Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Cartooning is no joke

A cartoonist’s job is crucial as well as challenging, whether it involves making a visual comment on the socio-political scenario, conveying public interest messages or simply raising the laughs, writes Usha Albuquerque

IMAGINE how dull and drab a newspaper or a magazine would look without cartoons and illustrations! What would we do without our daily fix of R.K. Laxman, Sudhir Tailang, Sudhir Dhar and Ajit Ninan!

Cartoons are comic drawings used to illustrate a topic of public interest. Cartoons add the right amount of humour or sarcasm to a newspaper headline that would create just the required impact on the readers. The caricatures in cartoons are often exaggerated, comical depictions of real people in the public eye. Laxman does an excellent job of making officials and politicians look silly and ridiculous while the common man looks on! The otherwise depressing and gory news features about natural calamities, accidents, murders, political turmoil, tax revisions, and so on are thus lightened up by such cartoons. Mario Miranda is well-known for elaborating on the many foibles of common people. In fact, the cartoon is the only exclusive feature in a newspaper, which is read everyday. It is almost like a visual editorial. And that too, most often on the front page!

A cartoonist is, therefore, almost as powerful as a journalist. While a journalist uses language and words, a cartoonist uses the visual medium to deliver his/her point effectively to readers. Cartooning is a very popular medium today. It can be used for numerous purposes, from teaching children values of honesty and patriotism, to exposing corrupt politicians. The medium of cartoons does certainly have a more lasting impression on all, more especially the minds of children in their formative years. These days, public service messages for the masses are also conveyed through cartoons, especially anti-drug and anti-smoking messages, as well as AIDS awareness campaigns and messages of population control.

So, basically cartoons are conceived with very subtle messages and are designed, keeping in mind a particular target audience.

This is serious work

A cartoonist working with a newspaper, magazine, ad agency or a publishing house makes sketches, drawings and illustrations appealing to the target audience. Often such illustrations depict a theme or story which needs elucidation. The cartoonist or illustrator has to discuss with the respective department heads, editors, creative directors, or producers, as the case may be, before formalising the work. It is important for the idea or the sketch to be in tune with the expectations or perceptions of the audience. More importantly, it should match with the basic content of the campaign/ editorial.

Editorial cartoonists mainly caricature politicians, fearlessly point out their foibles and also often comment on social ills in a satirical vein. Their cartoons and illustrations mainly appear on the front pages of daily newspapers and in magazines.

Comic artists use humour as their main tool. Through their cartoons and illustrations, they narrate stories that are cheerful. Comic artists mainly design comic strips for newspapers, and are often employed to put together complete comic magazines and digests.

Motion cartoonists are doing very well today with the proliferation of the audio-visual media, computers and net-based applications. Through these, they generate animated cartoon films for the television, silver screen, or even the print media. Walt Disney was the first animation cartoonist, and his techniques are now used successfully in practically all countries and all cultures. Animation cartooning that is shown on TV and in films is made by motion cartoonists who create cartoons and cartoon characters and also narrate fairy tales and stories to children which enthrall them. Animation cartooning, apart from being used on television and in films, is also used in advertising, and now on the Internet too.

Skill for satire

The art of drawing comic forms, as such, does not necessarily require formal training. If you have a keen perception and a talent for drawing figures and depicting them imaginatively and in a humorous form, then there is scope for your becoming a cartoonist.

You must not only be very artistic, but you must have a good sense of humour and the ability to catch on to inconsistencies in political affairs, incongruities in the social fabric, the follies of politicians, socialites, film stars and industrialists. So, you must have a thorough understanding of the socio-economic and political environment, and a sense of irreverence with an ability of distrust and question authority. And if you can visually convey that irreverence through humour, satire or subtle lampooning, a background in Fine Arts or Commercial Art should serve the purpose of strengthening your skills.

Cartooning can be pursued as a full-fledged career after Class X or Class XII. Ideally, study up to Class XII and then pursue a degree course in either Fine Arts/ Commercial Art. Alternatively, you can take up a diploma course in multimedia or cartooning, depending on your area of interest, along with a degree in psychology or political science for a wider knowledge of the world and the people around us.

The ideal combination would be to complement your talent with either a formal training in Art (Fine Arts/ Commercial Art) or in computers. In fact, this equips you to handle several areas as a cartoonist and animation artist in the electronic media and print media.

Multimedia courses would train you to understand technical aspects and to be adept at handling the various software packages. If you are interested in taking up this line and are inclined towards art, you can learn packages such as Abode Photoshop, Abode Image Ready, Director 7, Animator Pro, Animator Studio, etc. And there are several formal training programmes available in Graphic Designing, Animation Designing, Visual Communications and Applied Art.

Placement prospects

There are plenty of job opportunities open for illustrators, cartoonists and animators today, provided you have the talent and are imaginative enough to continue producing original work.

Most cartoonists are freelancers, working from home, or from art studios, where they can handle a variety of different assignments.You can get specialised jobs in publishing houses, magazines and newspapers, advertising agencies, and the audio-visual media. TV cartooning is another huge upcoming field today and the Internet, in fact, has created a number of opportunities for cartoonists.

However, cartooning as a regular profession is still not widely accepted in India. It is still in a stage of infancy. Therefore, initially most cartoonists have to work really hard to make a mark, but once you’ve done that, then there’s no looking back.

The writer is a noted career expert