PvP throws down the gauntlet in the “iPads do not make good cartoons” argument

As pointed out by reader Drezz Rodriguez, Scott Kurtz has been very rapid in responding to the allegations that Steve Jobs has ruined cartooning. From his blog:

Is the whole world going nuts lately? Cartooning is over 100 years old and it’s going to survive shifts in technology and business models. I think that the digital revolution has made cartoonists a little soft. yes the web has made it easier to distribute comics to a mass audience. But the art of cartooning is still really hard. It’s still a decade worth of drawing and writing and self-examining every day to start to become good at it.

I’m sorry it’s hard. I’m sorry that Television sets are now flatter and harder to represent. But your JOB as a cartoonist is to represent and reflect the times in which you as an artist live. That’s the basic tenant of the art form. There are a lot of cartoonists out there whining about how the world is making it impossible for them to be successful. It’s getting laughable.

I actually think that the cartoon misses the point a little, since Pappalardo’s original post talked about how all technology, no matter what the application, starts to look like flat rectangles, and the phone that Scott drew is obviously not a flat rectangle.

But there you go: Scott Kurtz is going with the “Evolve or Die” argument.


Posted on September 22, 2011, in The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.

  1. Which I thought was quite strange. Given that Pappalardo acknowledged that the streamlining of technology is just another challenge for cartoonists to overcome, I can only imagine Kurtz neglected to either read the entirety of the article, or is in the habit of constructing strawmen.

    • Like a crack fiend on a pipe.

    • If the point is a canary you’re trying to catch, then you are a deep sea diver.

    • Wait, you didn’t get that hand-crank telephones are more modern than communicating by smoke signals? Alexander Bell destroyed cartooning, and it will never recover.

      • Which would have been “clever”* if that what Pappalardo was trying to say. It wasn’t. It wasn’t that a slam about technologies being weird and newfangled and oh no I am a caveman that is scared and frightened. It was how new technologies are starting to become visually indistinct.

        * – Quotation marks added since I’m sure PvP has used this joke at least 50 times already. I’m almost certain that there was a Galileo comic he made some time ago which was basically the same thing.

        • While I agree that technological devices are becoming visually indistinguishable, the gestures that people employ to use them are not. They may be changing, but talking to someone vocally is still different than sending a text message.

          Actually, I’m more interested in how visual storytellers are going to depict the increasingly non verbal communication people are engaging in. For instance, the new BBC Sherlock Holmes mini series had an interesting and very apt visual device for showing text messages. They wrote it in because they believed that Holmes would be someone who preferred text over calling.

          I do have to agree with Kurtz that it’s preemptive to start engraving the tombstone, it’s just a problem of representation, which can be worked with some creative visual thinking. There are bigger issues in representation happening cartooning and illustration, like the contemporary aesthetic of using 3D development tools and hyper slick renderings, as well as a culture of wonderfully uncontained pastiche.

        • Perhaps I am giving Kurtz too much credit, but his comic and commentary seem to have hit the exact point that Pappalardo overlooked. Pappalardo considered technology in a void, and his point only functions in this artificial framework. Kurtz brought the human element back into the discussion. In drawing a scene where a family is watching TV, one is drawing MORE than just the TV. Yes, the look of the TV helps us know it is a TV, but the behavior of people interacting with it that is more important (and that is what allows us to understand science fiction gadgets at a glance). Thus, while the physical clues that it is a TV might change (gone are the antenna/smoke signals), the behavioral clues remain. It doesn’t matter that gadgets are looking more and more similar, humans interact with the different gadgets in a similarly different manner, and thus Pappalardo laments something that only exists in abstract.

  2. I was a bit baffled by those last couple of paragraphs as well. His incoherent argument against my incoherent argument was completely incoherent!

  3. I think what Scott was implying is that it’s not really much of a challenge to be overcome for people who know how to draw. But I could be wrong.

  4. I honestly couldn’t tell if Mr. Pappalardo’s article was legitimate or a poor attempt at trolling. A comment on his own blog stated “Your examples here remind me of people on infomercials who try to make things like chopping vegetables with a knife look way more difficult than they really are.”, I find that comment to be very accurate. All the visual examples he provided were poorly thought up and executed, particularly the phone/i-phone and newspaper/ipad/e-reader “gags”. I can’t think of a single person (including my technologically illiterate father) who would not have recognized both objects (iphone/ipad) IMMEDIATELY. The entire article smacks of a petulant child, when faced with their own inability to draw and communicate an idea visually, starts blaming anything and everything to take attention away from themselves. As far as Mr. Kurtz’s rebuttal and comic go, the rebuttal made its point with a star trek analogy that I think worked quite well. The comic is also quite clear in its message, the idea that Alexander Graham Bell ruined comics by inventing the phone, is just as ridiculous as the idea that Steve Jobs ruined comics by inventing the iphone.

    • What I gathered from that part of Tom Pappalardo’s article was something roughly like this:

      When you picture someone reading the news, you picture them with a newspaper. If reading a book, with a book on their hands. If watching a movie, sitting in front of a TV(VCR/DVD/Blu-Ray player varies by taste).

      Now you have the iPad/iPhone that does all of that(and more), and you depict a person doing any of these in pretty much the same way(iPad in hands). It’s not that you cannot recognize an iPad, it’s that it’s not obvious what’s being done when an iPad is in the scene.

      To me, Kurtz’s comic missed the point in that both of the activities depicted fail to include a person. The complaining text in the second panel makes little sense, even as parody.

