Thursday, February 10, 2011

MARY PERKINS ON STAGE, volume 8



The newest volume of the Classic Comics Press reprint of Leonard Starr's comic strip, On Stage, has just been released and publisher Charles Pelto was kind enough to invite me to write the introduction. I am a huge fan of the strip, and the period covered by this volume (1966-1967) is one of my favorite periods.

In honor of this 8th volume in the series, my introduction lists the top 8 reasons why On Stage was one of the very greatest story strips of all time. Those reasons are:

1. It was the single most literate and erudite story strip
2. Starr's mastery of light and shadow was on a par with the best comic artists
3. It was the sexiest comic strip (at least, for real adults)
4. Starr's drawings had great structural integrity
5. Its dry wit and humor were unmatched by any other story strip
6. Its pictures were beautifully designed
7. Its relationships were among the richest and most mature in comic strips
8. Starr excelled at complex facial expressions to illustrate complex story lines

Do you disagree? Do you have different reasons? Get the book if you care to read my arguments.



134 Comments:

Blogger Dominic Bugatto said...

I'd have to agree with you.

I've been fortunate enough to have worked with Charles and Leonard on most the books and it's given me an even greater appreciation fro the work . Leaonard's work stands alone in the medium.

Cheers, Dom

2/10/2011 6:36 PM  
Blogger Norman Boyd said...

I've always been a comic book guy (with a few notable exceptions - Garth/Bellamy, Wizard of ID,B.C./Hart, Peanuts/Schultz) but when I read a review of Starr's work on this very blog, I ran to order these books. THEY ARE BRILLIANTLY done stories and the art is superb! It must take such tenacity to keep up such quality in a daily strip. Thanks Mr Starr (and accomplices) and thanks for the blog David

2/11/2011 3:13 AM  
Blogger Don said...

I've bought all the volumes of On Stage so far, and will certainly be buying the new one. I agree with everything you say about the quality of the strip.

These are tough times for a comics enthusiast with limited funds. The flood of top class reprints is overwhelming.

2/11/2011 5:39 AM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

I don't believe in top ten lists for art but I can't disagree with a thing you've said. If On Stage began in the 1930's when strips had a full page on Sundays, it would of changed everything. Too bad it came at the end of soap opera strips so it never got the credit is due until now. Beautiful work.

2/11/2011 5:52 AM  
Blogger bear*dog*art said...

Yeow! Mary Perkins. My teenage muse. Glad to see she genuinely seduced yah'all too. You Blog is cool Mr. A.

2/11/2011 6:08 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Less doing more. In every aspect of the narrative arts, this is the ultimate truism, and equally true when dealing with dialog versus silent action.

Love that backlit scene with her walking down the dock. So deceptively effortless looking, but simplifying like that and still retaining integrity is really really hard.

2/11/2011 11:29 AM  
Blogger StimmeDesHerzens said...

Oh-Sarah about what happened today...
SHH...
kiss!
A nice segue to your annual Valentines post...looking forward to it!!

2/11/2011 3:34 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

a very cold style, but technically brilliant.

2/11/2011 4:36 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Dominic Bugatto-- thanks to you and to Charles Pelto for the work you do on this series. It is a marvelous body of work and I am glad it is being preserved.

Norman Boyd-- Thanks for writing. I couldn't agree more about the quality.

Don-- you're right, there is a lot of material to be mined. Once fans succeed in rescuing it from crumbling newspaper pages and the warehouses of bankrupt companies, and storing it in digital files, future transitions should not be nearly so difficult or labor intensive (or expensive).

MORAN-- I think On Stage did get plenty of credit at the time. It was very popular. But I agree that at the end of the strip, it was battling the end of an entire era, with declining space on newspaper pages, declining revenues for newspapers, and a readership that had migrated to TV and other media.

2/12/2011 8:55 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

bear "dog" art-- you are not alone. My introduction to volume 8 struggles with such important issues as whether Mary would qualify as a MILF today. I'd of course be interested in your thoughts.

Kev Ferrara wrote: "So deceptively effortless looking, but simplifying like that and still retaining integrity is really really hard."

Excellent point. If you are drawing for tiny boxes on the newspaper page, your ability to make sometimes complex images look effortless is a crucial part of your challenge.

StimmeDesHerzens-- aren't you a honey to remember my annual pecadillo.

Laurence John-- I'm not sure I'd call the style "very cold," although I agree that several of these images are dominated by the kind of reportorial clarity which is often necessary to move a story forward under the constraints of the comic strip format. But if you follow the link to other examples of Starr's work, you may find that he indulges in more dramatic and adventuresome brushwork as circumstances permit.

2/12/2011 9:16 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

David, it's not so much the storytelling as the lack of tremulousness in the line work that makes it feel cold to me.
lines executed with a precision like that can feel clinical. am i the only one who feels that ? i'd be interested to hear other opinions.
i hope it's not too controversial a point ... i admire his work in many ways (the variety of clothing folds for one) but find it hard to love.

2/12/2011 11:18 AM  
Anonymous Ivan said...

David, you wrote: "Starr excelled at complex facial expressions to illustrate complex story lines"

He drew from real life models, and insisted on doing so always, or almost always. Was he more skilled at this than other comic book artists who have used real life models? Was he more fanatical about this than anyone else? I don't know and it's not important for me to know, but it is points like these that would elucidate the reasons for his great results.

I discovered Mary Perkins on my own and incidentally, which makes knowing it(/her) especially sweet.

2/12/2011 11:54 AM  
Anonymous Ivan said...

David, you also said : "I agree that at the end of the strip, it was battling the end of an entire era, with declining space on newspaper pages, declining revenues for newspapers, and a readership that had migrated to TV and other media."

I've seen the panels from around 1979 (in a foreign issue). I got a strong impression that Starr wasn't interested in the strip anymore.

2/12/2011 11:59 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Laurence,
I tend to have a tunnel vision that is focused on accuracy of proportion expressed in organic arrangements (i.e. I love Starr's work). I am probably oblivious to the line qualities you are describing; what are some examples of comparable adult comic strip work that has this quality?

2/12/2011 12:42 PM  
Blogger La Petite Gallery said...

Just discovered your blog. I am fasinated. A very interesting post.
I had a famous illustrater in my family, Cartoons.

yvonne

2/12/2011 12:43 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Not to get too far into the synaesthetic woods, but I find these illos dry and warm, rather than cold.

2/12/2011 1:24 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

etc,etc : "what are some examples of comparable adult comic strip work that has this quality?"

i think it's the smooth precision of the line-work that suggests a cool detachment, rather than an emotional engagement on the part of the artist. work that has more spontaneity (less formula) in the line-work exudes more warmth of feeling to me.
Charles Burns would be a modern example of a similarly cold, detached style (not that he's as traditionally as good a draftsman).

Kev: "I find these illos dry and warm, rather than cold."

interesting that you see the contrary. obviously a subjective thing.

2/13/2011 7:01 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Laurence,
Sorry I did not express myself clearly. I meant what are some examples of comparable adult comic strip work that includes the "tremulousness" of line that you prefer? Not that there is or even should be a univocal answer, but what I am getting at is how appropriate would this tremulousness of line be for Mary Perkins On Stage?

