers side, then the close is not too difficult. It can be a simple twist and still yield a big impact. The trick is really in the set up, and in this case, the journey. When they are in the journey with you, more than half the battle is won.

So, do put in effort in designing the journey for the readers.


In the awkward zone of good, but not that good

Artwork by JunMing // Reference No.: JM0225

I wanted to do something for Christmas. Something grand, something that gets people thinking, or better, offer some opinion. That was what came to mind in early December 2020 when I was creating this particular piece. Come to think of it, Jean-Jacques Sempe may have been the catalyst. Every time I go through his books, I end up wanting to do a ‘big’ piece with considerable scale and detail.

Sadly, this is one of those cases where I failed miserably and end up in an awkward midway zone. Sure, the idea seems reasonably creative, there’s immediate contrast when you see the trees in the buildings versus the lone tree standing on a heavily harvested mountain, and it’s relatable given the use of pine trees during Christmas. All the boxes seems checked, yay…

Nope, this is pretty far from being a success. I totally missed the ‘grand’ factor. The art failed the idea. For such an idea, the delivery needs to be much ‘bigger’. It’s like getting the ‘ohhh..’ instead of the ‘woah…’. The way to approach this would be to scale it up massively. Use a huge A3 format if you need to. Double or triple the amount of buildings. The bare mountains should be around 30% of the whole picture so that it gives readers a perspective that whatever left of nature is taken away for the insignificant viewing pleasure of mankind.

It’s a tough defeat to swallow. A big waste of an idea with great potential. But then again, we will learn from this moving forward.


Drawing well is the entry requirement for cartooning

Artwork by JunMing // Reference No.: JM0219

I know its a little harsh, but I am making this note to remind myself that the drawing is as important as the idea, or the punch itself. Cartooning is an art form, just like music or dance. And like all art forms, you need to practice before you gain ‘entry’. It’s like table tennis, a sport that is rather easy to play but difficult to excel.

There are many ways to deliver a cartoon. It is not wrong to choose a faster approach or a lengthy one as long as it is the best for the cartoon. For the longest time I have been trying very hard to find a style that allows me to skip all the proper steps of drawing and go straight to the idea. The punch. A formula, a secret doorway, or rather a short cut.

Unknowingly, I have also became obsessed with the end product of drawing rather than the drawing itself. Impatience is pretty much an enemy. I was skipping steps so that I can deliver or post my cartoons quickly on Facebook or Instagram. I am so attracted to the prospects of immediate ‘Likes’ and ‘Followers’ that I seem to be missing something here. It might be the fun of drawing. The pursuit of excellence in the cartooning art form itself.

So this post serves as a strong reminder that the essence of cartooning is drawing. Much like the witch in the piece above, it is important to take pride in the practise of this unique form and to keep improving the craft.


Un-supering the Supers

Artwork by JunMing // Reference No.: JM0184

It’s might be one of the oldest trick in the sacred bible of cartooning, if there is even one to begin with.

The ‘un-supering’ of the supers (I am pretty sure there isn’t such a word). Making godly beings and heroes normal not by taking away their powers but by giving them everyday problems faced by you and me. Like the above piece where Superman unknowingly tucked his cape under his tights. A pretty common wardrobe malfunction with boys. If you apply this concept further, it could be The Flash panting slightly after climbing the stairs to his apartment, or Batman picking out leaves stuck on the Batmobile’s windscreen. I can keep going indefinitely but I think you got the point I am trying to make.

The idea is to understand the characteristic of a particular ‘celebrity’ hero and to partner him with the relevant everyday challenges. It doesn’t have to be a super hero, you can also apply this to any person of authority or powers. Most editorial cartoonists transform their presidents or ministers into the everyday Joes of the world. How about celestial beings, gods and angels? Immensely powerful but hassled with the less divine problems and habits of mere mortals. Imagine one day you are looking up in the sky, you spot an angel at a corner cloud. He looks around for a while and does a full back stretch before disappearing back into the clouds again. What does that tells you of his day, or job? Is this something you would expect to see from an angel? Or is it what a normal tired blue collared worker would do whilst he takes a short break at the pantry.

