Monday, June 20, 2016


Paul Klee famously said, "a line is a dot that went for a walk."

But some lines pause along the way.  Let's consider why.

Paul Coker Jr.'s line stops, digs down, then springs forward again. 

This gives his line additional energy,  as if it is propelled on its path by booster rockets.

Like Coker's line, Robert Fawcett's line here lingers at strategic spots on its walk:


Fawcett doesn't pause out of uncertainty.  Rather, he punctuates his line as a way of emphasizing his commitment.

Here we see Ronald Searle's line stopping, backing up, and digging in again like successive blows by a sculptor chiseling into stone: 

Searle's technique adds character and musculature to his line. 

Another good example is Mort Drucker's trademark bouncing line. 

Drucker's line loops back, bestowing a springiness that could never be achieved in lines that walk the shortest path between two points.

These lines all walk with a hesitation step.  They're very different from the flowing, sinuous line of artists such as Hirschfeld.


The marks left at these stopping points reflect the added pressure of a wrist and the increased flow of ink.  But mostly they show viewers that an active brain has chosen to renew its commitment to a line at this precise spot.  They display a series of choices rather than a single choice.   They are the graphic equivalent of leaving behind a trail of exclamation marks.  

In the right hands, these choices can greatly increase the character and strength of a line. 

Friday, June 10, 2016


In the 1950s the Maxwell Paper company commissioned a series of paintings by famous illustrators showing the process for creating advertising art.  The series is a great archaeological record of a long dead world. 

The series was called "Partners in Productive Advertising."  It gave each illustrator the opportunity to show his (yes, they were all male) interpretation of a key man (yes, they were all male except for the pretty model) in the creation of an ad.  In a few short years, this world would evolve into the glamorous, lucrative world of Mad Men.  Art directors would take off their ties and start wearing Nehru jackets.  But in the 1950s the advertising world was more down to earth and functional.

Illustrator Steven Dohanos shows us the busy Account Executive dealing with the client. 

Austin Briggs shows us the Advertising Manager  ("[B]ehind that frown lies a battleground where conflicting loyalties temper every decision.")


 Al Dorne shows us the copy writer trying to come up with an original idea for the ad:

 Al Parker depicts the artist painting the ad (although the artist is largely obscured behind a drawing board and a pretty girl):

Robert Fawcett shows us the Art Director enthusiastically reviewing the work of the artist:


With the illustration completed and approved,  John Atherton shows us the Production Manager jumping into action to implement the ad:

Finally, Peter Helck (who was always more comfortable painting machines than people) shows us the printer:

There we have it-- seven different treatments by seven famous illustrators of the day.  Today the advertising industry has changed; the technology and clothing in these pictures seem laughable to us, and the process seems cumbersome. 

But no matter how obsolete these pictures seem, there are some timeless elements that remain relevant.  For example, no matter what the era we can still tell when an artist has faked his way through a picture:


Dorne took that face off some convenient shelf and faked the foreshortening of that figure. Dorne's pencil-to-the-brow pose is a dopey way of showing creative thinking.  That muddy swamp of colors on the desk reflects poor planning in any era.

Telephones were still fairly primitive in Dorne's day, but that didn't stop Dorne from phoning it in.

Contrast Dorne's contribution with Fawcett's:

The tired, jaded expression on the Art Director's face is clever and revealing (as is his bad tie).  Fawcett could've taken Dorne's lazy way out, but Fawcett saw an opportunity to do something interesting with expressions and took full advantage of it.  

Most of all, notice the structural integrity of Fawcett's picture-- the overlapping orthogonal shapes and angles that seem like a random mess on a busy desk, but elegantly convey the architecture of the scene:

No matter how old fashioned the advertising jobs and technologies and haircuts depicted in these pictures may seem, we can still look at these pictures and distinguish quality from fakes, as bright as day.

Today's lesson comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson:  "The excellent is new forever."

(Many thanks to my friend Nick Meglin for the tearsheets for the Maxwell Paper Company series.)


