by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick-Frost
“Cartooning is what happens when you send your drawings on an adventure. In Adventures In cartooning, simple lessons in cartooning are woven into a rip-roaring story. The only thing more fun than reading this comic will be making your own!!”
That’s some of the blurb on the cover flap to Adventures In Cartooning. I’d planned to sit down and read it myself first and then pass it over to my daughter Molly, aged 9, to see what she thought of it and to see if it was as good as it sounded and looked. But it didn’t work out that way, because as soon as she saw the book, Molly immediately snatched it from my hands and ever since then she’s obsessively guarded it; she read it cover to cover in one night and then, for the past week, she’s been copying each page diligently. Once that task was done, she decided to apply some of what she’d done to making her own comics.
For a book that’s meant to show how simple and fun cartooning can be and get it’s readers to start making comics themselves the fact that Molly has done just that and had great fun in the process is possibly the highest praise you can give the book.
The book is a production of the Centre for Cartoon Studies created by CCS founder James Sturm and two graduates of the program: Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick-Frost. Between them they’ve made a delightful all-ages book that obviously works – the proof is in front of me right now with Molly’s artwork that she had so much fun making.
The structure of Adventures In Cartooning is a simple one; a princess attempts to make a comic and, like children all over the world find, she thinks she can’t do it. Up pops a magical cartooning elf to show her she can, with just a few simple steps:
(Our princess gets help from the magical cartooning elf – so simply and elegantly explained. From Adventures In Cartooning.)
After this the book doesn’t veer off into some rather dry treatise in methodology, it cleverly allows the reader to absorb the essential bits of comic structure and rolls it all into a cartoon adventure. The basic techniques of comic making are weaved effortlessly into the story, making them an interesting plot point rather than a lesson. A point is quickly made and then the next few pages carry the adventure forward, utilising exactly the point about the craft that’s just been made. Hence, following a little discussion about panels, we see the elf and a brave knight on his not so brave horse travelling across panels showing the reader how to use panels properly. Simple, effective, engaging stuff. And after this we get exercises in using word balloons, thought balloons, the order of reading across a page and much more, all integrated into a fun adventure of a Knight’s quest to battle a dragon. The really clever stuff happens late on in the story as we get delightfully meta and the characters use the techniques the reader has learned thus far to get themselves out of one predicament after another.
(From the early section of Adventures In Cartooning, a very simple, concise and easily understood exploration of what panels can do.)
To make this sort of book, this how-to guide which tries it’s hardest to not be a dry, dull cartooning lecture, you have to get the presentation just right. And Sturm does a marvellous job, making every line count, with his simple, childlike, easily understood cartooning of so few lines making it easy for a child to look at his work and say “I can do that”. And they can, and Molly did. That’s the proof of this particular comic pudding. A how-to book on cartooning for children that has made my child spend hours and hours making her own comics. That’s absolutely wonderful and an endorsement of the effectiveness and enjoyment within Adventures In Cartooning.
I was going to post up a page of Molly’s art from reading Adventures In Cartooning, but she insisted on a mini review done by her latest and greatest comic creation; Mr Peacock, short and sweet but heartfelt!
Richard Bruton with much inspiration and input from the Marvellous Miss Molly