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Illustrator Lou Brooks talks about his life and reading – Page 3

Lou Brooks talks about learning to draw as a kid...

READERSVOICE.COM: One bio said that you were totally self-taught. How did you teach yourself to draw and get the smooth lines in your pictures?

LOU BROOKS: From six until about ten years-old or so, I was a devoted weekly follower of Learn to Draw with Jon Gnagy, the first TV art instruction show. I still have my Jon Gnagy kit.

At that time, my parents were also dropping me off at Mrs. Shaefer’s Saturday art classes. She was a very nice gray-haired lady in a big Victorian house. She had us all working in charcoal and pastels, so at the end of each class, we’d be blowing spray fixative with all our might through one of those little mouth atomizers. This would have been the early ‘50s. We’d all be doing it at the same time in the same upstairs room, even in the winter with the windows shut. The high, as I recall, was substantial.

“Fixative” is also a term used with embalming chemicals. I don’t know if the two are related. I hope not. But that was the first buzz I think I ever got until I took up model airplane building.

That was the extent of my “art training.” But my father was a big influence, at least in spite of himself. As a young man in the 1930s, he had his heart set on being a cartoonist. But he met my mother, and they got married and had me, and then he got drafted into the war, blah, blah, blah… and he ended up spending his whole life as a bean counter at a rail car factory.

He turned very resentful toward my career and success, which was a problem for me up to the day he died. I couldn’t figure out why he was so pissed off.

I have all of his comic strips and sketchbooks. He was very good and had some good ideas. His strips were mostly adventure stuff… Royal Mounted Police, Foreign Legion, stuff like that. I can’t imagine what kind of hell it must have been to keep all of that stuff inside himself for an entire lifetime. Somehow, I think, he unknowingly channeled all of it through me, along with a tremendous amount of emotional angst and self-doubt. Neither of my younger brothers have ever even had a career. One sprays water on parsley at a supermarket. Don’t ask me.

My father eventually turned into a bitter, hard-drinking, chain-smoking man. It was like he’d shot himself in the head, only the bullet was taking a few years to get there. But I guess there have always been bitter, hard-drinking, chain-smoking cartoonists also.

Getting back to my early childhood, though, here was all of this abandoned art paraphernalia lying about the house. An easel that my father had made himself, his plywood drawing board (he had been nailing the Christmas tree stand to it each year), t-squares, bottles of india ink, pens, brushes and so forth. I just started using the stuff. I think my mother felt it was a “creative” way to keep me occupied.

I learned to draw on my own mostly by copying the newspaper comics. Newspapers, comic books and television were really my only reference to any kind of art.

The first newspaper character I ever drew was the father in Penny, a comic strip by Harry Haenigsen. He had a way of drawing his characters mostly in bold brush close-up profile, so I found it pretty easy to copy. Then, when ABC started airing Disneyland every Wednesday night and Mickey Mouse Club five afternoons a week, my life was transformed. I started picking up this animation vibe, and made a cardboard sign for my bedroom door that read: “Brooks Studios, Burbank, California.” I made the two “O’s” into eyeballs, something I had seen in one of my father’s sketchbooks.

RV: How did you learn Flash and how long does it take to make your short animations? Do you use other programs with it, like Photoshop?

LB: I’ve used a lot of Photoshop and Illustrator with it. I just jumped into the deep end of Flash around version 4. I went to MacWorld Expo and watched some demonstrations and bought some Flash video tutorials there. It can still be confounding at times and it’s extremely labor-intensive if you have to do something that’s in any way complex and satisfying — which, it seems, I always have to do.

On top of it all, you’re suddenly dealing with moving time around. But once you’ve seen your art moving and talking, there’s no going back. Very addictive.

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