2/13/2011 9:31 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

etc, etc

i can think of many artists who have a looser way with ink such as Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave McKean or Nicolas de Crecy. whether they would be suitable for this particular strip i wouldn't like to say.

i'm reminded of Stanley Kubrick when i look at these pictures. he had a similar balance of brilliant technique and emotional coolness.

2/13/2011 10:35 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

Always one post behind

Just out of curiosity in the brown portrait of Kennedy that Fuchs did how many like the picture with the white space at the bottom of the lower left hand comer? Or how many think it looks better without the white space?






Laurence
Maybe what you feel cold in his line work is a lack of tension or spring (something under pressure) that often causes and artist to boldly caress or touch the forms (masses) with the pen. Especially the forms of living bodies.

Compositional I think they are outstanding especially the way he directs your eye through each panel and keeps your eye on the center of attention the whole time. When the woman walks across the dock the plants the house and even the moon keep directing and redirecting us back to the woman.

In the last two scenes all the elements direct and point directly to the main protagonist, tables heads shadows etc. In that last scene the rug, the shadow from the doorway and the cast shadow behind the couple forces us to look at that kiss whether we want to or not. Even her left arm leads us right to it while the guy’s newspaper hides the right angle of her elbow that might lead the eye in the opposite direction. Or as Mort Drucker said in his video most compositions are circular.

2/13/2011 10:37 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Laurence,
Whereas you experience warm, emotional engagement in tremulousness, I am experiencing surreality which I do not associate with warm, emotional engagement.

2/13/2011 11:40 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I don't find these pictures cerebral in the least. To me, a Kubrickian illustrator is somebody like Syd Mead, where you can feel the intellect constructing the emotional effect. (Possibly this has to do with the way he maps his designed lines, which tend to evoke a sense of precision engineering.)

These panel illustrations seem open without being liberated. They have a casual yet perfectly ironed and buttoned up, Hamptons feel to them.

2/13/2011 12:28 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

To answer your question Tom, I feel that light spot is absolutely necessary to keeping that Kennedy piece living and free. Which is to say, suggestive beyond what is portrayed, suggestive beyond the frame.

Cover over that spot of light, and it seems to me the picture loses some of its energy, becomes claustrophobic, rather than hopeful in a small way. Kennedy then seems trapped, rather than contemplative.

When you seal the composition in its frame, you symbolically seal the subject in as well.

2/13/2011 12:33 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"Maybe what you feel cold in his line work is a lack of tension or spring (something under pressure) that often causes an artist to boldly caress or touch the forms (masses) with the pen. Especially the forms of living bodies."

Tom, i think that's one of the reasons but not the sole one. in the comments section of the previous post on Starr, Rob may have got close to the crux of it:


"...it's in producing such a consistent product for so many years that Starr stands head and shoulders above the competition, and that consistency is, as i said, due to carefully constructed and repeatable conventions."


anyway, i don't want to belabour the point. i think there's much to admire in Starr's work.

"Or how many think it looks better without the white space?"

i'm ambivalent about the white space. the contact sheets interest me though. had Fuchs not been standing in the background i would have assumed those were his reference shots. his drawing of Kennedy looks like it was taken from a photo only a few clicks away from the first two with hands in pockets. i wonder if another illustrator took those shots ?

2/13/2011 2:07 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Tom,
From my personal formalist-leaning perspective, the white space is something of a necessity, but contingent upon Fuchs' choices of subject placement and frame proportion. Had the entire lower part been covered with the brown ground, it would have been monotonous; something needed to be there. But contingent I say because if the picture is cropped just above the white space, it is a balanced and acceptable composition in my opinion (but perhaps a little more casual and maybe Fuchs did not want casual in this case).

Secondly, the placement of the white space compels one, if any formal sense is made of it at all, to understand it as an impression of some object in between the viewer and Kennedy, thereby creating depth which this particular painting does indeed need, and additionally is congruent with the whites of the collar and cuff.

2/13/2011 2:25 PM  
Blogger Tom said...

Etc, Etc

That’s what I am doing cropping the picture when I remove the white space which in a way creates a whole another composition. Although I don't feel like the white space is in front of Kennedy but I feel like it keeps pulling my eye down away from Kennedy. I do not cross over it like a foreground.

I like your symbolic reasoning Kev it makes perfect sense. Maybe it holds the viewers eye in the picture as Kennedy’s gaze directs us out the picture. It’s so powerful in its pulling power it is almost impossible for our eyes to exit the picture.

But like Lawrence I just cannot make up my mind.

2/13/2011 2:44 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

just struck me how similar that brown Kennedy portrait is to a Warhol screenprint... have another look.

2/13/2011 2:49 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence,

I find the conventions to be the problematic thing as well in Starr's work, and in a lot of those Cooper studio type artists, and those influenced by them, like Williamson.

The conventions solve some standard issue problems, which are always thorns, yet they never address any new problems which might take the picture beyond the simple appearance of things.

But I think this hits the Alex Toth issue head on... his opinion (well considered) was that, in continuity, the images should serve the story only. The images are not to be drawn to be savored because this will get in the way of the story flow. Everything must be simple and clean. Like cyphers.

If you agree with Toth's position, then these conventions, in seeming to hollow out or desaturate the visuals of emotional content, are actually doing a necessary service to enhance the emotions being dictated by the story. The lack of grit in the panels allows us to slip from panel to panel with the ease of a cinematic shot change.

The experience of the drama then is made by the change between panels, rather than the panels themselves.

2/13/2011 3:22 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

The images are not to be drawn to be savored because this will get in the way of the story flow.

Kev,
Hence illustration does not always serve Kantian beauty. This is the point I tried to communicate in the "Artists at War, part two" thread.

2/13/2011 3:57 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Etc. etc.,

How is that point different than the idea that, you don't find beautiful what you don't find beautiful?

2/13/2011 4:19 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Kev,
Need I explain it to you? If one has a romantic notion that beauty is indefinable and one should remain forever willfully ignorant, then it is tautological; otherwise it is not. Toth does not appear to have such a notion, and neither do I.

2/13/2011 4:39 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"If you agree with Toth's position, then these conventions, in seeming to hollow out or desaturate the visuals of emotional content, are actually doing a necessary service to enhance the emotions being dictated by the story. The lack of grit in the panels allows us to slip from panel to panel with the ease of a cinematic shot change."


Kev, i understand this issue only too well, as i've wrestled with it myself in my own comic work.

while i appreciate the story-flow argument, it also seems to reduce the art to merely a device to move the story along, and i think the art should be much more than that.

i've come to the conclusion that since readers basically control the flow of the story themselves, and will go back over the comic many times to re-read it, and will linger over a drawing they particularly like without the control of the author / artist, it seems worthwhile putting some additional >something< into the art which might serve as an extra layer to the narrative, even if it risks disrupting it on first reading.

2/13/2011 4:40 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence, that is exactly the conclusion I have come to as well. If you make the art only about the story flow, you evacuate the value of the art as a source of emotional richness and you create something ultimately disposable. If films don't do that, why should comic books?

The perfection of Toth's design is so quickly absorbed (And maybe we can add Starr to the list) that all we can do is slip in and out of each panel lickety split in the interests of feeling the movement of the drama, or get totally out of the story and study the craftsmanship. I never seem to be able to appreciate the artistry and the story at once, as in continuity illos with more illustration in them, (or illustrations proper.)

