Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Hoff!

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.

"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!




Anonymous Carol said...

I loved reading your blog about Syd and how his book helped inspire and support your passion of becoming a cartoonist. Like you, Syd did not academically excel in school, eventually dropping out of high school at age 15. However, not before Milt Gross (the famous cartoonist) made a special appearance at his school. After watching Syd draw during the assembly he said to Syd, "Kid, someday you'll be a famous cartoonist."
Never give up your dream, your passion. Kuddos to you for following your heart. My dream and passion is to preserve and honor Syd's rich legacy, especially this year - his centennial year. Visit www.SydHoff.org and check back often as the site in in the midst of updates, including cartoons and the story of his life chapter in the politically, radical 1930s, when he cartooned under an alias.
Carol, Syd's niece.

January 17, 2012 at 3:00 PM  
Blogger Bill White said...

Carol- How thrilling to hear from a relative of Syd Hoff! Thanks for the kind words, AND for keeping your Uncle's legacy alive.

Everyone out there: Go visit this site!

January 17, 2012 at 6:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful blog, Bill! Well deserved praise!


January 17, 2012 at 6:09 PM  
Blogger John F said...

Great article, Bill! I have many memories of Syd Hoff's work - just didn't have his name to go with it . . . until now!

Thanks for shedding some light - and for your "origin" as a cartoonist.

Syd's site is well worth checking out!

January 17, 2012 at 6:15 PM  
Blogger eeTeeD said...

mr. hoff was indeed a great cartoonist. thanks for the informative post.


bill white said,
"...with a lot of hard work, it WAS possible to become a professional cartoonist..."

i don't think i agree with that. modesty prevents me from elaborating.

January 17, 2012 at 7:27 PM  
Anonymous Newt said...

Fantastic post Bill. I know what you're saying about a lot of those books. I picked up a few when I was a youngster and the art inside could be rather discouraging.

Really nice post and informative, while tugging on the ol' heartstrings. Great to learn these little tidbits.

January 17, 2012 at 8:17 PM  
Blogger Bill White said...

Thanks for all the positive comments, gents. This makes me wonder if any of my readers would like to see more book reviews from me? If you do, let me know.

Also, if you are an author who has a cartoon-related book that you'd like me to review, send me a copy and I will!*

*Shameless ploy to get free books.

January 18, 2012 at 12:36 PM  
Blogger Mykal Banta said...

Bill: Great stuff. I love that you recall your Ms. Krause so fondly. A great example of how a good teacher can shape and contribute to a young life in such a positive way.

January 20, 2012 at 8:53 AM  
Blogger Bill White said...


After I wrote this post, I tried to find Ms. Krause and thank her. She's retired now, apparently, and the school system won't "share her information" with me.

You'd think that my Mother's having been a PRINCIPAL in the school system, and a friend of Ms. Krause's, would make the system cut me some slack and share her contact info with me, but NO. No wonder I hated school!

Her full name was Karen Krause. If anyone out there knows her, please tell her to contact me!

January 22, 2012 at 6:56 PM  
Blogger P.L. Frederick said...

What a wonderful memory. Ms. Krause rocks!

What about asking your school contact if they would pass along a written letter from you? That way, if she didn't want to get in touch, her secret location would remain undisclosed. But, since the letter included your contact info she could if she wanted. I'm sure Krause would LOVE to get a letter such as yours. Good luck!

P.L. Frederick (Small & Big)

February 10, 2012 at 2:46 PM  

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