Sunday, September 27, 2009


Here's how it goes:

There are details that hum and details that sing. There are details that accumulate like silt when the artist isn't paying enough attention, and smother the picture.

Then there are details where artists with impeccable technique find refuge from larger questions of meaning and purpose.


There are details that are diamantiferous...


all the way down to the subatomic level....

Then there are details so insanely disproportionate that we can only attribute them to the addiction to drawing (an addiction that has so far bested every methadone program offered by art schools).


Of course, we forgive the fanatical details in some Renaissance art; they were created in an era of fresh excitement for empirical facts and the physical world, after artists awakened from a long medieval fixation on the afterlife. Renaissance artists were entitled to their obsessive focus on the natural world, but you'd better have an equally good excuse if you want to get away with the same level of detail today.

There are details which are just a playground for scamps.

Then there are sly details, the ones that seduce the artist with his own skill. Be on your guard, for these are the most dangerous details of all!


There are details that envelop you in a warm bath, and there are details that shimmer like phosphorescence in the sea at night and swirl around you, drawing you deeper into the picture to the place where mermaids whisper that answers do exist.

On those rare occasions when an artist exercises restraint, the few carefully selected details can acquire supernatural power. The single line which adds a stocking to a leg can inspire you to leave a bookstore and go hunting for your wife.

Sometimes detail gets lucky and is given a starring role in a picture, as when an artist merges the background with the foreground, making the center of the picture everywhere at once.


Once upon a time, laborious detail was the cheapest and safest way to make a picture important to a viewer. Even if the art was no good, viewers were flattered that the artist was willing to trade so many hours of his life to entertain them. But the muse became indignant that her supplicants were abandoning her for the god of manual labor, so she invented photoshop. Now even the lure of cheap flattery is gone.


Scientists report that fully 17% of the artistic details in the known universe are attributable to cowardice; there are artists who add detail to hedge their bets, believing that it is safer to draw lots of little lines than one big one. But artists who believe they can escape accountability by blurring their choices with three or four lines where one would suffice are wrong. The fatal flaw with their theory is what the economists call diminishing marginal utility: with each additional superfluous line the artist invests a little less thought or judgment (and adds less value to the picture).

So many lines-- hundreds of millions of them throughout history-- are conceived in hope, only to end up as part of an endurance test for crow quill pens. One can only ponder the wasted potential, the disappointed ambitions of these lines whose lives were stripped of individuality, personality, or any other trait that might have redeemed them. It is, my friends, a holocaust of mind numbing proportions. But who will hear their cry?


11pm said...

There really is something heartwarming in clarity.

einbildungskraft said...

i never imagined one could talk about 'drawing' in such a way. Or, is it, that you have an uncanny ability to express?
Whats with this word "diamatiferous". I looked it up, and Did Find diamanté which means 'decorated with artificial jewels'-- anyway a pleasure as usual. greetings Beth

kenmeyerjr said...

Man...another great post. Great bunch of examples as well. I could look at Fawecett, Drucker, Wrightson AND Frazetta all day.

Kagan M. said...

Loved it

Kevin Barber said...


David Apatoff said...

einbildungskraft, so nice to hear from you again. Actually the word is "diamantiferous" (with an "n") and it means "yielding diamonds." Each of those little Briggs figures is quite a diamond, isn't it? Remember, you are looking at a detail of a detail, yet even at that level Briggs kept his eyes open and his mind working. Beautiful work.

As for your other comment, if you find my vocabulary a little unorthodox, I suspect it's because I'm just an amateur-- a guy who happens to like great pictures. Without any professional consequences at stake, I have the luxury of freedom of expression, candor, and even perhaps a purity of longing that would have been difficult to protect if I were an expert who knew what he was talking about. But thank you for your comments, Beth, I found them very warming.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, 11pm, Kagan M and Kevin!

KenMeyerjr, as you've probably guessed I love those artists too, although I do think a number of them got carried away on the examples here. For example,I think Mort Drucker walks on water but can you imagine drawing an airplane cockpit like that as a mere backdrop to an unrelated joke? That is just plain scary! I think the Fawcett is a different story; there the background of the jungle, so savage and abstract, deliberately swallows up the foreground, so rather than having Fawcett's traditional strong, monolithic composition you have a coruscating field of activity-- a masterful use of detail.

MDG14450 said...

One of the reasons I became disillusioned with comic book art fans is that too many of them equated "detail" with "a lot of little lines." Didn't matter how badly something was composed or drawn, as long as the artist put in a lot of "detail"--relevant or not--it was "art."

Anonymous said...


kev ferrara said...

The great thing about Wrightson in his comic work, is that he doesn't pretend he has important philosophical thoughts to offer. Yet, just in that panel you show, quietly and lightheartedly, we get demonstrations of the principle of unintended consequences and the strategy from jiu jitsu of using your opponents strength against him. We also get beautiful linework, a homage to wally wood, a bunch of crisp detail and clean cartooning that gives us a fantasy of security, a great, fun action pose by a beefy comic dude, and a chance to smile. Which is to say, Wrightson is freely admitting he's pretending for the sake of entertainment, which performs the essential function of keeping up the morale of the troops.

What do we get from Briggs exactly? Deftness with a charcoal line?

Since all art is a refuge from questions of meaning and purpose, it hardly seems fair to attack enjoyable work that has no such pretensions. (Because attempts to answer such questions by making a picture are de facto pretentious. Anybody with any sense knows there are no answers. In fact, the aestheticization of reality is a fairly clear prophylactic attempt. And in that endeavor Wrightson's clarity and rendering is no different than Briggs' suggestion and non-rendering.)

And the 23-year old Frazetta's slickness was hardly dangerous, as his spectacular career showed. And I don't know how that slickness makes details sly other than that the word "sly" satisfies a bee in someone's bonnet. Maybe you should retitle this blog "rough looking lines only!" Because rough-looking lines, don't ya know kiddies, are the hallmarks of the expressive and deep!

Walt Reed once showed me a wide architect's cabinet full up with drawer upon drawer of Booths, Colls, and Grugers. The last drawer, the bottom drawer, had charcoal drawings by many of the vaunted modern illustrators so deified in this blog. I remarked to him that the drawings were amazingly accurate and free, although on flimsy, flyaway paper. He remarked back, "You know, those were all traced from photos."

einbildungskraft said...

You say you have no professional consequences at stake ---> not an expert?
a dastardly lie!
(& keep up the unorthodox vocabulary)

greetings B

David Apatoff said...

Kev, I can always count on you to get the party started.

First, I should make clear that I think Wrightson and Frazetta, like Drucker, are talented artists who (in these particular examples) succumbed to the siren song of detail. It's an occupational hazard for artists who enjoy drawing. As far as I am concerned, none of them knew when to quit when making these drawings.

Second, it was my intent to put aside the subject matter being illustrated. I agree with you that "the principle of unintended consequences and the strategy from jiu jitsu" is more entertaining than a bunch of commuters walking through a train station in the background of an ad, but I don't really care about that issue here.

Having cleared the decks, let's get to the heart of your point. In my opinion, there is no question that the Briggs drawing is far superior. Here is why:

Wrightson uses far more lines to draw one bicep than Briggs uses to portray a whole person. I'm not saying they aren't skillful lines, but let's compare the quality and see what each artist is getting for his effort.

Wrightson's lines on that bicep are very simple and highly repetitive-- row after row of strokes depicting one simple form (the dome shape of the muscle). Wrightson understood the muscle structure (kind of), but it is also pretty clear that Wrightson did not have to think about or put much into each successive line (just as he did not have to think much about the lines in that Wood homage background-- his T square and triangle did most of the work). The lines are uniformly wider on one end than the other (as is natural with a brush stroke) but there is nothing about these lines that is particularly probing or analytical or sensitive or even smart. They are not especially descriptive or creative or well designed. Isolate one of those lines and talk to me about its character or its flavor. Do you think Wrightson was using his best, most conscious artistic faculties when he drew that line, or was he on automatic pilot? I am guessing that for most of those rows he made only two creative decisions: when to start making lines and when to stop.

Now turn to the first close up from the Briggs drawing. Look how, using a drawing a tool much thicker and more imprecise than Wrightson's pen, Briggs has captured the jaunty stride of that commuter; he seems so fluid, the Wrightson figure seems made out of wood by comparison. Look at how observantly, in just a few lines, Briggs has captured the angle of the head from behind, wearing a hat. There ain't no photograph in the world that can teach you how to do that. Look at the wisdom in the folds of that coat, and what they reveal about the human form underneath. I would never have thought to put that wonderful concave semicircle beneath the man's butt, or the concave right leg created by the man's floppy cuff. And notice, too, how selectively Briggs reinforces key areas-- the underside of the left arm, the right shoulder-- to convey information to the viewer. That is drawing with your eyes and mind fully engaged. Why, it's positively... diamantiferous!