Tuesday, May 31, 2016


       "To live is to war with trolls"  -- Ibsen

This week I gave a talk on copyright law at the annual convention of the National Cartoonists Society (always a fun event).  My talk included an Eight Minute History of Thievery in Cartooning, recounting some of the colorful disputes over who created what.  This post is taken from that talk.

The history of comics is streaked with plagiarism like bacon is streaked with fat.

In fact, the very first comic strip resulted in a huge copyright battle.  Richard Outcault, who created the Yellow Kid in 1895, found himself competing with a duplicate Yellow Kid in a rival newspaper:

dueling Yellow Kids by Outcault (left) and George Luks (right)
Rudolph Dirks created The Katzenjammer Kids in 1897 but when he asked for a vacation his syndicate tried to replace him with another artist, Harold Knerr.  Dirks sued to regain his strip but after a long court battle,  Dirks and Knerr ended up with two virtually identical strips: The Captain and The Kids and The Katzenjammer Kids The two strips competed for audiences for 67 years, from 1912 to 1979.  When The Captain and The Kids finally folded, both creators were already dead.

Virtually identical characters by Dirks (left) and Knerr (right)
In 1933,  Ham Fisher hired a young assistant, Al Capp, to help with his comic strip,  Joe Palooka.   Capp noticed that one of the characters in the strip, a large bumbling mountain man called Big Leviticus, was popular with readers so Capp quietly developed his own strip about another large bumbling mountain man, Li'l Abner, and sold it to a rival syndicate.

A strong resemblance: Fisher's Big Leviticus (left) and Capp's Li'l Abner (right)
When Fisher discovered what Capp had done, he went ballistic.  He claimed that Capp had stolen his ideas, and reminded readers that "the original hillbillies" were in Joe Palooka.  His ads urged readers not to be "fooled by imitators."  Capp and Fisher descended into a bitter feud which lasted 20 years.  When Fisher finally committed suicide in 1955, Capp crowed that he considered it “a personal victory,” saying that driving Fisher to suicide was his "greatest accomplishment.” 

As you can tell, the early years of cartooning saw a lot of heated battles involving different kinds of borrowing, copyright infringement and plagiarism.  But cartoonists in the early decades never dreamed how sophisticated and lucrative theft could be.  In later years, what was once criticized as "theft" came to be renamed "appropriation art" or "repurposing" or "transformative use" or "sampling" or "re-contextualiation." What all of these new categories have in common is that they represent minor, unimaginative art. 

The legitimization of this type of borrowing began with pop art.  Bill Overgard's panel from his 1961 strip, Steve Roper was copied by Roy Lichtenstein.  When reporters questioned Lichtenstein he responded, "What I do is form, whereas the comic strip is not formed in the sense I'm using the word."  Overgard replied, "he said he never copies them exactly, [but] he comes pretty close..."

Fast forward a couple of decades and you encounter the fine artist Erró (Guðmundur Guðmundsson) who specializes in copying other people's comic art, redrawing it in a mash up, and selling it as his own fine art.  When cartoonist Brian Bolland visited the gift shop at the Pompidou Center in France, he found that Erró had copied Bolland's cover for Tank Girl in a fine art poster.  Bolland's name had been carefully deleted from his picture.
Bolland standing in front of Erró's poster
Bolland wrote a long, thoughtful letter on social media which shamed Erró into turning over his unsold inventory of prints to Bolland.

But Lichtenstein and Erró are amateurs compared to Richard Prince who shamelessly steals from illustrators, cartoonists and other commercial art.  For example, Prince copied this cartoon as a work of fine art...

...which recently sold at auction in 2012 for $812,500:

Once when Prince was sued for copyright infringement, he offered this legal theory for his borrowing, along with his personal opinion of the lawyer who filed the lawsuit:
I hated that lawyer; that lawyer was really an asshole.  I just wanted to be like-- my attitude was like, Dude, this is my artwork, and you are a square.  You are a fucking square.  For me, it's like I wasn't going to be a part of his world, I wasn't going to acknowledge his world. ... Copyright?  That's absurd."
Finally, no history of theft in cartooning would be complete without mentioning ebay.   An excellent example is the following gentleman who, under the name "fosworld," was selling fake Calvin & Hobbes artwork as originals on ebay.


