In the fall of 1930, George “Swan” Swanson wrote and illustrated an illuminating essay on comic exaggeration in cartoons. His pointers succinctly outline his methods and provide insight into the art of over-the-top screwball cartooning. His lessons work as well today as they did 90 years ago.
Chapter 12 in LOAC’s Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny details the life and work of George Swanson. Here, you can compare his own comics with his teaching below to see how well he walked his talk.
The essay below appeared in the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania Record on Monday, October 20, 1930.
A reprint of a second essay on screwball cartooning by George Swanson will run in this space next week.
Illustration by Swan for his 1930 essay on comic exaggeration.
Exaggerations Help Cartoons
by George Swanson
Comics are exaggerations of real life. Therefore, the beginner who hopes to become a capable comic artist someday always should strive for exaggeration of action, expression, and features. Not so much, however, that the drawing appears ridiculous and silly but enough to add to the humor of the drawing.
I shall first discuss exaggeration of features, trying to show how you can add a great deal of humor to a drawing by adding the proper lines. The faces shown above depict, beginning at the top: shocked surprise, anger, laughter, and pain. Observe that, by enlarging the mouth, changing the eyes, and adding perspiration drops how much more emphatic the drawings become.
In the top right drawing are two familiar tricks used by artists. The hair is vertical and the face is striped. The hair is a great aid in creating the illusion of surprised fear, while the striped face depicts a red face. In the whole face, or merely the nose (to depict a red nose) always use slanting lines, not horizontal or vertical ones. Be careful to avoid drawing the lines too close together.
Another point: in a full face view the mouth, to depict surprise or the act of shouting, must be oval while in depicting laughter the mouth is almost flat along the upper lip line.