Finally, I have often written about artists I admire who use "slick" lines-- Leonard Starr, Alex Raymond, Stan Drake, Frazetta to name a few. So I would have a hard time adopting your suggestion that I rename this blog "rough looking lines only!" (although it does have a nice ring to it.) But I do think that a thick drawing tool, such as a lithographer's crayon, is a tough instrument to handle. If you are excellent, it can give you subtlety, variety and nuance, but if you are merely good it can be disastrous. So I do give points to anyone who can pass that test.

Laurence John said...

'diminishing marginal utility' is an interesting idea David, but with the classic brush (or dip pen) and ink comic book style (Frazetta and Wrightson, above) the lines work together to form the overall tonal information. each line isn't really meant to draw attention to its own specialness. they are merely supports for suggesting volume.

it is not a medium for tentative draftsmen either ... it is very unforgiving, and any bad drawing, weak anatomy, fudged facial expressions and cramped compositions will be frozen forever with granite-like solidity. that Frazetta example is a veritable road map of poor decisions. but maybe it was a late night.

David Apatoff said...

Laurence, I agree-- sometimes multiple fine lines are added for "overall tonal information," and that is an important and valuable part of drawing (although I confess I tend to be a sucker for the artists who focus on the "specialness" of an individual line).

As a general matter, I think tonal information is successfully employed when the picture doesn't end up looking busy and overdone (as these pictures look to me). I would add that even when lines are employed for tonal purposes, there remains a difference between the more mechanical, repetitive approach of a Franklin Booth (who learned to draw by copying the straight lines of engravings in magazines) and the approach of a J.C. Coll (whose background shading didn't focus on the "specialness" of one line, but nevertheless contained a lot of fire and creativity). I don't think a Coll would resort to the kind of simplistic, repetitive lines on display here.

kev ferrara said...

Welllll... I'm not sure if I actually started this party, but I certainly came in the door loudly.

You are saying you like a certain kind of poetry, the poetry of concision... which distills gesture and substance down to absolutely minimal, but highly informative, strokes. I agree, this is nice. But it isn't the only poetry available, not by a long shot. And good thing too, because then art would really be dead.

Those tracing paper sketches I saw look *exactly* like the Briggs you show (Side note: Briggs wasn't the only one whose tracings appeared in that drawer. I'll leave the others to your imagination. I will grant, however that I could tell one artist's handwriting from the other, if just barely. ) Anyhow, point being that it was a style that many could take up and many did take up. A good art student, with a few years of good training and a couple of pointers from some real top pros can do what Briggs is doing in the drawing you showed. The proof of this fact is the number of artists who would go on to do that style or something close to it, a style which proliferated in the 1960s to the point that in the 1970s the style was found in cheap stock imagery for advertising and by the 1980s it was dead and replaced by Patrick Nagel clones.

On the other hand, the style that Wrightson worked in NEVER proliferated, despite his and Frazetta's mass popularity. I would suggest the reasons are as follows, because it doesn't start with a photograph, and can't be done in an hour, and it requires the reflexes and stamina of an olympic athelete, and a mind that can imagine both form and light and texture and translate it into only black and white ink using the most difficult and sensitive instrument imaginable.

I really encourage you to take up a lithographer's crayon, well sharpened, and do some loose tracings over some decent photographs. Followed by several years of trying to draw and ink something like Wrightson's panel. Only that will convince you, I think, that Wrightson's expertise is so many miles beyond what Briggs is doing, that it is silly to actually debate it.

In fact, make a tracing of the wrightson panel and try to re-ink it. Heck, get a separate piece of paper and try to make even one brush ink stroke look both fresh and good. Then try making twenty in a row. Then try getting twenty in a row to read as tone. Not to mention the curved strokes, which are three times as difficult as the straight feathering. Soon you will see that Wrightson's silly simply panel is practically impossible to duplicate.

If you want to base this "contest" on level of difficulty, this really isn't a contest, despite the quality of Briggs' poetic line. Which is why, in the great and grand history of ink work, and artwork, there are precisely three people who have demonstrated that they can do what Wrightson did in that drawing, which is a silly drawing without much thought put into it. Wally Wood, Frazetta, and Wrightson. That's it. Meanwhile, I can show you a raft of second hand advertising annuals and stock illustration books that demonstrate that "concise linear expression with a rough dark pencil" can proliferate like Swine Flu.

Kev (in your living room, beer in hand, lampshade on head, repeatedly jabbing a holy cow with a pointy stick.)

Rob Howard said...

Let's not forget ARC as the greatest known repository of those hobgoblins of small minds. For them, the more details, the more unrelenting sharp edges the better.

Taste? That's reserved for Big Macs.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, MDG14450. I've had that same experience.

Appreciate it, Anonymous.

Rob, I am beginning to get a faint impression that you don't approve of ARC.

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Kev... if it ever comes time to sell that Wrightson drawing, it will be important to know somebody with taste like yours.

I'm not sure you can say that my taste is limited to a poetry of concision; Artists like Fawcett or Drucker, who I also feature here and who I adore, ain't exactly known for haiku. But even when an artist writes long epic poetry, economy is a virtue (unless you're one of those rare people who prefers an artist to use a mountain of effort to achieve a mole hill of a result).

If you want to know which artist today is incapable of drawing the way Wrightson did, it's Wrightson. He obviously did the math and concluded he couldn't continue pouring unlimited hours into making thousands of tiny little brush strokes in a single comic book panel, so his current style is much cleaner. I don't blame him for that at all, but I think if you look at his more recent work, it reveals something important about his drawing ability.

What do you think of his underlying drawing, now that the camouflage of all those little lines has disappeared? For example, the way he draws faces, figures? Hands? As far as I can tell, his work from the 60s and 70s is more sought after.

Finally, before you get too distracted by tracing paper, remember that tracing paper was a common technique for the best illustrators to transfer images from one surface to another, long before photoshop, and regardless of photography. You'd hear about the continued importance and legitimacy of tracing paper today from the top pros at the Illustration Academy. And as for photography, I don't know much about whether Wrightson used photos for reference, although I do know how Degas, Lautrec, Frazetta and Briggs used them. Briggs has a very smart and thoughtful essay about what you can rely on photos for and what you cannot. I think it was done as part of the Famous Artists School. I would recommend it to you.

kev ferrara said...

Had I realized sharp edges were so distasteful, I would have thrown out my Haring, Miro, Lichtenstein, and Arp lithographs years ago.


P.S. I think you secretly like Big Macs, which is why you keep mentioning them.

Laurence John said...

maybe the Wrightson/Frazetta/Wood style didn't proliferate because, as kev suggests, it is very technically difficult to achieve. or perhaps it was because it wasn't very suitable to a broader range of everyday subject matter... the sort of topics that would appear in current affairs magazines. for better or worse that style will always be linked in the public consciousness to fantasy and horror comic book art. that could be a ghetto which some artists would wish to stay well away from. a looser pencil style such as the Briggs example has a softness of suggestion that has more to do with quick life sketches and fleetingly observed moments.

i agree that the Wrightson is more of a bravura display of draftsmanship, far more tricky to do than tracing over a photo (assuming the Briggs is traced, and it does look it) but are we to judge the merit of a piece of art by technical difficulty alone ?

kev ferrara said...

Well David, I can see you aren't enjoying this teasing. I was merely responding to your bashing of Wrightson, who happens to be a friend of mine, by bashing your beaux Briggs. And no, that captain stern drawing is not my cup of tea. However there are pieces from Frankenstein that I think are truly spectacular, which don't seem to enter your radar when you ponder Wrightson's work. As far as I can tell you've only bashed him so far. (Incidentally, among other issues, Wrightson hurt his inking hand when he fell on the ice a few decades ago. And an appreciation of the amount of work that comics entails with the amount it pays, coupled with the need to feed a family, would also contribute to an understanding of his change in drawing style. If extraordinary effort doesn't get paid, as you know, it goes away.)


David Apatoff said...

Kev, I was actually enjoying your teasing and was teasing right back at you. Looking back, my response seems too heavy handed but I was smiling when I wrote it. (Perhaps I should start using smiley faces?)

On the subject of Wrightson, I view every artist on this post as an excellent artist worth talking about (with the exception of Nicolausson). Frazetta, Altdorfer, Briggs, Drucker-- that's good company to be in, and the fact that they (IMO) lost their way in overly detailed pictures does not make them bad artists. It is easy to do; even the greats do it, often with the best of motives.

As for the need to feed a family, I understand the problem very well because it has affected my own career choices. Not just Wrightson, but lots of other comic artists I admire, such as Starr and Drake, ended up going to a streamlined (and in my view) lower quality approach because of the way the market changed. I have a beautiful Wrightson page framed on my wall (from Swamp Thing No. 1) that I absolutely love, but which looks like it took him 3 days to do. What does that come to, 12 cents an hour?

