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?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Tuesday, March 27, 2007


A few weeks ago I read part of a palmistry book, not just any palmistry book but a really neat one that emphasized the horrific aspects. It was full of dire warnings lest you ever encounter someone who has airspaces between the bottoms of their fingers (a serial killer) or fourth fingers longer than the third (chronic misfits). What a find! I thought it would be a great subject for a blog!

Unfortunately in an addled state I returned it unfinished to the library to avoid paying a ten cent fine. Now I've recovered my senses but I can't remember the name of the book or which branch I got it from. Too bad! Anyway, I'm not likely to get it back any time soon so I thought I'd post the doodles I did while reading it. Here they are....

Monday, March 26, 2007


Alright, I watched the chase clip ("Naked City," above) again and here's my very tentative analysis....

The villain represents evil, an evil that had successfully hid itself inside the body of the city, but which is now isolated and squeezed out into the outside world. I love the opening shot: the evil demon is now isolated against the huge abstraction of the white billboard. He'd like to ferret back into the city again but he can't, it won't accept him. He runs into an arcade of some sort but the crowd goes about its own business and offers him no shelter. He adjusts his hat on the way out but I like to think that he's tipping his hat to the ladies, pathetically trying to ingratiate himself, but that no longer works.

On the sidewalk we track along with him as he takes big, confident strides down the streets. I LOVE tracking shots like this! That technique helped to kill film comedy but it was a big shot in the arm for drama. Now we see evil in it's full glory, confident and contmptuous of the human beings surrounding it. But he has to stop to pretend to look at a tie...maybe he's not as in control as he thought. A policeman rudely stops him in his tracks. The humans have the upper hand! From this point on we think of him as a fox frantically fleeing the hounds, his doom pre-destined.

He enters the enclosed stairway leading up to the bridge, a Joseph Cambell-type symbol for gates of Hell. The gates are guarded by a dog which bites him...more Cambell! He shoots the dog and runs up onto the wide bridge walkway. People run out of his way, everybody knows he's evil now. The music is frenetic! In what I consider the best shot of the film we see him running away from the distant city down the surreal landscape of a vast, concrete runway. The sheltering city is closed to him now. The fool thinks he can escape into Hell!

Well, the clip ends there, just about. That's my take on it.


One of my favorite 50s crime films is "Naked City" starring my namesake Barry Fitzgerald. The brilliant 15-minute opening narration is unavailable on YouTube but I thought I'd put up a couple of clips from the long chase sequence at the end.

The half-minute clip above is the from the playground sequence where a cop asks a kid if she knows where the villain lives. It's here because it illustrates how important it is to pack a live-action film (not an animated one) with extras. If you're making a film, even an amateur film just for fun, cram every relative and friend you can find into the background. And use deep perspective when it fits. Don't shoot everything against a wall! Film teacher Bruce Block has some interesting opinions on this subject but that's a topic for another time.

Here's (above) part of the famous chase scene, made more famous by the lengthy discussion of it in the Karel Reiz book, "Technique of Film Editing." A whole generation of filmmakers learned their craft from this book. Don't rush out to buy it because there's probably better books on the shelves now.

I'm dying to try a commentary on a few scenes but I'm sleepy and it would take more thought than I can give it now. I get the feeling that there's an interesting sub-text going on but I can't figure it out what it is. OK, the city's like a character and the villain's like an animal running away from tormenters, but there seems to be more than that here. What do you think?

Saturday, March 24, 2007


Magnolia: "It's so nice here! Isn't it great to be away from men for a while?"

Mildred: "You bet! We can finally do the kinds of things WE like to do! Uh...Gladys, the ball's over here."

Petunia: "Oooo, look! A bus transfer!

Violet: "Yeah, men always want to talk about sex! Everything to them is phallic!"

Rodneyetta: "Violet, what are we going to do with you? You're so naive!"

Queen Elizabeth: "Hi girls! Do you mind if I hang out with you for a while? It's ever so stuffy in the palace!"

Magnolia: "(Gasp!) It's the Queen! And she's hanging out with us!!! Why that's...Uh, oh......Oh, dear..........Oh, no............" BRAAAAAP!!!

Mildred: "OH Jeez, Magnolia!

Gladys: "That darn Magnolia! She should do what I do. Whenever I want to do something gross like smell my armpits, I go behind a rock and do it in the shadows."

MILDRED: "We better go, girls! We have to get back to the Theory Mansion! Mike's going to be there tonight!
VIOLET: "Mike!?  You mean the world-famous cartoonist studmuffin?! I'm there!"

Friday, March 23, 2007


Did Rube Goldberg work in a primitive style!!??? Absolutely not!!!!!!! He was working in a deliberately comedic style, one of the most sophisticated and effective styles in all of cartoon history!
Poor Rube is always lumped together with Bud Fisher's "Mutt and Jeff" (the long, narrow strip above). Fisher was a funny and creative artist in his prime but he was never as funny, as innovative or as warm and "human" as Goldberg.

