Showing posts with label history of comics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label history of comics. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Here's (above) some examples of Pre-Colombian Inca sculpture. So far as I know the Incas were the world's first funny cartoonists, only their medium was pottery and sculpture, rather than paper. The L. A. County Museum has a terrific collection of these funny sculptures but it doesn't get much attention, maybe because the items are so tiny...pocket-size in some cases. Even in the Inca Golden Age officially sanctioned art was serious and large and the funny art that people actually enjoyed was small and portable.

[IMPORTANT NOTE: If the samples shown above are authentic then a major re-assessment of Inca art is in order, but I don't want to mislead anyone. I got these images from the internet by searching for things like "funny Inca art." The internet being what it is, it's possible that my sources threw Mayan and Aztec pieces into the mix without proper attribution, or that the time of origin was screwed up. I accept the pieces above as authentically pre-Colombian Inca because they're consistent with the humorous style of the curated pieces I encountered at the County Museum Inca exhibit.]

The reason I mention the Incas is to demonstrate that major trends in art are still, even today, neglected by historians. Even when good art is created under their noses historians fail to notice. Why isn't the Smithsonian beating down John K's door, begging for drawings?  Why is the work of recent Mexican folk artists ignored?

I don't know about you, but I find Mexican masks like this one (above) to be hilarious. Artful, too.

Haw! Why aren't museums collecting these!??

Wow! I can't believe how nuanced the expressions on some of these masks are! 

Some of the latest Mexican masks suffer from being too slick. Even so, they're not without interest. I'm guessing they're made to sell to tourists, but they succeed in spite of that.

For comparison here's (above) a recent African mask. It's technically well done, but it's bland and looks like it was made solely to fit the taste of black intellectuals in New York City.

I like this recent one (above) a lot better. It's funny and manages to capture the awesome vitality of youth. It also looks like it would appeal to tribal Africans, and not just to tourists.

I wish I could say the same for this recent Polynesian mask, above. Am I imagining it or does it show an anime influence?  It just doesn't feel authentically Oceanic.

New Mexican masks on the other hand, seem comfortable in their own skin. They're a bit slick but large numbers of them still manage to comment on the human condition.

I can't help thinking that Central and South America are destined to become serious cultural powerhouses in the not-too-distant future. Mexico will be a big player in that. As soon as architecture drops its silly bias against ornamental buildings the old Aztec and Mayan traditions of that country may come into play again, only in modern adaptions.

Saturday, March 31, 2007


Here, so far as I can tell, is the origin of the modern comic strip. Caveat: take this with a grain of salt; I'm no expert on the subject and I might have over-simplified things.

Well, you could argue that it all began with Daumier (example above). Sure there was Hogarth, Cruikshank and others but Daumier was different. His lithographs weren't just beautiful and funny, they retained the fluid feel of the original sketches. Not only that but Daumier was a famous easel painter and that bought a lot of credibility for his cartoons. Cartooning was considered a low-class activity in Daumier's time and his fine art reputation did a lot to make it acceptable to the middle class.

Success always breeds imitators and Daumier's imitator was a guy named Cham (example above). Cham got his foot in the door by offering simplified Daumier-style drawings in a series for the same price that Daumier got for just one picture. Cham might have been a weasel but he did help to popularize the idea that cartoons should tell a story using multiple pictures.

Cham was so successful that he inspired a German named Rodolphe Topffler to try his hand. Topffler used Cham's serial panel technique but drew the characters in what he called the "outline method," a technique that didn't require Daumier's painterly tones and shadows. I don't know if Topffler was an aristocrat but he seemed to want the public to think that he was. His outline method was executed in a deliberately crude style so that it would appear that he just dashed them out for his own amusement and had no thought of making money with them.

Back in France, Dore saw what Topffler was doing and approved, only he thought the outline method worked better if the characters were a bit more realistic and were carefully inked. Dore wasn't very fond of the serial picture method. He preferred big, Jack Davis-type crowd scenes like the one above.

Back in Germany Wilhelm Busch (example above) combined the best ideas of all the artists I just mentioned: Daumier's belief that cartoons could be fine art, Cham's multiple panel idea, Topffler's outline technique and Dore's clean-up theories. Busch was the first artist to make a good living exclusively by doing funny panel cartoons. People say he was the first truly modern master of the comic strip. After him comes the great German-American newspaper artists like Dirks, the creator of "The Katzenjammer Kids." You know the rest.
A few questions remain. Where were the English while all this was going on? Why did the creative torch pass to the United States? Who invented the modern version of the word balloon?