I was very sorry to hear about his accident. That came as news to me.

Rob Howard said...

>>>I am beginning to get a faint impression that you don't approve of ARC.<<<

Actually, I approve of self-serving hypocrisy more. At least that's obvious enough that it doesn't suck in young talent and then suck the talent from them, reducing what could have been an artist to a mere craftsman/person. I have seen far too many promising portfolios after they've been the atelier route, learning that they are now of a religious order and can look down on those who have not been ordained into the mystic rites of craftspersonship.

The reality is that the ateliers and the sought after Ah-So Sauce Prize (sort of a low-rent Turner Prize) have instilled more uniformity among the troops than a few month's at Parris Island ever could.. If anyone is confused betwee the mission of a creative artist and a US Marine, make an appointment with my nurse.

Rob Howard said...

>>>P.S. I think you secretly like Big Macs, which is why you keep mentioning them.<<<

I may be the only American who has never eaten one, Kev. I was brought up a vegetarian and di not eat dead animal flesh until I entered college. I was on the crew team and what was good performance in prep school was not acceptable in college, so I was told to start eating meat. The effect was immediate, but no so miraculous that I would ever eat a McDonald.

Here's a question...have you ever seen a garbage truck make a pick up at McDonald's? I remember a friend putting one of those frosty shakes in the back of my truck in South Texas in August. He forgot about it and came back the next afternoon to find it still cold...frozen, crushed styrofoam cups and artificial flavoring? Who knows? Maybe it's the reason they are not inspected by the US Department of Agriculture...perhaps they're not agricultural products.

I've seen what people who eat that stuff look like. Even my dogs have refused it.

Methinks the lady doth seek argument too much.

Rob Howard said...

>>>but are we to judge the merit of a piece of art by technical difficulty alone ?<<<

Of course we are. That's how most people judge the amount of labor that went into it. We Yanks flaggelate ourselves with the ghosts of Cotton Mather, Michel Wigglesworth and their Puritan work ethic. Work is good. Hard and laborious work is even better. But long painful and unpleasant work is the very best indication of a purified soul.

There are actually artistes who are proud of painting slowly, dragging out the drugery as a form of penitence and an indication of their spiritual devotion and attainment. Sure, the work is as dull as wallper paste but art is not the point. The important thing is to show how hard it was to do.

That's why those with shallow brain-pans look down their noses at using photos, tracing paper, tubed paints and brushes from animals the artist did not personally trap in the wild. The longer the artist is away from the easel earning plenary indulgences, the sooner he'll get to go to that imaginary place where all of the Old Masters (TM) lived.

For them, technical difficulty is a prerequisite to winning the plaudits of their fellow penitentes and avoiding the sharp gaze of an atelier Torquemada.

kenmeyerjr said...

Kev, I did not know about the ice accident...I had heard that the ink he used was causing him some sort of pain that permanently made it difficult for him to put those long, physical hours into his work...and that was the Frankenstein book that really did him in. And while we are on the subject, that is one of the most beautiful and imposing books of art I can remember seeing a long time, pseudo Coll or not.

I think I fall on Kev's side here. Though I usually appreciate more realistic work in general, the skill, experience and imagination it takes to do work like Wrightson (and Frazetta) is something very few achieve.

Laurence John said...

"...and brushes from animals the artist did not personally trap in the wild."

funny stuff Rob.

David Apatoff said...

Rob, you are in rare form today. Hilarious about the penitentes-- and true.

Anonymous said...

" all of the Old Masters (TM)"

Funny, Rob! What about the "complete and utter asses (TM)", like, say, Picasso? All you can do is choose the cliché that suits you best, hmmm?

Anonymous said...

In comics I wonder if some of this richness of detail would work if comics were true to what they do best. But most comics rely on the text to convey meaning rather than images and so readers are still reading comics the way they read books, the paneled art is not the source for discovering thematic depth or the total impression of the work’s significance. This is why the nuances you note in your posts seem over rich and perhaps unneccessary.

Text in comics should be secondary if comics are to avoid the mediocre when it comes to illustration. I love the earliest Peanuts of the 50s but Peanuts (more so the reduced Peanuts of the last decade) is an example of a style that cannot exist without its text. A comic like Boondocks is pure text embellished with imitation manga style icons, and these are works that lack details.

The problem is comics are still the bastard off-spring of text based fiction and few illustrators use it to excel at what comics ought to do best and that is communicate visually, silently via the images, in my opinion, this would in fact require more skill than the crude art of Maus, Boondocks, say, in order to achieve greater subtleties, nuances of story, mystery, suspense and meaning, it would also allow more appreciation for the surface decorations you’ve offered as examples here.

The surface decorations are not appreciated because the reader has to read the text to understand the image, too much to look at with so much words? If there were no text, these details might be more appealing for their own sake?

There is far more power in Moebius’s silent “Rock City” than in all of Maus in terms of visual storytelling, implied meaning, evocation, as in poetry of human interest. The punch line of “Is Man Good” is another example. Ironically Moebius in his more traditional comics like “Incal” falls back on the text based tradition and these works are less interesting to me, though the art is wonderful, crowded, detailed, and, yet I’m bored because I cannot understand the images without reading the text. It's too much. The details are to be looked at and enjoyed for their own sake but somehow I don't enjoy looking at it. Maybe it's the coloring. Maybe it's the panels, small, jammed together. They can’t be in crowded panels, artificially colored in a bad way. Incal might work better if it was all black and white.

His silent comics, however, allow you to think about what you are looking at, not go to the text to find out what is going on. You can then appreciate the powerful lines and skillful rendering more freely, without pause—we can appreciate and enjoy the things you noted, subtleness of less or even the overabundance of more…details, better this way? detail for its own pleasing sake? The very pleasure or madness the artist found in doing it?

Anonymous said...

The power of Maus rests with its words, its dramatic dialogue. If anyone reading this doesn’t believe me remove all the text and see if the work still appears impressive and does not become tiresome, while its often ugly images become redundant, lacking subtleties or appear meaningless without explanation. The images don’t explain themselves as in the unity of poetry. I pretty agree with your posts on it.

For critics who are not professional illustrators the text based part is central to their response to it, they respond to it as words, text, political, and social and psychological ideas, themes, not as images per se? As a serious subject, the Holocaust, the text thus decorated with the shock value of Nazi as cat and Jew as mice cartoon is now new and wonderful never before seen to them but they don’t recognize the formal differences between true comics art and book illustration but few comic book artists seem to perceive this as well or the market doesn't allow it.

Not even Will Eisner practiced what he explains well, that sequential images in comics, its true originality, not the words, ought to be central; and that they can mostly do so silently—I believe comics should use more images and fewer words or none at all in order to communicate their own power of poetry, the poetry is in the details?

I think the purer comic illustration must restrain words in order to communicate effectively in the comics natural or true form, which is the silent comic, the silent comic is comics—animated cartoons are the exception but then they are a species of film and film you could say is a higher form of life-likeness! The use of details and sparsness in motion pictures in contrast to still images is another related question. Micheael Gould wrote a wonderful study of this in “Surrealism and the Cinema” and also related it to comics.

Eisner crowds his comics with too much melodramatic dialogue, while his cartooning often suffers from clichés, stock hieroglyphic gestures and figures, however pleasing. He also suffers from one weakness of this mode of art, if it’s too hieroglyphic, too easy to read, it can seem trivial, and if the subject is itself travail, that worsens the problem. Perhaps this is why artists as in your examples over detail, they are bored with the simple storylines, the work is not meaningful enough to stand alone and so they focus their attention on the decorative?

Much of Peanuts cannot function meaningfully without the little bits of dialogue to explain the simple images so the images will appear trivial and meaningless without them, however pleasing to the eye, like clouds are pleasing on a nice day.

The opposite problem is something C.C. Beck identified, that is, very skilled, detailed art work in each panel, like little paintings as it were, show great effort and skill used to decorate silly and trivial stories that don’t need such elaboration, particularly when it came to comic stories for kids—for him too much clutter and elaboration does not work well in sequences at least for kids.

Another take on this problem of too much can be seen in Barry Smith’s The Beguiling, which I’ll come back to in a moment.

Anonymous said...

Smith, as you know, has a richly detailed comic story called The Beguiling, now the Beguiling is an adult story, or so it seems to be, and yet the detailed painterly art trivializes the text, the text seems useless to me and I feel the art will be far more powerful and mysterious if all captions, thought balloons were edited from the images. Also I think that each panel should be on a separate page rather than cluttered in immediate sequences. The eye tends to be overwhelmed by seeing so much rich color and patterns on a single page. Detail is lost in the small panel size and if each panel were given a single page and enlarged, one could appreciate these details more slowly.

