Editorial drawings, whether in cartoon or illustrative format are always a challenge. Editors give me a precis of the story. They rarely or never tell me what to do, likewise I never interfere in their writing;-)
After studying the story, imagination flies..hovering everywhere; if I swat a few, one surely lands in my coffee.
The buzz of spinning visual elements last for a few minutes, then bingo!
Thumbnails first doodled in the mind now dance on paper. Hours later size comes in from sub-editors. The playing field is only a few centimeters square yet vast when empty. I kept saying to myself- no worries mate, she'll be right mate, a bit of hard yakka and Bob's your uncle. More than 20 years of this kind of work taught me to avoid visual cliches. Readers remember images like pachiderms and they know recycled old design if they spot one. Even as concepts are as old as marriage and divorce, a new design and composition certainly shall refresh the air while still considering social taboos and abiding to journalistic ethics. It is a marriage of form and content, divorced from stereotypes.
The dimension of the drawing is important, orientation-wise. There are only 2 anyway, portrait and landscape. Square is safe but restricts design (including circles) which work well with design of logos. Now that's a different story.
Anxiety starts my motor running, pumping images from thin air into my brain as I turn on the electric aircompressor. If penciled rough looks good enough I then mask it, cut the outline using a swiveling scalpel knife which can roll down from the inclined drawing table and might draw blood on the floor if your foot is unprotected.
The brand of ink I'm using is fast becoming a Torana or an Edsel, orphaned by a new breed of artists who are getting comfy with their Wacom pads and Modbooks. They don't know what they're missing. Manual airbrushing couldn't be duplicated by any computer paint program. Just like any high-tech Porsche or Ferrari model, the thing started with a humble medium..clay!
Drawing for "real" newspapers began for me in Manila in 1977 when out of the blue the idea hit me. I thought then it's time to impress friends! I will have a drawing printed in the newspapers! Damn it! Ah been waitin' for too long! I was determined as hell! Why? Because I pine for student newspaper work. I miss my friends. In the latter years of the 60's while John Lennon was experimenting with lsd, we experimented on radical student journalism. But the Marcos dictatorship cannot and will never tolerate us. Our classrooms were often raided by paramilitary forces eager to capture the nerdy types with the hammer and sickle tattooed on their foreheads, young and stupid idiots of the academe who have been writing awful things about the power of their civility.
Before I was free to lampoon crooked politicians and despotic college registrars in our college paper. During martial law everyone disappeared, either one became a desperado or a desaparecido. I chose the former. I was desperate for youthful social acceptance I earned by doing what I love to do. I lost my readers, no sensible college paper existed critical of the government. I had no creative outlet for the demons inside me!
I took the lift straight up the editor's office, avoiding the eyes of editorial and art staff. I knew it's the only way to skip bureaucracy. Anyway it's the rule, if you're desperate for something, go straight to the big boss.
-Mr. Rodriguez, how come there are only a few comic strip by Filipinos in your newspaper? It's sad because you call yourself the Philippine Bulletin Today. The editor was silent for awhile.
-Well there's Tisoy and Baltic & Co isn't it? Did you think we need more Filipino strips on our comic page?
-Yes Mr. Rodriguez sir, that's why I have here some comic strips I'd like you to look at.
On June 25th 1977, exactly on my birthday my first comic strip entitled SIC was published and it ran for 3 years even if I were already in Australia. In between I did editorial cartoons for other newspapers like the Philippine Daily and Evening Express and animation work with the late Nonoy Marcelo. Later on I drifted to serious editorial cartooning and got busy for Australian newspapers and Asia-Pacific magazines and still is.
Image 1: Caught Between Religions (Sydney Morning Herald op-editorial)
Image 2: Drought illustration was part of my exhibit at the National Museum of Australia (right click here)