2/13/2011 7:17 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Need I explain it to you? If one has a romantic notion that beauty is indefinable and one should remain forever willfully ignorant, then it is tautological; otherwise it is not. Toth does not appear to have such a notion, and neither do I.

Etc. Etc. (Really wish you had a name, brother)

The Romantics certainly believed that beauty had its reasons. But as I have said, there were discussed many different kinds of beauty, all of which have explanations based on common human perceptions and senses.

Formalism was not abandoned by Romanticism, it just treats it as one meaningful kind of expression among a vast range of possibilities

Don't confuse Romanticism with the silly colloquial understanding of the "romantic temperament", which translates to "psychologically unstable and prone to the fantastical." This is BS that imo came out of the Materialist's antipathy to Romanticism, as exemplified, not in reality (except in a few cases), but by and large in bad romantic fiction.

Which is to say, mercurial natures are hardly confined, among humans, to the Romantic Artists.

2/13/2011 7:41 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Kev,
You suggested there was some tautological aspect to my reasoning. There may well be. But unless you are willing to get back on topic and be more specific as to what you think is tautological, this really isn't going anywhere. Not that I'm not enjoying the company, brother.

2/13/2011 8:26 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/13/2011 9:17 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Kant: The beautiful is an object of delight apart from any interest, meaning apart from anything physically gratifying, instructive, useful, valuable, etc.

Since most every and any damn thing seems to be found beautiful by someone, purely on the level of disinterested pleasure, Kant's statement leads to the tautology I already stated.

Kant is an excellent starting point for aesthetic discussion, but he isn't the end all. After him follows on a hundred and some odd years of additional insights, much of which is treasure.

2/13/2011 9:32 PM  
Anonymous crystaljewellery said...

These are tough times for a comics enthusiast with limited funds. The flood of top class reprints is overwhelming.

2/13/2011 10:18 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Kev,
Do you actually believe Kant's concept of beauty is that simple? Whatever; this isn't meaningful discussion and I'm ready to drop it.

2/13/2011 11:02 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/13/2011 11:39 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Oy.

The short version of the Critique of Pure Kant is: Do you actually think his ideas on universality are worth discussing? Or that color can only be about "charm"? Do you actually think if I happen to understand a composition enough to understand/access its purpose, that it is no longer beautiful to me? Is he able to understand that form can express a great deal purposely, and by so doing can be beautiful in that regard? Are beauty and the sublime really the only two categories of aesthetic experience?

Let's put in baldly: Is there some painting by Kant that shows he knows what he is talking about at all? Or is it all pure reasoning?

2/13/2011 11:49 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Ahh, Kev. Your google searches grow deeper. I suggest you read Kant's Critique of Judgment. Goodnight friend.

2/14/2011 12:10 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Those bullet points are from the Kant link that you posted, smart guy. Shall I just dive in to Kant randomly to address your insistence on the primacy of Kantian Beauty in all matters of art?

Also, as the arguments in your link are from CoPR, it is bad faith to pretend I am stabbing at air. Neither of us are fooled, therefore, and nobody else cares. So why try that tactic?

If you have a few passages you want really get into deeply, by all means, present them. If you don't care to hear any aesthetic philosophy beyond 1804, by all means, let's drop the subject.

2/14/2011 12:53 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Ivan wrote: "Was he more skilled at [complex facial expressions] than other comic book artists?"

In my view, he was very, very good but the thing that made him unique was that his stories required more complex expressions than other comic artists. Most artists had to draw anger, happiness, and if they were really sophisticated, jealousy. Starr would draw the face of a woman bemused at her own mistake in thinking that a man was romantically interested in her. He would draw the expression of a wife who was leaving her husband because he was too prideful to take her love for granted. What other comic artist faced such challenges?

Also, if Starr "wasn't interested in the strip anymore" in 1979, it might have been because the smaller panels and reduced circulation transformed the artistic and economic incentives of the strip.

Yvonne (La Petite Gallery)-- welcome! Who was the illustrator in your family?

2/14/2011 9:56 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Kev,
I'll summarize in this final post (this is consuming far too much time) on the subject. I suggested Kantian beauty as means to make distinctions between fine art and illustration. My premise is that beauty can have a determinate definition, but my argument does not solely rest upon Kant (whose writings in fact disagree with my premise, as you would have pointed out had you any real familiarity with them). You have seemed to reject that premise, however, and therefore naturally find the argument fallacious/tautological. I posted a link that provided bullet points of Kantian beauty. I believe that all of these points apply to fine art and need no commentary in regard to fine art. However, the bullet points can be (and in some cases should be) antithetical to narrative illustration. I'll list the bullet points and briefly comment (since you seem unwilling to consider them for yourself) as to why I find them distinct from illustration, particularly narrative illustration:
1.Disinterest: Narrative seeks to create interest, and illustration seeks to support narrative.
2. Emotional detachment: Narrative often seeks emotional attachment, illustration supports.
3.Formal beauty: I'll defer to Toth: The images are not to be drawn to be savored because this will get in the way of the story flow.

2/14/2011 12:42 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Etc. etc.

Let me be clear. I was trying to understand your understanding of Kant on beauty. To me, "Kantian Beauty" doesn't exist, as it is only a theory. So it doesn't matter to me whether Illustration doesn't conform to Kant's notions of beauty. I care more about Illustration being great than Kant being right.

Now, I will certainly admit I don't have Kant on the tip of my tongue, mostly because I have already been through it countless times and had grave disagreements about many of his most strongly held positions. Even so, everything you read in Aesthetics after Kant is constantly referencing back to him. So his ideas are more or less constantly in mind as background.

However, thank you for finally making your contentions plain and I will try to give you some feedback on them. (Except, that Toth quote is me paraphrasing what I understand to be Toth's position. It is not Toth.)

1.) Narrative creates interest. Yes, and every face is a story, every line is a journey, and every rhythm has drama. So there goes every work of art as being "disinterested." Mark-making is inherently dramatic in the abstract.

2.) Repose is the quality that invites disinterested contemplation, to the degree that it is present, according to the theory I know. There are many ways of creating or keeping repose. But it is ultra minimalism that most nearly succeeds at obtaining repose. Therefore postmodern art seems more Kantian in its beauty than Classical art. (Try Maillol for a bridge between the two.)

3. That Toth paraphrase was about continuity, not illustration per se. But again, all art (any markmarking) has narrative. It cannot be escaped. Which is why the later notions about Will and Aesthetics should be your next step after shaking loose Kant.

Your scabrous pen pal,
kev

2/14/2011 1:51 PM  
Anonymous Texen said...

Alex Toth was more than design,he could draw like nobody else in comics when needed.Look at his early 50s romance comics and note his facility with subtle facial expression and body posture.
His Car-Toons show his skill at automotive rendering, and everything was referenced for accuracy.
As he said:" strip it all down to essentials and draw the hell out of what's left!"

2/14/2011 8:11 PM  
Anonymous Anon said...

Toth wouldnt have done all those fold lines all over the guy's shirt in panel one-too much.

2/15/2011 2:14 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Texen, I marvel at Toth's distilled draughtsmanship all the time. It is truly masterful.

