Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Recently John K put up a terrific blog post where he argued that classic cartoon caricatures of indians were a natural exaggeration of the way indians really looked, and he put up several pictures of real indians to prove his point. It was a terrific article and if you missed it you should go back to John's site and read it.
I have to admit that Sitting Bull certainly looked like the old caricatures, especially the ones with big noses, but were noses like that really common among the indians?
[By the way, notice that Sitting Bull's eyes are top and bottom bracketed, and close together, which makes the nose seem even bigger. I've seen those eyes before, but where? Maybe in cartoons, where they were used even on white people. If this picture is responsible for that, then this might be one of the most influential photos in the history of cartooning!]
I'm no expert on native-American noses, but to judge from John's photos, lots of other indians had noses that were only slightly bigger than whites'. It's a small thing to argue about I know, but I'm in a nit-pickey mood so this disagreement finds itself on this page. John thinks I'm blind.
For me it doesn't matter much if big noses were common, or just limited to Sitting Bull and his relatives. The caricature works and is funny. I am glad that I got to thinking about this because it started me thinking about funny indian caricatures in general.
My question is, why is it common for indian caricatures to be wide-eyed, smiling, and full of energy? No doubt some indians must have been like that, but the ones you see in photos tend to be earnest and serious. The best photos of American Indians are among the masterpieces of 19th Century photography.
I have a theory about where the wide-eyed, fun-loving look came from. I'll bet cartoonists were consciously or unconsciously combining the indian look with what they thought black swing musicians looked like. Maybe the swing era conspicuously used a lot of tom-tom rhythms, so indians came to be associated with it. Compare the smiling wide-eyed indian above (the color picture) to Louis Jordan (the black & white photo).
Logically it doesn't make any sense to combine people who are so different, and yet the synthesis works like a charm. You can't argue with what works. Maybe this is one of the secrets of good caricature: combine elements that intuitively fit, logic be damned!
One of my all-time favorite indian caricatures is the wide-angled, copper-colored doll (above) holding the tomahawk. It's Louis Prima meets Sitting Bull. The wide angle face emphasizes the big, happy grin. This is a mischievous but highly likable figure that seems intended to diminish racial tensions, not inflame them.
Eventually Italians (above) got into the act. Look at those eyebrows! This isn't surprising considering that Italians often played indians in the movies.
The most famous of all Italian film indians was Paul Picerni, shown here (above) in a still from "House of Wax." I'll bet the red doll with the thick eyebrows (the picture above the picture above) is actually Picerni.
Just for the heck of it, here's (above)the original Cleveland Indians logo from the 30s and 40s...
...and the redo, done in 1950. I like them both, but my favorite is the older version. Thanks to Rogellio for the useful info about this.
You could argue that indian caricatures don't look much like real indians, but so what? Caricatures of white people don't look like white people, either. When's the last time you saw a white guy who looked like Barney Rubble?
Hmmm. Well, maybe I chose the wrong example. If you put my schnoz on Brad Bird's face...
One last word: John is afraid that this post will make his seem racist, which was far from his intent, and I'll add that it's very far from mine too. I can't stand racism and would never deliberately do anything to contribute to it. My intent is not to hold indians up to ridicule, but simply to show them in a humorous light, which is different. I'll bet if I lived in the 19th century and showed these pictures to indians, they'd double up laughing at the caricatures of their friends.
Thanks to Kali, John and Mike for letting me use these toy pictures. The opinions are entirely my own.
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.
Monday, September 22, 2008
This post isn't about the Wild West but that's the best I could do for a pictorial theme to match my subject. What I'm really writing about is my re-action to a heartfelt video that a girl put up on YouTube. She won't allow her video to be embedded, so all I can do is put up the YouTube link and request that you come back here after you've seen it. Go ahead, take a look at it, and I'll see you back here in a few minutes.
Have you seen it? Then you know that this is a film where a girl spills her guts out about not fitting in. You can see why. She's minimally educated, probably had trouble in school because she refused to submit to authority, has few friends, and no marketable skills. She tells us that she's also kind to animals and has memorized most of the dialogue from The Lord of the Rings films. Oh, and she's overweight, but not really fat.
