Saturday, July 03, 2010

It's in the Details

Most of the joy in reading a T.S. Sullivant cartoon comes from looking at the art – an obvious observation. That said, he doesn’t draw a pretty picture and then slap a caption on. For example, look at the cartoon above (you can click on it for a larger image). If I were told to read a cartoon based on the pun “raising cain”, I would feel more than a little doubtful about the cartoon’s potential to be funny. And one wouldn’t think that the best art in the world would be able to compensate. In fact, a beautiful drawing juxtaposed with a mediocre concept seems a little odd. If you had a broken-down car that wasn't even close to being in driving condition, giving it an expensive coat of paint wouldn’t be seen as the best solution. And the higher the quality of the paint, the more quizzical the looks you'd receive. That isn’t a perfect analogy for describing the relation of words and images in a comic or cartoon, but what I’m trying to get at is that it would seem that the more effort you expend on illustrating a mediocre pun, the more of a mixed result you’d get.

But here Sullivant is successful, finding potential in the pun by exploring the two principal characters. We need no guidepost to identify who is who. Cain is drawn as a prehistoric caveman, while Abel is drawn in such a way where you almost feel like he’s a character who has wandered from a painting of a Greek or Roman myth, dressed in ivy instead of a hide, sitting erect with a crown of roses perched upon gently coiffed hair. We see other characteristics of the two contrasted: the arrangement of the coins, choice of tobacco product, even the feet –

Abel’s relaxed, lounging foot next to Cain’s tense big toe, suggesting, along with Cain’s smoldering glare, the violence that we know is soon to follow.

And my favorite details are their furniture – Cain only has a single boulder that he slouches on, while Abel sits with perfect posture on top of deftly arranged rocks that make a stool.

Sullivant describes characters not just with lines, but he also makes creative choices about the physical details of his characters and their possessions. Here he crams – but without crowding – his cartoon with rich details that build on the caption, and allow you to chuckle without embarrassment at the pun “raising cain.”


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home