He must have been heavily into cinematic theory, where it once was said that shots should be uninflected, and an uninflected shot derives its force only from the uninflected shots that surround it. That makes the shot weak, but the juxtaposition strong.

Toth wants you to get the idea and move on because he believes the nature of a comic book story is that it is a sequential expression, and not a collection of illustrations. The result of this theory, and the result of Thoth's masterful implementation of the theory is to make the eye disinterested in lingering on the panel. That literally is the point of his mastery, it seems to me. It is a kind of paradox.

2/15/2011 9:30 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

etc. etc...

It occurs to me that all these months, whenever you were mentioning Formalism that you were talking specifically and only about Kantian Formalism. Is that so?

2/16/2011 11:03 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Kev,
I'm not sure there is definition of Kantian formalism as specifically related to art. Having only read Critique of Judgment and various overviews of his entire philosophic system such as Copleston's History of Philosophy, I "kant" say for sure. A couple of days ago I (back)ordered a Kant dictionary from Amazon which might shed some light since there is an entry for "formalism", but would probably have little to say in regard to aesthetic formalism. The term "formalism" often is used in a pejorative context by critics of Kant.

When I have used the term I am referring to the standard definition such as suggested by Wikipedia, i.e, de-emphasis of subject matter and emphasis of composition. My formalism "idee fixe" is a result of my own comparative analysis of art, not a result of reading Kant. I am infatuated with Kant merely because he came to the same conclusion of the importance of aesthetic formalism, apparently through philosophical enquiry and not experience in the way an artist would.

2/16/2011 12:45 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I had thought you were talking about a Formalism that brings formality to works of art, mathematical balance, qualities of measure, geometric understructures, repose, "staying on the wall, etc." (A miscommunication, obviously.)

But there are many types of Formalism.

Kantian Formalism, which is related to his ideas on beauty, is a very particular thing that has a lot of very interesting conditions which are completely missed by that wikipedia article (and any other article written by scribblers so stupefied by modernist self-promotion that they think most recent philosophical thoughts on form began with 20 year old kids in 1890 who didn't like rigor, but liked bright colors.)

The miseducation is scary: that entry in Wikipedia skips from Plato to Maurice Denis. And then goes to Fry (Who is only known for a ludicrous theory, misread from Romantic theory, that is obviously tautological), skipping over the entirety of Idealism, Romanticism, Symbolism, and Pragmatism where all this stuff was actually worked out in detail by intelligent, rigorous philosophers and artists. (I don't mean to be invidious, but the entry is a complete embarrassment.)

The only thing I will add further on your theory, as a wrench in the works, is that everything is composition.

2/16/2011 1:30 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

I had thought you were talking about a Formalism that brings formality to works of art, mathematical balance, qualities of measure, geometric understructures, repose

I am.

2/16/2011 2:08 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Composition can be about all those things, or their exact opposites... or totally different stuff... depending on the vision.

Composition doesn't equate with formalism, in the way you define it, or the way in which that wiki article defines it. Most books on composition are crap anyway and shouldn't be taken as defining composition, its tenets or principles. As Harvey Dunn and Pyle used to say, all the rules in the world won't make a good picture.

All good art is about composition, however, in the sense that composing is a synthetic process; Unifying a subject (the known or the given) to an idea in order to create a fresh conception. Often times this synthesis is completely unconscious. I don't think it is ever completely conscious.

2/16/2011 4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

David, Monday my DCBS arrived, containing my copies of Mary Perkins, Vol. 8 (I habitually order two copies of the books in this series, one of which I give to a friend). Today, Robert Fawcett: The Illustrator's Illustrator arrived from Auad Publishing. (I'd intended to wait for Amazon to get copies, but my will power faded after about a week). Thanks to David Apatoff and friends, it's been a lovely week for this fan of comics and illustration. Thank you.

--Bob Cosgrove

2/16/2011 8:35 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev: "Toth wants you to get the idea and move on because he believes the nature of a comic book story is that it is a sequential expression, and not a collection of illustrations."

i do understand Toth's frustration with poor storytelling (and artists who cram lots of flashy drawings together in a visually confusing way e.g. Ashley Wood) but clear storytelling in comics should really be a given. once a comic artist understands how to tell a story clearly and effectively the onus is on... how interesting is the story ? and how interesting is the comic art style ?

having worked in story-boarding and animation i've met lots of brilliant draftsmen. often the most brilliant (the ones who can draw realistic poses from any angle and who's framing / staging / storytelling is pure textbook stuff ) have the most transparent, almost non-existent styles, which seem to have nothing in them to get excited about beyond the fact that they are realistic and can do all of the above. putting clean lines around realistic shapes doesn't equate to an interesting style in my opinion. i suppose i don't find Toth's or Starr's styles interesting, however well constructed they are underneath.

2/17/2011 6:39 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I think you are giving short shrift to the most essential aspect of sequential art and that is Direction: staging, lighting, "acting", designing the shots, and designing the shot sequence so it creates the dramatic effect you are looking for...

Toth's artistry in this area is jaw-droppingly astonishing, imo, all the more so because it is invisible. He is a great artist despite the fact that his style is, in a sense, anti-narcissistic.

Some quick finds on the net to demonstrate:

1

2

3

4

2/17/2011 10:15 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Texen, Anon and Kev Ferrara-- I am a big fan of economy in art (I've been pretty tough on artists such as Bernie Wrightson and Virgil Finlay for the common sin of "too many lines") and I am an especially big fan of Alex Toth. I share his view (and the apparent view of some of you) that a series of detailed illustrations may undermine the purpose of continuity.

Having said that, I believe Toth fans who think less of Starr's work because it is not as "clean" as Toth's may be missing something important.

In my view, Starr goes places that Toth does not, and requires a different set of tools to get there. On Stage is a psychological drama that focuses on mature emotions, and therefore places great weight on complex facial expressions and body language that Toth never had to deal with. You won't find Starr's kind of nuance or precision in Hot Wheels or Bravo for Adventure; Toth did not move stories forward with a look in the protagonist's eye, or an exchange of glances. There's not a lot of or subtle body language in Space Ghost. If there was, Toth might've had a different notion of what makes up the "essential" core of a drawing. Toth's compositions were carved in granite, which gave them extraordinary power but cost them in nuance. Starr's artistic mission required a sharper point to calibrate the movement of a raised eyebrow.

Yes, Starr clearly took pleasure in drawing folds in cloth. He worked exclusively with a brush, and you can tell he looked for opportunities to enjoy its snap. (He also used more lines than Toth to convey such things as free flowing hair). Toth, on the other hand, did not hesitate to use a felt tip pen instead of a brush, and it shows.

As for the danger of slowing down continuity, I think this is largely a matter of stagecraft, and both Starr and Toth are brilliant at that.

2/17/2011 11:16 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev ferrara wrote: "'everything is composition." I think I might even agree with that, although I wouldn't have had the courage to state it quite that way. I'm sure if I thought abut it long enough I could find a counter example.

Bob Cosgrove-- Thanks very much!

2/17/2011 11:36 AM  
Anonymous Texen said...