She and I don't have much in common but I have to say that I was moved by what she said on the video. She's the kind of person who would have thrived on the frontier 150 years ago. Independent types weren't uncommon then, when character was valued more than education. She'd have had skills aplenty as most frontier people did, and with all that work to do she probably wouldn't have had a weight problem. She'd have had a decent husband and family, land of her own, and the respect of her peers. Her love of stories and her ability to memorize them and act them out might have made her a local celebrity. That's IF she had lived on the frontier in 1858.
Unfortunately for her she lives in modern times, probably in a big city. Her, and an enormous number of people like her, have been labeled misfits and tossed out into the street. There's just no place for independents like her in modern society. Our beehive society values team players and people who don't mind knuckling under to authority and even bureaucracy. It seems like every era favors one kind of person and penalizes another.
Me, I'm probably best suited to modern urban living...I'm interested in animation where co-operation with other people is a necessity, and besides, I like the stimulation provided by modern life... but it really bothers me that my society alienates so many of its own citizens just for being themselves, for being the kind of gritty, feisty people who made civilization possible in the first place. My guess is that at least 25% of all able-bodied, mentally healthy Americans just aren't cut out for college, ticket-punching, bureaucracy and all that. They want adventure and romance in their lives, meaningful work, dignity and independence. That seems reasonable to me. My question is, why don't we give it to them?
Well, we were bound to run out of frontier land, but there's other things we can do. We should make it easier to start and maintain a business...if you want to paint "Taxi" on the side of your car and ferry people around, no one should stop you. Maybe education needs to be adjusted for some people so misfit types can do it later in life when youthful rebellion is out of their systems. Let's try to think of ways that would make society more congenial for its worthy misfits.
Posted by Eddie Fitzgerald at 12:26 AM
Friday, September 19, 2008
I love Russian painters and one of my favorites is Victor Vasnetzov (1848 - 1926). Part of being a good painter is knowing what to paint, and Vasnetzov certainly knew that. He was riveted by the architecture and wall art in the Czar's palace. And no wonder...it's beautiful! Are these rooms still standing? Wouldn't you love to go to Russia and see this for yourself? Why doesn't some public building in the West reproduce some of these rooms? Why doesn't Disneyworld?
Russia's such an interesting blend of East and West. The red pillars are reminiscent of China, and so is some of the wood carving, and the dress patterns sometime seem influenced by the Islamic south, yet the less formal, European-influenced Russian character seems to pervade everything.
The Vasnetsov painting above manages to capture something else about Russia, and that's what a magical country it used to be. You see it in the art and the literature. Here's the beginning of a Russian kids story: "In the golden holiness of a night that will never be be seen again and will never return, there lived in a certain country far, far away at the other side of the great waters, a little mosquito."
Russian traditional dress (above). Beautiful!
The Russian Orthodox church certainly contributed to the country's character. The religious art I've seen emphasizes the tragic, as if to say human beings find nobility and wisdom in their encounters with great suffering.
Talking about suffering, this poor girl (above) looks miserable, but everybody around her is celebrating. At least she has a pretty place to be miserable in.
A Vasnetsov witch (above) abducts her victim, then makes her getaway. Is that a baptismal font? What's going on here?
A typical covered porch outside the elevated front door of a well-to-do house. These outdoor porches were common in old Russia. Maybe that's where you took off your boots, or maybe it was meant to be a buffer separating the house from the world of freezing wind and ice outside.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Some guy commenters said they'd never buy a Pivo 2 (the subject of the preceding post, which you should have read before reading this) because it looks so girly. That's understandable; let's face it, it probably is meant to appeal to women more than men. But the Japanese aren't stupid; nobody's going to neglect the guy market. I wonder what the guy version of Pivo will look like?
I'll make a wild guess and speculate that it'll have a kazillion gauges, just like the B-29 Superfortress cockpit above. I like to customize things that I own and I figure a lot of guys must feel the same way. They'll want to customize the way their car drives. They'll want dashboard control over every variable item in the motor, carriage and tires, much more than they have now, and that might necessitate lots of gauges and throttles.
Guys like the kind of robot head featured in the Pivo 2, but maybe they'd prefer one modeled after Bridget Bardot.
Or maybe Robbie the Robot.
Probably some guys will prefer the grotesque look, and will take the face shield off the robot head.
I'm probably wandering off topic, but the idea of customization of cars always reminds me of that venerable hippie favorite, the Volkswagon bus. Talk about customizable: people used to rip out the seats and put in interiors that resembled everything from an RV vehicle to a New Orleans bordello. My guess is that guys in the future will want to customize their cars so that each one is one-of-a-kind.
