Capturing the Awkwardness of Dating, in a Cartoon

[chimes sounding]

Hi, I’m Suerynn Lee.

And in honor of Valentine’s Day, I’m going to show you

how to draw dysfunctional relationships.

[jazzy music]

Do you have any best, worst Valentine’s Day stories?

I do remember in middle school we used to,

you used to be able to give carnations to other students.

The colors options that you could give

were red for romantic love,

pink for like liking, and then white for friendship.

I only ever got white carnations.

Do you make creative Valentines as an artist?

I actually haven’t made a ton of Valentine’s Day cards.

I would say I’m kind of like a sappy romantic at heart,

but I think I really do not feel

compelled to celebrate it at all.

I hate Valentine’s Day.

And it just makes all restaurants bad.

[Suerynn] Yes!

[upbeat music]

It’s a young woman in kind of a puffed sleeve dress

trailing breadcrumbs out of a basket

that she’s holding in her hand.

And she’s in the woods with a young man

who has his hands in his pockets.

And the caption says, This is just in case

I need to find my way out of this relationship.

Do you have any memory of the sort of

where the idea for this cartoon came from?

Oh. [Suerynn laughs]

I think it might be a little personal.

But when I was dating my now husband,

I was starting to withdraw a bit,

even though I was having like a great time with him.

And it was definitely because of past experiences.

And I was like, I’m doing this,

and how can I like capture it in a cartoon?

You have this very distinctive style.

It’s like both very elegant and very funny.

And one of the distinctive elements of it

is the stark shadows and the high contrast.

Have you always drawn cartoons in this way?

How did you sort of develop this?

I studied woodblock printing.

A lot of it is like, you’re creating the black blacks

with what you’re leaving on the block.

I think it kind of translated into my drawing and cartoons.

[jazzy music]

Okay, so I always work with an initial sketch.

And once I have that laid down,

I start thinking in the outline.

When I’m deciding where to place dark shadow or flat black

in contrast to kind of leaving things white,

it feels very intuitive to me.

I usually, especially if I’m working by hand,

everything that I do is going from left to right.

Because otherwise I’ll smear everything.

So now that we have the outline

a lot of times I would usually just try to see

what needs more dramatic emphasis.

And for me, the bear would definitely

need to have more shadow.

I just immediately think her Mary Jane’s will be black.

Yeah, and then for Goldilocks’ body

I don’t think I really wanna put

a lot of dramatic emphasis on that.

I would say maybe the caption for this

would be something like, It doesn’t feel

comfortable to you because that’s a bear-gonomic chair.

[jaunty music]

A man and a woman are at a table.

And the man is putting a sheaf of paper

in front of the woman with a lot of writing on it.

And the caption is, It’s your standard,

I’m not looking for anything serious,

but I’m open to sliding into a long-term relationship

as long as you never bring up marriage, contract.

He looks so cheery though,

which makes the whole set up I feel like even funnier.

The kind of guy who would want to opt

for this relationship is just very confident

that he’s getting a great deal.

So he doesn’t have any reason to not be cheerful about it.

Let’s get into the dysfunction of this couple.

Do you have any sense of the contents of this contract?

I think there are a lot of stipulations about

what he should be allowed to do,

and maybe like what she’s not allowed to do.

[both laughing]

[Emma] I love her blank stare.

Her expression could not get more blank than that.

There can be like a whole world of emotion going on

in that character that you just don’t have access to.

And I think I like portraying that.

[funky music]

One of the key elements of a blank stare,

usually not ton of detail in the face.

So a lot of times I don’t even draw the mouth on there.

This is gonna be the extent of it.

And I think that you can have a blank stare

while you’re reacting to something

that’s really terrible even because that’s how

the majority of people would react anyway, in real life.

It kind of means that maybe you’re the reasonable one

in the situation or in the cartoon.

The essential thing is to have very beady dots be the eyes.

It kind of lets you see through that character’s eyes.

Many people can relate to the cartoon character

that has like a blank stare

rather than being someone super wacky.

And that’s how to draw a blank stare.

[jaunty music]

There is a man down on one knee

holding open a ring box with a ring in it.

And he is in front of a woman who is carrying

two grocery bags full of groceries.

And the caption is, Would you do me the honor

of taking on even more responsibilities

while my life remains largely unchanged?

Do you think she says yes?

If it were me, I would say we would need to have

a conversation and it could not be on those terms.

[both laughing]

Do you think that dysfunctional relationships

are funnier than functional ones?

I mean, I did improv for a little while

and it’s never funny if everything goes smoothly.

This cartoon actually sort of made me curious about

like how you think your improv background

affects your gag writing.

It influenced my cartoon writing a lot

because a big tenant of doing improv

is that you use yes/and.

So you accept what’s already there,

what’s given to you by your scene partner.

At a lot of improv shows, the way that a show start out

is that the team that’s on stage will get a suggestion.

And so I’ll choose a word.

And the suggestion that came up

on the generator is intimate.

And a lot of times when improv teams are using a suggestion

they’re not necessarily going to

do something that’s so literal.

You don’t necessarily want to create a scene

that’s moving from point A, which is the suggestion,

to point B, which is like the most obvious.

You might wanna go from point A to C.

I guess it’s not a very obvious

departure from the word intimate,

but I just thought like father son relationship.

I do think of it sometimes as like,

with the one line of text that you get,

it kind of implied that something

has already been said between the two.

Maybe the son has already said something.

But what I’m gonna have them say is,

What do you mean you don’t want to relive your glory days

when I was largely absent?

And yeah, that all came from the word intimate.

[jazzy music]

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