The scam was easy to confirm because the cartoonist, Bill Watterson, had donated those originals to The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University where they reside today.  When confronted, the seller continued to sell the fake strips, dodging and weaving and offering various excuses.  Complaints to ebay about the seller were slow to get a response; ebay is notorious for ignoring intellectual property rights in situations where ebay might make a quick buck from somebody else's fraud.

Finally the outrage over the Calvin & Hobbes forgeries became hot enough that fosworld quietly shifted to other, less troublesome inventory.  To my knowledge none of fosworld's victims ever got their money back.  If you encounter one of them, tell them to write fosworld. 

Theft in cartooning continues to mutate and evolve as fast as cartooning itself, and the internet is the perfect petri dish.  Be careful out there!

Monday, May 16, 2016


This weeks marks the 100th anniversary of Norman Rockwell's first painting for the Saturday Evening Post.

Rockwell's relationship with the Post continued for 47 years and included 323 covers.  It was one of the most important and remarkable creative associations of the 20th century.


At its peak, the Post enjoyed a circulation of 6.2 million readers.  People in small towns without a museum or library looked forward to receiving the Post cover each week; for some, illustrations in publications were their only contact with art.  People in those days before television or the internet lingered over the covers.   Rockwell had a far larger audience than Picasso. 

In what was called "the Century of the Common Man," Rockwell's covers helped to serve as glue for a nation by visualizing a common human nature through two World Wars and the Great Depression.

Rockwell's famous "Four Freedoms" first appeared in the Post
Rockwell didn't know it at the time, but his audience included some of the great image makers of the future.  His Post covers had a profound influence on Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, starting when they were young boys.  His covers taught the young film makers how to frame a story, prioritize the elements of a scene and lead the eye around a picture.  Said Lucas: "He was able to sum up the story and make you want to read the story, but actually understand who the people were, what their motives were, everything in one little frame."

Rockwell's high standards are truly inspiring.  He painted "100%" in gold on his easel to remind himself always to do his very best.      

The centennial of Rockwell's first cover is being celebrated this week by the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Philipp Rupprecht (1900-1975) illustrated children's books in Germany to help warn children about the dangers of Jews.

Jewish perverts attempt to lure Aryan children with candy

Learning to recognize Jews by the shapes of their noses
His knack for drawing Jews earned him a position as the political cartoonist for the Nazi newspaper, The Stormtrooper, where he worked enthusiastically from 1925 to 1945.

 "Jewish Murder Plan against Gentile Humanity Revealed"

Wealthy Jews attempt to seduce blonde women with money
 The editorial policy of The Stormtrooper was not subtle: "The Jewish people ought to be exterminated root and branch."

Hitler believed the arts were a crucial tool for shaping public opinion.  His government commissioned thousands of patriotic works and sponsored art competitions and festivals in villages and towns to reinforce his message with the public.  Recognizing the importance of political cartoons, the government released Rupprecht from military service so he could continue drawing for The Stormtrooper.  Hitler supported the newspaper until the end of the war, despite shortages and competing demands for resources.

Those were truly the golden years for government sponsored hate mongering.   Since that time, funding seems to have tapered off. 

This may be partly because things didn't work out so well for poor Philipp.   At the end of World War II, with Germany in ruins,  Rupprecht was put on trial for his role as a cheerleader for the massacre of millions of innocents.  He was sentenced to six years hard labor.  After his release from prison he worked quietly as a painter in Munich until his death in 1975.

Despite the mountains of meticulous documentation produced during the war crimes trials, some still refuse to believe the concentration camps occurred.   Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has repeatedly complained about “the myth of the massacre of Jews known as the Holocaust,” asserting that “The Holocaust is an event whose reality is uncertain and if it has happened, it’s uncertain how it has happened.”

