Tuesday, September 01, 2009


Thanks to Steve Worth and ASIFA-Hollywood we now have a first-rate book on Zim, one of the greatest cartoonists of all time. As a matter of fact, the book is BY Zim: "ZIM'S Correspondence School of Cartooning, Comic Art & Cartooning." It's a compendium of the shorter books Zim made for his mail-order art course. It comes in two thick volumes, which I've seen, and which left me much impressed.

The book is loaded with drawings. You could get a whole art education just by looking at the pictures! Steve told me I'd see a lot of my own drawing theories in there, and sure enough, I did. The dentist in the drawing above is a perfect example of techniques that I've been using for years.

Zim was a true cartoonist. In his time, in the later 19th century, caricatures were reserved for the famous. Zim was the guy who figured out that the common man was worth caricaturing.

I have no idea where Zim's broad, old, newspaper strip kind of body exaggeration (above) came from. My guess is that German cartoonist Wilhelm Busch invented it, but you see it in some old Punch drawings from the the mid-1800s, so I'm not sure. Anyway, artists like Zim took it and ran with it, making it a staple of American newspaper and magazine art.

Steve wrote some terrific biographical material for the collection. Reading about Zim's ups and downs in the magazine industry of his day reminded me of the animation industry today. There's no security in the art business because tastes change and even talented people will be shown the door when their protectors in management are dismissed or bought out. No use complaining, it's just the way of things. All you can do is make a big splash when the opportunity arises, and hope that with hard work you can write your name in history.

I like Zim's practice of occasionally drawing alternative poses.

Zim was an illustrator rather than a comic strip artist, so the dawn of newspaper comics carried no benefit for him. I can see why. He liked to make his point with caricature rather than story. Steve says he used to sketch in bars and in crowds of all kinds.

Ethnic humor was one of Zim's specialties. He lived at the height of immigration from Europe when the streets were full of new arrivals who couldn't speak English, and who thought that everybody else looked stupid.

Hmmmm, I'll have to remember that open-mouthed pose on the guy above. It's deliciously ignorant!

Here's (above) how he handled my ethnicity, the Irish. Other artists like Thomas Nast made us look like apes, but Zim had a kind nature and was content to make us seem merely barbarous. Did we ever really look like that? I guess we did, but if we didn't it's still okay. It's funny.

Here's a Jewish caricature (above). The caption below it said something about Jews loving to gesture almost as much as they love to pinch pennies. Geez! Zim said stuff like that about everybody! It's amazing that he was able to walk down the street without getting whacked in the nose.

Actually the taste for immigrant humor diminished even in Zim's lifetime. It's astonishing how quickly most people adapted to the way of life here. The era of free-wheeling ethnic gags didn't last long, but it had a long-lasting energizing effect on American entertainment and literature.

The price for the two volumes is something like 250 bucks for both. It's a limited print run so there was no way to print it cheap. Plans exist for a paperback edition which will go for less, but suppose Steve gets hit by a meteor before then? I won't rest easy til my own copy of the present edition is securely sequestered under my bed, with an armed guard to protect it.

To order the book go to ASIFA-Hollywood's archive site. The link is on my sidebar.


ThomasHjorthaab said...

Hey Ed!:)

Would you like to take a look on some of my new post, and let me know what you think?:)

It's some construction plus some of my own characters:)


FriedMilk said...

Wow. Those are some amazing drawings. And to think that I've never even heard of this guy before.

Stephen Worth said...

Thanks, Eddie!

I think one of the people who inspired Zim to push the exaggeration in his drawings was A. B. Frost. To me, Frost is the first artist whose work really looks like a true cartoonist in the modern sense of the word.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Steve: Frost's funny stuff is hilarious and beautiful, but it comes many years after Wilhelm Busch.

I wish I could find more of Frost's humor. The same few pieces get printed again and again. There must be more.

Unknown said...

Usually I hate old ethnic caricature but these ones are nice! and the Irish man in my opinion kind of looks like you, but only if you grow that kind of a beard.

Stephen Worth said...

I have two of Frost's books at the archive... and a vintage collection of Busch.

Justin said...

Thanks for telling me this, Eddie! I'm gonna go buy it now.

Anonymous said...

We need public option meteor insurance.

Jenny Lerew said...

Zim is something! Love his work.

I agree with Steve about Frost--I was all set to write a comment about that but he beat me to it as per usual with this sort of subject. ; )

Busch was earlier, but looking at his work to me the cartoon stylistic influence of Frost upon Zim is much more plain. Sullivant too must surely have had an impact. Even Tenniel,when in his more extreme cartoon mode.

I too have a book on the brilliant A.B. Frost; I think it was published by either the Brandywine Museum or the Delaware Art Museum(both great resources of golden age illustration) in conjunction with an exhibit.

Jenny Lerew said...

And by the way, Eddie: drawing #4-the line drawing of the intently scrawling fellow with the ink bottle-is so exactly a caricature of you drawing that it is absolutely eerie. I mean the position of his left arm, his body, his expression while drawing, everything.

I could have taken photographs of you at work that would make that drawing look like a tracing (in fact I know I have a sketch somewhere I did of just such a scene).
I can also see the influence his style has had on your own drawings in that one too. Very cool.

Anonymous said...

Hey Eddie man, I'm 2nd gen here in the state, Scots-Irish and Polish. I dunno man, that body he's given to the Irishman reminds me more of pan troglodytes than homo-sapiens. I think this cat seems to be a rip on Windsor McKay and German Expressionist George Grosz sans the genius. Can't say I'm into this too much, but I'll give him it does provoke some fire in the belly. Peace.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jenny: Very astute! I was influenced by Zim! Hey, are you moving? Your blog implied that you're packing.

Jenny Lerew said...

Hey Eddie: does this answer your question?