Thursday, February 4, 2010

Artist Profile: Dave McDonald

Optimism and encouragement are two words that seem to fit Dave McDonald well. The creator of Hamster Sam, Dave spends a good portion of his cartooning time in schools, libraries, museums and other places where he can work with kids to help them be creative about making their own stories. Dave was one of the featured artists at last year's mini-con and he will be returning to this year's event. In addition, Dave will be doing one of his workshops at the Union West Library the week before the mini-con!
I asked Dave a few questions about how he became a cartoonist, and what the future holds for him:

1. How long have you been drawing and what did you start drawing?
Every cartoonist says that they began drawing at a very young age, and I’m no different. I remember spreading out the comics section of the newspaper onto the kitchen table as a 3rd grader, and trying my best to draw Snoopy, Charlie Brown and “Peter” from Johnny Hart’s B.C. strip. Johnny Hart was a “local” cartoonist where I grew up in upstate New York; though I never did get to meet him. I remember doing a report on cartooning in the 5th grade; and though my art was merely typical of any other 5th grader- I’ll never forget the high praise and compliments that my teacher- Mrs. Freed, bestowed upon me. Teachers do leave a lasting impression!

2. What art did you do before Hamster Sam?
Since I’m a relative ‘newcomer’ to the cartoon art scene, I need to put it in “reverse” here and give you a little background. I studied film and television in school and worked professionally as a TV producer/director/writer for years, and eventually moved into theme park entertainment as a writer (those Scooby Doo stage shows at Carowinds!) and also a designer/builder of puppets and character costumes. I also toured as a puppeteer with the wonderful Grey Seal Puppets of Charlotte. Drawing was a part of each of these endeavors; whether it was creating storyboards for television or character design drawings for puppets and mascots. So, to get to your question (finally!) most of the art I created in the past was more “behind the scenes”-type drawings; used in the process of creating other forms of entertainment and media. In recent years, I have created illustrations for clients such as children’s museums and other educational organizations & publishers.

3. How did you settle on or discover your style?
Everyone has his or her own unique style, which is achieved through a process of combining natural talent with practice. I am still learning and growing and developing my style, which some describe as “cartoony” (is that a word?) or “quirky”, and seems to appeal mostly to younger audiences. It also reflects the style of comics that I enjoy writing and creating- cartoony, quirky “humorous” stories for young readers. When I teach how to make comics in schools, I emphasize to the students- and they agree- that it would be pretty boring if every artist had the exact same style. This is meant to encourage every young person to draw and make comics; no matter what their style!

4. Besides drawing, what else has made you an effective cartoonist?
Excellent question! My experience as a television director has really helped me in terms of creating comics. If you think about it, making a comic is very similar to directing an animated movie, except that instead of the constant movement of characters, you are choosing to select key “frames” or panels to illustrate and indicate the action of a scene. In that regard, you are a comic book “director”; choosing whether to draw a “wide shot” or a “close up” of a scene…choosing which elements to place in the background…what props are needed for the story, from which direction is the light coming from- that sort of thing. It was a comfortable transition from television to comics. Plus, in comics your characters don’t get fussy and tired and whiney and…you get the picture.

5. How far will Hamster Sam go and what other projects are on the table?
Another great question- do you know Barbara Walters? (Ha!)I recently finished up a 16-page mini comic for an educational publisher as part of a Test Preparation Kit they are selling to elementary and middle school districts. The comic, “Big Test Survival Island”, addresses important test taking skills that help students perform better on those scary end-of-year state tests. The book is themed like the Survivor TV show, and features my little explorer characters “Louise & Clark”- the Palmetto tribe- pitted against the ever-so-ditzy Varmint brothers, Claude and Clyde- the “Idunno tribe”. It was a fun project to create, and I feel that when you can make students laugh, they tend to remember the material better. Case in point: (sing it with me everyone) “Conjunction junction, what’s your function?...Connecting words, and phrases and clauses”)
Hamster Sam is one of a handful of characters slated to appear in my new book project starring “Vincent van Doodle”, a fifth grade cartoonist. I am really excited about this new series, which will be produced in a whole new digest format with a more affordable price point. I hope to have the first book completed by this fall. I should have some more to share about Vincent van Doodle at the mini-con!

