Sunday, June 14, 2009


I spent a few hours this weekend catching up with my comics reading. I started with Fantagraphics' Popeye series, the one with Olive Oyl on the cover. Wow! What a revelation! If you're a cartoonist laboring under the difficulty of creating gritty, earthy, and appealing characters, you could find no better inspiration than these E. C. Segar strips from 1930-32. Click to enlarge.

Olive Oyl's a great character. Time after time she dumps Popeye for someone better, then has to crawl back when it doesn't work out. Seegar evidently believed that some people are just meant for each other, and no amount of effort can change that.

I also read some of "The Kat Who Walked in Beauty," a collection of Herriman's Saturday pages from 1920. Sorry the sample strip (above) is split in into two parts. The source was too big for my scanner to take it in all at once.

This stuff is pure genius! Maybe modern readers have trouble with it because current humor is all about punchlines and hip attitude. In Herriman's day it had more to do with funny drawings, weird situations, ambience, parody of formal illustration, and silly staging. Anyway, if you've had trouble warming up to Herriman's Krazy Kat strips, but you're still curious to know why the man is so well-regarded, then this is the book for you. Buy it now, before it disappears.

The book calls these strips "panoramic." They're pretty long. Boy, some newspapers must have been as big as bed sheets!

I'm no historian, but surely Herriman was the co-inventer of the what we think of as the newspaper comic style. Herriman wasn't the first strip artist, but he must have been one of the first to work in a style which wasn't derived from book illustration and political cartoons. The style is truly funny and lends itself to infinite variety and expression.

The two pages above (fragmented, not related to each other) are from a graphic novel that's been around for years: "The Beauty Supply District" by Ben Katchor. I got it from the library for the art work and didn't even bother with the story. Now just an hour ago I discovered that the story might be worth reading after all, but it's too late...the book is due. I guess I'll have to take it out again.

Anyway, what attracted me were the backgrounds. They're so out in front that they completely overwhelm the characters, but you have to admit that they are interesting. It's funny that some artists are attracted things. Artists like that can never tune out the environment and historical context. They're always aware of the door behind them, and the varnish on the table top. It would be fun to do a cartoon story where different characters get different background styling, depending on their personalities.

The last artist I spent time with over the weekend was J. Otto Seibold, the kids book illustrator. He did the Mr. Lunch and Olive the Reindeer books. That's him above.

I found this (above) unrelated picture next to Seibold's on the net. I reproduce it here for the edification of the men on the site.

Sorry for the digression. Anyway, Seibold has an interesting style. The book jacket says he was the first kids book illustrator to do his books on the computer. He works in that wall-eyed post-modern style, but he manages to make it his own.

His earlier books (above) were colored conservatively.

Now he takes big risks with the color (above), and it's paying off. Seibold was a background concept artist on Pixar's "Monsters Inc." I wonder why they didn't use any of his architectural ideas. Seibold does films of his own, but the ones I saw always missed the mark. I wish I could have directed one of them, even though it's far from my style.

Seibold lives in San Francisco with his wife, author (I can't read the first name)___Vivian. She has a store that sells Seibold-type clothes and pictures, and which has interesting mannequins (above) throughout.

Seibold's much-imitated style is everywhere now (the picture above was done by another artist). Seibold is only one of many artists who do Seibold...but he manages to stay out in front of the pack.


Anonymous said...

What I love about Segar's (and Fleischer's) Popeye) is that they're two opposite things at the same time: they're gritty, urban, manly, taking place in a world of wood, metal, bricks, pipes, industiral machinery, etc... but at the same time, they're magical, whimsical, silly, childish, precious, cute, cartoony, fun and musical. Even the strip dialogue is musical

David Gale said...

I got a book of Krazy Kat strips for x-mas, and I must say, though the art is beautiful, I just don't get 'em! Were they really self-referential or something?

Anonymous said...

Theres a ton of references and idiosyncratic dialogue in Krazy Kat.

Its as hard to understand as The Divine Comedy or Tristam Shandy is without annotation.

An annotated collection of Krazy Kat strips would be a good idea

thomas said...

Thanks, enjoyed seeing these. One thing that Seegar and Herriman share is that they created alternate universes that were whole in themselves. That's probably a key to the type of humor that they have, especially Herriman. Their humor is internal to the imaginary world that the characters inhabit.
The painter Willem DeKooning was a big fan of Krazy Kat.

Brubaker said...

Wow, those Popeyes...these strips are WAAAY different than those Fleischer/Paramount shorts most people are familiar with.

"Olive the Other Reindeer" got turned into a TV special few years back. It was produced by Matt Groening of all people (apparently out he loved the book)

Brubaker said...

Wow, those Popeyes...these strips are WAAAY different than those Fleischer/Paramount shorts most people are familiar with.

"Olive the Other Reindeer" got turned into a TV special few years back. It was produced by Matt Groening of all people (apparently he loved the book)

The Jerk said...

The "panoramic krazy's" are most excellent! i love the way herriman manages to find so many variations on a basic formula in them- 1)Krazy ponders the mysteries of linguistics or nature, Ignatz gets fed up with Krazy's simpleminded manglings English and basic logic, to the point that at the last panel Ignatz is reaching for a brick or "zip"ing one at Krazy's empty noggin.

Shawn Dickinson said...