The story board format of comics seems to demand fast action and movement and so less is better, while such detailed art with less action and speed seems to require a slower pace in order to enjoy the richness and subtleties of the work.

Anonymous said...

Reading your posts, not just this one, made me wonder about how drawing imagines and how writing imagines.

Before the illustrator and writer puts pen to paper, are their any parallels in how they discover, conceive, and see ideas, fancies, day dreams and images, occurring within the mind? Artist must, by their desire to be artists, must be similarly intellectually curious. This is to say if it isn’t always an automatic experience but a thoughtful one, done after some meditation, research, preparation and self correction. If both artists and writer produce work automatically, intuitively, then only psychoanalysis of the finished work is in order. I doubt that most artists lack intellectual curiosity.

If a writer imagines a winged man what does he see? If an artist imagines it, what does he see? One will deal mostly in abstraction, the writer, while the other must deal with substance, how to show the rigged wing structure, to show the ropes, the hardened wax etc.?

Do they see or remember previous images of winged deities or is it a unique, dream-like vision of a winged being. Or if it is purely an idea, how does the writer go about constructing this image in words from other ideas. Does the illustrator study the anatomy of pigeons and the shoulders of men, whimsically thinking street pigeons are devils and white country doves are angels because their filth is less visible and they live in trees rather than greenish statues? Does he study the feathers of eagles and past illustrations of the Roc. Does the illustrator attach model wings made from real feathers onto the shoulders of a live naked model or does he draw everything only from memory without study. Does he have his actor jump from the studio garage rooftop to get a better impression of take off? How does he pose the fall, on chairs, in a swimming pool?

Now the poet has to work less mechanically, he has to think of connotation, denotation, other poems, the history of man’s inventing balloons, and airplanes etc.—word choices, the story of a father and son, the story of hubris, and defiance, the philosophy and spirituality of flight.

Less so the artist, while the writer, as well as viewers and readers, deals more in metaphors and memories, a magic mirror as it were to reflect the real and the imaginary. Perhaps being Westerners, they remember past representations, of one sort or another, from Babylon, to Ancient Greece, to Medieval Europe, demons, angels and bird faced gods, to understand a reference in either a line of poetry or visually in a drawing or painting. And this reference could be unconscious or intuitive but it’s also a story, something with a meaning or sentiment.

If the culture looses these reference points, people might see, say, Barry Smith’s depiction of a fallen Icarus in the pond and not see the source, not see very much meaning in it despite all its wonderful detail and workmanship. It’s beauty. Perhaps it references Narcissus as well. Here details works to create a magical glimpse of another reality we can dwell upon, to try to project ourself into that other world.

Still a man with fake wings, now broken, now half submerged in a lotus pond still would resonant with dreams of flying or falling—such dreams being the raw origins of the image and myth. The most powerful story of the winged man for Western artists and writers is the story of Icarus. Thus we know that art has to tell us something, it has to be a narrative, it relates back to feelings, thinking, and memory. If Kincaid is sentimental kitsch and Maus is intellectual kitsch nevertheless they expresses something pleasing to people’s desire for beauty, or interest in ideas, politics--for some images of nature or a home but they are badly informed on these subjects. Art that doesn’t allow the viewer, reader, nuanced experiences, life itself, is in a sense as disposable as advertisements which manipulate feeling for short term gain or sentiment.

So how much of its value or power is a result of its meaningfulness or its decorative aspects?

David Apatoff said...

Hey, most recent anonymous-- anyone with that much to say, and that many resources to draw upon, should not keep writing under the name "anonymous." You are offering a lot of grist for the mill. Can I ask that you at least pick a pen name so that people responding to your points can distinguish you from all of the other anonymouses?

Anonymous said...

Since I brought up mouse here, let me just explain a little bit more about my reactions to it. Harvey’s Pekar criticism and now yours have explained my dissatisfaction with it, a dissatisfaction I didn’t quite understand until I read Pekar’s critique. Maus doesn’t really deserve the praise and hype, I agree, but what I find more difficult now is to explain why it did get it. It's this question of images and text. I think Maus is more text than images?

Pekar, in the Comic Journal, was attacked severely for his hubris in explaining why it didn’t deserve its accolades. This was some years ago.

But saying it is overrated, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting or important to general readers, or doesn’t have social or political significance, I’m sure you would agree. To say it is intellectual kitsch, shallow but highly intellectual, is to beg the question of what is it?

Yes, Maus tells us something about escape and survival from the point of view of a Jew, who, in that situation, must’ve seen life so starkly, indeed, it was that simple, a morality play. Or is it the survivor’s son who sees it in such black and white terms. Perhaps that’s the point: for the Jew reduced to vermin by Nazis lies--it was indeed a game of cat and mouse! That’s all folks. It seems profound to say so, why not just show it. Why don’t we get it? So it works on the level of folk poetry and the art is mere decoration for its text.

It’s more a “text” than wonderful and scary images. Just saying Jews were reduced to vermin wouldn’t do, he shows it baldly, symbolically, and in repetition, in all its ugliness, it is more an intellectual or a political act than an aesthetic purpose—the eye is not so much pleased by it--the comic in this case is the decoration, the illustration of texts, captions, dialogue, that you must appreciate intellectually rather than aesthetically.

But Maus is not literary because it substitutes politics for complex studies of character and motivation which defines the serious literary genre. Its purpose is not unity, beauty, and depth. Nevertheless Maus’ simplifications of the situation are powerful as it avoids the troubling complexities of evil, so perhaps it pleases for that reason as super-hero power fantasies do, as light fiction often does. Will it stand the test of time, only as a curio, another artifact of our time, in the historical study of such simplifications, but what ought to interest future readers of history is the complexity of the Nazi and his victim and not their reduction to cat and mouse.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that I must remain a nemo for now--I forgot my google info actually, too busy to look it up...must look it up again--my email is is fine as handle...these are very stimulating conversations.

Laurence John said...

"The power of Maus rests with its words, its dramatic dialogue"

true... but necessary in the case of Maus. without the detailed information/plot/background about the holocaust it would just become a surreal wordless story about cats and mice at war. the significance would be totally lost.

"Text in comics should be secondary if comics are to avoid the mediocre when it comes to illustration"

not secondary... they should have equal importance without one dominating the other.

"the formal differences between true comics art and book illustration but few comic book artists seem to perceive this as well or the market doesn't allow it"

if publishers don't see a potential audience ($) for more interesting/challenging/nuanced comics then no, those comics will never appear (but don't forget that Art Speigelman published RAW which contained some of the most challenging comic art of recent times).

Tom said...

I left this blog for a few hours, and the conversation has spread and expanded considerably, so at the risk of going over some already plowed ground.. I thought I should get my two cents worth in, before we start exploring the question of our existence. ;-)

When I was an illustration student in 1958, we were first taught to draw academically- or anatomically correct, while weaving in quick gestural sketches from live model class. Then we were encouraged to draw with line only, using thin and thick strokes to define hard and soft edges, and to emphasize the action. We were encouraged to show an "ECONOMY OF LINE", which meant that we should be very selective and put in the least amount of lines to describe only that which was necessary- the essence of the subject.

Austin Briggs, Eric Erickson and some of Robert Fawcett's examples from his book on drawing the human figure, were a few of the illustrators we were encouraged to to look at. A few years later Fuchs was added to the list of guys to look at for line quality and "economy of line". Later in the very early 60's, while I was attending Art Center School, simplicity of line was still very important, especially in fashion illustration class. Eric Erickson had been one of the great fashion illustrators for many years, and his line drawings were simple and quite beautiful. Fashion illustrators virtually always drew from live models, and had to simplify and edit out unnecessary detail that cluttered up the drawing.. and they had to be clean and simply rendered for low quality newspaper reproduction. Tight deadlines was a major factor as well.. usually no time for fussy detail.

As photography began overpowering illustration, especially in the 50's, it was necessary to produce illustrations that didn't try and compete with the camera. Subjective expressionistic line drawings and paintings were a prime factor in keeping illustration alive and competitive, during the 60's and into the 70's.

Rockwell was known for his amazing detail he put into his Post covers, but the compositions for his four seasons calendars were quite simple.. although very literal, they were limited in detail. Noel Sickles went from very involved line illustration to amazingly simple line illustration during the late 50's and 60's, leaving out more than he put in.. yet they read beautifully. An excellent outdoor fine art oil painter of the past, Emile Gruppe would constantly tell his students, "Suggest more with fewer brush strokes". He prided himself on being able to do a large painting of a complicated busy harbor in Gloucester, Mass. in just a few hours, by simplifying detail, but suggested everything with an economy of brushstrokes.

