When I was starting out as a cartoonist I checked out pretty much every book about cartooning in the state of Illinois. (Thank you, Interlibrary Loan!) Like any subject, some books were good, some not so good. But a few were so good that I went out and bought them so I’d always have them close at hand.
For those of you not familiar with these 5 classic cartooning books, you’re in for a treat. Admittedly, some are a bit dated, so the information on markets and technology isn’t going to help, but the depth of practical cartooning knowledge they have to share never goes out of style. And if you wanted to buy them all for yourself, you could get a pretty amazing cartooning education for around $47.00 (and most of that is shipping).
So let’s get to it:
The Cartoonist’s Muse by Mischa Richter & Harald Bakken
This is probably my favorite cartooning book about writing gags and I return to it every couple of years. Chapters include Simple Association: Incongruity, Visual Cliches as Idea Sources, and Developing and Polishing Cartoons. It’s aimed mostly at writing gag cartoons instead of strips, but any cartoonist will benefit from its deep analysis of how to generate gags, and how gags work. Do not miss reading this book.
At the time of this writing you can purchase The Cartoonist’s Muse at Amazon for less than $5.00
The Arbor House Book of Cartooning by Mort Gerberg
Gerberg’s book is an embarrassment of cartooning riches. Materials, theory, basic drawing, writing, and layout are all explained deftly and deeply with plenty of concrete examples for clarification. Chapters include What Is a Cartoon?, So How Do You Get Your Ideas, and Putting It All Together: The Whole Picture.
The later material on other genres and markets is probably no longer as useful, but the first half of the book is pure cartooning gold.
At the time of this writing you can purchase The Arbor House Book of Cartooning at Amazon for less than $5.00
Cartoonist’s and Gag Writer’s Handbook by Jack Markow
Much like Gerberg above, the last bits on markets and careers is dated, but the front half of the book is as useful and inspiring today as it was when it was published in 1967. Markow clearly explains different types of gags and, more importantly, how they’re built. Chapters include The Reverse, Ready-Made Captions, and Has It Been Done?
At the time of this writing you can purchase the Cartoonist’s and Gag Writer’s Handbook starting at around $25.00. (Note, there are more recent editions than the one I’ve linked to, but I don’t own those specific editions.)
Jumping Up and Down on the Roof, Throwing Bags of Water on People by Mark Jacobs
With a series of interviews of successful cartoonists (Gross, Handelsman, Kilban, Rodrigues, Savage, & Wilson), Mark Jacobs shares not so much how to be a cartoonist, but what it’s really like. Each artist talks candidly about the art, the business, and life in general. My pal Mike Lynch suggested it to me years ago and was so enthusiastic about it I purchased it online while we talked about it. I’m glad I did, it’s a gem.
At the time of this writing you can purchase Jumping Up and Down on the Roof, Throwing Bags of Water on People at Amazon for less then $7.00.
The Art of Cartooning by Syd Hoff
While some of the drawing tips up front may seem simplistic, ignore it at your own peril. (Plus you have to see how he draws a gangster using only the letters in Chicago!) Hoff expertly demonstrates great expression, figure, composition, and line & shading. And the writing chapter is great too!
At the time of this writing you can purchase The Art of Cartooning at Amazon for less than $5.00.
If that’s not enough for you, some additional titles I don’t own anymore but remember fondly include:
Any cartooning books I’m missing?