Thursday, December 04, 2008


I'm a huge fan of Gary Larson's "Far Side." I even bought the 2 volume set that contains almost everything he ever did. I and the rest of my family pick it up all the time, and it comes in handy for killing water beetles and black widow spiders. Come to think of it, it would kill just about anything it was dropped on. The paper's the heavy kind that's made by melting powdered rock into the page. The result is a book that's as heavy and indestructible as a cinder block. I know it'll be a comfort to Gary that, long after his bones have turned to dust, people will still be killing bugs with his books.

Gary doesn't like to see his work on the net, but I want to talk what he does and I don't know how to do that without illustrations. I thought I might strike a balance by using only illustrations that are already on the net, that I got off Google Images. That way I'm not adding to what's already out there. I hope that's OK.

Well, Larson was the best newspaper cartoonist of his time, was he not? What I wonder is how he managed to get along with the syndicate. Didn't they try to censor him? Didn't he get notes like: "Nix this! Nobody'll understand it!" Maybe doing one panel cartoons helped. Maybe they come under less scrutiny.

And I can't figure out how the syndicate let him do cartoons without regular characters. Syndicate people can't be too different than the kind of people who run TV animation, and those guys (women, actually) want nothing but repeating characters in repeating locales like "The Simpsons." How did Gary manage to talk them into doing different characters and different situations?

Larson is the king of funny and deliberately ignorant staging. I love the way those two tall slabs (above) are awkwardly jammed up against each other in the middle of a ridiculously huge, empty plain. And look at the people! Larson must have watched a lot of old black and white animation. This cartoon (above) reminds me of old animation where people pour out of giant, deflating buildings like hordes of ants.

It's funny to think that, while TV executives were telling us that modern audiences required talking heads, Larson was out there making a fortune by doing broad, cartoony humor. His characters don't run around like the ones in the old cartoons, but the concepts are broad as they come.

Larson is frequently cited as an artist who can't draw well, but whose subject matter is so weird that it doesn't matter. I disagree. Larson's a terrific artist. If you don't think so, compare his work to imitators like Shuster and McPherson above. Unlike his imitators Larson's layouts are always clear and funny, and built around pleasing shapes and interesting negative spaces.

A lot of Larson's humor is in the backgrounds. I like to think that's because he thinks the world that characters inhabit is weird and funny, not just the characters. In the kitchen cartoon above Shuster draws a completely generic room. he doesn't seem to have an opinion about it. If Larson, who does have an opinion about kitchens, had drawn the same room he would have let us know how weird it was that people cook their food in a funky, boxy place like that.

One-panel newspaper cartoons used to be fairly flat. If all you're going to do is have a guy sit on a chair and make droll comments to his wife, I guess flat is all you need. Not so with Larson. He often deals with big, flamboyant subjects that need room and 3 dimensions to play. His characters are almost flat but his backgrounds go way back!

BTW, I notice that Larson uses a clean Rapidograph-type line. No thick and thin, no scratchiness. Apparently Crumb isn't the only artist who draws that way. Me, I usually prefer thick and thin, but I admit that there's something obsessive and weird about lines with uniform thickness, and that perfectly compliments Larson's type of humor. It's a case where the medium exactly matches the message.

Terrific staging (above)! Clampett did something similar toward the end of "Book Review." Chaplin did it in "The Rink." It's a deliberately unnatural and ignorant background that obviously exists just to put across a gag!

Here's (above) some weird Larson people bunched unnaturally close together and talking underneath an absurdly empty and bleak ceiling. You're laughing before you read the punchline. That's the way cartoons are supposed to be. The art is supposed to be funny, not just the words. The mood of the room is supposed to be funny, all by itself.

How do you like the patterns on the women's dresses? How do you like their hair styles and glasses? Isn't it a relief to see women who are drawn funny, and not cute or beautiful? Let serious people draw beautiful women. We're cartoonists. We're above that. Women should only be attractive when that's necessary to motivate the gags, as it frequently was in Tex Avery and John K cartoons. The same goes for men. No attractive men unless the gag needs them!!!

I love the way Gary uses windows. In his cartoons we're frequently looking into a room or out of it. We humans love to be inside our boxes, which we decorate with little knick-knacks, but we have a great curiosity about what's going on outside the box. We can't seem to make up our minds about where we want to be, inside or outside. Inspired by Larson, I'd love to do a cartoon with lots of window action.

A closing note: I didn't mean to slam Mc Pherson as hard as I did. He's a Larson spinoff, but he puts a lot of work into everything he does and manages to be funny much more often than most of his peers.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Geez, I love Marshall's caricatures. They look like they were done on Photoshop, but they're from the early 1990s and I think they derive from darkroom manipulation and prismacolor enhancement.

Marshall did these when there weren't very many people in the computer caricature field. Interesting, huh? (Marshall deserves a much better intro than this but I'm so sick from medication that I can hardly keep myself from falling off the chair I'm sitting on.)

Sunday, November 30, 2008


OK, here's my understanding of the nine types of white guys currently on the street. I'll probably get this wrong, but I figure I'll never get straightened out if I don't hazard a list, so here it is...

1) HIP HOPPERS: Mostly black and Hispanics dress this way, but lots of white guys, too. Baggy, floppy tee shirts, long wide buccaneer shorts, exposed underwear, Pfat shoes, hoodies, bald head, tattoos, ear rings, etc. Baggies are on the way out, but you still see plenty on the street, especially baggy shorts.

