After three episodes of Cartoonist 2 Cartoonist, where Emanuele Del Rosso and I analyze submitted cartoons and give (hopefully) constructive feedback, I think we can identify some general points that seem to apply to most, if not all, cartoons. If you are looking to improve your work, we do recommend you take a look at one or more of the episodes, but in this article we list some general tips and tricks that will help you make your cartoons better. To illustrate, we are using some of the cartoons we discussed in the episodes.
1) Make a good scan
This tip only applies if you are working on paper and scanning in your work as a digital image file, either as a finished cartoon, or to apply color digitally. The first thing to do, is to make a professional scan, so that you do not immediately see it's a scan of a drawing, like in the example below.
As you can see in the image, the bottom right corner is darker than the top left corner; what you should be aiming for a a solid flat white background. You can achieve this by playing around with the contrast with just basic image editing software. And also be sure to crop the image to remove any black edges that mark the end of the scanned paper. Here you can see them at the top and at the left of the cartoon.
This is the same cartoon with a better contrast. It's not perfect yet (which has to do with the original scanning), but you can see the improvement:
If you do not have access to a good scanner, there are some decent free apps available that will turn your phone into a scanner. And if you don't want to blow your budget on a Photoshop subscription, there are also free programs to edit images.
Remember, the presentation of your work matters. If it looks sloppy, it will go into an editor's trash folder without a second glance. This also goes for digital cartoons, so make sure your cartoons look professional.
2) Think about your lettering
If you use text in your cartoon, there are a number of things to consider. One of the most important questions: do you go for lettering by hand, do you choose a digital font? Both are valid options, but the style of lettering you choose should fit with your style of cartoons. If you draw and color by hand on paper, your best option will probably to letter by hand as well. This cartoon, discussed in our most recent C2C episode, uses a digital font, but both me and Emanuele felt the style of the cartoon would benefit from hand-lettering:
Take a look at the shop names on the awnings for instance; if these would be done by hand, they would look more like a part of the image, instead of a layer that has been added on top.
Other cartoons might actually work better with a digital font. The cartoon below has a style that would work well with a (well-chosen font), that would improve the readability of the text in the speech bubble.
If you choose to use a digital font, choose wisely. There are thousands upon thousands of fonts available, so it's worth taking your time to find something that really works with your style. And please, stay away from Comics Sans or Papyrus... Also make sure you use a font that free to use (in the public domain) or that you purchase the appropriate license.
It's also worth thinking about the amount of text you need and where you place it in the image. In general, you should only use text when it is absolutely necessary for understanding the cartoon, or for providing the punchline. And think about where you position the text; do you want people to read the text first and then look at the image, or do you want people to look at the image first? This also relates to the next tip, where we discuss the way people navigate your image.
3) Is your message clear?
This is probably the most important condition for any cartoon to be successful. Some things to consider:
-Think about the composition, not only aesthetically, but also as the means you have to guide viewer through your cartoon. A cartoons tells a story; think about how you want people to navigate your story. People in the West tend to navigate from left to right, same as reading. People from the Middle East do the exact opposite, so it might be worth considering your target audience when designing the cartoon narrative.
-Think about the elements you have in your image. Do you need them all? If not, scrap the ones that are not necessary, it will make your message clearer. The rule of thumb is that every element you draw needs to contribute to the story that you are telling.
-All the elements that are necessary need to be understandable as well. If your unsure, check with your friends, family or colleagues. Things might make perfect sense in your own head, but that is not a guarantee that the cartoons will be easily understood by everyone.
-Think about how people will journey through your cartoon. Where should they start looking? Where should they end? Make sure your composition and arrangement and size of elements encourages people to navigate the cartoon in this way.
We discussed the cartoon below by Vincente Corpus from Mexico based on these points:
In essence, this is a great cartoon. It shows how the pharmaceutical industry cashes in on the pandemic. But was it immediately clear to you? Ema and I think the scared Uncle Sam is actually the same person as the man behind the till in the bottom panel, but we're not sure. Providing more visual clues (such as still having him ware the red-striped hat) would have been helpful. A different composition could have worked here, with a similar position of Uncle Sam in the top and bottom panel. Also, you have to make an effort to read the text on the costume of the salesman.
We hope some of these tips will help you in your own cartoons. And remember, if you would like the chance to have your work discussed in Cartoon 2 Cartoonist, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org