Posts Tagged ‘Mort Meskin’

A Righteous Man


Friday, October 15, 2010

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What do you do when you know the subject of your book is both a good man tied to an important event, and a good—but not great—artist? If you’re N.C. Christopher Couch, you actually don’t know that, and instead prime the pump and inflate, inflate, inflate. Jerry Robinson is responsible for some rare good deeds in comics. Great, even. He helped Siegel and Shuster get (some of) what they deserved. He was a friend and supporter of Mort Meskin. He has worked for international free speech and successfully campaigned to free a jailed cartoonist. He even set up an international political cartoon syndicate. By all accounts, this is a nice man. A thoughtful man. Even a righteous man. And this book, Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics, like a well-meaning award ceremony (come to think of it, kinda like how the comics industry treats most of its grand old men), is a slap in the face disguised as a pat on the back.

Here’s the first line of the Couch’s preface: “Few American artists can claim to have worked in as many media as Jerry Robinson, and with such success in all of them.” Here is a short list of artists (alive, dead, young, etc.) I can think of who have worked in as many or more, with more success: Andy Warhol, Julian Schnabel, David Salle, Dave Eggers, Charles Burns, Stephen King, Gary Panter, Milt Gross, Matt Groening, Jules Feiffer, Robert Crumb… I could do this all day). This sort of jive hyperbole is doing no one any favors. What it does is make you stop and doubt the rest of what follows.


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A Larger Vision: Steve Brower on Mort Meskin


Friday, October 8, 2010

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A decade ago I worked in the same office as Steve Brower when he was the art director of Print, and got to know him a bit then. At the time Steve was deep into Jack Kirby, and I think we occasionally rapped about that. But since then, Steve has produced excellent books showcasing hitherto little known aspects of the work of first Woody Guthrie, and then Louis Armstrong. Now he’s published From Shadows to Light: The Life and Art of Mort Meskin, for reasons I’ll let him explain. As a Meskin admirer (I put a Golden Lad story in Art in Time) I am thrilled to have a beautifully made book that showcases his thoughtful, vividly executed and highly influential work. Steve takes a back seat to the images, which are often printed as original art, and elucidates a great deal about just what made Meskin tick. We had a brief but fun email exchange, which follows below.

Do you see a through line between the three artists you’ve published books about — Louis Armstrong, Woody Guthrie and now Mort Meskin? It’s a great American array you’ve got there.

The three of them have more in common than one might imagine. All were compulsive creators who led their fields into new paths. Yet somehow that didn’t seem enough. Armstrong created 500 plus collages while touring 300 dates a year. Guthrie wrote over 1000 songs and created drawings, painting, journals, plays, poems by the score. Meskin would take a break from drawing comics or advertising art to draw, paint, collage, teach art. Plus there’s the cross discipline music/art connection. That doesn’t immediately come to mind with Mort, but he not only loved to sing but would sing into a reel-to-reel he purchased, along with Jerry Robinson, and experiment with sound. He also was a ballroom dancer. Lastly, all three overcame great personal obstacles and persevered: Armstrong poverty, Guthrie tragedy and illness and Meskin emotional instability.

What drew you to Meskin, of all artists? Has this been a long process? And what was your goal with this book? What besides, awareness/appreciation of the work would you hope would result from it?

There were two things that drew me to his story. The first was the mystery of why someone who began so strong, influencing his peers, faded so quickly from view. The second attraction: his personal story. Mort was someone who suffered greatly at times emotionally and overcame his struggles. I felt there was a larger story to tell than just someone who was a very good artist. I should mention it was Jerry Robinson who really turned me on to Mort, and his more private side. All in all it took three years from the time I contacted Peter Meskin till the book was finished. My goal was to hopefully tell an inspirational story, the art speaks for itself. And while most agree about the high watermark of his 40s work I hoped to show that Meskin maintained a high degree of storytelling and design throughout his comics career.

You allude a couple times to Meskin having had a nervous breakdown. But what, exactly, happened there? Was he diagnosed with anything? Medicated? It seems like an important part of the puzzle and I wonder how much it affected his later work.

Yes, he did have nervous breakdowns. He had a terrible stutter, which worsened under stress. As for a diagnosis, I wasn’t privy to any medical records. But nervous breakdown is a catch all phrase. I don’t want to paint Mort as a victim, but working in comics for a page rate, long hours and demanding and unappreciative editors while trying to raise a family I’m sure was extremely stressful and by all counts Mort was a very sensitive person. At certain points he simply wasn’t able to function. Medication and therapy did help. As for affecting the work, the 50s crime and horror work in particular is quite claustrophobic compared to his 40s art. And then as things improved in his life his art simplified once again. (more…)

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E-Z Post #Infinity


Friday, March 12, 2010

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A Pile of Kirby Originals for Fumetto

A few odds and ends today.

1) Via Sammy H., artist and Frank-favorite Kevin Nowlan has posted a couple of interesting accounts of learning the craft of storytelling.

2) Patrick Ford passed along these choice passages from Jim Amash‘s excellent Alter Ego interview with Jack Katz, covering Kirby and Mort Meskin.

Katz on Kirby at Timely: Jack would work at his own desk there and Joe would come in during the morning and subtly stare at us. Jack would go for lunch, and when he came back Joe would leave for the day. You know how I learned to ink? Jack sat me down one day, He said, “This is what you do.” He took one of my drawings, and he inked it with a brush. I’d never seen inking that good in my life. I said, “Jack if you could ink so good, why do you let—?” He said, “I don’t have the time.” He said, “This is what I want you to do. You apply the blacks like this. This is this is what you do with your camera angle to make the background stand out. Jack would fill in all kinds of black areas in the background. As an inker, I don’t think there could have been anybody better if he had done his own stuff himself. One of the things they had in the office was the Sunday Hal Foster Tarzan strips, almost from it’s inception…everyone in the office was using them for swipes. Kirby never used swipes. I’m being very straight about that. If he did it was for reference, I never saw him erase anything either. Jack would get in early, he was always there before I came in. He left late. Jack wrote as he drew, he also worked from scripts, but he would use them as a template.

Katz on Kirby and Meskin:

Jack represented a boss who was handling a very unusual art form. He was very much in command. The only one who could say stupid things to him was Mort Meskin. Mort had a window seat. He’s say, “Get up!, Get up!” and a girl would be walking around in a bathing suit. And Jack would say, “Would you sit the F**k down.”This happened almost every day. One day Mort brought in some pornographic toys, Queen-sized fake breasts. He shows them to Kirby. Jack says, “What are you doing?” Mort puts the breasts on the floor and starts jumping up and down on them. Jack told him to stop, and get back to work. Mort said, “I can’t because I had a date with a disgusting pig, and I’m taking out revenge.

Katz on Kirby and the War:

Jack was involved in horrific situations where he had to do the ultimate thing. He wasn’t ashamed, but he felt deep regret over the fact that he had to kill people. When he talked to me about these things, his eyes were very deep in the past. It was extraordinary. Sometimes I noticed him staring out the window, and from the look in his eyes it was apparent that he was reliving the war.

3) And finally, I really enjoyed this account of Kirby’s war experiences from Jack Kirby Collector 27, as posted by early biographer Ray Wyman. Like Jeet, I think Kirby’s war experiences are crucial to his output and kind of underplayed in contemporary accounts of his life.

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