Goldberg had more in common with Milt Gross (no example here). Both were funny as hell and both seemed to love the people they were making fun of. I don't know about you but I find Goldberg's bottom two pictures of couples (above) to be extremely tender and appealing at the same time they're caricatured. Bud Fisher couldn't touch stuff like this.
So, is Goldberg's style primitive? No!!! If the purpose of a cartoon is to get laughs then this style is shockingly efficient. The audience is already smiling before they read the caption. If any style can be called primitive it's the modern style (with very notable exceptions), which simply doesn't deliver the comedic goods.
One last look at Goldberg (above) ...(Sigh!) and I turn you back to the modern comedic style below.
Note: I know the guy who did the color drawings above. He's a talented guy and he'd probably jump at the chance to work on something genuinely funny.



OK, this isn't one of my better efforts. I really should have redone it before posting it but, honestly, if I'd done that then I'd end up redoing everything I put up and I'd loose interest in blogging. The only way I've been able to do this on a daily basis is to put up my first or first and a half try and just hope for the best. (Sigh!)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Whew! (Puff! Pant!) Let me take a breather....OK, Back to it...

Man! That's a pretty complete list! The only name I can think of that's missing is "dork!"
Say, while I'm at it does anyone out there know which Harlan Ellison story contains his pages-long curse...or is it just a long insult? Fans will know what I mean. Come to think of it does anyone know where in the Bible I can find the long series of curses levied against anyone who touches the Arc of the Covenant?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


It's hard to believe but at one time the funny papers were actually funny. If evidence is needed here's (above) a couple of panels from George Herriman's "The Family Upstairs" (1911). Look at the woman's arms in the far left panel. They're not anatomical, they're probably not even on model; they're just funny. Look at the guy leaning against the wall in the far right panel. He's a bit stretched out but who cares? It's funny.

More Family Upstairs! I like the tall guy's hands and legs in the far left panel, and his running pose in the middle one.

Here (above) are a couple of panels from Frederick Opper's "Alphonse and Gaston" (1903). Sorry for the unfortunate racial content. I include it only because the characters and staging are so doggone funny.

Jumping ahead in time a bit, here's a panel from the book "I Shoulda Ate the Eclair" by Milt Gross. I'm told that a large part of the content in Milt's books appeared in the newspapers first so I'll regard this as newspaper art. And art is the right name for it. It's gorgeous and laugh-out-loud funny.

Here's (above) a sample from "Polly and Her pals" by Cliff Sterret. Wouldn't you like to have that furniture? Somebody should open up a Cliff Sterret store.

Last but not least, here's (above) a few panels from a 1942 "Maggie and Jiggs" Sunday Page. Funny, funny stuff from George McManus.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


All of these pictures are by John Currin. I never heard of him before I stumbled on his book in the library. It's a big book too! The guy is really prolific! I don't know what I think of this stuff. What do you think?

He likes to paint new faces on magazine photos. This looks like a redo of a "What kind of man reads Playboy?" ad. This is my favorite of the pictures on this page.


Thanks a million to William for sending me this link to the Collins Kids! John used to play this video all the time! Let me see what other good country I can find...

...How "bout this? Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys doing "San Antonio Rose!"

Or this: Jimmie Rodgers doing "Blue Yodel!" This is one of those infuriating clips that stops every few seconds the first time it plays, at least on my computer. If you have the same problem let it download in fits and starts then play it over again.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Two beautiful oil sketches by Rubens. The first (above) looks strikingly contemporary. You could almost believe it was done with PH Martin's dyes.

The second (above) is a terrific example of how a forceful, dynamic composition can still contain amazingly subtle and graceful detail. And what are those red/oranges? Is that vermilion or did he figure out a way to make ordinary burnt orange and red look luminous?

Thursday, March 15, 2007


Here's Rudolph Dirks' "Katzenjammer Kids" from 1902! Click to enlarge. This is better than anything in the funnies now and it's more than a hundred years old! Good Grief! Where did we go astray!?
I love the spacious layouts. Having room to breathe makes the action funnier somehow.
How about an Alphonse & Gaston page (above) from 1904? The writing isn't exactly Hamlet but it doesn't impede the graphics like most TV writing these days. .

Here's (above) a George McManus page from 1906. Once again, the story isn't much but it enables funny, beautiful layouts and that's no small thing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


This is too big a subject to cover in one post but I can still put up some pretty pictures. My interest in stage design comes from being blown away by the sets (or the influence of sets) in cartoons like "What's Opera, Doc?" and animated features like "Fantasia" and "Alice in Wonderland." The backdrop above is from "Guys and Dolls" (1950) but it also looks a lot like the street outside the stadium in "Baseball Bugs." Animation is full of theatrical influence.

Guys and Dolls was famous for its backdrops. Here's (above) a moody sketch of the sewer where the crap game took place. The designer made it seem immense, important and mysterious, like the interior of a cathedral.

I also like the sketches generated by theatrical costume designers. I say "sketches" because the real clothing seldom looks as good as the sketch it was derived from.

Set design went through a lot of drastic changes in the last 100 years. Here's a Russian design from the years immediately after the revolution. The chair in the middle gives us the scale. Russian modernists were incredibly inventive but their efforts came to an end almost overnight when Lenin decided that he preferred realism.

I'm not a fan of Hockney's swimming pool paintings but his stage design is interesting. Forget the simplistic vertical curtains in the design above. Look instead at the way he uses the orchestra pit as a set design element. He paints the floor white so the standing musicians in black look like sticks or spikes. In another picture (unseen) he blackens the floor so the black musicians are invisible then he puts bright red caps on them. In yet another one he underlights the musicians so they look like zombies. Nifty, huh?