When I was a lad, I loved to draw cartoons. I dreamed of someday being a "FAMOUS CARTOONIST", with my own comic strip, beloved by millions. I did not, however, have any idea of how to go about becoming one.
In the small town I lived in (and sadly, still do), there wasn't a lot of encouragement, or even information, about how professional artists went about their work. Occasionally, there would be a newspaper profile of a famous cartoonist, and there were a few Walter Foster© books on cartooning, but being a cartoonist really seemed to be an unobtainable goal.
That is, until I entered junior high.
Academically, I was a very poor student. I simply wasn't interested in the things I was forced to study in public school. I just wanted to draw cartoons and live in my own little fantasy world. My teachers would tell my parents that I appeared (!) to be intelligent, but that I lacked "focus". If they only knew!
Fortunately, there was one person working at my junior high who was actually interested in kids beyond what their grade point average was. She cared about the children and actually supported them in finding their way through the emotional mine fields of adolescence. She was the school guidance counselor. Her name was Ms. Krause, and she was really cool!
Since I was such a poor student, I was in Ms. Krause's office a lot. She did everything she could to encourage me to do better in my studies, but she obviously knew my head was elsewhere. One day she told me she knew I was interested in becoming a cartoonist and she had a book she thought I might like.
That was the understatement of the year! The book was "The Art of Cartooning", by Syd Hoff
. It was the first "How-to" book on cartooning I had ever seen. Written by the legendary gag cartoonist and illustrator Syd Hoff, it was the perfect introduction to the realities of being a cartoonist for twelve-year-old me.
|Syd Hoff shows you how to draw a face. Simple, no?|
|Finishing a page, by The Hoff!|
Syd Hoff, for those of you unfamiliar with his work, was a popular gag cartoonist and children's book author/illustrator. In this book on cartooning, he takes the reader through the basics of drawing and rendering cartoon characters, then moves on to such topics as creating gags and selling your work. Although there had, of course, been other books on the "how-to's" of cartooning, this was the first one I had ever seen. The genius of the book was that Hoff didn't make the act of drawing seem too daunting. Too many books on cartooning feature such spectacular examples of art that the young cartoonist can get easily discouraged when their work doesn't compare to the examples in the book. Not so Hoff. Hoff's simple style and his laid-back prose made it easy for the reader to believe that, with a lot of hard work, it WAS possible to become a professional cartoonist!
As I said, this book had a HUGE impact on me. I really began to study cartoons and comic strips, and worked much harder on my drawing. In gratitude to Ms. Krause, I even tried doing better in school (without much success, but hey, I tried!). Even though I never did become a "famous" cartoonist, with a comic strip beloved by millions, I have earned my living (such as it is) as a cartoonist. That's good enough for me. I wonder, though, where I would be now if not for this book.
|Me, by Syd Hoff*|
I lost track of my copy of this book a long time ago, but was thrilled to find a used copy on Amazon recently for only a penny (plus shipping)! As I flip through the pages, powerful memories keep coming back. I don't think it would be of much help to a young cartoonist today, as a lot of the information is dated. For those of you who'd like to remember "the good ol' days", though, I highly recommend hunting down a copy.
MY big regret, of course, is that I never wrote to Syd Hoff to tell him what his book meant to me. He passed away only a few years ago, so I had plenty of time to do it. I just never did. At least I can go to the website here,
that celebrates him and his work.
Come to think of it, I've never thanked Ms. Krause for showing me this book, either.
THAT I will do!
* No, Syd Hoff did not draw this. I did. It was fun to try a drawing in his style. I'm sure though, that Syd would have done a better job!