Tuesday, February 20, 2007

COMICS AT THE NEW YORK TIMES

For more than a century, the New York Times kept its nose in the air and refused to carry comic strips the way other newspapers did. Odi Profanum Vulgus Et Arceo -- "I detest the common crowd, and I rebuff them."

As a result, the Times cordoned itself off from some of the best pen and ink work of the 20th century. Brilliant political cartoonists such as David Low, Pat Oliphant and Jeff MacNelly did not appear in the Times. Phenomenal comic strip artists such as Winsor McCay, George Herriman, Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff, Walt Kelly, Leonard Starr, Bill Watterson and others appeared in competitor newspapers, but never in the Times.

A few years ago, the Times relented and began running comics such as this.



I am amazed that, after resisting 100 years of great art, the Times finally reversed its position in order to carry such feeble work. They obviously still don't get it.




The Times seems to have been duped by the currently fashionable "I'm-so-smart-I don't-have-to-draw-well" genre. Many popular comic artists explain that the quality of their drawings is not important except to move the narrative forward. To me, such an art form is closer to typography than comic art. It shrinks from the potential of a combined words-and-pictures medium.





The funny thing is, many of these artists genuinely appreciate the accomplishments of their predecessors. They excuse themselves from striving for the same standards because they mistakenly believe that the content of their strips is clever or important enough to redeem poor visual execution.

They forgive themselves too easily, and so does the New York Times.

10 Comments:

Blogger Dominic Bugatto said...

An interesting post.

I'd have to agree with some of your assessments. Can't say I'm a fan of the sample shown. Someone like Chris Ware does this type of strip on a much higher level.

Perhaps the published 'cartoonist' was a 'friend of a friend' .......

2/21/2007 11:54 AM  
Blogger SpaceJack said...

I have no idea what standards the NY Times is using to select a strip like that. But much as I lament the lack of high-quality artwork in modern newspaper strips, I have to admit that the web strips I enjoy most can't really be considered artistic masterpieces either.

Two webcomics I read regularly:
http://www.willwriteforchocolate.com/
http://xkcd.com/

Somehow they are funny despite (or maybe because of) their relatively crude drawing styles. In particular, I wonder if I would enjoy xkcd at all if it were well drawn.

I suppose cartoonists like Bill Watterson and Walt Kelly - smart writers and great artists - are very rare. In the past there were lots of fantastically well-drawn newspaper strips, but I wouldn't say that the writing was always good enough to compel me to read them regularly.

2/21/2007 12:57 PM  
Blogger ernie said...

I can excuse a lot for the sake of good writing; but I still want the art to be at least interesting. Strip and gag cartooning is not where the money is for an artist today. Talent goes where the money is.

2/21/2007 3:50 PM  
Blogger John said...

The funny thing is, many of these artists genuinely appreciate the accomplishments of their predecessors. They excuse themselves from striving for the same standards because they mistakenly believe that the content of their strips is clever or important enough to redeem poor visual execution.

Feigned angst and ennui are often good covers for a lack of talent and effort.

2/21/2007 3:51 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Ernie and John, I too will excuse a lot for good writing (which in my book rarely includes feigned angst). There are some good artists out there whose technical skills are limited, yet I have great fondness for their work because they are so interesting and creative and prolific. Will Eisner and Wally Wood are two cartoonists I would put in that category.

2/21/2007 4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, I will admit ignorance. I don't see any "good writing" here either. This is just not a good effort, anyway you look at it. I'm sure someone from my son's generation would say that is because I'm old.
-cp

PS why did the NYTs change it's mind about publishing cartoons anyway?

2/22/2007 5:44 PM  
Anonymous Brian said...

Not well drawn, and not funny either. Sounds like the postmodern comic to me. Perfect for the NYT.

2/22/2007 9:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the ultimate artwork-free comic is dinosaur comics at www.qwantz.com

the best comic published today can't be found in any newspaper
www.achewood.com

2/23/2007 12:17 AM  
Blogger Gringo said...

Well said Mr. David Apatoff.

2/25/2007 9:47 PM  
Blogger Craig Banholzer said...

I would add that the same low standards used at the Times also seem to prevail ad the New Yorker. Although the magazine sometimes features covers and cartoons by talented people such as Gahan Wilson and Steve Brodner, the ruling aesthetic seems to emphasize the dumbed-down and the crude. Maybe it's to make the writing look better by comparison? It's a shame, because the New Yorker is nearly the only large-circulation magazine left that generally shuns photos in favor of drawn illustration.

11/01/2008 4:27 PM  

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