Khamenei's words alone have proven unpersuasive to most sane people, so Iranian forces have begun a talent search for the next Philipp Rupprecht.  Perhaps pictures can galvanize public opinion where words have failed. 

In December 2015 the Tehran International Cartoon Biennial announced a cash prize of $50,000 for the best cartoon about the Holocaust.  An exhibition displaying 150 of the best Holocaust cartoons from the Tehran  Biennial will open this week, timed to coincide with the anniversary of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

When the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was confronted with the contest he attempted to minimize the government's official role, but the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum did an excellent job of tracking the funding for the competition to official Iranian sources.


Thursday, April 28, 2016


Regular readers know that I'm a big fan of Tom Fluharty's sketches.

In an era when quality drawing is under-appreciated, Fluharty's strong, bold, insightful drawings stand out.

So I was particularly pleased when Fluharty announced the release of his splendid new collection of drawings, The Art of the Sketch.  Looking through Fluharty's book, several lessons stand out.

I love this drawing of Ringo Starr:

It looks like it was drawn quickly, like the crack of a whip.  Yet if you look more closely, you note that he paid attention to-- and drew-- each and every tooth individually. 

You don't notice such details at first because Fluharty has the gift to capture them with a vigorous, energetic scribble rather than the painful cross hatching or stippling that many meticulous draftsmen use to capture details. 

The point is not that Fluharty makes highly detailed drawings-- to the contrary, he often ignores major details.

The point is that Fluharty notices such details; when Fluharty has a pencil in his hand, not one feather falls from a sparrow unnoticed.  And from that wealth of observations, he judiciously selects the details he thinks are important.  In the drawing of Ringo,  that smile is the centerpiece and Fluharty apparently felt that those ungainly teeth were worth the additional effort.  We may not be conscious of them, but such details contribute a lot.

You see similar attention in this more finished drawing of Stan Lee.


Look at how much imagination Fluharty has invested in those gnarled old fingers still striking the "spidey" pose: 

Or check out the wringing hands in this drawing of Hillary Clinton...

In both cases, you can tell that Fluharty decided that hands would be an important part of the story, and went back to add them to his drawing.

This is a fine collection of working drawings, and one that I enjoyed thoroughly.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016


158 years ago last week, the first patent was issued for the modern pencil.

This week, HTC Vive released their latest virtual reality technology, which allows an artist to "paint in three dimensions with a bevy of whimsical substances.  Flick a selection tool and you can add twinkling stars, smoke and swirls of blinking neon or frame your creation against a cosmic backdrop."

The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on.

One has to wonder what remains for old fashioned drawing in an era where robots can use face recognition software to paint entirely new Rembrandts, complete with Rembrandt's characteristic surface textures.

I received a reassuring answer recently when I went to the new blockbuster movie, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. 

The film is based on a clash between Batman and Superman in Frank Miller's smart, imaginative comic book, The Dark Knight Returns.



Drawn in old fashioned ink, The Dark Knight Returns was a major leap forward in the evolution of comic books.  Beautifully designed...

...and staged with intelligence and conviction, Miller's book was a genuine work of art.

The movie, on the other hand, was a two and a half hour, huge, honking mess. It was state-of-the-art big budget digital story telling: a frenzy of high rez destruction, collisions, nukes, plane crashes, explosions, flames, huge monsters and collapsing buildings, but not a hint of judgment or proportion or artistic restraint.  The pretentious choir-of-angels soundtrack and the self-important posturing ("man vs. god") were particularly irksome in a movie so devoid of an artistic soul.

Henry Adams wasn't a movie critic but he correctly observed, "Man has mounted science and is now run away with."

Despite the film's superior size, speed, decibel level, budget, and the advantages of 30 years of technological enhancements, the hand drawn comic book remains a far more powerful work of art.

Score one for the brain and the pencil.