Technique: Cartooning: Spotlight on Christopher Hart

13 Feb 2007

by Edith Zimmerman

0609hart1_581x615
From Hart’s Cartooning
series (Watson-Guptill Publications,
New York, New York).

Anyone interested in the techniques of cartooning has probably heard of Christopher Hart. His instructional books have been read and reread by millions of both young and adult artists and have been translated into 17 languages, earning the cartoonist international renown. Earlier in his career, Hart wrote for NBC prime-time television shows, 20th Century Fox, MGM, and Paramount Pictures; and he worked on the staff of the world-famous Blondie comic strip, contributed regularly to MAD magazine, and wrote and illustrated several children’s books. He is best known, however, for his various instructional cartooning series, including Manga Mania, Kids Draw, Xtreme Art, and Drawing Cutting Edge Comics.

Hart has been cartooning professionally since the age of 17, when he drew storyboards and designed characters for commercials that aired in Southern California, where he grew up. He then attended the California Institute of Arts, in Valencia, and New York University before embarking on a long and lively career in art and entertainment.

Like all artists, Hart likes “to be compelled to draw by the material. I prefer subject matter that has either an attitude or a strong emotional core that drives the technique.
My favorite things to draw are very flat, graphic cartoons and what may seem their polar opposite: heroic and somewhat whimsical fantasy illustrations. I also admire crime noir for its gripping depiction of bleakness and emptiness, represented in the typical antihero, who is a more complex and tragic figure than the typical vanilla hero character.”

0609hart3_839x765
From the cover of Hart’s
Drawing Faeries: A Believer’s Guide
(Watson-Guptill Publications,
New York, New York).

Hart believes there are two kinds of two-dimensional artists: “Either line people or color people,” he says, meaning that they create art predominantly with either line or color. “If you pick up a pencil, you’re a line person. If you pick up a pastel or a paint brush, well—you can probably guess.” He defines himself as a line person and regards color as a secondary element. “Painters who define forms in color amaze me,” he says. Although he occasionally uses markers to color preliminary studies, he usually relies on computers to incorporate color into his work but pays very close attention to the nuances of those colors. “Each genre has a signature color style that is easily recognized by its target audience,” Hart explains. “The colors of fantasy, for example, are strikingly different from the colors of, say, an animated TV show. If you get them wrong, you will alienate your audience.”

When planning the compositions of his cartoons, Hart keeps three major concepts in mind, each of which can resonate with artists in other genres:

Concept No. 1: “Continually make the reader feel comfortable with the image. In other words, give the reader the space he or she needs so that nothing in the composition feels cramped or unplanned, as if you ran out of space. Always redraw until it looks natural.”

Concept No. Two: “Make things tense where they’re supposed to feel tense. Whether it’s chemistry between a guy and a girl, a confrontation between two enemies, or a heroic rescue, positioning is everything. The thermometer has to rise. And here is where you must make the reader uncomfortable.”

0609hart4_809x748
All artwork this article
from Hart’s Drawing Faeries
series (Watson-Guptill Publications,
New York, New York) unless
otherwise indicated.

Concept No. Three: “Always direct the reader’s eye where you want it to go. It’s your picture--you’re the director. There has to be a center of focus and something that leads the viewer there.”

Cartooning, like all other artistic genres, requires certain skills, both traditional and nontraditional. “Cartoonists must possess certain areas of knowledge,” says Hart, “but it’s different for each field of cartooning. Many humorous cartoonists, for instance, are self-taught. But figure drawing from life, perspective training, studying design, and color theory all help. It also helps to take a film class to understand the different angles from which to stage a panel. But, in particular, it helps to write; unlike a painting, a cartoon is usually meant to convey a humorous idea. There may be a caption, or it may be in a graphic novel, or it may be in a children’s book that the cartoonist plans to write and illustrate.”

For beginner cartoonists, Hart recommends constant practice—through books, study, and observation—but also encourages artists to submit work before it’s perfected. “Try to get published early on,” he says on his website. “Sure, you’ll get rejection slips, but you’ll also get comments from professionals on how to improve your work so that it will be acceptable. Plus, you’ll make contacts and might even sell something. Make multiple submissions, but don’t wait to hear back. Keep working on your next improved batch of submissions. If you want something, you’ve got to go out and get it.”

0609hart5_748x876_1 0609hart6_608x774
0609hart2_489x600
From Hart’s Cartooning series
(Watson-Guptill Publications,
New York, New York).

Among his favorite artists, Hart lists Vincent van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, Franz Klein, and Norman Rockwell—“Rockwell not so much because of his drawings, which are great, but because of his social commentary,” the artist says. “He made social statements, especially with his pro-desegregation paintings.” Hart also admires African art as well as Neo-Classical artists, whose work he describes as giving the viewer “a looking glass into heaven.”

Over the past few years, Hart’s best-selling books have earned him the New Jersey Library Association’s Garden State Teen Book Award and the CNE Seal of Excellence from the Children of the New Earth online magazine. In addition, the Young Adult Library Services Association selected two of his books for their 2003 Quick Picks for Young Adults and one of his books for their 2004 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults reading list.

Hart’s new instructional Manga-, cartoon-, and comic-drawing kits, which were released earlier this year and featured in the Sketchbook section of the summer 2006 issue of Drawing, come with art materials and guides on how to draw in various popular cartoon styles.

Visit Christopher Hart’s website to purchase his books or art kits.

About the Artist
Christopher Hart, a California native, studied art at both the California Institute of Arts, in Valencia, and at New York University. Earlier in his career, he wrote for various television shows and film companies. During a Writers' Guild strike, however, he refocused on his first love--cartooning--by joining the staff of the Blondie comic strip and contributing regularly to MAD magazine. Impressed by his work, Watson-Guptill Publications, in New York City, approached Hart about making a book on how to draw cartoons. His subsequent best-selling instructional cartooning books have sold millions of copies, won numerous awards, and been translated into 17 languages.

Edith Zimmerman is the editorial assistant of American Artist.


Related Posts
+ Add a comment