David, you need to look at some of Toth's romance work from the early 50s or his movie adaptations (ie No Time for Sergeants) to see a gamut of facial expressions,action and design.And don't forget he was sustaining this thru multi-page stories- not a daily 3 panel format paying infinitely more.
For his range of work, innovation and drawing skill I put him ahead of Starr, whose comic book work was not of the same quality.

I doubt whether Leonard Starr could ever draw something as sophisticated as Toth's first Torpedo story.Some of those panels are breath-taking.

2/17/2011 11:36 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Re: "Everything is composition."

I think I might even agree with that, although I wouldn't have had the courage to state it quite that way. I'm sure if I thought about it long enough I could find a counter example.

That is an equally "courageous" statement, David

Maybe it is a failure of imagination on my part, but I can't posit anything put on a canvas that didn't at least have visual weight (by itself or as part of a larger compositional dynamic or in contrast to something else) or some emotional or intellectual interest that arouses curiosity. Even blank space is a compositional force.

I would be fascinated to find a true counter-example to this understanding.

2/17/2011 1:21 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Texen-- I think Toth and Starr have different strengths, and our stylistic preference for one artist or the other will depend primarily on our personal taste. There is no shame in admiring either of these great talents.

I have not seen Toth's movie adaptations but I have seen his television adaptations (Zorro) and his romance work and I have found no evidence that Toth was capable of the kind of work I was describing by Starr. Perhaps it's not Toth's fault; the plots of the comic books he worked on rarely required more depth than a smile or a frown, and Toth's approach was fine for that kind of work. (From what I have seen, his romance comics displayed the same kind of sensitive facial expressions that Jack Kirby's romance comics displayed.)

I do agree with you that Toth's comic book work was superior to the comic book work Starr did before he turned to strips, but of course Starr was a very young man working on an assembly line with teams of ghost artists for minimum wage in the late '40s and early '50s.

2/17/2011 1:49 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "I would be fascinated to find a true counter-example to this understanding."

Through the years on this blog, I have made numerous enemies by arguing that, regardless of time period or country or style, any visual artist who does not recognize the importance of composition-- the "design" or "form" of the work-- should find another line of work. So let me say that I generally share your view and have the knife wounds to prove it.

I nevertheless start with the assumption that there are exceptions to the rule that "everything is composition" because I haven't yet found art to conform to any cast iron, universal rule.

When I do look for exceptions, I think about qualities in art where the form is not so important-- color field painting where minor gradations in color cause the surface to shimmer, but you would be hard pressed to say that one shape ends and another begins. Or Dubuffet's spatter paintings that look like a section of concrete, with lots of tiny dots but no real "form." Or in a different vein, art where the quality resides in rapier like linework-- its speed, variety, veracity, etc.-- rather than the composition of the image. I'm not quite there yet, but I'm working on it.

2/17/2011 2:14 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Kev,
Two things in regard to composition.

First of all, personally I make an epistomological distinction between disorganised compositional tips featured in the "how to" composition books (and agree with you that they are of very limited value), and an organized system that is analogous to the way we process perceptions and information, namely universals↔particulars.

Second, you may choose to say that everything is composition, but then not all composition is an aesthetic experience (i.e. anaesthetic experience):
Monotony←Aesthetic→Mayhem.

2/17/2011 2:15 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

David,

I don’t think it is true that some noticed accident of presentation or accident of technique is non-compositional.

Let’s posit some ink stroke isn’t compositional. Let’s tilt it 30 degrees. We’ll see it was in a state of tension with other elements, or it had kept a bond with its similars that created a field effect. Or we’ll see it had provided a thrust that balanced or unbalanced something else. We’ll notice some compositional resonance or aberration, invariably.

Maybe the surest way to test if anything is part of a composition is to take it away and see if you notice that something has changed. But if you were astute enough to find something to remove, you were astute enough to notice it and you will invariably, now, seek to notice its absence.

Put another way: If you step back from the Debuffet and a dot disappears, you have changed the composition by where you are viewing it from. The dot has been effectively removed. (We experience what we see in the frame.)

If you step up to the canvas and the dot reappears, then you have noticed it, and therefore it must now be part of the composition. The short version of the argument is: From where you are, if you noticed it, or noticed its absence when it was taken away, it is part of the composition. Or else you wouldn’t have noticed it. Presentation can’t be aesthetically dismissed.

Strangely enough, I just did a logo for a rock band over the weekend that contained splatter effects. And I spent several hours, after completing the main lettering, designing the splatters to best effect for the final logo, moving and resizeing individual blops, deleting others. Each individual splatter was considered. (The logo’s first destination is a wall sized banner for a stage show. So each of those jots of ink is going to be a foot square!)

On your other point of style: I am after actionable principles, not rules or universals. I don’t mind stating what I percieve to be aesthetic truisms, because if they are wrong, they are sure to be tested far more quickly and mercilessly than if I didn’t state them. I prefer to see this tactic as challenging (and I hope interesting, or informative for some) rather than confrontational or obnoxious. Others may disagree. I am certainly willing to avoid any such assertions in the future if you find them off-putting.

2/17/2011 4:14 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Etc. etc., If you’ve ever had a true anesthetic experience, (i.e. full body numbness, god forbid) I guarantee you will remember the experience as an experience. If you can recall a meditative trance, it too was an experience distinct from other experiences or else you would have no memory of its attendant sensations as distinct from any others. Anesthetic Experience is an oxymoron, it seems to me.

2/17/2011 4:15 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"I think you are giving short shrift to the most essential aspect of sequential art and that is Direction: staging, lighting, "acting", designing the shots, and designing the shot sequence so it creates the dramatic effect you are looking for..."

Kev, those skills are what most people i've met in story-boarding have in abundance and utilize every day. maybe i've seen too much of it. after a while the repertoire of 'dynamic' shots gets a bit tired.
it starts to look generic. comics aren't story-boards, so they don't need to mimic cinematic conventions. what catches my eye today is a comic artist with an original and personal visual language.

2/18/2011 3:56 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence,

Not sure if we should lump all storyboard artists into the same bin. There are some that are unbelievably great, true fine artists, deserving of all due respect and admiration.

However, I agree that lots of "dynamic" or "cool" shots which are common currency among many entertainment illustrators quickly become boring. But isn't the problem with such images that they aren't motivated by story concerns? So they are really just clichés waiting to happen?

Toth is much deeper than that, I think. It seems to me, Toth is always designing his panels and pages from emotional motivation, not sensation. Toth decried sensationalism for its own sake.

Do you really find the play of those Toth pages I linked to generic and cliché-ridden in the same way that the stock repertoire of middling continuity artists is generic?

2/18/2011 11:20 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Incidentally, I'd be very interested in which new artists you think have an original and personal vision.

2/18/2011 11:22 AM  
Blogger ethel mertz said...

I had never heard of On Stage--apparently my newspaper at time no doubt found it too complicated and probably immoral for its readers. Would they include it today? No, and for those same reasons. I am buying this book! Thanks for this post!

2/18/2011 11:06 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"Do you really find the play of those Toth pages I linked to generic and cliché-ridden in the same way that the stock repertoire of middling continuity artists is generic?"

i don't know, they don't thrill me the way they do you Kev... although i thought you were suggesting you had a problem with his 'cypher'-like method further up this comment section ?

"I'd be very interested in which new artists you think have an original and personal vision."

