Fantasy! Cartooning by Ben Caldwell

Fantasy! Cartooning by Ben Caldwell

Caldwell, Ben. Fantasy! Cartooning. Union Square Kids, 2005. ISBN 978-1402716126 96 pp. $


Former Marvel cartoonist Caldwell delivers just the right mix of instruction, basics and background for creating memorable characters in comic book style. Heroes and villains, peasants and aristocrats, fey folk, monsters and dragons are easily reproducible following Caldwell’s encouraging notes and sketches that go from rudimentary lines to smiling and snarling characters.

Not as step-by-step as Ames or Emberly, this book assumes you have some understanding already of proportion and musculature, and is recommended for the novice, but not complete beginner, cartoonist. Most illustrations are completed in just three steps:

  1. Stick figurish outline
  2. Fleshed out body
  3. Features and clothing/weaponry detail

The first pages on human-like characters focus more on basics, such as face-shapes and muscles. The first page on animals offers the basic animal face, and variations on that theme. Throughout, Caldwell illustrates how tweaking a few details, such as eyebrows, can make a character more sinister, and provides examples of how features differ depending on age (for example, shortened sleeves can make a teen seem gangly, while larger knuckles and exposed tendons make a hand look aged) or disposition (smiley wrinkles versus angry wrinkles, rounded edges for heroes and angles for villains).

Once the reader has mastered horses and humans, elements can be combined to make a centaur. And, along the way, the author gives readers a feel for the characters they are creating by providing a succinct overview of the fantasy genre and it’s accoutrements, and incorporating Greek, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon and Asian mythology–just enough to whet the appetite and encourage further investigation.

An index makes it easy to turn to a favorite character, and the list of recommended reading is diverse in scope and format. A list of recommended fantasy artists to check out is a nice touch. A website URL at the end of the book promises more lessons, downloadable backgrounds, and chapters on weapons and environments, but it was not up and running at the time of this review. Hopefully by the pub date (August 2005) the domain will be registered and available.

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