Posts Tagged ‘illustration’

Quick One #3


Monday, November 2, 2009

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Edward Penfield, 1906. Kelly Collection.

Very quick one in this case.

1) I really enjoyed this post at David Apatoff’s blog, Illustration Art. It’s an excellent explanation of what to look for in a Leonard Starr drawing. Even if the work itself is not to your liking, the flair for craft shines through. My friend Norman prefers early Neal Adams strip work, as well as Alex Kotzky. I don’t have an opinion on the matter, but I bet a lot of other people do, and that’s why I love comics

2) T. Hodler turned me on to John Crowley’s writing. Recently Crowley wrote about the lovely sub-genre of comics created within fictions. The discussion begins with his Oct. 16 post. [And continues Oct. 20.] Love Crowley’s header art, too.

N.C. Wyeth, 1917. Kelly Collection.

3) About 6 weeks ago, under the auspices of old pal and fearless comics collector/historian Warren Bernard, I visited the Kelly Collection of American Illustration in Virginia. I’ve seen some amazing collections and this really knocked me out. It’s a private museum of the great period of pre-WWII American illustration, 1890-1935, with deep holdings in Leyendecker, Harvey Dunn, N.C. Wyeth, Howard Pyle, among others. These paintings and drawing hold up remarkably well. I was particularly struck by the expressive hatchwork of Leyendecker and the nearly-sculptural attention to paint of Cornwell. Harvey Dunn was a revelation of me, as the paintings seemed more vibrant and energetic than anything in print. It’s all contained in a gorgeous museum setting, complete with extensive information and archives. I particularly liked the focus of it — no pulps, no pop — a tight look at one spectacular period of image-making. It’s not even the period of illustration that most resonates with me — but I can’t imagine this collection, so beautifully curated and hung, not being an affecting experience for anyone, no matter their aesthetic proclivities. In its dedication to an oft-neglected artform, the collection is a national treasure. For now, I believe it is open by appointment to scholars only. If you fall under this category, make the pilgrimage.

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Illustraton History part 1


Thursday, September 24, 2009

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I want to call attention to a couple recent essays by Norman Hathaway that I think are “must-reads” for illustration buffs.

First is an article, with images and video, about Doug Johnson, the Canadian illustrator, long based in NYC, who became famous in the 1970s for his exquisitely psychedelic and painterly airbrush technique. Includes are his covers for Judas Priest, Ike and Tina Turner, and a lot more.

And second is a fond remembrance of the great illustrator Peter Lloyd, who passed away last month. Lloyd is best known to comics fans as one of the designers of the film Tron, but he was a stellar image maker.

I’ve been fascinated with the coverage of Bernie Fuchs’ death, if only because it give him some much needed recognition while making room for the idea that he was ultimately eclipsed by the late 1960s and Push Pin. Together with the passing of Lloyd and Heinz Edelmann this summer I think there’s a lot to be said about different eras and styles of illustration. Each man represented the peak of a certain era and style, defining the look and feel of distinct segments of visual culture for a bunch of years. But more on that in a future post.

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Hal Foster, Cartoonist


Sunday, September 6, 2009

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At 29, Hal Foster bicycled from Winnipeg to Chicago. He was in search of a new market, having already achieved the dubious title of most popular illustrator in Winnipeg. Seems like the stuff of a Guy Maddin film, but, nope, it was just Foster, one of our sportier cartoonists (there are apocryphal stories of the artist shooting wildlife out his studio window.) That was in 1921. Ten years later he became the regular artist on the Tarzan comic strip, and six years after that began publishing his masterpiece, Prince Valiant.

I came to Foster and Prince Valiant just recently via Wally Wood. Wood’s trees, the artist long maintained, were Foster’s trees, and Wood’s sense of composition and figures in motion was heavily influenced by Foster’s balanced and graceful panels. Sure I’d read Foster before, but I’d never found a way in. Fortunately, Fantagraphics recently released Prince Valiant Vol. 1: 1937-38, and I was able to absorb the material in a wholly new way. After doing some reading I dug up a copy of The Comics Journal 102 (1985), which features a fascinating interview by Arn Saba (also look for her Caniff and Gottfredson interviews in other issues) with a then-retired Foster. He comes across as a melancholy man but confident man, as humble about his work as he was sure of his abilities. Asked about his inspirations, Foster replies, “I would say inspired by the beauty of my own work, and the loveliness of the stories that I stole from better authors. I always worked alone.” On more cartoony strips: “I don’t know why it is that some fellows can draw a little kid like, what’s his name, Charlie Brown, with just a round head, a round nose, and no particular body, and yet give the thing a personality. I still can’t understand that, and where the little things he says, and the funny little illustrations, are more real than some of the best drawn strips, the adventure strips.” Yes, that’s the master of comic strip realism talking about the virtues of a simpler approach. Or at least the virtues of Schulz. Intangible authenticity and emotional “reality” are not the first things one thinks of when approaching Foster, but as Saba so eloquently explains in her long introduction to the interview, in many ways they are the crux of what his work. In Prince Valiant, “Foster created the quintessentially American interpretations of the King Arthur legends, complete with a nuclear family, the democratic ideal, and the man-child hero whose boyish hi-jinks often lead to high adventure.” Saba tightly defines Americana here, and to that list I might add “idealism tinged with tragedy”, as the strip begins with the boy Prince losing his mother and embarking on a solo quest to find himself. Foster imbues this and all of the other strips I’ve read with a modest humanity. Where Foster’s illustration heroes N.C. Wyeth and J.C. Leyendecker tended towards grandiosity and dynamism Foster emphasizes the human scale of these adventures and keeps things relatively quiet.

