Adventures in Cartooning: Characters in Action! (First Second)

The latest in this series of kid-friendly art education books offers up adventure as well as instruction.



64 pgs., color; $9.99
(W / A: James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, Alexis Frederick-Frost)
There are lots of books out there designed to teach kids (and adults) how to draw cartoons, but the Adventures in Cartooning series from the Center for Cartoon Studies offers something different: funny, empowering advice about cartooning embedded within a story that demonstrates how to apply that advice. In Characters in Action!, the story is about a knight and his horse who happen upon a cast of evil characters planning to storm a castle, except that the whole thing is really a movie set lorded over by a temperamental beatnik director whose megaphone is almost as big as he is.
Of course, everyone wants to be in the film, from the a fair maiden to a hag witch to a pair of constantly morphing blobs named Jones (father and son), which gives the authors plenty of opportunity to present different types of characters and comment on how the way they are drawn signals to the reader what they represent (for a seven-year-old witch: “Big head, small body—you have it all.” “And I have a cute button nose.”). There’s also some pure goofiness of the kind kids enjoy (Characters in Action! Is recommended for grades 1-5 and ages 6-10), including combination creatures like a cock-a-doodle cheese doodle, a peanut butter and jelly fish, and an eleph-ant, and plenty of magic spells gone awry that produce unexpected results that are fun and silly.
The constant message in Characters in Action! is that anyone can draw cartoons, and that the way to do so is just to grab a pencil and get on with it. The book does offer specific advice about how to create and differentiate among characters through means such as costumes, body language, body proportions, and facial expressions, but the basic message is just to start wherever you are, talent- and skill-wise, and go from there. This is a great message, especially for people (not just kids) who are intimidated by the finished work of their favorite artists and writers, without realizing that everyone has to start somewhere.
Adventures in Cartooning: Characters in Action! is definitely aimed at kids, but may be useful to any beginner who is open to its goofy humor and simple drawing style. You can see a preview here.  | Sarah Boslaugh

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