Al Columbia, Chris Ware, Dan Clowes and Jim Woodring (who have all been published by Fantagraphics as it happens ).

Al Columbia is the only one who has the traditional draftsman chops from that list (he was Sienkiewicz's assistant on the ill-fated 'Big Numbers' when he was very young).

when i was younger i bought all manner of comics old and new, but as i've grown older (and like i said maybe it's because i've worked in storyboarding and animation) traditionally solid drawing skills don't impress me so much as the inner-imaginative world of an artist. i prefer artists who have an unfettered access to their own imagination and aren't afraid to go there.

2/19/2011 5:56 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Thanks, Laurence...

I am familiar with the guys you mention, and I appreciate what they do.

My issue with cypher-like rendering is that it makes the sensitivity-of-drawing aspect of the art non-existent. Toth is a great artist who seeks to keep sensitivity out of his drawings. I completely agree that such well crafted design and distillation of form and staging as Toth perfected will make the "comic book as movie" experience more effective, in that it makes the individual moments transparent and emphasizes instead the panel to page relationships. This is what makes Toth such a great artist.

But comic books aren't just movie-like. They are also illustration-like. If an artist creates a comic to be read in one way it will only be readable in one way. Toth's philosophy is self-fulfilling. When I look over Frazetta's jungle comic book stories (Untamed Love and Werewolf), or the best of Berni Wrightson's Swamp Thing Pages or his two stories for Plop, or Stevens' Rocketeer, I am glad none subscribed wholeheartedly to Toth's prescriptions, sensible as they are.

2/19/2011 11:10 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Laurence John and Kev Ferrara-- I would agree with Laurence that Al Columbia, Chris Ware, Dan Clowes and Jim Woodring all have an original and personal vision. They also work hard, and have an appreciation for some of the great comic artists and illustrators that preceded them. Because of that, they can be interesting to watch. However, in my view none of them draws particularly well, and that makes them a lot less interesting to watch, at least for me. The same goes for Panter. The same goes for Spiegelman.

They occasionally luck into powerful images (mostly content driven) but their compositions seem uninspired (and as we all know from Kev, "composition is everything"). Their line seems insensitive and monotonous, and I don't find any real vitality or subtlety or wisdom in their drawing. Their pictures seem to derive their power primarily from their subject matter (which is often subversive and scandalous, but too often in a childish way).

In this respect, their work seems to be the opposite of Toth's. I loved Kev's examples of Toth's art, particularly that Hot Wheels page which I found to be a virtuoso demonstration of a powerful design sense at work. In that example, the content was dopey (Hot Wheels? Puhleez) but the drawing was really, really smart. For Chris Ware, Panter et al, I think the content tries to be smart (with mixed success)but the drawing is usually pretty dopey.

Perhaps good, caring drawing would be antithetical to the subversive message of the content. Is there some reason why an artist couldn't write like Spiegelman or Ware and draw well at the same time?

Or if you think these artists do draw well, perhaps you can guide me to examples I have missed?

2/19/2011 2:17 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Hah!

No, no, no, no... David, we know from you that "Composition is Everything."

We know from me that "Everything is Composition."

Let's not confuse the two people still reading. :)

2/19/2011 3:01 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- pardon my Freudian slip. I do appreciate that there is an important difference. (And if I told you the number of people who visited in the past 24 hours, it would stun you. They're just too intelligent to weigh in.)

That was a really nice Toth page. Any idea who has the original?

2/19/2011 3:10 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

On your point about Ware, Clowes and the rest, as I said, I do appreciate their work. I failed to mention that I just don't enjoy consuming it.

The Kafka thing quickly bores me... isolate the figure, boxed in a city dwelling, freeze the action, zoom the face, demonstrate the awkwardness, weird it up a bit (Brad Holland influence?), the existential dread comes through, the silence of internal thought... angst for nothing. It is wayyyy too much of a myopic view of the world.

I find that Edward Hopper has much more to say about city life and angst without stating it, either as text or as flip-allegory, which is simply text of another kind. I find the mystery of docile people's thoughts is generally more interesting when left a mystery.

2/19/2011 3:13 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

if I told you the number of people who visited in the past 24 hours, it would stun you. They're just too intelligent to weigh in.

Don't think I didn't notice that your reflexive self-deprecation currently suffers from a small case of mission creep. ;)

2/19/2011 3:22 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara-- you could be right about the mission creep. The alternative explanation comes from Jim Prideaux in Le Carre's spy novel, Tinker Tailor, explaining why he finally succumbed to sustained torture and told the communists everything: "you don't break exactly... you just run out of stories to tell."

2/19/2011 3:51 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/19/2011 4:22 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

They occasionally luck into powerful images (mostly content driven) but their compositions seem uninspired

David,
I agree. Starr may have been formulaic, but at least he knew the best formulas. To denounce them, in my opinion, is to arrive at the Hegelian end of art.

2/19/2011 6:20 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc-- I'm not sure I would call Starr "formulaic," perhaps "archetypal" in the good sense of archetypes, as advocated by Emerson, Melville and Viereck.

If I am going to be objective as I can about my reaction, I think I am more critical of the Ware/Panter crowd because I am irked by the crowds of breathless simpletons who fawn over them, writing for example (in the New York Times) that Spiegelman is like Michelangelo, or that Ware is like Bach. It is not the fault of these artists that they are adored by roving bands of tasteless idiots, but I feel compelled to do what I can to offset the fashion.

2/19/2011 6:46 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

David,
From my perspective, "formulaic" is not necessarily pejorative. Any artist with a recognizable style I would call "formulaic". It's a question of informed good formulas and uninformed bad formulas.

2/19/2011 7:16 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"However, in my view none of them draws particularly well, and that makes them a lot less interesting to watch, at least for me."

David, as mentioned above i would only argue that one of those artists (Columbia) is a traditionally good draftsman. the others all work with a limited / reduced / cartoony style which is suited to each artists respective content. i find it odd that you have championed other crude / primitive fine artists, cartoonists and illustrators but can't appreciate the equivalent in comics (i'm not a fan of Panter by the way).

"Is there some reason why an artist couldn't write like Spiegelman or Ware and draw well at the same time? "

Ware gets into this area in the introduction to MsSweeney's no 13. quote:
"cartooning isn't really drawing anymore than talking is singing. a cartoon drawing lives somewhere between the worlds of words and pictures, sort of where road signs and people waving their arms in the middle of lakes operate. you don't really spend a lot of time considering the esthetic value of an arrow telling you not to crash, or the gestural grace of a person drowning: you just read the signs and act appropriately. similarly, most cartoon drawings are pretty bad; the more detailed and refined a cartoon, the less it seems to work and the more resistant to reading it becomes"

...

"The Kafka thing quickly bores me... isolate the figure, boxed in a city dwelling, freeze the action, zoom the face, demonstrate the awkwardness, weird it up a bit (Brad Holland influence?), the existential dread comes through, the silence of internal thought... angst for nothing. It is wayyyy too much of a myopic view of the world."

Kev, i recognize that scenario from some short animated films i've seen, but not from any of the artists i mentioned above. i know Ware's pessimism can seem a bit relentless, but he's more varied than just that, and in a way i admire his honesty.

