WHAT MAKES AN ILLUSTRATOR AN ILLUSTRATOR BUT NOT A CARTOONIST

Drawing is a passion for many and a job for a much smaller group of people. When are we ready to propose ourselves as designers at a comic book publishing house? Many novice designers, especially young people, confuse their ability to create an illustration starting from a pre-existing model, with the ability to make comics, not realizing that between an illustration and a comic there is really an abyss.  

In 10 years as a Supervisor * I have received books from very young designers who are not well aware that even making a good illustration is not a small thing: drawings made at a table in a bar, manga-style pin-up copies, various and varied characters of the panorama of international comics that have nothing to do with the production of my publishing house and all just to “have my opinion”.

Situations like this would be better avoided, also because a judgment of this type can easily be given to you by your art and image teacher in your middle school, not necessarily an editor of a publishing house that publishes comics.

Illustration is not a Comic

Yes, because apart from the questionable quality of what comes with this type of book, the reality is that an illustration is not a comic , it could be, but in fact its function and its communicative intention is quite different. The illustration communicates the beauty of a moment or a situation to you, as an impressionist painting would do, while a cartoon tells . So, if you propose yourself, as a cartoonist you must know how to tell through images.

However, it is not enough to divide something into cartoons: if the images are static, devoid of that fluid that seems to make objects and people move within them, we are now in front of a painting and not a comic. Do you want another example? 

The image, even without the balloon and therefore the text, makes it clear what is happening. Any teacher in a comic school will tell you. If you do not understand what is happening even without the balloon, it means that you have not hit the target.  

In both cases described, and in many others, I would call it a “set of images” placed there without any logical order. But that’s not what you really want to say and do.

Let’s go back. What you have to do then is to be able to tell what happens in that given moment and, of what is not described by you, the eye of the reader should be able to reconstruct for itself. I am referring to what happens between one cartoon and another and that you must make sure that the reader understands equally.

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Comparison with the Cinema

Here it is interesting to make the aforementioned comparison with cinema . In the cinema a sequence is described in full. If an actor is smoking you have several seconds to insert a dialogue and it will certainly be inserted not while he is inhaling the tobacco from the cigarette, but when he has probably just thrown the smoke away. In comics there is no need to describe everything, indeed it would be rather boring, if not scripted with skill and for some particular reason. Even if you are not a smoker, as I am not, you have seen it done many times and you will know by unconscious the moment in which our character will be able to say those words reported in the balloon. If we really have to stick to this comparison with cinema, I would say that we work by frames. We cut, in those old films of yesteryear, what we need to make the viewer understand what is happening.

In short, it takes a great deal of effort and skill. It is true that we gradually improve, but we need to understand the mechanism behind it in order to really make comics.

It is also true that you have to find a good script in front of you in order to realize what I tell you. Faced with a script that leaks from all sides, succeeding in the intent to tell is practically impossible, so if you want to learn, learn from the good ones, both designers and screenwriters. On the internet you will find several scripts available and you can train there. Then, subject it to the external eye and see its reaction.

Then, it’s up to you. Do you like to tell stories or do you just like to illustrate? You don’t have to do comics if you can’t and it doesn’t put you at ease, but you can stay in the magical world of drawing anyway.

Drawing the Cover

There are several opportunities that you can take advantage of. The first that can be spent is certainly the one closest to comics, that is to propose yourself as “cover artists”. In the world of comics it is not certain that a cartoonist draws the cover . Or rather, not all cartoonists can be good cover artists. This is a mistake that I have seen made even in large publishing houses, that is to underestimate the importance of the cover and to have designers suitable only for comics do the cover too. It must necessarily have a different impact, indeed it must have that impact there such as to hit the potential passing reader and decide to buy the register; it must arouse a certain emotion and undoubtedly remain impressed in the memory, so that if it is not the first, the second will not be able to resist.

So how do you propose yourself as cover artists and / or illustrators to a comic book publishing house? Well, in the meantime, say it clearly in your portfolio what you propose for, making it clear that you are aware of what the publishing house really publishes and also personally I would not disdain an illustration of the leading character in the catalog to convince them of your skill.

As already mentioned, I received several books (some even beautiful) and was puzzled by the fact that there were only illustrations and no comics. It is important to first of all see what the publisher is looking for when scouting. And if you really want to propose the same, two lines to explain you must not be missing. At least you won’t give the impression that you don’t know the publisher and have paid attention to what it actually does (which is rather shocking, I tell you!).

Outside the world of comics, the highest demand for illustrators is undoubtedly in the world of children ‘s publishing , both if we are talking about children aged 0 to 3, where the drawings are necessary and the text is borne by the parents, and for the larger ones, where a “book without images” is still seen as “boring”. It is still a prosperous world, despite the paper and reading crisis, but giving away a book remains a nice gesture and still does not offend anyone. If your style suits the various age groups of the very young and young, you just have to try.

Finally, having to talk about things to learn, also becoming graphic designers could be a temporary economic solution waiting for important engagements. Even there, even if underpaid, there is no shortage of work. Good luck!

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