Liza Donnelly is a cartoonist for the New Yorker. In this article, which is an output from some preparatory work for a talk she’s preparing, she talks about how the best cartoons work.
I’ve had the privilege of working with Bryan Mathers over the last decade and it really is a fascinating process. In fact, he’s just delivered a bunch of artwork for the work we’re doing around Open Recognition. Check it out here!
Story is everywhere. In single panel cartoons, they have to be kept in one image. It’s tricky and challenging and I love it. I like to say that a single panel cartoon is like a mini stage. The artist is a set designer, choreographer, script writer, costume designer, casting director. Each element in the drawing needs to be necessary for the idea, no more, no less; there are exceptions of course. Some creators are known for a style that is overly detailed and complicated, and that is part of the voice of the artist and contributes to the story. The image is a moment in time, and you have to feel that there is time before the moment you see, and a continuation after that moment. And the characters are well “described” in the execution.
Bottom line: story in the best New Yorker cartoons tell us a story about the characters that are in the drawing, and about ourselves. This is why we love them so much—they are fun, entertaining and are about us.