A Brief Chat With Eichler Cartoonist Brian Narelle

Brian Narelle
Image courtesy Brian Narelle.

Brian Narelle is a cartoonist, filmmaker, animator, writer, and all around fount of creativity, best known here at the Eichler Network for 'Cracks from the Slab,' his series of single-panel cartoons poking fun at the foibles of our favorite houses.

When his name popped up in an item in Business Insider (hosted on SFGate) about corporate CEOs hiring scriptwriters to create skits for their employees, I thought it time to check in with our one-time in-house artist to see how this line of work compared to his time cartooning for the Eichler Network. Narelle explained to me that while the end products are pretty different, both cartooning and corporate script-writing involve similar processes.

"Doing Eichler cartoons is different from corporate writing. But the challenge is similar: to deliver some insight, some truth. For Eichler owners, it was that you're not the only one dealing with leaky pipes, glass in cold weather, flat roofs. It's a way to release some of this tension and remind people that we're all in this together," Narelle told me.

"Whenever I'm presented with new material, whether it's a comic book or a script or anything, I look at it like a cartoonist: How to boil it all down to the funniest thing possible to reveal the truth."

Narelle doesn't live in an Eichler, but he picked up his insight into them by talking to friends who had them, reading Eichler Network publications, and researching them on his own. Similarly, he says, corporate skit-writing presents a challenge to learn and then express certain ideas – in this case, corporate axioms. It's a challenge he relishes. "If you have too much freedom, you sometimes don't know where to go."

When he's not writing scripts for CEOs or doodling insights about Eichlers, Narelle visits hospitals in the role of "clinical cartoonist," which he invented. It makes a lot of sense. He'll meet patients in need of some mood improvement, and dash off a cartoon that helps them laugh at their pain. In the end, he says, "it's the pain that makes it funny."

"If you think about how you laugh about the past, the things you laugh about now are the least funny when they happened. So in terms of Eichlers, or any subject matter, the question is where does the pain come from?" Even though Narelle's most recent work has him conceiving live-action skits, he says he still brings a cartoonist's mindset to it. What does that mean? "I made up my own definition: Cartooning is truth, humorously conveyed through graphics, using the least possible amount of ink."