Patricia Storms is a freelance illustrator and cartoonist residing in Toronto, Canada. She specializes in humorous illustration for both adults and children. Her illustrated blog, BookLust, is a light-hearted labour of love which focuses on her many passions: books, cartoons, art and stuff.
Simon Owens: As someone who enjoys both books and cartoons, do you think it harder to provide in-depth criticism on cartoons? What criteria do you use if you’re going to analyze a particular cartoon (for instance, a political cartoon published in a newspaper)?
Patricia Storms: I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t personally think itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard to provide in-depth criticism of cartoons Ã¢â‚¬â€œ they are basically just another form of art, like painting, music or sculpture. In fact, I find it even more enjoyable critiquing cartoons, because I am assessing two forms of art (writing and drawing) which bond together as one creative element. The difficulty in critiquing cartoons lies in the limitations of those who see cartoons as hack work, or the lowest art form available. I hear that from time to time, but thankfully less often these days, thanks to, in part, the rise in popularity of graphic novels. The respect of graphic novelists is slowly seeping into other forms of cartooning, like comic strips and one-panel magazine gags and humour illustration in general, I think.
The criteria I would use to critique a cartoon, would be first, is it funny? (That is, of course, if the cartoon in question is supposed to be funny. Political cartoons, for example, are not necessarily always supposed to be funny, but if effective, are insightful, and elicit a strong feeling from the reader, be it agreement or anger). If the cartoon is funny, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll also be wondering if it was the most effective way to communicate the humour. Is the humour too obvious? Could the writing (if there is any; remember some cartoons are completely wordless, but of course still communicate ideas) have been pared down some more? I find that the more terse the writing, the better the cartoon. Is the idea new, fresh, original? A funny cartoon is of little use if itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s something thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been done before, especially if itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been done better. The art for a cartoon is important, too, though the writing, in the end is most important. ThereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s an old saying in the cartoonist world, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Good writing can carry bad art, but good art canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t carry bad writing.Ã¢â‚¬Â I think most people would agree with this, and popular comic strips such as Dilbert and Pearls Before Swine certainly can attest to this adage. WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s important in the drawing of a cartoon (or comic strip, or graphic novel, etc.) is that the drawing style should match with the writing. Heavy, detailed illustrations donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t always work well with certain gags, especially if they are short and snappy. In fact, as I get older, I am less and less drawn to detailed cartoon work. There is a lot to be said for the quick, energetic brush strokes which can really capture an expression or mood.
Simon Owens: How does a freelance cartoonist compare to being a freelance writer? How do you go about getting into the freelance cartoonist business?
Patricia Storms: ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s hard for me to compare, since IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not a freelance writer, but IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll try. In a lot of ways, I think they may be similar. Freelance writers have to pitch ideas to magazines and newspapers before they get the job, and in a sense, this is sort of spec work, I think, since you are presenting an idea (mind you, I assume itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in a rough format at this point) to an editor before you have even been paid. In some situations, cartooning is very similar. I occasionally do magazine gag cartoons (though sadly not as often, since I find it isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t as lucrative as freelance illustration work), and when I do, I send off a batch of already finished cartoons to an editor, with the hope that they will pick up at least one of them. In my mind, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a form of spec work, since I am not guaranteed payment even though IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve done the work. Freelance writers, if they are lucky, can be syndicated, just like cartoonists, and just like cartoonists, if they are lucky, a freelance writer can land a regular gig in a publication. And both jobs, I think, can be very stressful, demeaning, frustrating, heart-crushing….but when you get that amazing job, there are no words on earth to describe the feeling of utter elation. Of course, that feeling never lasts. And then you have to face the blank page once more, as the bill collector is beating down your door.
