Hi, I’m Amy Kurzweil,
and I’m going to show you how to draw literary cartoons.
Tell me a few of your own top literary inspirations,
or favorite works of literature.
Such a hard one.
I always feel like a hack writer
because I don’t have an answer to that question.
Like, literally every book I read I’m like, this is great.
I just like books.
I just like everything about books.
Is there a particular reason you think
why you are drawn to drawing cartoons about literature?
I think because being a cartoonist for me
was a bit of a surprise detour in my life.
I always wanted to be a writer.
And then I discovered drawing eases the pain of writing.
That was this revelation
that made my life a lot more pleasant.
Here we have a very erudite, but silly mouse
who is holding a little crumb of a cookie, a madeleine.
And the mouse is thinking,
And suddenly the memory returns.
The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine,
which on Sunday mornings at, dot dot dot.
And the caption of this cartoon is
If you give a mouse a French cookie.
Something that was funny about this cartoon
is so many people don’t understand it.
This cartoon is a mashup
of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past: Swann’s Way,
and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.
What’s the Seinfeld episode
when Elaine confronts the New Yorker cartoon editor
about the joke not making sense,
and he’s like, I liked the cute cat, sue me!
I think that’s exactly
something that I try to keep in mind
is okay, if we’re gonna make a Proust reference,
you gotta get animal in there too.
Have you actually read Proust?
So something that’s funny
is that I actually don’t think I’ve read
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.
But I have read, I have read Proust.
I read Proust in grad school,
and it’s pretty good, like five stars.
So tell me a little bit
about how you go about drawing a character
from literature, and in particular,
a character that’s been drawn
by another illustrator before.
[Amy] All right.
I’m going to ink some characters
from literature with my death grip.
My teacher in kindergarten
tried to get me to hold my pencil not like this,
but I defied good teacherly instruction.
So here we have Proust in bed.
Yeah, he’s got his hair sort of matted to his forehead
’cause he hasn’t gotten out of bed in a while.
For fine line work, I like to use this Copic Multiliner.
I like having two different kinds of tools to work with.
I think it just makes the lines more dynamic.
My wash here is a mix of black and white watercolor.
And I like to use wash to give form to my drawings.
I’m not so concerned about realism,
like where the light is coming from,
but I use wash to create contrast,
and to draw the eye to what I think
is the most important part of the image.
I’m drawing a different literary mouse.
This is Stuart Little from one of the first books
I remember my mom reading to me.
What I know about Stuart Little
is that he’s a New York City mouse,
and he’s human-like.
So obviously, he wears clothes.
If you want something to be cute, just give it big eyes.
And I’ve got this diamond ring here with Stuart for scale.
Lastly, we have a character
we’ve all seen before.
So the question is, how do I make it my own
while making it recognizably a wild thing?
So one way I do that
is by clearly referencing
the Maurice Sendak wild thing
with its basic shape.
So, we’ve got horns,
hairy lion mane, round eyes, toothy smile.
But my version is more simple.
I’ve got less crosshatching than him.
My eyes are a little bigger, a little less teeth.
And I add some anachronistic signature.
In this case, my wild thing
is wearing floaties and going swimming.
And I add this thought,
just in case there’s any confusion about my influence.
So, here we have a bookstore.
And in the window, we have several signs.
The first one invites you at three p.m. to meet the author.
The next sign invites you at 3:10 p.m.
to tweet negative reviews at the author.
The next one invites you at 3:25 p.m.
to meet the author’s disappointed parents.
And at 3:30, you’re invited to meet the author’s spouse
who has raised the author’s children
on a single earner’s salary.
So, you’ve written books.
A graphic memoir, with one more in the works,
and also collaborated with your dad on books.
Is this at all inspired by your experience
out in the world, promoting things you’ve written?
I don’t know why you would think that.
I definitely wrote this cartoon
after my first book came out.
And I do feel like I worked on a book for so long.
You know, it took me like seven or eight years
to write my first book.
I was pretty young as I was working on it.
And all I could think about was getting published.
You know, it was just, and I think this is the condition
of a lot of authors, especially young authors,
where they’re just like, I’m just gonna write a book
and it’s gonna save me.
Like, it’s just gonna deliver me
into all the things I’ve ever wanted.
And you really don’t think about what happens after,
which is like, just life continues.
[gentle piano music]
Books are hard because there are so many of them.