Although, I don't have a dog in this race, I appreciate both well drawn or painted detail and simple gestural drawings and paintings. Good art is good art, and after that, it becomes personal taste, IMO.

Tom Watson

Anonymous said...

Laurence, this is Jimny, I'm not a fan of Raw's avant garde comics. I must admit this to you. I have a copy of "Maus I" at hand here as I write this and I can’t believe the art alone had anything to do with its winning a Pulitzer.

I have one copy of Raw # Seven--so I'm ignorant about much of it before and after that. I found this one issue of the magazine so off putting, "ugly" from my point of view, with two curious exceptions, one of them was a fellow who drew his comics in the manner of Herge, little detail, and the other was done by a cartoonists who told a story about a young man who behaved like a dog. But I was so dissatisfied with the magazine's over all appearance I never read another issue, I’m sorry to say, despite the magazine’s good intentions. I found the styles of Joost and Burns more clean, more professional and the visual storylines more coherent, less cluttered than the other contributions and these other comics in the magazine looked as if they were done by kids who didn’t know how to draw and seemed confusing visually. Mariscai did one like that. There was also a depressing quality to “I’m a cliché” though the images seemed more carefully rendered. These are of course subjective reactions that I can't quite explain to prove what, that these works were awful in any universial sense--I don't know. I would've given the prize to Burns for the best piece in that issue if I was called upon to judge the quality of the art but I often associate professional art with a neat style!

That the text...“should have equal importance without one dominating the other” is a good rule and a nice balanced approach and very possible but will require great skill to achieve right. I’m not sure it has been done to my satisfaction. More and more I keep thinking silence is the best method for comics with some sound effects or the text off to the side. It's an extreme view perhaps.

i-day said...

nice lists..awesome!

Laurence John said...

Jimny,ok RAW isn't for you...
maybe you like Chris Ware ? he often has long sections without words that really make the reader look carefully to follow the narrative. many find his style too simplistic, but while i wouldn't want to draw like him, i find his comics incredibly effective.

Jim Woodring's comics are usually wordless and the art is very controlled, but you have to really give yourself over to his hallucinatory world.

if you can't find any comics that satisfy you though, then the best thing to do is create them yourself.

Bandito said...

Thoughts on these pictures.Wrightson's work is beautifully drawn and rendered plus as part of a continuity must have been one of a sequence and mostly 'drawn from his head',extremely demanding of time and effort.Briggs of whom I am a great admirer,has photo referenced a lot of this-traced effectively-but I imagine this was a stand alone image for which he was well paid ( you will observe that ther are quite a lot of underdrawn figures in the crowd).The Frazetta is inferior to Wrightson for a couple of reasons (slightly inferior inking) but mainly because the astronauts head is way out of proportion,what we call a 'schoolboy error'.I dont care about refractive qualities of glass, Frazetta was often 'off' on his proportions, like he couldnt wait to get started on his inking.

David Apatoff said...

Jimny / Anonymous-- I'm not sure where to begin responding to your long and thoughtful contribution.

I agree that the relationship between pictures and text is infinitely fascinating, and you have definitely raised some interesting examples. I have yet to figure out what it means for comics to be true to what they "do best," since different artists deal with the tension and balance and harmony between between pictures and texts in different ways. (Commenters have discussed portions of this variegated landscape on several occasions, for example here and here, and we haven't begun to map it. Each foray seems to come out in a different place, depending on the artist and the circumstances.)

Focusing on the present topic (detail-- how much and of what quality) I agree with much of what you say, especially your point that overly detailed art can be antithetical to the purpose and rhythm of sequential art. I also agree with your observations about Barry Windsor Smith, Spiegelman and Moebius. However, I think external circumstances have affected comic art more than you suggest. Comic strips have evolved from a glorious platform of a full newspaper page (Prince Valiant, Flash Gordon and Tarzan in the 1930s) to a tiny little patchwork quilt where all detail has (of necessity) been squeezed out of both the pictures and text. Comic books now offer higher resolution and half tone printing which have encouraged some artists to pursue ambitions that are not well suited for sequential art. And of course, the static pictures in both comic strips and comic books are being crowded by the moving internet pictures and cgi movies. I think the above have taken some of the decisions about detail out of the hands of artists.

David Apatoff said...

Tom, I agree with you. (It is hard to haggle with the position that "I appreciate both well drawn or painted detail and simple gestural drawings and paintings. Good art is good art.") I would never attempt to elevate a rule or a philosophy above the primal experience of the art itself. Good art carves out exceptions to rules all the time.

But having agreed with you, I would add two considerations:

First, if you go about it humbly, it is a good thing, not a bad thing, to enlist intellect in the cause of self-awareness about pictures so that we can understand why we like what we like, and try to develop some general principles about what is good and what is bad.

Second, while the fashions you describe about "economy of line" were a bit before my time, I think there is a larger, more universal value at stake here. I love heavily detailed work (such as Fawcett's or Drucker's) but I expect even artists working with dense detail to maintain some perspective and balance. I believe "too many lines" in a picture (admittedly a relative concept, depending on the picture) detract from the quality especially if they are a result of confusion, indecision or cowardice.

Marc Tellier said...

There is no bad music, only bad musicians.

kev ferrara said...

Rob, its okay if you don't want to admit that you secretly love Big Macs and covet, from the back seat of your car, the frozen shipments of these cow patties as they arrive in shitu, which must be how you are able to verify that garbage trucks never dock at those joints from dawn til' dusk. (I doubt you were there to paint the golden arches en plein air.)

It should be noted that my arguments against the late 50s method of expressive linework traced from photographs were not entirely serious, I was just making a devil's advocate point. Those methods yielded some darn nice work among the top practitioners. And obviously some of the favorite painters of this blog began their paintings with tracings from photos.

I do, however, think it is a legitimate point to say that the tracing of photos as a compositional basis, allows for certain kinds of poetry and not others.

And Rob, (not to pick on you, little fellah), but given that your work looks very much in keeping with the ARC project, I wonder why you are always protesting their existence so much. Did you have a falling out with those folks at some point?


P.S. Anonymous tip... NO MORE COFFEE!

David Apatoff said...

Marc, did you ever hear a goth band called "Listless" that played in the Washington area in the 1990s?

Marc Tellier said...

David, no I didn't have that chance.

Where they minimalists?

David Apatoff said...

Rob, Kev, Laurence, Anonymous and others: I think there are legitimate issues out there regarding the use of photographs, tracing paper, overhead projectors, photoshop and other aids. Artists such as Norman Rockwell and JC Leyendecker debated those issues a century ago and questions continue to come up. We will surely find opportunities to comment on them in the future.

I am less dainty than many here about such technical aids. I have seen such tools overpower weaker artists and lead their work astray. In fact, I think more art has been harmed than helped by these tools. Artists with the mastery to keep such powerful tools under control (Degas, Briggs, Fuchs, etc.) have in my opinion had a lot of artistic backbone. I can tell you (because I have seen the original) that the Briggs drawing here which was allegedly traced from a photograph is on opaque paper which reveals the preliminary deliberations of the artist (including some white paint where he changed his mind). But assuming that the drawing was indeed taken from a photograph, if you look at his choice of lines, his prioritization and his technique, everything of real artistic value in this image came from the artist, not the photograph.

Finally, I really like Rob's response on this point, and not just because it is well written. I love it when battle hardened veterans who have made a living producing art for decades look at art from a pragmatic workman's perspective. It's as if they are carpenters sizing up a job. (I once looked at a Fawcett illustration alongside Bernie Fuchs. While I was swooning over the design and compostion, Fuchs-- who loved the picture as much as I did-- was telling me the names of the people that Fawcett had used for models, and pointing out a shortcut Fawcett had taken to meet a deadline.) If you spend 50 years on the front lines as an illustrator, you have earned the right to speak in such sacrilegious terms. So when Rob writes, "those with shallow brain-pans look down their noses at using photos, tracing paper, tubed paints and brushes from animals the artist did not personally trap in the wild," I think he speaks with a knowledge and authority about compromises and pragmatic tools that those of us who have not been similarly tested lack.

I am not yet an old coot like Rob, but I am old enough to be stirred by the St. Crispen's day speech ("Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispian's day.'")

John C. said...

You guys are over-analyzing all this. The pictures getting trashed don't work because they are poorly composed, nothing more. They don't work at thumbnail size, and therefore don't work at print size. Our eyes don't know what to focus on, and this irritates our brains. Whether the detail is slick or squiggly is (almost) irrelevant.

If Briggs had removed the two large open shapes in the fore (the dudes in the hats), for instance, and filled the rest of the floor with more little commuters, it would be like a plate of spaghetti with no meatballs, and he'd be getting trashed here too.

Design trumps all.

kev ferrara said...