The back stretch itself is such a common action that it becomes invisible to us everyday. But once you associate it to a godly being, immediately that expresses something very different. It might be good to start accumulating a list of everyday household problems or mortal actions that can be applied to ‘heroes’ when the need arises.


What you do when no one is looking

Artwork by JunMing // Reference No.: JM0193

‘What you do when no one is looking defines you’.

I am not sure how and when this sentence got stuck with me. But it did. And there is always this mental image of a lone corporate person going about his usual mundane business activity but with something going on in his mind. Sure, he does his work well, but something isn’t quite right, he seems to be in another world altogether. Being one with the ‘flow’.

That’s right, the flow. The utopian zone that we all want to be in. I used to watch tons of youtube clips on craftsmen or artists working and drawing. I often get a huge high from watching them do their stuff. It’s extremely therapeutic to see someone creating or working on something that they are highly passionate about. Something that gets them into the flow.

So in the above piece, I seek to articulate that state of ‘flow’ through a corporate person who seems to have a found a way to integrate his passion for music into a seemingly mundane corporate life. There is an element of mismatch where he is like a pianist being in the wrong setting. Yet, there isn’t any conflict as he dives into it as though it didn’t matter. He could be in a war zone and still find a way to go into the flow.

The technicality involve in this piece is slightly complex. Simple as it seems, with twenty panels of largely similar set-up, the difficulty lies in the overlaying of the pianist into this corporate form. The keyboarding actions were heavily referenced from that of a pianist in a large performance. Minor details of where he places his bag, and how he adjusted the monitor as though it was his music score were very important to ensure that the readers are connecting the dots in their mind.

In some sense, I might be drawing me. I hope you can hear the music when you are reading the cartoon. I heard it when I was drawing him.


If you are stuck, start listening to your drawing

Artwork by JunMing // Reference No.: JM0093

No matter how seasoned a cartoonist you are, you will always find yourself stuck on a drawing or an idea from time to time. These could be in places that you thought you had it sorted out from way before. In my case, most of it happens in the initial stages where I am usually drafting and setting up the cartoon. It could be an annoying scenario where it works perfectly in my mind, but somehow when I start to put the pen to it, the magic just doesn’t seem to work anymore. The perspective, the posture, the placements… And I often find myself just hopelessly trying to whip everything into shape by adding more lines or diving deeper into the same set up.

Having learnt some tough lessons through experience, I found that the better way to get ‘un-stuck’ is to stop digging down the same spot, or at least change a digging device. To be more precise, start switching a perspective or experiment with a new start picture set-up. Sometimes, the drawing itself is trying to tell us whether if a perspective is right or ‘less’ right. As cartoonist, we just need to train ourselves to be aware and be flexible to change when it is not getting us anywhere.

In short, we need to start ‘listening’ to the drawing. It could be telling you where things are going wrong. Much like the piece above, maybe it is not a question of destiny but simply a change of location.


Why observing people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder may help in cartooning?

Artwork by JunMing // Reference No. JM0081

I suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD for short. Not to the extent where it incapacitate my normal day-to-day life, but perhaps enough for others to find me a nuisance at times (or most times..).

That said, if I were to examine myself from the eyes of my closed ones, I figure it would be a really interesting affair. And probably fruitful one too. As a cartooning enthusiast, I spend a considerable amount of time observing people and trying to isolate behavioural traits that sets one person apart from another. In some cases, I may be looking out for hallmarks of a certain characteristic traits which stands out. To be even more specific, it has to be a trait where the readers could identify with in an instant and go: “Aha, I know someone like that!”.

In many ways, I find myself more often than not depicting a character with a really serious case of OCD. Much like the piece above where it shows the ‘hallmark’ of someone with OCD coming to the rescue of a lady in drowning in the sea. In this particular instance, I wanted to display the ‘visual’ trait of this disorder in a lighthearted manner.

Of course OCD is just one of the many interesting character and behavioural patterns that could be an amazing ingredient for a wonderful cartoon. The idea is to observe intently whenever you have the chance.