Showing posts with label george herriman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label george herriman. Show all posts

Thursday, February 25, 2016


"Just one more George Herriman post. That's a Herriman self portrait, above.

Herriman was what Wikipedia calls a "Louisiana mulatto creole." who "passed" for white. His family spoke French. He might have been self conscious about his mixed ethnicity because he disdained publicity and was kidded by friends for his reluctance to take off his hat.

Early on he did a comic strip in the German style about a black guy named Mose (above) who always tries to pass himself off as white. On first glance all the humor seems to be at the expense of Mose, but that's only the McGuffin. Half the joke comes out of the whites who are over-the-top tickled to death to be Scottish or Irish and who take any opportunity to dance an Irish Jig or a Highland Fling.

I wonder if anyone ever captured Herriman on film. I'd like to hear his voice.

Herriman had one of the great hats of his era. He looked great in it! As a matter of fact, more than any other artist of his day, he looked like a cartoonist.

Of course he always looked a bit awkward in photos. He may have had naturally broad shoulders but it's also possible that he had normal shoulders and simply liked to "puff up" for pictures.

Maybe he was self conscious about being short.

So far as I know, Herriman was the best caricaturist of himself. He did a couple of frequently reproduced back shots of himself,  one of which is reproduced above. These influenced me immensely, to the point where I feel my life will have been will have been lived for naught if I don't do a project built around frequent back shots.

YIKES! A RETRACTION: According to commenter "nodnarB," that caricature of Herriman was actually done by cartoonist Tad Dorgan, who shared an office with Herriman. That's an example of Dorgan's work above.

Well, I'll be dogged! All these years I attributed that picture to Herriman. Many thanks to nodnarB for the correction!!!!!!!!!

Above, another Tad Dorgan. Geez, the world must have been a different place in that era.  The spittoon, the friendly bartender, the practical jokers who all go to the bar at night to drink together, the blank's so different than what's around now.

Sunday, February 21, 2016


One of my favorite funny newspaper strips...rivalling Al Capp's "Fearless Fosdick" or Feinenger's "The "Kinder Kids"...was the collected strips done by George Herriman in the years between 1904 and 1916.  I have to say "collected" because Herriman worked on many strips in these years and no single title dominates.

Some of my favorites were his sports cartoons (above). They were laid out like irregular sketchbook pages at the top of the sports page.

His editors must have liked him because on days when sports were slow he was allowed to put up little autobiographical pieces like the one above. Here the ex-mayor of a town called Independence shows Herriman the local sights.

Sometimes (above) he made fun of amateur theater.

Herriman did some color pages in this period and he sometimes tried to fit in to the formal comics format. In my opinion these pages were much inferior to his black and white "sketchbook-style" strips.

I wish I knew more about the the drawing instruments Herriman used. Evidently the brush didn't suit him. He preferred to use the kind of hard, scratchy dip pen that deters most modern artists. If you haven't used these yet, you might want to give them a try. They're hard to control but everything looks funnier when done with a pen of that type.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


A lot of present day print cartoons look like they were executed by graphic designers, rather than cartoonists. The best examples, like the one above, are thoroughly professional and even lots of fun, but I still prefer the old styles. They seemed to have more to say about the human condition. A graphic artist's first concerns are all technical, things to do with repeating shapes, arcs, negative spaces and all that. A cartoonist on the other hand, is informed by design but is more interested in what's being expressed. Take George Herriman for example.

When compared to modern cartoons Herriman's work (above) looks positively untidy. Some of it looks more like sketchbook pages rather than formal drawings. The lettering is all askew and the cartoonist seems in danger of drifting off the point sometimes. Does it matter? There's a marvelous sense of fun and life here. You can see the artist struggling with his medium and with his own imagination. There's a sense of performance, of spontaneity. You feel the drawing could easily have spun out of control, but the artist brought all his skill to bear and wrestled it to a satisfying finish.

Some artists refer to Herriman disdainfully as "the Scratchy Artist," because his lines were always short and broken. I have to admit that I quit working in pen and ink because the results came out that way. Maybe I should have stayed with it. It occurs to me now that a lot of old cartoonists couldn't get around the problem either, and simply learned to live with it. They made scratchy into an art form. In the Herriman drawing above (click to enlarge) the scratchiness actually adds to the humor. It makes everything more comically ignorant, and makes for interesting textures.

Here (above) Herriman shows us his delight with the idea of riding around in wheeled vehicles, and the pleasure he takes in encountering hills and waterways and trestle bridges. Some cartoonists are sensualists who feel compelled to use the cartoon medium to express their delight with the physical world. I feel that way myself. Herriman reminds me of how privileged we all are to be alive and able to experience all this!

Sometimes (the two drwgs above) Herriman tuned out the environment and focused on cartooning for it's own sake. Sometimes you just have to draw characters all by themselves so you can surprise yourself with silly drawings that seem to posses a life of their own. Like all artists in their best moments, Herriman must have been amazed by the power of what he put on paper. I imagine that he must have felt like he was a conduit for some mysterious energy that exists in the world. Maybe that's when you know you've arrived as an artist, when you frequently find yourself "in a zone," watching the stuff that comes out of your pencil as if you were a spectator being awed by someone else's work. That's only an occasional feeling for me. For Herriman it must have been an every day experience.

BTW, all the Herriman here was courtesy of "The Stripper's Guide," a blog about old comic strips. Blogger won't accept my link for some reason.