One of the best pieces of comics advice I ever got,
I was trying to draw a brick wall,
and a cartoonist who I admired told me,
Don’t draw every brick.
I’m thinking of these books
more like the outlines of buildings that are far away.
I’m not finishing my lines.
What matters about my bookshelf
is not what it looks like, but what books I have in it.
So I am going to label a few of these books,
not every book, that would take forever.
Next, I’ll use the wash to give some form to this shelf,
shadows around the books.
But I can stay loose with it,
because this is still in the background of the image.
And sticking to my don’t draw every brick lesson,
I’ll just color in a few spines
just to give the sense that the books are different colors.
Next I’m gonna draw a stack of books,
which is something I really hate drawing
because of the perspective challenge.
It helps me to start with the little curve of the spine.
Then from the curves,
I create these receding lines.
One set of lines goes one way,
one set of lines goes another way.
I’ll loosely draw the pages
with some swipes of a fine line pen,
and put these books on a little table.
I’m gonna label just the top book.
This is a book I’m reading now
by Ursula K. Le Guin.
Next, I’ll move to the main figure in the foreground,
using a thicker pen
because this is the subject of the image.
And I’ve got this reading chair.
I think it’s important that your reading chair
is either comfortable, or stylish.
In this case, my chair is neither comfortable nor stylish,
but it is inexpensive.
The thickest book on the bookshelf in my home,
personally I have not read,
but somebody is responsible for this thing’s existence,
and the fact that we have to lug it with us
every time we move.
It’s called On What Matters by Derek Parfit.
And of course, volume two is thicker than volume one.
Definitely can’t fit everything that matters
into one volume.
So we have my partner studiously reading about what matters.
And not pictured is me off scene
drawing cartoons somewhere,
which we all know is what really matters.
So here we have a man
in front of a large roll down slide thing.
And he is presenting, somewhat sadly,
to a group of executives
who are attentively looking at his PowerPoint presentation,
which is titled The Poetry of PowerPoint.
And the label in this cartoon is, Executive MFA.
This is, instead of drawing literary characters here,
you’re drawing sort of pseudo-literary people.
But how do you draw sort of the MFA student type,
the corporate type,
and then how do you combine those two?
So that was sort of a fun challenge.
I mean, so like this guy who’s droning on,
he’s just wearing a regular black suit,
but his tie has got a little bit of this pizazz.
This is in black and white,
but maybe his tie is like yellow and purple.
And then you know, this woman who’s wearing glasses.
She’s got these perfect literary round glasses,
even though she’s wearing like a kind of buttoned up suit.
And then this other woman across the way,
I imagine that she has shocking dyed purply gray hair.
These are buttoned up corporate types,
but they’re longing
for some more soulful, literary experience,
and this is what they get.
You know, I had to hide their literary quirkiness
in these like very small details.
Now I’m gonna be drawing some literary characters,
meaning these are the kind of people
you might meet in your MFA program, or in The Strand.
I think I’ll start with the woman
from my executive MFA cartoon.
I’m gonna draw her how she would prefer to present herself.
She’s got a cool turtleneck.
She’s wearing this distressed skirt.
Kind of halfway between a denim skirt and a plaid skirt.
She’s obviously carrying a tote bag from you know where.
So here I’m using the wash to create contrast
and balance in the image.
The lighter hair balances with the lighter skirt.
Darken up the sneakers to balance the sweater.
This next guy is definitely someone you’d meet
in your short story workshop.
He’s weirdly tall, and skinny.
He’s wearing a pretty plain outfit.
Plain T-shirt, jeans folded up.
He’s got a fauxhawky haircut,
raised eyebrows, glasses, of course.
Experimental facial hair.
He’s got a pencil behind his ear,
and a Moleskin in his pocket.
And he’s making a point.
He has many, many points to make.
Our last character here might be my favorite.
This is potentially the teacher of your poetry workshop.
She’s an older lady.
She’s got fuzzy, long hair.
She’s got this big comfy, flowy sweater,
lots of jewelry, just chunky, drippy jewelry.
She’s got reading glasses
that she actually needs.
She’s got eyes with lots of dramatic eye shadow,
and she’s wearing
just the most comfortable sneakers she’s got.
After years of sitting and writing, she’s got back problems.
So, she really needs to protect her back
with comfortable footwear.