There is no magic method to Ã¢â‚¬Ëœget startedÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ in this business. Just start. Build up a portfolio, and start pounding the pavement (or these days, the internet). You gotta have a bit of a tough skin, because trust me, there will be plenty of rejection. And the rejection will probably never entirely go away. It takes time to develop a style, as well as to build relationships with art directors, editors and publishers. My career in freelance cartooning and illustration has taken a long time to develop. I started out doing it on the side while I had other full-time jobs when I was in my 20Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s, and I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t graduate to full-time illustration until my late 30Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m 43 now, and things are now just starting to gain momentum (though paranoid person that I am, I firmly believe that it can all disappear in an instant).
Simon Owens: Do you think that blogs and the internet are great ways for unknown artists and cartoonists to get their work seen? Do you have any examples of this happening?
Patricia Storms: I have stressed this over and over again to anyone who will listen to me. You wanna get exposure with your work? Start a blog. Art directors arenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t just looking at portfolio sites these days, they are looking at blogs, too. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve had quite a few illustration (and writing) jobs from my blog. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s really a must, in my opinion.
Simon Owens: What are some of the key differences between drawing for children books and drawing for other forms of media–like greeting cards and newspapers?
Patricia Storms: Well, your work will be different because you are catering to a different audience. With greeting cards, there is that opportunity to delve into gritty adult humour, which obviously you are not going to be able to do if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re working on a childrenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s book. Same goes for newspaper illustration, which is obviously geared towards adults. Other than that, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pretty much the same in the sense that you are working with an art director, and hopefully coming towards an agreement on the illustrations that need to be created. If you are lucky enough to illustrate a trade childrenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s book (ie, commercial Ã¢â‚¬â€œ it will sell in bookstores) then you will be paid royalties, as opposed to educational childrenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s books, which are work-for-hire (flat payment), since the books will only sell in schools, and thus will have a shorter print run. The same is true for greeting cards. Some companies pay royalties (though there are less and less who do this), but the bigger companies (Hallmark and American Greetings) just pay a flat fee.
Simon Owens: What are some books that are coming out soon that you look foward to the most?
Patricia Storms: IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m really looking forward to reading Jonathan FranzenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s memoir, The Discomfort Zone: A Personal History. Although I tease this author mercilessly in some of my cartoons, I love his writing. He is thoughtful, insightful and so very self-absorbed. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m very intrigued as to why he would choose now to write a personal memoir; people usually do that after theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve lived a bit longer than 40-oddish years. Part of me wonders if itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a way for him to Ã¢â‚¬Ëœset the record straightÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ about all the misunderstandings concerning his numerous personal gaffs over the years. Whatever he writes, though, I know it will be fascinating.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m also looking forward to some new short stories by Alice Munro The View from Castle Rock because this lady is the master of short stories, and I hear that this collection is supposed to be her best, and may sadly be her last, as she has intimated that sheÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s done with writing. I hope thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not true. IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m also looking forward to Margaret AtwoodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s latest collection of short stories Moral Disorder: and Other Stories, because this is another very talented author who is mostly known for her novels, but she can write a damn good short story. This short story collection is her first in 15 years.
And, well, um… IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m looking forward to my own collection of cartoons which will come out February 2008 by Red Rock Press. It will be a ValentineÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s day gift book; just a bit of light-hearted fun, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the first book which I have written and illustrated, so IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m kind of excited about that.
Simon Owens: What are the five blogs you’d recommend to supplement the reading of your own?
Patricia Storms: Oh dear, I hate questions like that, because I always feel bad about leaving certain bloggers out. But hereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a list of some of my fave blogs:
Book Puddle: Vivacious and energetic book-luster like myself. And a Canuck, just like me!
Daily Blague: Extremely erudite blogger with a passion for books, movies and music, from a Manhattan perspective.
Drawn: Excellent illustration and cartooning blog, created by talented cartoonist and designer John Martz, another great Canuck.
Kate’s Book Blog: Very intelligent book blog by talented Toronto writer named Kate.
Magnificent Octopus: A well-read and witty lady named Isabella, hailing from Montreal. Yes, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m really showing my Canuck bias.
Written Inc: A very thoughtful and engaging blog by journalist Carmi Levy, who is based in London, Ontario. Yet another Canuck. Heh.