I can see where readers might cringe at Foster’s idealism and, well, cleanliness. There is nary a hair out of place, no nod to the dirt, grime, and grotesqueries of the time. Even when Val skins a goose and wears its skin as a mask — a mask later swiped by Jack Kirby for his character The Demon — it’s bloodless. But Foster’s sensibility is so wonderfully innocent and immersed in depicting virtue and honor that to let anything else in would have polluted a clear, defined well of ideas. Prince Valiant is a perfect pre-angst fantasy in which rational justice wins out.

Foster’s artwork completely reinforces the ideal order. The page above is arranged with larger set-up and concluding panels sandwiching a middle section of rapid action, expertly choreographed so that readers can follow Val in and out of a room, and then savor the ultimate conclusion in the last couple panels. A demonic but playful Val, a terrified Ogre, and finally a clearly victorious hero. The figures, while well posed, are never stiff — they have an inner life and animation. Also, Foster, while a stickler for detail, knew when to leave it out: Most of the action plays out against solid colors — yellows and blues expertly rhyming with one another to create a unified page.

This page is remarkable for its wide range of approaches, settings and emotions. In the beginning Val make an emotional proclamation (swiped from a film still, perhaps?) and then Foster races him off to the forest. Look at that bottom left panel. After a couple panels of plain backgrounds, Foster immerses us in the forest (A damn straight Wally Wood forest) with great detail and then, with some flourish, exists Val onto a plateau above the “sinister castle” a skull perched just behind him. Val is on the cusp, and the weight of his adventure is made evident by the panel size and velocity of the action. Meanwhile, the yellow of Val’s shirt picks up his cloak, while the various browns of the woods and cloth are all delicately arranged for maximum readability.

Both of these pages also reveal a key part of Foster’s appeal: He shied away from the chiaroscuro and noir angularity of the Caniff-ian school of adventure comics and instead kept his spaces fairly level, colorful and enticing. These are comics that look accessible but contain a tremendous amount of quiet sophistication. Foster’s sense of place, color, and body language is just stunning. But again, he was never showy. It’s a realism that never calls itself “realistic”.

And the story itself? I thoroughly enjoyed it. Foster himself seemingly didn’t have great ambitions besides to write something that satisfied him and entertained his readers. I found this first book completely engrossing. Prince Valiant opens up a world that I wanted to stay in — a wide-eyed early 20th century approach to fantasy with a now-vanished sincerity and wholesomeness. It’s an all too rare pleasure in comics. I now understand why so many cartoonists after him sought to regain that Foster magic, despite the futility of such an anachronistic exercise: It’s a near-perfect distillation of purity (the high moral pulp sought by mid-century guys like Gil Kane and Alex Toth), skill (inarguable drawing ability), and success. Wally Wood chased it his entire career, and was asked to try out to be Foster’s replacement on the strip, but was not given the gig. But everyone from Russ Manning (who was an heir to Foster on Tarzan) to Charles Vess to Ryan Sook (his Wednesday Comics Kamandi) have tried to claim a little bit of Foster’s legacy. And of course the comic strip itself continues under different hands. But it is not so much the characters I’m attached to, but rather Foster’s masterful spell.

I confess to not having anything terribly profound to say about Foster. I suppose I’ve been surprised by and taken with the sensitivity, grace, and fluidity of his work, as well as what a fine comic strip Valiant really was. Foster understood page design and the interplay of color and form about as well as anyone I can think of in the 1930s, but recently he tends to be relegated to illustration rather than comics history. Certainly I’ve made that mistake. The recent reprint publishing activity has had all sorts of interesting effects, particularly in the way certain artists are re-contextualized. The revival and re-packaging of Valiant is particularly significant, as it no longer seems like an oddball project in the Fantagraphics catalog, but rather a prestige item that takes it place alongside other relevant books like Love and Rockets and, dare I say, Prison Pit (in terms of cartoon clarity and craft, the two have something in common. I also loved Prison Pit). This new project gives Valiant something it was long missing: currency. And I’m looking forward to exploring more of it in the years to come.

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In a Sentimental Mood


Friday, January 9, 2009

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This somewhat obscure Edward Gorey book will probably be all over the comics internet by noon, so if you want to disdainfully inform your computer “friends” that you’ve already seen it, check it out now. [UPDATE: The old link went down; a new link is here.]

