This week’s cover is by the cartoonist and comics scholar Ivan Brunetti. Brunetti, who’s known for his dark, delightful gag cartoons, fills every inch of his images with details, each of them small, finely wrought, and glinting with humor. We recently talked to the artist about his process, his pet preferences, and his enduring fascination with Charles Schulz.
Are you a cat person or a dog person?
Having spent the past few decades surrounded by cats, I suppose I am a de-facto cat person, although my first pet was a dog, and I actually get along just as well with dogs as I do with cats (maybe better).
My wife and I currently have two cats, and every once in a while she tries to convince me to get a dog, but I think logistically it would be hard to manage such a menagerie. Then again, all it takes is a low-res photo of a dog that needs rescuing and my heart thaws immediately. If I won the lottery, I’d probably spend ninety per cent of the money building a massive animal shelter.
Early sketches by Brunetti show versions that switch roles between dog people and cat people.
Your work always teems with detail. Do you have those details outlined, or do they come to you more spontaneously as you create the image?
Spontaneity is a word that no one would ever associate with me. I do a lot of doodling and repetitive doodling, rather compulsively, and only slowly do my ideas come into focus. I’ll explore bad ideas (via sketching) for a long time before realizing that they should be discarded. I just want to make sure I give everything inside my head a fair shot.
I obsessively make a lot of lists, and part of the challenge for me is turning those text lists into a coherent visual composition, where the details accumulate to serve the greater good. The doodling is complete when the composition has generally been worked out. I then sit down and draw the cover image at twice the print size, always leaving a little space for new and improved details that strengthen the over-all concept or narrative.
You’re especially focussed on faces—your images have so many of them. What draws you to that?
I always wished I could draw like the Old Masters and capture expressions: pensive, dreamy, confrontational, contorted, or furtively glancing at the viewer. It’s amazing what artists have been able to capture throughout the centuries. But, alas, I was never that good of a draftsman, so my drawing has become more simplified and abstracted over the years. In turn, that’s forced me to find ways to wring meaning via minor deviations from basic templates. How much can be packed into a line, or a mark? These are the questions I’ve been exploring, and faces (gestures, too) have been the testing ground. There is nothing more primal than a face.
You count Charles Schulz’s “Peanuts” as an influence. What’s the most important thing you learned from his work?
Schulz has seeped into my cellular structure. I’m still drawing big heads on little bodies, trapped inside claustrophobic compositional spaces. I can only write comics in four-panel beats, all of which are derived from “Peanuts.” His observation that “good cartooning is basically good design” has been a mantra for me, maybe even my salvation. In a way, Schulz tricked me: he made it all look so easy, when in reality it is anything but.
He is the master, and I’ll forever be the lowliest of apprentices, but that’s a great privilege nonetheless. I have always admired how direct his art is; he communicates thoughts and emotions without any intermediary obfuscations. And he always, unapologetically, finds the humor in things.
For more covers featuring dogs and cats, see below:
“Luxurious, Quiet, and Cozy,” by J.J. Sempé
“Dog Meets Dog,” by John Cuneo
“Catnap,” by Peter de Séve