When people find out I make comics, a common response is: “I could never do that—all I can draw is stick figures!”
There’s often an assumption that a cartoonist is a great draftsperson. And there are indeed some very ornate, beautiful comics. But comics are about selling the story, not necessarily the art. Whereas a painter selling work in a gallery might spend days, weeks, months, even years on one image, if every cartoonist did that for every panel, there would be far fewer cartoons in this world.
Think of it this way--the last time you read Garfield, For Better or For Worse, a political cartoon, or any other comic, did you stare at just the art? More than likely, you read each strip or page in about a minute or less. If it takes you longer, that might be because an image was confusing and it took you a minute just to figure it out—or maybe you couldn’t figure it out at all and just skipped it, confused and thrown out of the story.
It’s legibility in the image that counts.
So cartoons often become streamlined—even shorthand—images. With a few strokes of the pen, a legible image is created. The art of a comic serves the story, and if it gets too busy, it can be distracting. When someone reads one of my comics, I’m anxious to hear what they think. If they enjoyed the art, I’m glad, but if they didn’t understand the story, I feel like I lost the battle no matter how much they enjoyed the art.
In this way, advertising is like cartooning. Using good imagery and design is great, but if they overpower the ad, either the message can get lost or the audience will find it easier to skip—or both.
Do you read the ads you get every week in the mail? How about the ones that put too many products too close together in a sea of images and text? The product photos could be wonderful, and they could be just what I’m looking to purchase, but it’s hard to care when it’s hard to read.
Simplicity, white space, and keeping to the point can be helpful in both cartooning and advertising. Keeping the product attractive and legible is important.
Think about packaging. Have you ever purchased an Apple product? Their packaging, whether it holds earbuds or the latest computer, is clean design. Sans serif typeface or a single logo centered against a solid background creates an elegant design that is fun to open because it doesn’t distract you from what’s inside.
Now think of any PC product’s packaging. Very often, there are a number of logos, images, and lines of text that can be distracting as you open it up to get what’s inside.
Of course, it’s what’s inside the packaging that helps keep people coming back to your brand, but clean, legible design can help sell your brand and start a good relationship with a customer.
Never let only being able to draw stick figures stand in the way of doing a comic if you want to make a comic. Just make the action and emotions clear, and anyone will be able to read it. And likewise in advertising, don’t be afraid of white space, simplicity, and keeping to the point.