2) SKATEBOARDERS: Lots of baggy and/or grunge, but now also tight jeans, like the 80s skater above, drawn by David Gemmill (all the drawings on this post are by David). Skater sneakers. Long hair or bald. Baseball caps on the way out, unless they have net sides and squarish fronts like the ones truckers wear.

3) EMOS: Ultra sensitive, concerned about global warming, wear tight black jeans, thick red and black flannel shirts for the skinny Canadian lumberjack look. A few wear eye make-up and get tramp stamps.

Emo Music: My Chemical Romance. Yuppie-type emos like Coldplay. Emos pretty much control rock.

INDIES: Emo sub-group that favors sentimental neo-folk music and is outraged when a band sells out. Eclectic dress that borrows from other groups. Music: Tegan and Sara (that's them above, singing "Nineteen"). Song: "How to Save a Life" by The Fray.

4)PREPS: Short for "preppy." They like to look good in clothes. METROSEXUALS: A sub-group within the preps, they're even more concerned about clothes and style (argyle). They're not gay, but some are influenced by gay attitudes.

5) ART SCHOOL HIPSTERS: Tight black jeans, 80s Rayban sunglasses, Hair over half the face.

When hipsters smoke, they smoke bidis (beedis?), a type of expensive, bad-tasting, hand-rolled, fruit-flavored, herbal cigarettes that come from India. Hipsters feel superior to emos, shop at "American Apparel."

6) GAY: Preppy, shop at Abacrombe & Fitch.

7) GOTHS: Tight black jeans, black everything. Critical, sarcastic, but not as surly as they used to be. Skinny goths shop at Hot Topic, fat goths at Torrid.

8) JUST PLAIN GUYS: tee shirt and jeans. Most guys fall into this category. Here David depicts a just plain guy (himself) encountering what I would call an art school hipster. Me, I like the way the girl is dressed, but it looks like David is critical.

9) NERDS: Cultural or intellectual interests, plain or eclectic clothes.

Well, how did I do? Did I get it right? Thanks to Kali Fontecchio for all the good information (probably messed up and misunderstood by me), commenters Darbyshire and Patrick who turned me on to Indies, and David Gemmill for the great drawings. David should do a book on the LA club scene!

Also, commenters brought up two more categories: Retrophiles (young fogeys into old media), and heavy metal rednecks. I completely forgot about rednecks! That's what happens when you live in LA; you lose touch with what's happening in the rest of the country!


I feel sorry for police sketch artists because they're snubbed by other artists. Artsy-type artists simply can't see the art in the kind of flat, symmetrical faces that you see on wanted posters (above). That's too bad because the artists who do the posters are often more skilled than you'd think, they just work in a medium that's deliberately designed to look clunky.

This (above) is, believe it or not, the most useful kind of police sketch. It's not pretty, but it wasn't meant to be. It's intentionally crude, emphasizing only the few bits of information provided by the witness, and adding nothing. It gives the officer on the street lots of room for interpretation.

What you don't want is a sketch that's too specific (above). It may look good, but a face that's too detailed will lead to a search for that exact face, and no other, which is a mistake. It's impossible to derive a true likeness from the limited information given by witnesses. An artist has to resist the temptation to fill in a drawing with made-up detail in order to make the sketch look pretty.

A witness description that says, "He was a blonde with wire-frame glasses" is almost useless, since glasses can be discarded and hair can be dyed. A trained police artist listens for details that are hard to fake, like the shape of the jaw, the cheekbones, and the size of the eyes, nose and ears. Sometimes glasses are only sketched lightly and hair is made to deliberately look fake so the viewer can imagine the face without it.

A good police artist is a good interviewer. He knows the questions to ask which will spotlight the details he's interested in.

It's predicted that computer programs will gradually replace sketch artists, but it's been slow in coming. That's because computer sketches are too specific. You end up looking for that exact face to the exclusion of other similar types. The common programs are Faces 4.0 and Smith & Wesson's Identi-Kit 6.0.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Here's (above) the sculpture over the door of the National Puppet Theatre in Prague. Nifty, huh?

And a wider view of the entrance. They're playing a puppet version of Don Giovanni! Maybe this shouldn't surprise me since several of the great composers wrote for the puppet theatre, and at one time puppet theatre was more popular than "legitimate" theatre.

I've read that Prague is overflowing with marionette shops. I wouldn't mind visiting these! Of course I want to see the marionette shows even more, but I can't help wanting to see some well-done puppets close up, so I can see how they work.

A window display (above) in one of the stores.

I've heard marionette stores (above) are all over Central Europe, especially the Czech Republic, Germany and Austria.

Here's (above) a water-powered mechanical puppet theatre in Salzburg.

Another window display (above).

Here's (above) a marionette museum.

Another view (above).

Inside (above) there's a workshop where kids get to make marionettes.

More interesting shop displays (above). Puppets look great when they're all bunched together.

No, unfortunately you can't have this puppet (above)!

A window display (above) in one of the high-end stores.

Some of the store marionettes (above) are close to what you'd see on the stage.

Nice stuff (above), especially when seen together like this!

Some finger puppets (above).

And a kazillion tiny marionettes (above)! Something for every budget!