6. Best job ever? Worst? Where were these jobs?
Best job ever? My current job! It combines the creativity of storytelling with characters that come from my imagination. When combined with the joy that I get from school visits and talking to young readers- what job could be better?

Worst job? I’ve never had a bad job, really, but I’ve had some interesting jobs. Strawberry picker (m-m-m, fringe benefits!), my brother and I were professional magicians as young teens- doves, fire, Dad ran the sound system- the whole works. In college, I got a kick out of the fact that I worked at Burger King, and my nametag read “McDonald”! A summer job at IBM had me toting around parts headed for the space shuttle and Trident nuclear submarines. Yikes, what were they thinking?!

7. Best convention moment? Scariest? Biggest disappointment?
Since I’m fairly new to the comics convention scene, I really can’t share a ‘best’ or ‘scariest’ moment yet. Talk to me after New York Comic Con; if I’m fortunate enough to get a table. I will say that to this point- the thing I enjoy the most at a convention, is when I see kids and families. Comics started out for kids, and it’s coming back for them now with more and more books being created for kids. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not opposed to the comics made for the “big kids”- adults need an escape too; but to see a kid with a comic in their hands and a big smile on their face reminds me of when I was a kid, running up to my room with a brand new comic book in my hands! Nothing smelled sweeter than freshly inked newsprint paper!

8. Favorite artist you've met?
Again, pretty new to this arena- but any talented artist with a genuinely nice personality would qualify to be a favorite of mine. Here’s a few kids-comic artists I admire: Marcus Hamilton (Dennis the Menace), Jimmy Gownley (Amelia Rules), Harold Buchholz (Wild Lion and co-founder “Kids Love Comics”), Ray Friesen (Pirate Penguin vs. Ninja Chicken), Scott Christian Sava (The Dreamland Chronicles), Rich Faber (RobyRed) & John Gallagher (Buzzboy). These guys love what they do, they are incredibly gifted, and they are enjoyable to be around.

9. Thing you most often tell kids at workshops or shows.
Easy. I tell them that You CAN draw a character, you CAN write a story and You CAN make comics! Even if that character is a simple circle with eyes…it can become a grape; and a grape comes from a bunch of grapes…and a bunch is like a big family…and we all come from families…and all families have stories. So with that little circle character, you CAN make a comic!
What I try to impress upon kids is that making good comics is about making good stories; stories that readers can relate to- and less about who can draw the best biceps. Bottom line- your drawing will improve with practice; so don’t let it stop you from making comics.

10. Favorite book? Cartoon show as a kid? Cartoon show now? Comic book or strip?
Whoa! I could have a field day here. I don’t normally like to admit to liking anything that a teacher forced me to read; but I must say that I rather enjoyed “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. Beyond that, I will revert to the leisure-time entertainment that became a part of me forever. Animated cartoons and humorous TV shows really had the most influence on me due to the element of humor. Some of my faves were Rocky & Bullwinkle (anything by Jay Ward), Bugs Bunny, the campy goodness of Batman, The Muppet Show, Johnny Quest (I liked suspense too!), and though not a TV show or book; I think I wore out a few needles on the record player with the comedy albums of Bill Cosby, Spike Jones and Stan Freberg! As far as comics go; anything based on animated cartoons obviously; plus anything humorous- the Harvey line, Archie comics, Donald Duck, MAD magazine and a then a few of the Marvel titles such as Fantastic Four, Spiderman and the Hulk. Comics from the newspaper would include Peanuts, B.C. and Beetle Bailey. I can’t believe that I’m so old that Garfield came out after my childhood, but that would make my list too! In terms of cartoon art, the cartoonist that floored me with his brushwork is one that I did not discover until later in life- ‘Pogo’ artist Walt Kelly. Incredible!

You can find links to Dave McDonald and Hamster Sam over to the left under the recommended links.

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