How to be a Cartoonist by Hank Ketcham

How to be a Cartoonist cartooning job career professional draw cartoons Hank KetchamBrowsing around the various cartooning blogs, I stumbled across this delightful gem: A two-page article called, "How to be a Cartoonist" by Hank Ketcham. Thanks to Doug Gray at The Greatest Ape for finding this and posting it on his cool blog.

Click on either of the images to jump to the article on Doug's site. The images you'll find there are excellent high-resolution scans taken from a 1959 issue of the Dennis the Menace comic book.

How to Draw Cartoons be a Cartoonist cartooning job career professional hi-res comic book scansHis advice to would-be cartoonists is unsentimentally realistic, and inspiring at the same time.
"Many readers ask me how to become cartoonists.
I can tell them in one word -- practice.
That answer may seem too simple,
but basically it is the main answer."
Hank Ketcham then goes on to briefly recap the all the hard work and perseverence on his long road to success. He then closes with this:
"Sound like hard work?
Not if you love to draw --
and that is the first requirement.
Then all your practice will not be work,
but fun.

"You will get many rejections
and discouragements.
But if you love to draw,
and practice all you can,
chances are you will make the grade.

"At least you'll have fun trying!"

Hank Ketcham's drawings have been a huge inspiration to me ever since I rediscovered them in the 1980's. Ketcham is one of those geniuses of cartooning whose work is so ubiquitous, it's all-too-easy to take him for granted. Maybe it was Jaime Hernandez who turned my eyes back to Hank Ketcham's work. Jaime would often cite Ketcham and Dan DeCarlo as big influences.

I was lucky enough to meet Hank Ketcham in 1990-or-thereabouts, when his autobiography, "The Merchant of Dennis" was published.

Dennis the Menace Hank Ketcham book autobiography

I was working as a B. Dalton bookstore manager at the time, and he was signing promotional posters at the American Booksellers Convention at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Of course I was miserable working in the bookstore, and I was spending my spare time creating comic strips and sending them to all the newspaper syndicates hoping for "the big break." The last thing I expected to see at this all-work-no-play trade convention was one of my biggest inspirations!

Hank Ketcham cartoonist

After waiting in line for what seemed like hours, I finally met the man himself: Hank Ketcham. Literally shaking, I told him about my dreams of becoming a professional cartoonist. Of course he was very encouraging and next to his signature on the poster I got, he wrote the words, "Keep it up!" I'm pleased to say that I did keep it up, and I finally got my first full-time cartooning gig a few years later.

By the way: A new, long-anticipated book about the magazine cartoons of Hank Ketcham has finally been published by Fantagraphics Books. It's called Where's Dennis? The Magazine Cartoon Art of Hank Ketcham.

Where's Dennis the Menace early cartoons by cartoonist Hank KetchamIt is almost indescribably great. I always felt that the artwork in the first couple years of the Dennis the Menace daily comic strip was much less inspired than the beautifully quick and graceful pen lines of the late-fifties, sixties and seventies. So I wasn't expecting to be blown away by Ketcham's pre-Dennis work. Boy, was I wrong.

I was totally blown away by the artwork in this book. "Where's Dennis" has jumped right up to my short list of favorite cartoon books, along with Harvey Kurtzman's "Hey Look" and the Roy Crane collection from Luna Press, "Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy."

I wish I could find more images from the book to post, but trust me when I tell you that this 200-page book is filled with some of the most delicious cartooning you will ever see. Some of it's even in color! It totally bridges the gap between "sophisticated" magazine cartooning of the post-war "slicks" and the more conservative newspaper comic strip work that followed.

Thanks to Shane Glines and Alex Chun and Fantagraphics Books and the Ketcham estate for making this happen!

P.S.: There's a nice review of Where's Dennis? at the Comics Reporter.

PPS: All about Hank Ketcham's assistant/comic book ghost artist, cartoonist Al Wiseman.

1 comment:

Jay said...

What some people can do with a crowquill!

I've never understood how that guy could string together all those antiseptic lines to form living, breathing people. With dots for eyes, no less.

Things which are killing me in the Tunnel of Love drawing:

1) The pleats on that one girl's skirt...well, every inch of both girls, actually.
2) The ear on the foreground guy with the skimmer hat.
3) The "whoops, I forgot to compose my image" blue streaks which rein in the mess just enough to to keep an editor from rejecting it outright.

"All right, Ketcham, I'll let you slide...this time."