Bushmiller: First and Foremost

“The gag itself comes first and is the more difficult than the drawing part of cartooning.”     -Ernie Bushmiller, cartoonist of Nancy


“Before the cartoonist puts pen to board, before the cartoonist puts pencil to notebook, before the cartoonist does anything fruitful with the pulp based product or any sort of pointed object, the cartoonist must first think. The ability to regularly generate useful concepts is at the core of the creative practice.”

“According to Bushmiller confidant and fellow comic strip artist Morris Weiss: “Ernie would go into a trance and he would be completely oblivious to everything around him…Most of his time was consumed with coming up with ideas…His whole life was coming up with gags.”

-from How to Read Nancy: The Elements of Comics in Three Easy Panels by Paul Karasik and Mark Newgarden, Fantagraphics Books, 2017

0.jpeg          09_bushmiller_shelfportraitandnancy-1.jpeg


The Four Directions of Illustration

When I assign a project to my beginning students, it’s not uncommon for them to take a narrative approach. That’s not surprising, because narrative images are as old as cave paintings. When we think of illustration actually, we most often think of pictures by artists like Norman Rockwell, Dr. Seuss or Beatrix Potter -all narrative illustrators. They drew scenes and stories.

But there are four ways to approaching an illustration:  Narrative, Decorative, Informative and Conceptual and the sooner students realize that, the sooner they broaden their horizons, extend the possibilities, and increase their opportunites for success.

Using Moby Dick book covers as examples, the Four Directions of Illustration are shown. 


Narrative: emphasis on storytelling, like a still from a movie




Decorative: emphasis on surface design, adornment

  Tumblr_m83eywwbae1rcz60vo1_400Cover_mobydickMoby Dick



Informative: emphasis on facts (maps, diagrams, settings, examples)




Conceptual: emphasis on idea (over reality) using content, form or both, constructed images

Images  1964mobydick_cover3_web


What distinguishes the directions is emphasis. All of these cover illustrations use effective and appropriate concepts, but each illustrator has pushed his or her illustration in a certain direction: Narrative, Decorative, Informative or Conceptual. (Many illustrations not seen here, are a mix of these directions with one direction dominating.)