On Monday, August 18th, at the 95th New York Comics Symposium, the cartoonist and instructor Tom Motley presented a talk and workshop entitled “Composition Lessons from the Masters.” The talk was held at the Butler Library at Columbia University. Karen Green introduced Motley, a veteran cartoonist and educator at both SVA and Pratt. He is a prolific illustrator, and his regular comic Tragic Strip appears in the Brooklyn Rail.

After a quick demonstration, Motley explained that composition is the “invisible component we don’t think of.” He covered the basics of renaissance composition, using the now famous photo of a fight that broke out in the Ukrainian parliament, and which, coincidentally, follows the rules of the golden ratio, an ideal of classical composition.

The New York Comics And Picture-Story Symposium: Tom Motley

“I had the impression in art school that cartooning was thought of as a lesser art than painting because cartoons are reproduced, so the “work” is not the single thing like a painting, but instead is the reproduced image. That being said, I love seeing original cartoons. You get to see the artist’s corrections, like erasures or Wite-Out or patches, and you get to see the artist’s line in better detail, and what kind of ink they use—whether they like a cold black or a warm black, and what kind of paper they like, how big or small they like to draw—art nerd stuff like that. But the fact that cartoons are reproduced doesn’t mean anything to me as far as whether they are “real art” or not. Charles Addams! Alison Bechdel! Winsor McCay! Art Spiegelman! Daniel Clowes! George Booth! Waves hands around!”