While there are some names in Reed's Illustrators in America book that I might listen a bit more closely to than the average hack pro seeking aesthetic absolution... even then, I wouldn't check the contents of my brain pan at the door.

The vagaries of the process, the trials and tribulations and history have ultimately nothing to do with the work as an aesthetic entity that stands alone for appreciation. "Blame the business cycle" apologetics, true or not, only convert compromised pictures into mixed media failures, like an air freshener in a stinky car.

Or maybe the better comparison is the "the phantom car" defense, which, for good reason, is denied out of hand.

Shouldn't it be that only mommies, best friends, life partners, and paid mentors provide forgiveness for artistic sins?


Rob Howard said...

>>> how drawing imagines and how writing imagines. <<<

This is a good question, Anon. ad I'll add to it, anon. I have a young adult book being bid on by a couple of publishers. Both want me to illustrate it. In this case, I donned the writer's hat and actually wrote it with a movie in mind as the end result. Whenever I write a book I adopt a specific actor in a role or a personality. In this case, I also had a specific illustrator in mind, Bill Sienkiewicz. I felt that his approach and interpretation would be more on-target than anything I'd do. Still, the publishers are into that "written and illustrated by..." routine.

Although the text is very visual, I feel that I'm simply the wrong illustrator for it. In a way, I blew my creative wad on the writing, so there's a very palpable difference between the least there is for me.

Rob Howard said...

>>>And Rob, (not to pick on you, little fellah), but given that your work looks very much in keeping with the ARC project, I wonder why you are always protesting their existence so much. Did you have a falling out with those folks at some point?<<<

True, as we age we do shrink and I'm now down to a mere 6'3", so I am indeed a little fellah as compared to before. The reality about my work is that it's very loosely painted. I've worked for reproduction for so long that it tends to pull together. If you've ever seen the realistic effects of Velazquez' Homely King in Brown Velvet and Silver Hunting Outfit (I think that's the original title in Spanish) and then see a closeup of the almost abstract flurry of strokes, you see a similarity in looseness. It's anything but ARC's licking-the-surface approach. Even though I often paint small, I swing the strokes from the shoulder.

Years ago, when I was doing illustrations for car ads (I just did the figures) I actually worked smaller and the pictures were enlarged to show the flashy brushwork. They were made into big dye transfers and the car illustrator worked on them, or on mylar over the dye transfers.

In the portraits, the brush handling is more like Sargent's than the ARC acolytes. It all pulls together at about eight feet and when reduced to an online image (no accurate yellows or oranges) the effect is hardly like the original. I'm used to it, but to think that they are tightly rendered is absolutely off the mark.

Rob Howard said...

Thank you, David. Indeed, it is the St. Crispin's day speech all over again and that leads inevitably to thinking of our fellow veteran illustrators as..."we few, we happy few...we band of brothers." And yes, we do regale each other with war stories about different accounts, deadlines and stunts we used to get a high quality picture out on time. The quality was always paramount because we couldn't hide behind sending a FAQ, or some emailed boilerplate or hiding behind corporate was your name out there and the reality was that you're only as good as your last job.

The reality is that it wasn't any different in Rembrandt's and Rubens' day. You had different clients and they ranged from understanding to telling you that their wife's favorite color was blue. Screw up and it was all over town (and New York is a damned small town when it comes to gossip).

So when Bernie dies, it was yet again the loss of another brother...a fellow practitioner who, admittedly operated on a rarefied plane, but still a fellow illustrator who, like all of us veterans can say, "then will we strip our sleeves and show our scars, and say 'these wounds I had on Crispin's day.'

Back in those halcyon days, every day was Saint Crispian's day. The stakes were very high, and that made all the difference. That was real. Today it's abstract and removed of all juice and passion.

Rob Howard said...

>>>The vagaries of the process, the trials and tribulations and history have ultimately nothing to do with the work as an aesthetic entity that stands alone for appreciation. <<< Ah to be able to address the matter from a pure perspective unsullied by professional experience.

Not having been in the field yourself, you do not have an understanding of how dirty and mud-splattered one can get from the 'vagaries' of real world encounters with professional art-buyers who write checks. It's not the same as being able to glide by on some smooth patter aimed at the occasional art enthusiast looking for a bargain.

Listening to you hold forth has the same weight of listening to the music produced by the winner of this year's local air guitar contest, which is to say...haven't been there, haven't done that.

kev ferrara said...

Rob, the name Kev Ferrara is the name I use for my hand done illustration work, graphic novel due out soon, wrote and illustrated and lettered and designed by yours truly... as opposed to all the anonymous and stylistically diverse illustration and design I do for corporate and small business clients and ad agencies in the city, which has been ongoing for years under a different name. So I know very well what it means to compromise on deadline.

But of course, whether or not I've been in the trenches has nothing to do with my point, which is that Art ultimately can and should only be viewed outside of era, fashion, and the vagaries of its creation. As history broadens, excuses peel away and become history themselves. All that remains is what is true about a work, its living presence.


kenmeyerjr said...

Boy, Rob...good taste on the Sienkiewicz front...that guy is a monster. I have seen very very few comic artists/illustrators that can do what he does. Have any of you seen his Hendrix biography?

Critiquing that Frazetta image like it represents him is like holding up Berni Wrightson's fanzine work...he was still learning, fer crying out loud!

Comics are damn hard to do right, detailed or not. You basically have to be able to (or learn, or swipe) draw everything, AND know how to lead the eye where it should go AND keep in mind word balloon placement AND produce on usually an incredibly tight deadline. Many great artists have either gotten out of comics or only done bits and pieces because it is so damn hard (and doesn't pay what the work is worth)...much easier to produce a single image.

Sienkiewicz is one of those rare exceptions (to bring it back around).

David Apatoff said...

John C., I am very sympathetic to the message that "Design trumps all." I often get in trouble here for criticizing trendy artists who have a lousy sense of design, because I generally believe that if you are going to work in a visual medium you'd damn well better pay your respects to that medium, or else become a writer or a composer instead.

However, even I am unwilling to say that design is the only axis for measuring the quality of this art. I think it is necessary but not sufficient; the balance between form and content or pictures and text also play a role in the success of these pictures. I am willing to be a little forgiving on design in exchange for a brilliant concept. And there are also some great designs out there with no meatballs in the spaghetti; that Fawcett comes close. Dubuffet, for example, did whole pictures of shimmering, coruscating dots with no focal point and they worked quite well.

Anonymous said...

Laurence, there is no point in writing with a lot of equivocation in forums and message boards so I speak more authoritively but all this is speculative and not certainties on my part, though I think I’m on the right track. I might have to do it myself, for sure, just to test these suspicions.

I’m not that interested in Ware, so much, I don’t have anything against his work either, but his approach seems a little too obvious in breaking the illusion of comic based "reality"--the little I know of his work, and I apologize for my ignorance of much of this avant garde (avant garde for want of a better word) for non-traditional comic strip/book storytelling, either as to its contents or games with how the content is shown.

Though Moebius is inconsistent, if you take his “Double Escape” two pager, as a pure example, of what I’m trying to say, there is no attempt to play such, dare we call it, Brechtian games, while Ware, intuitively or naively, is playing a sort of Brecthtian game with the comic as an artificial object, coffee table book, say, with its references to advertising, in its design and embellishments, there is no attempt to create the illusion of reality per se, of looking into the paneled window unto another world, though comics are albeit artificial in any case but why should we make that more obvious than it already is?

Anonymous said...

And, Laurence, maybe this is some other extreme, having to read a comic book as if it were hieroglyphics with meanings rather than the aim of all "sub-creators", to use Tolkien's phrase, of getting the viewer or the audience to lose themselves in and identify with the experience of characters more subjectively as if they were real?

Ware seems too much in this direction of the unreal for its own sake. It must all be personal expression with him? This statement is ironic because I’m fascinated by and admire Brecth very much, his attempts to use theater to get people to question, think, on ideas rather than get lost in emotions and escape, something even he was not altogether successful in achieving.

Maybe readers of Ware experience his comics the way some have experienced Brecht’s less traditional dramatic plays. Ware’s work is obvious symbolism? I struggle to articulate a feeling and ideas that reject wordy comics.

From a reader's point of view, I think I’m a bit more old fashioned when it comes to comic storytelling, the plain or square or rectangle is good enough, though some manga style paneling is useful for certain actions, as a rule I would warn against drawing attention to the panels.

Novels or fiction that lets you know that what you are reading is artificial and not real are not what I enjoy reading for pleasure, though I enjoy the study of such attempts.