      It is funny in how hyperbolic it is, still. 🙂

  5. Going in a completely different direction: isn’t a flat-screen TV actually easier to depict than an old CTR? Just wondering…

    • I think his main point was that flat screens and framed pictures are indistinguishable when you’re working in a format where images are static. I don’t think this is too much of an issue, since you can vary the image from one frame to another and, oh, it’s a TV. I also think it could be a great set-up, where something in the background looks like a photograph from an initial view, but then, whoa! You smack the reader with the surprise reveal that they’re watching TV.

      OK … so it’s not the most surprising revelation the way I put it, but I sure most comic writers out there can use this premise and make it work.

      • You can also draw the buttons under the screen. As far as I know, flat-screens still have buttons(but I could be wrong, all the TVs in my house are still CRTs). And then there’s the fact that it’s quite weird for people to sit down in front of a picture and watch. Unless it’s a museum.

        Now, sooner or later someone will come and argue something about digital picture frames that store multiple pictures and display them as a slide presentation. 😛

        • The Samsungs that we have at home hides the one button that’s on the screen — the power button — by making it a small indentation that’s the same color as the rest of the “frame.” So it sorta does look like a picture frame. Come see!

          No buttons. Not that there aren’t workarounds, like you said. You could probably leave the TV stand in for the purposes of visual narrative.

  6. “But your JOB as a cartoonist is to represent and reflect the times in which you as an artist live.”

    Unless, of course, your comic takes place in,say, Fairyland or the 18th century or a completely made-up world of talking animal people. Then your job as a cartoonist is to represent and reflect the times in Fairyland or the 18th century or that completely made-up world of talking animal people and to tell interesting stories about characters living in those times.

    But half of one, six dozen of the other, I guess…


    • No way, man. Webcomics MUST be pure, objective journalism, with no silly flights of fantasy,UNDER PENALTY OF LAW. This is why 90% of all webcomics must be mind-bogglingly* boring gamer comics about two antisocial people sitting on a couch complaining about videogames.

      It is strange how many webcomic artists happen to be half-human, half-animal hybrids. After all, if it were not so, then they would all be dragged away by the REALISM POLICE.

      You know, looking back at this post, I realize that I have nothing of interest to say. Nevertheless, this being the internet, I shall post it anyway.

      *Actually, they can’t be “mind-bogglingly” boring, as “mind boggling” is by nature a fascinating activity.

    • I don’t know, I’m of the opinion that you represent the time you live in no matter what kind of story you make. For instance, a nuclear bomb apocalypse is classic 1950s science fiction. People make stories that interest them, and by some crazy emergent system we all seem to be interested in the trappings, issues, worries and hopes of our time. Even with talking animals.

  7. Doesn’t compare to a good John K. rant and the folllowing animator free-for-all.
    Those are always a fun read.

  8. Wait, wasn’t that article supposed to be funny? Admittedly I was too lazy to read the non-picture parts of it, but I thought it was supposed to be tongue in cheek. Regardless I think it probably doesn’t merit such a sarcastic response from Mr. Kurtz. He’s inventing a controversy where there really isn’t one… so some guy doesn’t like drawing iPads and makes a silly article about it, does the iPad-drawing crowd really need to respond?

    Admittedly I don’t like Kurtz and I typically side against him by default, but I do agree with him on the point that cartoonists must rise to the challenges that their medium presents.

  9. There are many possible ques that can be used to represent the action done:
    1) sound effects
    2) action lines
    3) facial expression and posture of the characters
    4) special speech bubbles and mini panels
    5) hand gestures
    6) annotations

  10. I have a feeling there’s something bigger eating at Scott, hence the quick response. I’m not going to put words in the guy’s mouth, but he’s been talking for a long time about how cartoonists spend more time bitching about everything impedes their abilities instead of just putting pen to paper and coming up with a solution by using your brain meat. Tom’s post was the catalyst for the rant.

    Attaboy, Pappalardo. Way to take one for the team. haha

  11. Ok so I am not an “artist” I can’t draw but I still wanted to make a web comic because well….I’m just that geeky. Because of my lack of ability I use a program to do most of my “drawing” and then I just tell my jokes. I am not trying to compare myself to real artists but I did create a comic awhile back where the main character is watching TV. In the entire strip the TV is never actually shown and out all the people who read the comic, no one complained then didn’t understand what was happening in the scene.

  12. Look, I spent six bloody months with my artist trying to get him to STOP drawing flatscreen televisions and Italian leather sofas in my comics due to the nature of the location (small village in the FATA of Pakistan?) so I’ve had it up to here with flatscreen tellys.

    I’m joking but difficult or no the conception, drawing and placement of inanimate objects is a controversial issue.

  13. Agree with kurtz. I also think his cartoon is appropriate. It’s about how without the smoke signals we wont be able to tell he’s communicating. IE, without the giant pages of the newspaper we wont be able to tell he’s reading a newspaper. But the whole argument is silly. Like Kurtz says, you’re a cartoonist. Learn to communicate what you’re trying to say and stop bitching.

  14. Yeah, this seems like another example of:

    PERSON A: “My argument is A.”
    PERSON B: “Did you perchance mean to say that your argument was B? Because that would be completely and obviously ludicrous! Allow me to create a comic mocking all who believe argument B. Now don’t you feel silly?”

  15. I’m a web designer, illustrator, and writer and app designer as well. Right now is by far the best time for me, I can create everything in Photoshop, upload it to my website one panel at a time, and distribute it as HTML5 apps (as most mag apps are since iOs is lousy with JS and Flash) all on my own schedule. I can see how some folks are worried, but I’m really excited.

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