There's no better comic strip than Popeye! It's my absolute FAVORITE comic strip! I love the stories in the book you're currently reading, where Olive Oil is a dancer in an old western town...Pure comedy at it's very BEST! The next Popeye book is good too! There's more emphasis on Wimpy's character---another one of the greatest cartoon characters ever created!

Oh, and thanks for posting the picture of the girl at the gas tank too. Always thinking of us lustful MEN, aren't you Uncle Eddie!

Hans Flagon said...

Did we even stop at Herriman? There was that track re-routing in Seibold, Nebraska?

Someday I would like to create a continuum of this particular school of illustration that has been around for the past 30 years or so. Bob Staake, Seibold, TIm Biskup (God how I love Biskup!), Rodney Alan Greenblat, Lloyd Dangle, Gary Panter. And some of those tie into the the wild expression of the 20's newspaper strips as well.

Hans Flagon said...

I always understood the ergot of Herrimans dialog on its own, self referential stylism. I wonder if I did miss some cultural reference he made, I haven't read the Kat in years, but am familiar with that period of american pop culture as the next guy.

Hans Flagon said...

Oh, theres the Herriman. It must not have loaded the first time I read this. Sorry for earlier useless comment suggesting it was missing.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I never realized the Popeye comics got so "deep." I thought it was all spinach and fighting.

As a teen I was mesmerized by Krazy Kat but never understood it.

Never totally warmed up to the "wall eyed" style, ie Gary Baseman, etc.


Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jorge: Thanks for the spelling correction on Segar! Geez, this is emarrassing! Nice comment, too!

David: Forget the text and just look at the pictures! Also, sell your Krazy Kat books, which are too small, and made from 1930's art. Get this book of 1920 strips which are reproduced at close to the size of the original newspaper printing. Size matters!

Thomas: DeKooning had good taste!

Shawn: Haw!

Anon: Annotation would be good, but I don't read the strip for the stories.

Brubaker: I saw the special. It was disappointing.

Jerk: Panoramic strips might have been reserved for Saturday papers. I think some papers made an effort to make Saturday editions special.

Hans: I like Biskup, too! His two little books are a steal at $15 apiece!

Cynthia: I'm not a fan of the wall-eyed look either. I forgive Seibold for it because he's so talented.

The_Gnarled_Branch said...

Always a treat to visit your blog...thanks for finding some real gems and posting!

I discovered this -and felt compelled to show you, its alot of fun.

thanks again,

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Gnarled: Swing You Sinners! A great gift! Thanks!

Phantom Spitter said...

Forget Herriman's text??! Never!! I like the text as much as the artwork, but I'm biased 'cause I "get" the strips, I guess.

Seibold has a great face for caricature.

Phantom Spitter said...

By the way, Eddie, I know the Krazy Kat sunday strip collections are too small (I have the big one of dailies already), but have you seen the prices of the old newspaper sheets! I can't sell my small sunday collections. I'll take what I can get.

Clarity said...

Always something new to learn, I can see the style similarities with newer artists. Merci, Eddie

Anonymous said...

Eddie what is your take on the influence Disney and The Illusion of Life in particular has had on animation.

Before discovering John K's blog I was a dyed in the wool acolyte of everything I read in that book, and basically every animator where I live (Canada) still is.

I talked to a few people who worked on Ripping Friends who thought it was ridiculous that John K "Didnt believe in model sheets" and how all his poses were "wonky" and have to feign interest when I show them classic Clampett clips "Very good for that style of animation" etc.

While I have a great deal of respect for Frank and Ollie I think their book has had more to do with most animators disdains for "cartooniness" than anything else.

Hans Flagon said...


Re: Biskup Books. They fly under the radar enough that its easy to miss them when the new ones come out, you might want to look around a bit more.

Of the little books I think you are referring to, There is

100 Paintings, and at least -3- volumes of the Jackson 500, the business card sized painting series.

You might be considering the multivolume Jackson 500 as "one Book" however.

Oh and the Gama Go book Limited Edition is almost the same size.

Anonymous said...

Theres always a weird disconnect watching 'modern' flat cartoons parody 30's animation since the angle they go for is how crude they find those cartoons even though the animation is far more sophisticated than their own

Anonymous said...

The way many modern animators fetishize skill above everything else reminds me a lot of electric guitar fanboys that have never used the word "phrasing" in their lives worship guys like Yngwiee Malmsteem.

Show a modern guitarist a Robert Johnson recording and they'll nitpick what they feel is sloppy technique, most people Ive shown Betty Boop cartoons go on about wonky construction etc.

Zoran Taylor said...

" I don't read the strip for the stories."

Whaa? Yeah, the illustrations are beautiful, but the stories are what make that comic INSANE. Political allegory as reinvented by a dyslexic hobbit with a coke habit. Also, what do you have against the later sutff? I have a few Fantagraphics books of colour Sundays and they kick ass!

buzz said...

Fantagraphics POPEYE collection has made me laugh out loud several times. Segar was one of the best.

Hans Flagon said...

Wasn't one of Ben Katchor's relatively mainstream projects the Verbatim Overheard strip in the Village Voice? That backgrounds as main character aspect of his work is ideal for that sort of content.

That being said, I just now noticed a bit of culture shift I had never noticed in his work. Like Seth, he fetishsizes Fashion that is no longer part of the mainstream. Hats and suits in numbers more that probably existed in the situations he was showing, which were real time incidents in the 80s and 90s. But the dudes walk around dressed like they were in the 50s. But that is okay by me.