“Double Escape” uses symbolic images in a different, a less obvious way than Ware's and doesn’t break this idea that we are viewing another reality. I would say the ideal I’m trying to artificulate is more in this example and “Rock City” or even the perhaps too surreal and apparently bizarre “Arzach". Yet you can reread Arzach the way you can reread a good surrealistic short story because the meaning or the experience is experienced through the art. Arzach also is an example, to keep it on topic a bit, of very detailed embellishments, colors and lines, harmoniously constructed, that you can enjoy for its own sake while following the adventure or journey of the character through a landscape, a space, which seems continuous from panel to panel. It more than Maus deserved some greater recognition as a landmark but it being more literary?, strange, a work of fantasy, was never regarded so highly, than the more political? Maus in breaking the superhero mold?

If text were added to it I would find it a distraction. So in some ways Ware is not quite what I’m thinking. I’m familiar with both Ware and Woodring, and his psychedelic details, mostly through the TCJ.

Let me say I can and have enjoyed reading more text based comics, it’s just that I feel comics are not living up to their “true” potential by ignoring their inherent differences with film, text based fiction, and book illustration. Most comics seem to be more book illustration with the dialogue and exposition from a book put into captions and word balloon.

Moebius in just a few works showed the real power of sequential art, I think. I discovered this not through Eisner’s book on theory or in his comics but through Moebius. Giraud said something against too much detailing, too, in using his bag of tricks, he seems to, at some point, thought a simpler more cartoony style, influenced by Crump and others, was purer, less artificial, I guess in keeping with more imaginative drawing, less research, study, references and preparation?

Anonymous said...

David, I should've said true "potential"--for me these days mainstream comics seem to ignore their inherent differences with film, text based fiction, and book illustration. They ought to be in fact more like storyboards?

As I said to Laurence, "most comics seem to be more book illustration with the dialogue and exposition from (a) book put into captions and word balloons”, though the dialogue is really closer to screenplays and maybe the above isn't quite exact.

I discovered that I enjoy the art better when its actions move more like a storyboard and less like illustrations--and there are no distracting texts. And I'm mainly a would-be novelist right now! So go figure!

I'd also add the Little Nemo newspaper strip as another good example and doing both well. I love that old comic strip.

Yes, trends like using gradient colors, I suppose in a bad way! A blog commenting on using gredients to recolor Donald Duck made me understand why I disliked the colored versions of Moebius illustrated "Incal", the colors were gradients! and murky they seemed to overwhelm the black lines. The simpler traditional “natural” colors in the collections of his works printed before cgi that I do have seem much more appealing to me.

Anonymous said...

Rob, I’ve also imagined a favorite artist doing a story of mine in their particular style but unlike you and I'm still only a would-be writer and not a pro yet.

I’ve also imagined rewriting the text part of other comic book stories to give the artwork a better storyline, or correct faults in the original texts or completely remove the text parts from panels.

I gather from your comments that the style of the artist creates the right mood or story atmosphere of what you imagined in writing mode. So your art style is suitable for certain stories that arise from the drawing first or is it that your personal style fits a particular genre?

There was a discussion at TCJ about how difficult or unusual it would be for artists to have more than one style or that they rarely do. If the style changes or matures it becomes fixed, doesn’t it? This seems like a subject for a whole other blog. But some comic book illustrators do seem to fit certain stories or at least their styles do—a less detailed style would go with what kind of writing, richer prose versus Hemingways' bare bones--Kirby in a phase of his career is great for science fiction type stories. Ditko’s mood while doing Dr. Strange is a fun supernatural style.

This reminds me of a Philip K. Dick comic book or illustration machine that takes your favorite book and transforms it into any comic or cartoon style! Moby Dick by Steve Ditko, say--with rich prose, a style with less detail might be better. How would that look? Steve Ditko doing the storyboards for an animated Moby Dick?

Yes, indeed, it must be a wonderful experience to get just the right artist in mind for your story. I wonder if you imagined scenes in the artist style, as well.

kev ferrara said...

Anon, you are articulating the Alex Toth position, that comics should exist to serve forward movement, and not depth, because depth stops forward movement.

The main problem with this position is that it puts total faith in the writing to add the depth of character and mood. And it denies the value of the panel or page as a work of art on its own that is worth perusing and savoring.

So once the reader finishes a Toth story once or twice, there's no reason to look the thing over again. There's no other way to read it except forward. When you want to go back and savor a moment, all you get are diagrams. (One can appreciate his precision designs surely, as one appreciates fine typography, but the living emotional undercurrent has been completely stripped away. All it is is typography.)

Toth seems to forget that even though Hitchcock thought actors were cattle, he still used living human beings with highly expressive and realistic faces to inhabit his diagrams, to give them life... he still used real cars and drawing rooms. (And he hired real writers.)

Only Hitchcock's women were cyphers.

I think Neal Adams conclusively proved Toth wrong. But comics doesn't produce many Neal Adams' and it certainly can't hold on to them when it does.

Outside of the Neal Adams-type counter example, the best argument against Toth's position is from one of his acolytes, Scott McCloud, whose Understanding Comics conclusively demonstrates that diagrams belong in instruction manuals.


Rob Howard said...

>>>the name Kev Ferrara is the name I use for my hand done illustration work,<<<

Same here. I use Pablo Picasso for my other pen name (just the commercial stuff, mind you). I also write cosmetics ads under the name of Marcel Proust, and, to quote the cockney song ..."I'm 'enery the Eighth I am, 'enery the Eight I am, I am"

Oooh, it's such fun being a man of mystery and having such a rich fantasy life.

kev ferrara said...

Rob, stop being an ass. You don't know everything.


Rob Howard said...

>>>You don't know everything. <<<

Quite true, Kev, but I've lived long enough to know the signs of a poseur.

kev ferrara said...

Right. The 60 gigs of storage at my feet are empty.

Try being more interested in your own business than with others', Rob. Where all the facts are plainly before you, and only there, will you find the lucidity your ego so wishes to possess. Everywhere else you reveal your oafishness.

Best of luck,

Mary W. said...

Mr.howard... Please stop accusing others on this board of lying. There is no reason to assume Mr. Ferrara,based upon the links he provides to his artwork, could not very well be a designer as well. And what business is it of yours whether he uses a different name or not. Get a life!

Rob Howard said...


kenmeyerjr said...

Someone (one of the many anons posting) talked a bit about comic artists only working in one style (or seeming to only have one style available to them).

One artist that was talked about during this thread, Moebius, is well known to have a few styles, the other one using Jean Girard as the creator name on his well known western work.

However, just like most illustrators, I think many are capable of doing several styles (I do several myself), but don't. The reason for this, as most of you know, I am sure, is that your editor needs to know what to expect, and your readers are expecting a certain look from you as well. Of course, as Moebius does, you can make this work for you...but of course, not everyone is as insanely skilled as Mobeius is, either.

And an aside to Rob and Kev...I wish you guys wouldn't go at so's sorta like seeing two respected professors assault each others personal failings or something. Darn, I know the both of you are waaaaay smart enough to make points without attacking each other.

Hope I didn't hijack the thread, David!

Anonymous said...


That's right, nap time for the big whiny baby. You've had an important day on the internet and you need to rest.

Laurence John said...

"Comic books now offer higher resolution and half tone printing which have encouraged some artists to pursue ambitions that are not well suited for sequential art..."

which artists are you thinking of here David ?

i agree that comics 'read' much more smoothly with a stripped-down visual style. for instance you can read Dan Clowe's 'Ghost World' in an hour and there is nothing that slows the pace for a second. on the other hand there is nothing that compels you to go back and look at the art and see what more there is to it. it's very hard to pick out a particularly interesting frame because there aren't any.

i propose a different way: the art is so rich that you HAVE to slow down and look at it otherwise you will miss most of the content. i don't mean incredibly detailed rendering. i mean visual storytelling married to an atmospheric style that EMOTES. that works on you and pulls you in and demands you go back and look and look again... a style that the story wouldn't be possible without.

अर्जुन said...

The ARC isn't the only order. Kev hasn't gone through proper channels, the trials and tribulations of the fire rites, in order to be acknowledged a mystic-knight in the magic arts of hack illustration.

Would, nay could, Mr. Howard please site one illustration from his past 50 rarified years that anybody(in the real world) may have seen and, possibly, slightly recalls. Lookin' forward to the book and film! ~cheers

For anyone that cares, zip file via rapidshare~

,22mb and over 200 images, that leave no doubt to the quality of his taste and skill!

theory_of_me said...


I can't tell what's more amazing, the ratio of his arrogance to the level of quality of his work or the fact that someone actually bothered to catalog all that crap.

I like your blog by the way. There's something strangely familiar about it....

Rob Howard said...

Oh my goodness, I find myself attacked be The Gnat of The Indus when he's away from his telephone help desk using an improbable name with "hello dis is Brian."

A friend wrote to indicate that The Gnat had gone through the trouble of collecting a bunch of old how-to demos, etc.