The Volkswagon bus really was a tiny bus. You felt gigantic inside, but also very cozy.
Jorge said the car he'd like to own would look something like the Morgan Lifecar, shown above. Holy Cow! It looks like a Bugatti crossed with the Batmobile. I'll bet it's not cheap.
Here's (above) the Chevy Volt. Not much window space, and conventional compared to the Pivo, but it looks great.
Posted by Eddie Fitzgerald at 8:11 PM
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Here's a Japanese concept car that I think would sweep the American market if it ever sold here. It's the Nissan Pivo 2, unveiled at last year's Tokyo Motor Show.
The wheels work independently, making parallel parking a breeze. You just pull up to the space you want to park in, change the direction of the wheels, and glide in. The whole passenger pod can turn 360 degrees, so you can face the space you're moving into, even if the rest of the body is facing the other way. An earlier version of the Pivo could lean backward and forward as it turned. It's easy to imagine a later version making sudden, quirky changes of direction, like a family pet.
But there's more! The car features a movable robot head that that talks to you, suggests alternative routes, tells jokes, tells you what needs fixing and what groceries you wanted to buy, and watches to see if you're dozing off so it can wake you. It contains facial recognition software so it'll recognize and talk to your friends, too.
If you were to approach the locked car from the outside, and click your key chain beeper to unlock it, the passenger pod might revolve to face you, and maybe even lean toward you a little and appear to pant. The friendly robot head would track you and flash a smile, as if it was thrilled to see you.
Do you see what I'm getting at? The entire car, not just the robot head, is a kind of pet. You develop an affection for it. That's a bold, new idea...a car that elicits emotional attachment from the owner. I predict Nissan is going to make a lot of money with this! Why didn't Americans think of this? Where was General Motors?
Don't expect to see it on the road for another five or six years. The car runs on lithium batteries, which aren't practical yet, and it has a top speed of only 60 miles an hour. And there's safety issues. That's OK, it'll be worth the wait. Imagine what the robot'll be able to do five years from now! You'll be able to have conversations with it!
Sunday, September 14, 2008
I thought I'd talk some more about the difference between an artist at the top of his game, and one who's in decline. Obviously everybody winds down with time, that's nothing to be ashamed of, but I thought if we could isolate what that decline consists of, we might be able to take some steps to slow it down in our own work.
In my opinion an artist at the peak of his form is more likely to be aware of how weird the world around us is. He'll do a gag about sleeping but for him the real gag is that we sleep at all, and how strange the idea of sleeping is. Think about it! For a third of every day we lie flat as a board under a cloth which might have obsessive patterns on it, all the time happily clutching a pillow or a teddy bear. That's truly funny...all the more so because it's real.
In the example above (click to enlarge), it seems like the artist is also mocking the idea of bedrooms. When you think about it, it is kind of funny that we set aside a whole room to sleep in, and that we decorate it so differently than we do the rest of the house. Catch the low, ignorantly-executed window, and the way Mutt looks bunched up on the extreme edge of the bed. Those red spots are hilarious, as are the fez and the gloves!
There's also something funny about the minimal staging: a pleasantly unconscious horizontal friend, a low ceiling, a dopey chair, a low window, another planet outside the window (the Moon), a bed covered with obsessive dots, and Jeff standing in the middle, unaware that he's become part of the weird, awkward composition. Sheer bliss! It's all so delightfully strange and uniquely realistic at the same time!
Now look at this (above) more modern example, presumably done by an artist in decline. Once again the gag is about sleeping, but there's no sign that the artist sees sleeping as an outrageous activity. The artist has made his piece with the act of sleeping, it's perfectly normal for him! How sad! And there are other missed opportunities! The fact that it all plays out in a yard, and what a yard is, might have been a kind of visual gag if it had been handled right.
Maybe the problems like this come about because the artist sees the writer as the star, and thinks of himself only as an illustrator at the writer's service. Big mistake! The comic strip is an artist's medium, and in an artist's medium the primary satisfaction should come from the art, not the writing.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
I just had the weirdest experience! I just spent hours writing what I thought would be my best blog post ever. I was so proud of it that I was going to let it stay up all weekend so readers would have time to re-read it over and over again, and reflect on it. I imagined dads reading it to their kids and the kids being forever changed by it and growing up to be President and all that. I bit my lip the whole time I was writing. Anyway, when it was almost finished, I came to a depressing realization. I just couldn't bear to give it away for free.