[Via a little bird.]

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Sobering, eh?


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

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Well, Frank was certainly up early this morning. I also worshiped “The Studio” as a teenager. It was, for me, my first encounter with “art” that I took to be accessible and somehow applicable to me. Oh lord, looking back on it now it seems so silly. I’d feel much much worse about this if Gary Groth didn’t feel the same way when he was that age. Anyhow, the appeal of that stuff was to see somewhat baroque, overripe illustration in fine art trappings. It’s ironic, of course, because the illustration they were referring to was, by the 70s, eclipsed by Push Pin, Brad Holland and the like. The Studio was, if anything, thoroughly anachronistic. But charmingly so. And, in their avid production of portfolios, prints, and assorted “fine art” ephemera, unique for those days. In a way, they anticipated the Juxtapoz-ish illustrators-making-bad-fine-art gang. Another point of interest is that, with the exception of BWS, all of those guys contributed comics to Gothic Blimp Works or The East Village Other, their pages sitting next to work by Deitch, Trina, Crumb, etc. It’s funny to think of a time when those worlds (fantasy and underground) mixed. This was perhaps helped along a bit by someone like Wally Wood, who straddled both sides of the fence, albeit briefly. Then it splintered a bit, with guys like Richard Corben occupying their own niche in the underground scene, in opposition to Crumb, Griffith, et al, who disdained the EC-influenced genre material. In a way, what guys like CF and Chippendale are doing now is related to those early efforts at underground fantasy comics, except coming from a very different mentality.

Also, I think Tim is right that Crumb was the first to make fun of the dainty falling leaf-as-signifier-of-meaning.

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EMSH & Griffith


Sunday, May 20, 2007

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Courtesy of Paul Di Filippo, two interesting avant-garde short films from the legendary Ed Emshwiller:

Sunstone (1979)

Thanatopsis (1962)

Emshwiller didn’t do too much work with actual comics (as far as I know), and was better known for his magazine illustrations and film-making, but he was a strong early influence on the great Bill Griffith:

Griffith took solace in his developing friendship with one Levittown neighbor, the illustrator Ed Emshwiller, who designed covers for many science-fiction and mystery books and magazines. “He didn’t point me to cartooning, but he pointed me into art in general and showed me a way of understanding how within one artist, there could exist this pop culture impulse and a fine art impulse,” Griffith told Gary Groth. Emshwiller recruited Griffith’s parents as models on several occasions, but Griffith was most proud when he himself appeared on the cover of the September 1957 issue of Original Science Fiction. Emshwiller depicted the 13-year-old Griffith riding a rocket ship to the moon as his father yelled at him from a video screen.

There’s more from Griffith on Emsh (who inspired his 1978 strip, “Is There Life After Levittown?”) here.

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Awesome Illustration Blog


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

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The new designer for Comics Comics, Mike Reddy, has started a very bookmarkable new blog where he’s posting mostly illustrations of various movies he’s recently seen.

Here’s one he did for Planet Terror (from Grindhouse):

And here’s one for The Grudge 2:

Mike also did one of the illustrations for the Peter Bagge essay on Spider-Man for Comics Comics 2, and he’s posted a couple of the alternate illos that didn’t end up getting used. I like them.

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Quick Triple Update


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

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1. Speaking of the American Comics Group, the latest issue of Alter Ego serendipitously reprints more or less the entire contents of Michael Vance’s book-length history of the publisher, Forbidden Adventures. This is the most significant magazine event of its kind since the famous New Yorker Hiroshima issue! Well, maybe not, and I have only glanced at the contents so far, but this should definitely be a good resource for any Richard Hughes or Herbie fans out there.

2. Most everyone reading this blog probably already knows about the Penguin Classics that have recently been released with new covers by cartoonists like Chris Ware, Roz Chast, Seth, and the like. (I think Charles Burns’s version of The Jungle and Anders Nilsen‘s take on Hans Christian Andersen are the best so far.) Another similar, but lower-key, republishing effort is coming out from Small Beer Press, a generally reliable imprint run by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant. Their Peapod Classics line is reprinting forgotten or obscure old fantasy titles with new covers by Kevin Huizenga. (I learned about the series from a post by John Scalzi.) They just released Howard Waldrop‘s debut collection Howard Who? This isn’t strictly comics, of course, but I thought it might be of interest to any Huizenga completists out there. And Waldrop’s a pretty funny writer, judging by the two or three stories of his I have previously read. (Fun fact: His novella A Dozen Tough Jobs, which retells the story of Hercules in the deep South, is related to the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? in much the same way that Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key is related to Miller’s Crossing.)

3. I got a copy of that Tom McCarthy Tintin book I wrote about a while ago. I’ve only made it through the first chapter so far, but it really doesn’t appear to be a satirical take on overintellectual criticism at all—just an honest-to-goodness example of it. I’m not giving up on it quite yet, but it may be a while before it makes its way to the top of my reading pile. I feel like a sucker for taking the Economist review at face value. British humor is so dry, you know.

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