Why I'd Make a Bad Cartoonist

By | Tuesday, October 26, 2021 Leave a Comment
When I was in my early teens, I wanted to draw comic books for a living. I set that goal aside as I got into my later teens and twenties for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was a lack of artistic talent. I could draw kind-of-okay but hardly well enough or fast enough to be able to make a living at it. From time to time, though, I'll draw a cartoon into some project or another because I can't find something more appropriate fast enough. And because my scratchings are at least a little better than stick figures, someone -- pretty much always someone who doesn't know anything about cartooning -- inevitably recommends that I should be a cartoonist. I generally dismiss it with a "I'm not good enough to make a living at it" response which, while true, I've come to realize would only be part of my problem.

Yesterday, I responded to an article about how Americans aren't generally given an option for a 1/3 pound hamburger because most people think that's smaller than a 1/4 pound hamburger. Whenever a restaurant has tried serving a 1/3 pound burger -- having to charge more because it's more meat -- sales are absymal. Not because people don't want more meat but because they think they'd be getting less meat for a higher price. I made a quip on Twitter about how Americans' stupidity was actually helping curb the obesity epidemic.

Which I was immediately called out for as being fatphobic.

My intention was simply to comment on Americans' general lack of intelligence and, by implication, our school system. But my wording unintentionally tied intelligence to obesity in a way that promotes a stereotype about overweight people being stupid. It wa a mistake on my part because I overlooked that connection; it's not really a stereotype I've ever believed so it was never really a consideration one way or another for me. I ran into a similar disconnect about a political cartoon back in July where I had missed the cartoonist's intended message because I was kind of oblivious to the stereotypes he was playing with.

I've talked before about how cartoonists need to be experts in symbols. They need to know what iconography they can use to capture an idea or set of ideas quickly. A large part of the reason Ben Garrison's cartoons are routinely mocked is because he reguarly misuses symbols, sometimes so badly that they wind up spelling out a message completely opposite of what he's trying to convey. (See right.) And that is only evident because he labels everything and spends paragraphs explaining his intentions.

And that's another reason why I couldn't be a cartoonist. I've had too many examples where I caused offense where none was intended specifically because I didn't know or understand what were apparently common symbols or ideas. Could I learn them? Well, sure, some of them. But for whatever reason, a lot of them don't click or don't register at any level, so while I can make a point to avoid "fat people are stupid" references in the future, I'd most likely walk headfirst into some other stereotype I don't understand.

All the more reason that I have an inordinate amount of respect for professional cartoonists!
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