I'm determined that, even if it's objectively bad, and even if I only get paid in back issues of some obscure magazine, that I'm going to sell this thing. I've gotta do it, just to say that I did it.
So that leaves me with an unexpected space to fill, and I'm too sleepy to think. Fortunately I have something really neat to share, and here it is...four of the best photos that I've seen lately. The only problem is that I can't remember who did them or even how I discovered them. I hope you like them. I'm not sure if they're even enlargeable.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Wow! I got some great convalescence presents! John gave me Leslie Carbaga's new Hot Stuff collection, and a neat anthology of "Tales of Suspense." Comics are the perfect thing to read when you're all doped up and drooling on yourself like I was. The problem is that stories like "Goom" made me laugh so much that I thought my staples would pop out. Mike gave me one of the very best Al Capp ads from the old Life magazine and some Smoking Loon Cabernet. I'll have to defer drinking that til I can take alcohol, but cabernet's my favorite wine, and the label is a stunner.
But that's not all! Check out this great video get well card (above) that Jim Arnold sent me. He made it just for me; I feel so flattered! It's the perfect gift for one filmmaker to give another...the gift of film.
By the way, I'm getting better and better, though I'm still flat on my back and experiencing problems most of the day. I may get the staples out on Friday. Today I actually had real creative thoughts, just like real people have. I was deliriously happy to have my mind working again. The house is a mess and there'll be a lot to clean up when this is over.
If I'm up to it, I may bring a sketchbook to the hospital with me and do caricatures of some of the patients on the floor where I used to be. I want to draw adults rather than kids, even though kids are a better audience. Kids are always getting clowns and movie stars and presents when they're in the hospital. They don't need me as much as the poor, neglected adults who just have to lie there and languish in daytime TV hell.
I have a much more benign view of the hospital nursing staff than I did when I wrote my blog about the hospital. Now that I can think again I can see the reasons for some of the procedures that seemed senseless to me before. I'd like to thank the staff who did such a good job for me. And my family...this would be the perfect place to thank them, if only they didn't insist that I keep silent about them on the blog.
Talking about thanks: THANKS TO ALL MY BLOG FRIENDS WHO WROTE IN TO WISH ME WELL! It was much, much appreciated!!!!!!!
P.S.: I just got this super-hilarious bebop dance from Steve Worth:
Posted by Eddie Fitzgerald at 11:40 PM
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
Most of these are pictures of the Israeli master of disguise, Dubi Preger. Looking at them makes me wonder, if I were running from the law, or were in a witness protection program, how would I make myself up to avoid being detected?
If this were the seventies or eighties the hip capitalist disguise might be a good option. The long hair covers the ears, making it unnecessary to change them, and people who wear hair like that frequently wear sunglasses, so covering the eyes wouldn't draw much attention.
A simple, easy to do change (above), requiring a life-style change, but one that looks easy to pull off.
Here's (above)another easy one, except it would require painfully sticking a stretcher up the nose every day. The grey beard would would work great with grey contact lenses.
Putty noses (above) change an appearance but you'd have to be an expert at applying them. Even Dubi had trouble pulling it off.
Here (above) Dubi makes up a couple of friends. This (above) is obviously too theatrical but it's not a bad disguise if it could be made to look more natural. The guy looks like someone who wouldn't stand out in a crowd, and the change seems to suit him. It's amazing how even a slight change in hairline can give someone a different look.
Of course you don't want your disguise (above) to be too obvious.
Here's (above) a vending machine disguise that would allow women to elude night-time pursuers. The amazing thing is that this machine fabric is meant to be worn under ordinary clothes, and to be forgotten about when not in use.
This is completely off-topic but I noticed it on a sidebar to Dubi's pictures. This (above) is a hundreds of years old mummy of a revered Japanese monk who, over a period of years, mummified himself while he was still alive. He ate lots of resins, injected them under his skin, bathed in them, etc.
Here's (above) a 5 minute YouTube clip showing all of Lon Chaney's numerous disguises. Beside the Phantom of the Opera I like the London After Midnight one the best.
Posted by Eddie Fitzgerald at 10:15 PM