A New Yorker Cartoonist Demonstrates How to Draw a City

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[soft music]

Hello. My name is Jeremy Nguyen

and I’m a new Yorker cartoonist.

Today we’re talking about how to draw a city.

I moved to Bushwick in 2011

and started drawing this comic strip

called Stranger than Bushwick.

I never really thought about what drawing a city

or a neighborhood was like

until I started doing these cartoons.

I personally think that a city

is way more than its buildings,

you can draw it’s people

and if you’re still drawing the city,

capturing the details of like

the city has certain traffic lights

or the city has certain bushes and plants in it.

I think that’s almost more important.

So why don’t we look at some specific examples

of how to drive a city.

I love this cartoon.

I think it’s one of the weirder ones I’ve done.

This is a sword swallowing cartoon

where there’s a guy in the store

swallowing a sword

and the clerks are at the counter saying

This guy comes in all the time,

spends hours putting swords in his mouth,

and never buys anything.

Tell me about like how you sort of

built this space.

I feel like I really couldn’t sell you

on the location of this place

without putting a ton of swords.

[laughs]

A ton of daggers in it.

Even the doormat has a sword insignia on it.

I’m curious how often when you’re drawing cartoons,

you turn to like YouTube and Google images?

I look at reference all the time.

I love the jet, obviously Google images.

Sometimes if you look up

like a sword swallower on Google,

they’ll show you like doc images

but then go on Pinterest,

they’ll show you like an actual sword swallower

who has a blog and an Instagram account.

You could go back and forth.

Do you want the Halloween costume version of something?

Or do you want to go as authentic as you can?

Sword swallowers are kind of just rare to see

and you might think you have one in your head

but what does the sword swallower even wear?

What is the posture of sword swallowing?

Having these arms raised up was actually a challenge.

As I was drawing the sword swallower

and wondering about what he wore.

I thought about what if a sword swallower

had no shirt on?

That seemed a little too bizarre

to put into a cartoon.

So at least I gave him a little vest

that yes, allowed him to still show off his abs

but he was still technically wearing clothes

as he’s out and about shopping.

Then I drew some pants on him

and when I got down to his feet

I decided this guy,

Is not gonna have any shoes on.

[laughs]

So I want to talk about this other cartoon.

That’s sort of like the crasher

of people inside dining.

The caption is

That table is yours

once that party decides to move to the suburbs.

This is such a complicated

sort of like Renaissance scene

almost with all like movement across it.

How would you suggest someone go about

starting to try to draw something like that?

You wanna stage the characters,

reading it like a book like left to right.

So you have this setup on the left side

and then you have this punchline

on the right side.

So of course I have these couple coming in

and that begins this whole narrative

and then they look out

into the sea of what tables can they take?

It is a complicated affair

to balance this many characters

in the cartoon as well.

I wanted to make sure that there was a rambunctious,

crazy, Asian child

’cause that’s basically how I was as a child.

I think one of my favorite characters is this angry waiter

who has to deal with this all the time.

So that’s why he’s like scowling.

Then this hostess I mean, she’s just fantastic.

She’s got the best fashion

and this is like the first time

I employed gray tones for a cartoon.

And it was definitely necessary

just to delineate what’s in the foreground,

what’s the middle ground.

What I like to do when I have a lot of characters

is to use depth to draw the viewer’s eye

where you want it to go.

Most of your cartoon will be taking place

in the middle ground

and for today I am drawing a restaurant tent.

All these restaurants

in New York have these tents

that are being put up in the parking lanes.

In the foreground I have some people drawn.

What’s great about the foreground elements

is that they can help create a sense of depth

by having something close to camera like this.

In the background,

you can employ something called

atmospheric perspective

to not have to draw that much.

That could be the background is just a few lines.

And I’m going to employ a lot of grey tones

to create an environment

where we’re looking past the dog walker

and the bicyclist,

into the subjects in the middle ground.

And in this particular scene there’s this couple

having a drink having a little bit of wine.

And one of them says,

It’s missing the notes of car exhaust,

cigarette smoke, and sewage steam that I’m used to.

I really loved the minutia of everyday life,

the mundane of everyday life.

That’s where I feel like I thrive

so for this time to be like so weird

and so strange already

And so surrealistic.

In real life, it’s hard to transfer that surrealism

into a cartoon.

But you did make a very surreal version.

Do you wanna describe it?

Yes. So we have two characters

who are wearing masks.

They notice that there’s a whole crowd of people

wearing masks that are made of different pastries

and different breads.

And they say,

everyone’s baking and sewing again.

You grapple with something here too

that a lot of the cartoonists

have been having trouble with, which is

the construction of a New Yorker cartoon

there’s usually one person speaking

and the types caption is what they are saying,

but now it feels almost irresponsible.

I think for people to draw

especially outside in a crowd,

like anyone without a mask on.

Yeah.

And so this guy is being a little bit of an ass hole

like pulling up his mask to make this clip

That was the only solution I could think of

for someone to be indicating that they’re talking.

So for this bread mask cartoon,

I knew that I was going to be drawing

a lot of people

and I love drawing crowds.

People are just so much more fun to draw

than a park background.

I don’t always wanna draw a sidewalk or buildings.

Of course I wanted to draw

all kinds of different pastries and buns.

That was the entire joke for me.

Then I drew these characters in the background

who had to be commenting on the scene of course.

I filled in one character,

the speaking characters shirt black,

so that your eye is drawn towards him right away.

After I drew out all the characters in the scene

and the backgrounds,

then I go in and add a great tone to the back,

to sort of give this some sort of framing device

as well as a composition.

And I always liked to frame the speaking characters

in the white,

they sort of break the horizon line

and then I just add text and there you go.

Everyone’s baking and sewing again.

One of the things I love about this cartoon

is just how viscerally and tasting it is.

It’s the rare cartoon that really makes you

suddenly like smell a croissant.

[laughs]

Yeah, that croissant.

I don’t think I’ve drawn a better croissant than that.

[upbeat music]

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