Cartooning 101 with Prof. Brunetti: Pt. 3

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Ivan BrunettiThere’s a good chance that, having gone through many years of education, most of us have accrued more than our share of teachers that’d we happily categorize as both ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ I know that’s certainly the case in my own experience.

If I had to find one universal fault in all of my instructors that bridged the gaps between grade and subject, it would be that, for all of their virtues, none actually managed to be Ivan Brunetti. Of course, I firmly believe that their lack of ability to be Ivan Brunetti lies as much, if not more, with their genetic history than anything inherent in their actually teaching style.

After all, there can be but one Ivan Brunetti, and fortunately, we’re lucky enough to have the guy actually return our e-mail requests, which is home we managed to score this syllabus to the artist’s upcoming course for Comic Art Magazine. I hope you’re all taking note.



Sometimes I hear about comics being referred to as a genre. While I can understand the basis of this—since the term genre can be defined very broadly and comics are generally misunderstood by most people—it still makes me cringe.

What I mean by “genre” here is a type of hackneyed story with predetermined elements in predictable combinations. While it is perfectly all right to use genre as a way to “enter”a story if there is no other way to approach a particularly painful or confusing topic or emotion, you should refrain from relying too much on this overly trodden soil.

Another reason I tend to discourage using certain genres such as fantasy or science fiction is that, on a purely practical level, it is sometimes difficult to judge these works. It may be impossible to discern what is actually being drawn in any given panel, but the student can easily retort, “That’s what plants look like on the planet Zoltron X-9” or “That’s a gnome from the Kingdom of Wort; their hands are supposed to look like that.” Sometimes a student can actually pull this sort of thing off, because their work may have something weirdly compelling about it. Generally, though, it is easier when the external referents are somewhat connected to the “consensus reality” most of us share. At the same time, this course can help the student give life to a more internal world, since what is cartooning, ultimately, but a consistent and identifiable system of communicative marks expressing our unique experience of life?

Another problematic genre is the political/editorial cartoon, with its facile and smug symbology, which often seems manipulative and insulting to the reader’s intelligence. The political value of comics (or art in general) is dubious at best, in my opinion. I have always said, “Political cartoons are the ass-end of the artform” (which is admittedly cruel of me). Political cartoons are often too reductive and lacking in nuance or subtlety. Occasionally, some heavy-handed or ham-fisted cartoon causes a great uproar. Well, if one sets out to offend a group of people with an image or cartoon, and one has a large forum, such as a newspaper, the cartoon will probably get a reaction. But I question the value of that. It seems like a little dance: someone draws something purposely to offend another, and then that person gets offended. Yeah, great.

Life and people, I believe, are a lot more complicated than that. It seems that (strictly) political cartoons can have one of two reactions: if you agree, you nod approvingly (but not really laugh), and if you disagree, you mutter something about the cartoonist being “an asshole” (and also not laugh). At best, the aim is to polarize people by relying on extreme viewpoints, and at worst, to pussyfoot around the issues for fear of actually offending somebody. Either way, everything is strictly in black and white terms, with no in-betweens, and I would much rather read a story about full, complex characters going about their lives. I think stories about human beings are still going to address political issues, if they deal with reality at all, but in an implicit rather than explicit (or worse, didactic) manner, thus generously and sympathetically allowing the reader to decide what to think. I guess one can argue that everything is political on some level, but then there really is no need to sledgehammer the reader’s head

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