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Friday, November 18, 2011

The Weird Chameleon


I dug into the archives tonight and found this odd cartoon. This was done in the early 80s, back before I really understood how to create a gag. At that time most of my ideas were more weird than funny. A chameleon doing inventory on his fly snacks would qualify as pretty weird, especially since it's not really related to the actual word play about his eyes. One thing I've learned is you can't have two funny ideas going at the same time within a panel cartoon, conflicting with each other and diluting the focus of the humor. Most cartoonist's minds are racing with crazy ideas, so it takes a lot of discipline to filter all that down into one solid gag that makes sense. It took me years to figure this out, and I'm still learning.

I believe my fascination with the single-panel cartoon rather than strip cartoons is in the challenge of fine-tuning a single moment, with all the information, staging and story telling frozen in time perfectly. You can't set the stage a minute before the event takes place, or the momentum is compromised, a minute later and the message is confusing. It's like dialing in a radio signal for clarity. You need to give just enough information, but not all, in order to engage the reader's imagination. A gag is working when the audience is part of the process, when their mind completes the riddle; give them too much information and they might feel you're talking down to them. Anyway, I think I've figured out how to do it, but I still struggle with each one. I suppose I always will, the proof is in the trash can I fill with rejected jokes every week, and the occasional clunker I post right here on this blog. Your comments help me a lot in that area, so thanks again for that. -Ted

Oh yeah; as an art director I'm known for being quite a stickler about having the correct ellipses in artwork. So it amuses me greatly to see the jar lid I drew on the desk top in this cartoon. It's so wrong it's ridiculous.

17 comments:

  1. you has such a cute signature back then! what happened??
    I totally overlooked the flies part. So you are right with the 2 ideas in 1 gag.

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  2. As artists we constantly strive to improve on what we are doing..so when we take a look back it is easy to see it as bad...I actually think this cartoon IS funny because chameleons do move their eyes separately and is very capable of keeping 'one' eye on 'this'..it IS related IMO and I can't see how else you could have done it...

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  3. Ted, it is so awesome that you are so willing to teach in many of your posts. I too missed the flies, but totally got the 'eye' gag. I love hearing that you are still learning too! I am trying to learn how to thumbnail my dilution of thoughts down to the most essential elements...and force a different perspective, which is hard - like those stupid ellipses. Much of what you say/teach sticks with me while I draw. Thank you for that.

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  4. "...dilution of thoughts down to the most essential elements..." *what the hell????* Talk about 2 gags in one trick.

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  5. Hey, Ted! If you remember a while back I mentioned how sometimes I view your comics by switching up the order in which I view them - sometimes the title first, sometimes the image. In this case I looked at the image first and was quite confused. I literally thought...this is quite unusual for Ted, but after reading your text, I understood why. Yes, I too, didn't get the gag, and I actually thought the chameleon was drawing/scratching on his desk because that seemed like the main read. But I LOVE what you said about single image storytelling. It's why I'd rather come up with one shot vignettes than entire sequences just like yourself.

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  6. Sorry, forgot to say this but THANK YOU for sharing your early work. I'm sure as most artists, I feel a bit apprehensive about showing early or less impressive work but it's really cool to be reminded that talent is a skill that must be cultivated as any other and this old gag definitely highlights the level of mastery you have achieved within this specific medium. And if you're like most artists, I'm willing to bet you're not done growing and perfecting your practice :)

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  7. So this begs a question.... Is there such a thing as an UNweird chameleon?

    Hehehe, I got it. Then again, the mere thought of a giant chameleon in a nice suit is funny. You have the art of capturing humor in a single panel cartoon down to a science.

    Definitely.

    Your comment about the jar lid was hysterical! Have a great weekend!

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  8. Hey Ted,
    Oh but I so love the idea of a chameleon taking fly snack inventory on his desk (actually, just the notion of "fly snacks" has me chuckling). That aside, I agree with all you wrote...I think good art, in any form, is that delicate balance between too much and too little. You articulate it all so well.
    P.S. From now on, you can be sure I'll be keeping an eye on my elipses ;)

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  9. You artwork always makes me chuckle and I like weird. A very informative post thankyou.

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  10. Great comments and much appreciated. What an interesting read. Helps us to understand what's goin' in that noggin of yours - "He must be a genius Harriet . . . he must be."

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  11. Oh yea, changed my looks a little. Got rid of the creepy clown . . .

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  12. The creepy pirate is definitely an upgrade.

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  13. Dear Ted, thanks for the post! It is a really important, fundamental information and takes time to realize it, how two/more ideas in one scene just 'extinguish the fire'. I like the gag!

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  14. How wodnerful, thanks Ted for sharing your wisdom here, its very generous of you! I love wierd so I am quite taken with that little chameleon :-)
    Ill keep a closer eye on my elipses! I know I am lazy with my drawing, time to stop that! Ive been told this but its funny, reading your post makes it more real / meaningful to me... rienforces the importance.
    As always, thanks for sharing your cartoon with us.

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  15. As one who routinely errs on the side of muchness, I could learn a lot from this post... though I'm not aiming for gags per se, part of my plan in committing to Oddments was to force myself to simplify. It's *very* much against my nature, but worth the effort!
    Even I can see that each of the chameleon gags would work better on its own. Most elucidating. Still, what's not to like about a chameleon accountant!?
    And also, the wonky ellipse thing. HOW do they sneak in so easily when you're drawing yet leap out so glaringly obvious when you look back later? One of life's mysteries.

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  16. You created this in the early 80s eh? Wow. I probably didn't exist when this single-panel cartoon was born. Most of my favorite comic strips (yours included) are single-paneled and like you say a lot of brainstorming has to happen to achieve a successful joke. Perhaps I should try this as well some day, when I think of a good joke. I'd imagine it would be difficult to muster up a good joke all the time.

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  17. I could never do this. The older I get the more I fill the paper with ink of miniature worlds detached or unfazed by the main character. Very interesting perspective.

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