Rest assured that if the Internet was a hotbed of potential clients and sitters, I would be more circumspect but the reality is that few have ever commissioned art, let alone art offered at a professional rate of pay, so my risk in turning off a potential $20K portrait is...'ow you say...freakin' unlikely from most of you. Like...when was the last time that you paid money for art?

It's always interesting that the assault come from the lower echelons. I never said that I was anything but one of the many solid, prolific illustrators who lived during an era when the US Department of Labor listed the profession as the highest paid in the country. And make no mistake, I knew it and parlayed my talents, as they were, into a money-making enterprise. I also ran a studio hiring other illustrators. My aims were not to leave great art for the ages (like those derivative fantasy artists drawing the same sword and sorcerer's art) but art-to-order made for professional art buyers who needed an attractive buxom beauty hold mugs of beer as we embedded thirty of forty subliminal messages into the picture. You know, professional art, not schoolboy stuff.

The reality is those embedded messages and symbols are completely over your head (with the operator's headphones), oh Gnat of The Indus. The reality is while people like you were looking at the buxom girl's bosom, were had all sorts of messages planted in the lace bodice and beer foam. Think of us as the visual equivalent of pickpockets of your mind. And while you ordered that beer by the truckload, you never knew why you did.

I do.

The horrid reality (horrid in that it insults your massive ego...which is based on no real accomplishments) is that art has always been both a tool for putting forth a message and a great playground for the marginally talented disconsolate youth searching for meaning in their meaningless lives. They draw monster (the same ones with tongues and slathering drool), body-builders with swords (when a .45 ACP would solve all problems) and titties galore. Oh puhleeze...plumber's sons who have learned to draw and draw with a plumber's taste. You are the ones who, without a Mac and Photoshop would not...nay, could not ever be artists. Even with Photoshop, the best you can hope for is to work for another Mac-derived AD who has no knowledge of what it takes to be an AD in one of the agencies that drives taste...and sales.

The best part is that your are smug and arrogant enough to think that your taste (which has, at best led to moving out of your mother's basement) has anything to do with what drives the world of commerce. After all, we illustrators are (or used to be commercial artists)...and well paid for that. The standards were, and should never be, the same standards that drive great fine art, such as the stuff you don't really understand.

So, oh Gnat of The Indus, have I properly alienated you and lost all possibility that you will ever spend a couple of grand for one of my pictures to grace some Hindoo (love Flashman's spelling) restaurant or telephone bank?

Anonymous said...

Rob and Kev, please check your handbags at the door.

Kev = skilled draughtsman (really, go look at the comic book, it's pretty sweet..)

Rob = clearly a skilled painter.

In a parallel universe you might be best pals.

अर्जुन said...

I said nothing negative regarding your art, it's quality is for each individual to decide. Nor did I request a portrait portfolio. I simply asked if you would cite 1 of your mainstream illustrations of note. Something you still haven't done.

An iron bull is bothered not by gnats, why do you rants?

Anonymous said...

Hey, indecipherable squiggle Arabic name guy, do you have any work to show?

Or are you on the sidelines, like a fat commentator watching the football?

Can you do anything?

theory_of_me said...

"I never said that I was anything but one of the many solid, prolific illustrators who lived during an era when the US Department of Labor listed the profession as the highest paid in the country."

I wonder what those other solid prolific illustrators are up to these days. Do they all go online and repeatedly, nauseatingly remind anyone who'll listen that they were "one of the many- blah blah blah... back when the money was blah blah blah blah"?

"An iron bull is bothered not by gnats, why do you rants?"

I don't know about that, अर्जुन. There's a story about a certain famous illustrator whose initials happen to be B.F. that was told to me by the old house manager at the Society of Illustrators. Apparently, the bartender (a recent art school graduate, a nobody) didn't recognize him and asked him who he was. According to the guy that told me the story, it caused B.F.'s eyes to look like they were about to swell up with tears. You'd think that someone as accomplished as him (one of the all time greats) would merely chuckle when a young incompetent nobody displayed his ignorance. And ironically, it turned out that the bartender was indeed a huge fan of the man's work but just didn't know what he looked like in person.

It appears that "iron bulls" or those that just like to pose as such are quite sensitive to the opinions of "gnats". Maybe there's no such thing as an "iron bull" or maybe the iron is hollow and no accomplishment is satisfying without recognition by those who are supposedly beneath them.

The defeated male ego sure has some violent death throes, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

You couldn't draw a straight line with a ruler.

Yet here you are opinionating on things you will never understand.


Anonymous said...

So, you might want to stop posting.

Since you have no idea what you're talking about.

Just a suggestion.

Dan V. Randall said...

Mr.Howard, your argument is insensable. On one hand, you freely acknowledge you were nothing more than a hack illustrator, yet you seem to want to be thought of as important in the field, nonetheless. Your current work is merely repainted photos, yet you claim impeccable taste and kinship with Sargent and 19th century aestheticians. You clearly lack the kind of professional-level imaginative skills to make believable scenarios, (also, no doubt part of your long term dependency on photography, or the cause of it), yet you put down those who can create believable scenarios, you berate fantasy artists yet you show two
terrible RECENT fantasy pictures of your own (angel and dueling dragons), you constantly put down the visitors to
this blog as worthless, yet you seem to be begging for their
attention, approval and respect... In short, you are a
pathetic, insecure blowhard. If you want to impress people with your financial swashbuckling, try This blog, in case you didn't get the memo, is about art, not commerce. Contrary to your fondest wishes, we come here for respite from hacks like you. Take your meds and go take a long, hard look in the mirror.

theory_of_me said...

Rob Howard is exactly the kind of illustrator that makes the general population regard all illustrators as corny hacks who are only in it for a quick buck.

To anyone who's defending him as if he's your hero I suggest getting a better hero. Or better yet, stop hero worshiping and be your own man (or woman, whatever the case may be, anonymous).

अर्जुन said...

"...while people like you were looking at the buxom girl's bosom, were had all sorts of messages planted in the lace bodice and beer foam. Think of us as the visual equivalent of pickpockets of your mind. And while you ordered that beer by the truckload, you never knew why you did."

~Being that you have been such a powerful influence on numerous people, you wouldn't mind naming the brand and year for one of your wicked awesome campaigns.

Your middle name doesn't happen to be Goebbels, is it?

David Apatoff said...

Theory of Me, there is nothing I care to comment on in the recent exchanges (which seem to me rather pointless) but I do want to address the story you heard from the old house manager at the Society of Illustrators: "There's a story about a certain famous illustrator whose initials happen to be B.F. that was told to me by the old house manager at the Society of Illustrators. Apparently, the bartender (a recent art school graduate, a nobody) didn't recognize him and asked him who he was. According to the guy that told me the story, it caused B.F.'s eyes to look like they were about to swell up with tears."

If we are talking about the same B.F., I would bet my mortgage that your source was either mistaken or drunk. I have been at the bar of the Society of Illustrators with B.F. He was basically a shy and modest man who was embarrassed by attention or flattery. It is inconceivable that the person I know would respond the way you described. I also saw him at that same bar surrounded by young and adoring art students who did recgognize him, and while he was kind, he was also uncomfortable and looking for a graceful exit. So unless your B.F. is Bob Finkelstein, I would say you got some bad information.

theory_of_me said...

Who the hell is Bob Finkelstein? :)

Yes, that old house manager did like his drinks and may have had a tendency to exaggerate. I don't have anything personal invested in anyone's reputation so I don't feel the need to believe or disbelieve anything I hear about them. I did very briefly meet B.F. a couple of years ago and he seemed down to earth but we'll never know what really goes on in anyone's mind, no matter how well we feel we know them.

Maybe even Rob Howard has good intentions, who knows...?

Anonymous said...

You're another anonymous fuck hiding behind a moniker, you don't have anything personal vested PERIOD.

theory_of_me said...

It's pretty ridiculous to invest much in an internet conversation, don't you think?

I don't mind your anonymity at all. I just didn't know what else to call you.

astrobot said...

Jimny, here--reading you all with considerable interest...very interesting--not the ill mannered bits, however, alas.

Astrobot? I forgot that was a handle when I first signed up with the google thingy!!! So Astrobot it will be, though I like Jimny better. Pinocchio is my favorate Disney movie.

Kenney Mencher said...

What a great visual argument. This is a problem that I grapple with quite a bit. For me, it's not about masses of details but actually underlying structure. If the structure (anatomy of form) is solid and understood, you don't need detail to pull it off.

Thanks for a great posting!

Anonymous said...

This post turns me on.

David Apatoff said...

Astrobot, Pinocchio is one of my very favorites too, although I am especially fond of Fantasia.

Kenney-- thanks for your comment.

Anonymous-- good. That means you understood it.

Anonymous said...

I was looking for an email address cause I would have just written you.

David Apatoff said...

wildthing-- Thanks so much for your kind comment, I appreciate it.