A few months ago, I stumbled across a "how to" book on cartooning by Eugene “Zim” Zimmerman. It was titled Zim’s Cartoons & Caricatures, Or Making The World Laugh. I happened to be speaking on the phone to Ralph Bakshi, and I mentioned the book. "Ooooohh! So you’ve discovered ZIM now! He’s one of my secrets…"
In 1967, right after he had resigned as the head of the Paramount cartoon studio, Ralph and his wife Liz were walking through Brooklyn when they saw a sign on an old house advertising an estate sale. They went inside, but it was late in the day and there wasn’t much left. Ralph glanced up at a tall bookcase and saw a pile of pamphlets stacked up on a high shelf. It was too high to reach, so he didn’t bother to look at them. As they were walking out the door, he got the feeling that he needed to go back and look at the pamphlets. It was a good hunch. The stack contained a nearly complete set of Zim’s correspondence course in cartooning. He asked the estate agent how much they cost, and was told $50. That was more than he and his wife had in their pockets, so Liz volunteered to run home and get the money. The Zim books were on his desk every day throughout the production of Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic and especially Coonskin. This set is Ralph’s most prized possession, and now he is sharing them with Animation Resources.
Zim’s correspondence course was the most highly regarded cartooning course of its day. Spanning 20 volumes, it covered a wide range of subjects, from practical homespun advice to lofty philosophy. Here are some examples of Zim’s genius from the pages of the four volumes we completed digitizing today…
The course originally ran in 20 volumes. We have been able to find an earlier edition of the course to supplement and complete Ralph Bakshi’s set. There aren’t chapters or specific assignments. The books consist of page after page of individual nuggets of wisdom. Each book and each page stands on its own.
Zim’s course is much more than just a "how to draw" course. In short anecdotal paragraphs, Zim succeeds in conveying what it means to be a cartoonist… the history behind the artform… how to deal with everyday problems and setbacks… and how to live the life of an artist.
There’s plenty of drawing lessons too. Zim’s masterful expressive line fills every page with perfect examples of the principles he is discussing.
Zim was the founder of the "grotesque" school of caricature, which formed the basis of what we now call "cartoony drawing". He provides lots of examples of caricatures drawn from life, with photos of his subjects alongside his caricature of the person.
Zim’s technical skill was unmatched. Just look at the amazing precision and expressiveness of this drawing as he takes it from rough sketch to ink to watercolor.
The book is full of amusing contrasts. A tip on not thinning your ink too much leads into a speculation on what Rembrandt would be doing if he lived in modern times.
If you aren’t convinced yet that Zim is a drop dead genius, just click on this image!
The most impressive illustrations in the course are the examples of Zim’s rough sketches. He had an uncanny knack for being able to express every nuance of his subject with a free flowing and loose pencil technique.
He was capable of extreme exaggeration that captured the essence of the unique qualities of the personalities he chose to caricature.
But the most amazing thing about Zim’s artistry was his ability to draw the viewer into his world and make them feel the way the characters in the drawings feel. Look at these sketches of dogs… They make you feel like a flea bitten hound!
If you would like to see more from the Zim course, let me know in the comments.
This posting is part of a series of articles comprising an online exhibit devoted to Eugene “Zim” Zimmerman.