Learn to Draw Cartoons with the (now public domain) ‘Famous Artist Cartoon Course’ Textbook
I publish a lot of my drawings in various formats (gig posters, web comics, Tumblr, etc) and sometimes they catch people’s attention. When I’m lucky enough to have a fan of my work reach out to talk to me, the same question often comes up — “How did you learn to draw cartoons?”
My response used to involve just spouting off some story about reading Calvin & Hobbes when I was a kid and doodling in the margins of my notebook throughout high school. I might add how I’d gone through a couple “How-To Draw” kid’s books that, in a single step, went from constructing Fred Flintstone out of can-shapes to filling in his final details.
These experiences certainly factored into my development as ‘a dude who draws cartoons’, but my stories were never very informative for people looking to become better cartoonists themselves. I was basically just saying, “Well, I drew a lot growing up.”
Fortunately, a couple years ago I found a resource that has given me something infinitely more interesting and useful to say:
“I learned to draw cartoons from a bunch of old white dudes.”
And that is the truth.
The old-white-dude resource I’m talking about is this old textbook, Famous Artists Cartoon Course, that the dude(s) at Punch and Brodie scanned every page of and uploaded to the internet for anyone to download.
Here are a few quick excerpts:
The book, published originally in the 1950s, has apparently fallen into the public domain, and now is totally free.
So what is the Famous Artists Cartoon Course? Imagine Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but written by a dozen of the most successful commercial artists of the 1950s about the skills you need to cut it as a professional cartoonist. It is 18 chapters, 390 pages, on 8.5×11″ paper. There is approximately a 70:30 ratio of space taken up by text versus pictures (it’s a legit textbook).
I was working at a copy shop, killing time by surfing the Internet, when I first found the Famous Artists Cartoon Course pages online. Naturally, I after-hours printed and coil-bound that bad boy. You should have seen me, giddily rifling through those pages, having “Oh shit—that’s how you do that” moments with every new paragraph.
My drawing skills improved immensely by the time I flipped the back cover.
The FACC was constructed as a chapter-based series of course work. Each chapter ends with a homework assignment requiring the reader to make use of the techniques they just learned. Back in the day, folks could complete a chapter’s homework assignment and mail it (via horse-riding postman) to the cartoonists to review, grade, and send back with their comments.
The book has had a huge impact on my development as a cartoonist. And now, it is the best recommendation that I can give to any nerds out there who are interested in amping up their skills and learn to draw the right way.
The dude(s) at the ComiCrazys blog still have the chapter PDFs available for download, but the permalink structure on their site has gotten a bit effed up lately. To avoid confusion, I’ll hook you up with the links you should hit if you want to download the Famous Artist Cartoon Course.
I have personally compiled all of these chapters into a single PDF, but I want to get in touch with the ComiCrazys dude(s) before I set up a download link for folks to grab it. Until then, grit your teeth and endure the tedious chore of clicking multiple download links and then self-compiling a bunch of PDFs into a single file.
I hope these prove as useful for you as they have been for me.
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