by Darryl Ayo
I’m not a real cartoonist, I’m an impostor. I have a day job. Nine-to-five with a paycheck that comes like clockwork and health benefits. With the rise of the full-time professional independent cartoonist, I have felt as though my day job makes me less of an “official” cartoonist than some of my peers.
But this, right here, is how I can feel 100% official, even while I’m spending most of my time in the office.
I wear shirts with pockets. I tear sheets of paper into fourths (or eighths, depending on the size of the pocket) and place those scraps into said pockets. Then, whenever I have an idea, wherever I am, I pull out the paper and jot it down or sketch it out. Standing up, paper in my palm or resting on top of the fax machine. I can’t labor over it, the fax confirmation sheet is coming out and I need to head back to my desk. But slowly, gradually, I get one of these:
Two things happened here.
First of all, the previous day, I managed to break my website, LittleGardenComics Dot-Com. As of this writing, it is still out of commission. It was a fortunate accident; I had just completed a short story on the site and was about to begin a new story. I was not really thrilled by what I had come up with for the new story so destroying the website saved me from the embarrassment of posting bad work.
Secondly, I had just come across cartoonist Richard Stevens‘ new Tumblr blog project: JoeBidenFanClub.com. Tumblr is a frenetic blogging system in which information is passed around more than it is consolidated. Images are usually seen at a fairly small size and so what Stevens has done is post smaller, self-contained single panel gags that feel more natural within the Tumblr ecosystem.
Stevens’ normal daily webcomic will look a little something like this:
So, to provide an overview, the strips vary in size and layout, but fit snugly on your computer screen.
But with his Tumblr blog, you get a more uniform output. The comics posted there are smaller, and seem to be created just to be tossed into the ever-flowing stream of material uploaded to the service. See:
Richard Stevens is one of my very favorite cartoonists. What I like about his work is the singularity of his vision. Extraneous elements are stripped away leaving a kernel of distilled personal vision, completely distinguishable from the work of others–even others who work in his pixel-art style.
Stepping aside, Stevens has done a spin-off of Diesel Sweeties before. Check out LOLBOTS:
He has also produced a couple of years’ worth of daily newspaper strips:
Stevens’ work appears to be limitlessly expandable or reducible according to whatever his formatting concerns may be. He could probably put his comics on cave walls if that ever came back into style.
Richard Stevens’ work reminds me of the best qualities of young James Kochalka; simple on the surface, highly reproducible, sometimes imitated, never successfully duplicated. Even within the range that either cartoonist has set for himself, a good deal of variety and experimentation with the form takes place. Consistency of vision and execution makes Kochalka or Stevens very versatile and able to create different versions of that vision for different outlets. Which is really fun to see.
But another day for that!
So I accidentally blew up my webcomic (kaboom), and I looked at what Stevens had started to do with his Tumblr blog and I said “me too.” So my work doodle above became:
And I did the same for my other work doodles that day:
Again, these are made in between doing actual job-stuff at my office. I went home and turned them into:
These single panel comics (or “cartoons,” if you don’t like to think of non-sequential arts as “comics) serve a pretty vital function. First of all, they allow my hand to keep moving. I tend to prefer long comics; multiple pages, multiple scenes and so on. But allowing a space for smaller, less expansive ideas frees up my mind and lets me get in some exercise. My lifestyle requires that I have a set comics schedule. Sometimes I sit down at the appropriate comics-making time and don’t have it in me to work on a full length comic project. Or sometimes, the full length project isn’t at the right stage of development to work on the final art. Allowing myself an outlet to toss off brief…almost disposable work gives me the opportunity to clear out my mental inventory, get my daily drawing in and keeps my skills sharp for when it does become time to work on those big pages.
Sketch ’em up, throw them on the Tumblr and away we go.