Monday, September 23, 2019

Step by Step #2 - Writing and drawing a cartoon series

Another step-by-step process blog post...This one is an ongoing gig for Ralph Lauren Inc., that started in July. 

RL Polo's director of advertising and social media contacted me in June, wanting to to do a series of cartoons, focused on their Polo-inspired restaurants. (I was aware of the restaurant in NYC, but learned there are also "Polo" establishments in Paris, London and Chicago.)

The Polo Bar in Manhattan: 

I was told that the Polo restaurant in New York is frequented by celebrities, and they wanted to highlight that fact with humor. The goal was to depict some of these well known humans, and to create funny writing and art that fit their character, and the theme of the restaurants.

(A photo from a news article about the Duchess of Sussex/ex 'Suits' actress, dining there 
- provided by RL for background.)

A shot of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, as they dined there, just this week.


RL Inc. felt that I should write and draw concepts only for deceased celebrities. (I get it...and deal with this dynamic often with political and social commentary cartoons. The living are much easier to offend.) However, that is a significant restriction, especially when trying to choose subjects that will get the attention of today's media and social media audiences...more on that later in the post

An added caveat: Ralph Lauren's upper management wondered if I could do the line work in the style of the late, great caricaturist, Al Hirschfeld.

There are challenges and pitfalls of emulating the style of a legend. It is difficult to nail such a distinctive style, for one thing. And then there's the issue of matching his notably brilliant line work. (Of course it can be a fun challenge, too.)

Here's the process outline for the first cartoon, which was a test, or proof of concept for RL - to see if it would "work":

Step 1: I wrote out around ten ideas on a notepad. These were all done with some seed of humor present, but the specifics were very rough. 

Step 2: Editing the ideas and sharpening the humor. I selected what I thought were the funniest four concepts, and emailed those to RL corporate folks in New York.

Surprisingly, they liked all four ideas, (that does not usually happen), and they approved starting the artwork on two of them.

Step 3: I started with a sketched concept featuring Elvis and Marilyn Monroe...

Step 5: The sketch was passed around their management and with a positive response, I went forward with finished artwork in "ink" on my Wacom Cintiq.


Step 6: I added or "spotted" areas of black ink for contrast and to lead the viewers' eyes to Marilyn. The text was simplified and shading was rendered.

The finished cartoon as it appears on RL' PB Instagram account: (Note that they later decided Marilyn's comment made it too wordy.)


On this second cartoon, an abbreviated glimpse of the process. I went with a Polo theme concept and a young Paul Newman, Clark Gable and Marlon Brando. 


...But later I decided that it might be fun to have some continuity between cartoons, so I switched Clark Gable for the King. He finally gets a table - as he should.

I made other changes: Redrawing the woman in the left foreground, (giving her less contrast, so as to not draw the reader's eye away from the action. The folks at RL also asked me make her a bit more attractive. I added contrast to the area behind the men. Lastly, I added the RL Polo Bar logo to a window on the right.


Here is another cartoon started, which started as a written idea, and just approved to go forward. The freshly created sketch below features Michael Jordan (see, I did manage to sneak in a live person - though not naming him, and that is the trick) joining the lively Carol Channing and Clark Gable. (My guess is that most people who are Millennials and younger would only recognize the tall guy.)

The initial cartoons received a positive response in their various ads and social media platforms, and RL's management wants to go forward with more. We'll see how it goes over the next several months. 

One thing is nearly certain...I think that I will soon run out of deceased celebrities who are recognizable to today's audiences, and that I will need to talk them into subtly and tastefully depicting some more people with a pulse.