How to Draw Stupid and Other Essentials of Cartooning by Kyle Baker is one of the more entertaining how-to books I’ve read this summer. The somewhat thin volume (clocking in at 111 pages) is really well written — if a little thin on practical tips and guides to actual cartooning techniques. I mean well written in the sense that it’s an enjoyable read, even if you don’t learn a thing from it. Baker is just funny, especially in his cartooning, but even in the straight-ahead text portions of the book.
The book is broken up into 14 chapters that range from the inspirational ("Do A Cartoon!" and "Never Have a ‘Plan B’") to the practical ("Use Reference Material" and "Escape the Hand of Death!") but many of them are more philosphical in approach. Baker has a philosophy of cartooning which is pretty well reflected in the title of the book. His chapter titles flesh out how to draw stupid: "Keep It Simple", "Make It Funny", "Be Iconic" and of course, "Get Stupid!".
Here’s a promotional video based on the chapter "Get Stupid!" — it’s a pretty good representation of the tone of the book:
So it’s not the most earth-shattering and insightful advice. Kind of obvious in a lot of ways. So this book isn’t really the first or even the second how-to book an aspiring cartoonist should buy, but like I said it is a really fun read. And it does do a couple of things really well. It’s inspirational — Baker wants you to stop worrying and learn to love making cartoons. I don’t think he’s really anti-intellectual (although he takes a couple swipes at satire as unfunny "smart" humor) but he’s clearly interested in getting you to loosen up a bit and well… make funny cartoons. You know — let your inner moron out for a walk, or a crawl or whatever. There are always moments of frustration in the creative process — this is a book to help shake yourself out of a funk.
Second, Baker is giving you a pretty good bit of insight into how he approaches humor and making a cartoon. He is an important artist and creator in comics and it is interesting to get a flavor of what he thinks is important in that process. Along that line I really thought the absolute most interesting part of the book was in the chapter called "Write a Story" in a section of pages titled "Make Your Characters Act" where Baker walks through a really well-constructed series of panels that absolutely stuns in how nicely he presents a really ordinary gag about bad cooking.
Note: The publisher provided a free copy to ComixTalk for review purposes.