2/20/2011 6:19 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Laurence John wrote, "i find it odd that you have championed other crude / primitive fine artists, cartoonists and illustrators but can't appreciate the equivalent in comics."

It's true that I have struggled here to find some kind of meaningful standard for distinguishing between "successful" crude/primitive art and "unsuccessful" crude/primitive art. As Richard Thompson wrote here recently, I am pretty confident that I know it when I see it. However, since I have none of Richard's credibility, that standard doesn't help me much when comparing notes with others who are equally confident that they "know it when they see it," but shockingly come up with different results.

I hope we can all agree that there are successful and unsuccessful versions of seemingly crude, primitive drawings. The distinction may be subtle and elusive, but it is real.

I understand and agree with your point that artists may work in "a limited / reduced / cartoony style which is suited to each artists respective content." What I object to is artists who believe their content or their subversive message or their personal pain frees them from the responsibilities of design and composition. In previous posts I have expressed my opinion that a subversive or shocking message is not incompatible with artistic quality .

2/20/2011 9:05 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

These fellows don't believe in transfiguration, except in a negative way as an allegory of some everyday dysfunction or other. Romantic Transcendence is exactly not what they are going for. This rejection broadcasts out of their designs like a radio address.

As Ladislav Sutnar said, Design Intensifies Comprehension.

2/20/2011 11:22 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/20/2011 11:48 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

I'm going to quote Mr.Howard;

I have very mixed feelings on this subject, David. I am fascinated by REAL Art Brut...the work of madmen and primitives. In those examples you posted, there's the same sort of falseness one experiences with suburban kids emulating ghetto kids. No matter how much Junior be axing questions and doing the absurd inner city hand gestures, the reality is that he's a mall rat who has never even been in a real fist fight and come home black and blue.

Furthermore, it is missing the positive and active decorative context that was such an essential justification for authentic primitive art. Harping on, fine art was born out of decoration that drives it toward formalism. Illustration was born out of fine art minus decorative intent.

2/20/2011 12:39 PM  
Anonymous Texen said...

I don't think Starr's work is any better than Raymond on 'Kirby' or Prentice and Williamson on 'X9' and the latter two use shadow and black spotting in a consistently more exciting way than I have seen with Starr.I have also seen work by Stan Drake that is of comparable quality.

2/20/2011 12:49 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

Kev, which (currently active) comic artists do you admire ?

2/20/2011 12:56 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Laurence, going into a comic shop is more like a nightmare for me than a joy. Most of what I see simply makes me despondent. I prefer to look at the graphic novels in Barnes and Noble if I'm going to look at anything new, generally in order to educate myself for the sake of my own work rather than as entertainment, or to see if any new talents are emerging.

95% of my art consumption is illustration, not comics. And 90% of what I look at in comics is Alex Toth.

If there is one name I could unreservedly offer, it would be Tony Salmons, but I'm not sure how "new" he is any more. I've noticed some really fun comics coming out of art schools in France, but I don't have names to give you.

When Ware was doing that full color series in the NYTimes magazine, I and everybody I knew was reading it. And we all said the same thing: This is boring. It was the perfect example of the critics getting control over art: The result is always as lame as the critics.

Speaking of the roving bands of tasteless idiots at the The Paper of Record, I recall a few years ago when a beat reporter wrote an article about hastily done paper maché heads on the ends of sticks (done for a high school art class) which she compared to Rodin's the Burghers of Calais. This was on the same weekend that Dan Adel had an opening at Arcadia gallery, which the times did not cover, even though Adel worked for the times and had actually done covers for the NYT Magazine section. (Adel confirmed to me that this was the case on another forum.)

2/20/2011 2:30 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"When Ware was doing that full color series in the NYTimes magazine, I and everybody I knew was reading it. And we all said the same thing: This is boring. It was the perfect example of the critics getting control over art: The result is always as lame as the critics"

Kev, i wouldn't even give the critics that much credit. journalists are just zeitgeist-scavengers after the latest IN thing. if Chris Ware looked fresh to them in 2004 it will be some other poor unfortunate circa 2011. blame Ware if you think his work is boring but don't blame the critics.

2/20/2011 4:11 PM  
Anonymous Texen said...

Try John Paul Leon.Darwyn Cooke's Parker books.Mike Allred.Bryan Hitch.There are talented artists out there.It.s lazy to suggest there isn't.

2/20/2011 5:02 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Sorry, Laurence, I didn't mean to imply that the NYTimes had editorial or script control over that series. I meant that they were DJ'ing the culture... The New York Times magazine has a huge impact on "the cultural conversation" and by putting Ware front and center they were saying, in effect, "Not only do we support this as art editorially, but we support it financially as well by paying for it."

This is what I mean by the critics getting exactly what they want, and it being lame.

2/20/2011 5:07 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Thank you for the recommendations, Texen. I'll look for those artists.

2/20/2011 5:10 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Texen, I followed up on your recommendations. Not much more to say except I've seen those guys before.

Some names I've remembered: Tony Salmons, Gary Gianni, Frank Miller, Geoff Darrow, Mike Mignola...

2/20/2011 8:02 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Kev Ferrara wrote: "As Ladislav Sutnar said, Design Intensifies Comprehension."

I assume he means that good design intensifies comprehension and bad design degrades it. This strikes me as largely true, as design is an organizational process of clustering visual data in meaningful ways that are compatible with our natural mode of perceiving. But I also believe that "intensifying comprehension" is not the same thing as making a picture more comprehensible. I accept that the artists we're describing want to avoid bourgeois comprehensibility. That's fine with me. But good design can "intensify comprehension" without making pictures less cryptic, scary, subversive, scandalous, scabrous, anarchic, or almost any other effect these artists might be pursuing. One reason I keep going back to Dubuffet, the original advocate for art brut, is that he demonstrated how art that appeared to come from almost spasmodic twitching of a brush or the berserk scratchings of an unhinged mind could still be well designed. As I have suggested before, the "rejection" of "romantic transcendence" by artists such as Panter seems puerile and ineffectual by comparison, and I attribute that weakness to bad drawing and poor design.

Laurence John-- your interesting quote from Chris Ware highlights my differences with his approach. He says, "cartooning isn't really drawing... a cartoon drawing lives somewhere between the worlds of words and pictures." As far as I am concerned, you don't get more than half an inch from the words side before aesthetics and design become relevant. Starting with typography and calligraphy and branching out into pictograms and hieroglyphs, there is no reason why form-creating work should not be judged by the success or failure of their forms, notwithstanding their association with words. (Have you ever studied hieroglyphs? Part of their lasting power and aura stems from the fact that each character is beautifully designed.) The people who suggest that these factors are irrelevant strike me as people who would be better off writing rather than drawing.

