The Secrets Of Professional Cartooning By Ken Muse

by antigob

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Growing up, all I wanted to be was a cartoonist. My passion was fuelled by regular doses of Rolf’s Cartoon Time, 2000AD and a worn VHS copy of the Comic Book Confidential. Then I found The Secrets Of Professional Cartooning in the town library and it was quickly added to the list of books I kept on constant renewal, taking its place alongside The UFO Casebook and a big oversized book on science fiction films from the seventies. I had never heard of Ken Muse, and here he was, not just telling me How To Be A Cartoonist (By Peter Maddocks, very good), but revealing the very secrets of the trade: untold info that only the pros were privy to. Excelsior!

Over the course of 300 pages of hand-inked text and drawings, Ken covers everything from what eraser you should use, pen nibs and ink, to why a proper cartoonist would never pick up a marker. It might be light on copy, but it more than makes up with the oodles of practical advice on composition, structure and technique. How do you maintain consistency in scale? How do you know when to stop inking? What’s the best way to use zip tone (that classic comic book dot pattern), so it doesn’t become a grey mass after reduction? All these questions are answered in Ken’s frank and breezy tone.

But drawing a strip is only one part of the process. Ken shows you how to come up with ideas, sell your work and interviews a whole bunch of classic strip creators about the kind of paper and pens they use. It might sound geeky, but if you’re starting to draw a strip it’s the kind of skinny you crave.  

All this ripe, yet fat-free knowledge is drawn from Ken’s considerable experience. From 1964 to 1970 he drew the irreverent and surreal, Wayout! comic strip (nationally syndicated across the States), until he gave it up ‘to have a life’. Ken also worked in advertising, animation, TV and taught commercial art and photography. He died in 2010. You won’t find much about Ken on the internet, aside from his obituary and a lot of people from Detroit sharing their memories. His wife was a piano teacher, and it seems a good number of her students were more interested in taking a look at Ken’s studio than learning scales. Apparently, Ken was more than willing to show them around, and the general impression I have of him is that he was a pretty great guy.

My interest in this book was sparked by my son who’s just recently caught the cartooning bug, and after five or so minutes on Amazon I managed to track down a copy for him, and one for me too as I’m pretty sure I’m no longer a member of my hometown library. I remember as a kid, the whole book had a real sixties vibe to it because of Ken’s strips, his technique and his interviews with cartoonist’s such as Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey), and Milton Caniff (Steve Canyon). But I was surprised to learn The Secrets Of Professional Cartooning was actually published in 1981. If you’re into comics, especially three-panel comic strips, and you find a copy, then snap it because it’s the mother lode of insider insight.

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