I think Ware is just plain wrong when he says, " you don't really spend a lot of time considering the esthetic value of an arrow telling you not to crash." A lot of time went into picking the yellow color that catches your attention and stands out against most natural environments, the shape and height of the sign, the size and simple design of the high contrast black arrow that directs you in a way that can be understood at high speeds. (Have you seen Andrew Wyeth's lovely painting of the yellow road sign with the warning arrow telling you not to crash? It is silhouetted against the snow. ) Most of all, I think Ware makes a bogus argument when he says, "the more detailed and refined a cartoon, the less it seems to work and the more resistant to reading it becomes." A cartoon drawing does not need to be "detailed and refined" to be beautifully designed-- Bud Blake's fabulous comic strip, Tiger, is an excellent example, or the Toth work we have been discussing. Sure, a badly designed drawing can be overly detailed and busy and weigh the reader down, but a well designed drawing can absorb a lot without disrupting the continuity. In fact, I thought your own position on this was far more astute and commendable (and honest) than Ware's: "i've come to the conclusion that since readers basically control the flow of the story themselves, and will go back over the comic many times to re-read it, and will linger over a drawing they particularly like without the control of the author / artist, it seems worthwhile putting some additional >something< into the art which might serve as an extra layer to the narrative, even if it risks disrupting it on first reading."

2/21/2011 12:06 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Texen wrote: "There are talented artists out there. It's lazy to suggest there isn't."

I agree. And even though we can make some rough predictions about where the talented artists will be hanging out in any particular era, there are always a few pleasant surprises.

"I don't think Starr's work is any better than Raymond on 'Kirby' or Prentice and Williamson on 'X9' ..."

All very good choices. All had their strong periods and their less strong periods, so it's hard to make precise comparisons that encompass decades of drawing. Besides, at that level of quality, I think a lot depends on personal preferences. Having said that, I have the following general reaction to your comment: I agree that Starr did not draw "better" than Raymond (sometimes I'll prefer a drawing by Starr, sometimes a drawing by Raymond) but Starr's writing was consistently so much better (and smarter and classier) that I prefer On Stage as a strip. It certainly gave Starr the challenge of a more meaningful range of subjects and expressions to draw. With respect to Williamson, I would tend to disagree with you because I think Raymond and Starr were superior. After Williamson's brilliant start for EC, I think that X9 betrayed some genuine issues with drawing except when Williamson was relying (often in a heavy handed way) on photo reference. He did some excellent, dramatic panels when his heart was in it, but my personal view is that X9 was not of the same caliber as the other strips you mentioned.

2/21/2011 1:13 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

David, the funny thing is, i shouldn't really like Ware at all. i'd be hard pushed to find one of his frames that is more interesting than another. i draw for a living and admire many of the same draftsmen that you do. but when it comes to modern comics there seems to be a shortage of people who can really draw and who ALSO produce interesting comic-content and not just adolescent-male-revenge-fantasy stuff. the more interesting mature ones, for me anyway, all seem to be coming from the cartoonier side of things.

the quiet nature of Ware's individual panels have a cumulative effect. the DESIGN comes not so much in each panel but in each page (his page layouts are often wonders of integrated image, typography, colour and print). so you have to consider the entire page and / or book to appreciate the full effect, not just one drawing.

would i prefer it if Ware drew better ?

actually no. i think that simplified cartoony drawings, married to adult content plus beautiful graphic design makes for a unique and personal take on comics and doesn't need any form of apology to go with it for lack of dazzling drawing. i also think that there is a strong case that simple drawings work better with emotionally complex content. they provide a greater 'gap' where the reader's imagination can fill in the emotion. Ware: "... the tactility of an experience told in pictures outside the boundaries of words, and the rhythm of how these drawings 'feel' when read is where the real art resides"... his thinking is actually incredibly close to Toth's here.

i agree there are many people who can draw traditionally better than Ware, but they're not making the interesting comics right now, in my opinion.

2/21/2011 2:47 PM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I agree with Laurence on this one. If you suddenly ask these artists to draw transformatively and "beautifully", the message is going to change. Sometimes "non-design" and "lame drawing" is the right choice for the expression.

Your quote, L, that simple images "provide a greater 'gap' where the reader's imagination can fill in the emotion." pretty much sums up the exact idea I was testing in this silly ultra-minimalist strip I did last year.

Although, a powerful emotional effect can be had with a beautifully drawn image and a single word. Or no word at all. So I don't agree that "simple drawings work better with complex content."

Maybe simple images work better with more content, as in more text... simply because the more cypher-like the visage, the more the information attributed to the visage can vary without seeming incongruous.

2/21/2011 3:19 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"Although, a powerful emotional effect can be had with a beautifully drawn image and a single word. Or no word at all. "

true Kev, but i still think Maus for instance, would have been horribly overwrought and melodramatic (in a soap-opera way) if it had been drawn in a realistic style. it would have ended up with page after page of anguished expressions and clenched fists. the minimal expressions of the mice characters somehow make it feel more believable and matter of fact which brings home the reality of the horrible situation even more. maybe in a similar way, Ware turns grim reality into something worth contemplating (or not) by standing at a slight remove from it graphically. i'm sure there are many subjects that would benefit from a reduced approach (maybe our familiarity with a subject leaves more leeway for reduction of information ?)


"The people who suggest that these factors are irrelevant strike me as people who would be better off writing rather than drawing."


David, as long as you understand Ware's point about cartoons existing somewhere between words and pictures then any amount of graphic reduction seems artistically valid. you can 'read' a lot of emotion on a simplified cartoon face when it is placed within a particular narrative context. your imagination fills in the emotion where the cartoon leaves space for it. the cartoon drawing is just the 'sign post' to the larger content of the work. yes, it is getting closer to how novels work, but with a bit more visual 'suggestion'.

2/22/2011 5:47 AM  
Anonymous Texen said...

David, I agree with you on Al Williamson.At his best,his figure work can be compared to Raymond,but his work could be inconsistent.His early stuff was often knocked out the night before a deadlne with the aid of an accomplice and plenty of coffee.Again the photo ref (often Stewart Granger) was very obvious, but when he worked with Prentice -himself often overlooked- his work really stepped up a gear.His Flash Gordon comics work for Charlton,I would argue was of a genuinely high quality for the figure work, settings and hardware.Starr's work, while solid and competent, I find too one-paced and lacking in drama.I bought one of the recent Mary Perkins books and was slightly disappointed.Maybe my expectations were too high.

2/22/2011 9:35 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Texen-- yes, I agree with you about Williamson's Flash Gordon work. That was a labor of love, and beautifully done.

Laurence John wrote:"David, as long as you understand Ware's point about cartoons existing somewhere between words and pictures then any amount of graphic reduction seems artistically valid."

I agree that until you cross the "event horizon" into writing and that last little role for visual taste or judgment flickers and goes out, any amount of artistic reduction is valid. In fact, (as demonstrated by the Beggarstaff Brothers)sometimes working with extreme artistic reduction is more challenging than working with a full set of oil paints. But there is a difference between "artistically valid" and "good." Until you cross that event horizon, you still have to honor "form." Hieroglyphs were reduced to their essentials but made beautiful use of those sparse elements. The same with Helvetica. Chris Ware, not so much-- at least as far as I am concerned.

2/22/2011 10:34 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

I still think Maus for instance, would have been horribly overwrought and melodramatic (in a soap-opera way) if it had been drawn in a realistic style.

Too realistic would certainly be a problem, because cats are cute and rats ain't, thus reversing the direction of sympathy. But better drawn cartoons done in a non-disney way -- I wouldn't be so sure that a really talented artist couldn't have found a way, without resorting to melodrama.

The minimal expressions of the mice characters somehow make it feel more believable and matter of fact which brings home the reality of the horrible situation even more.

The question is interesting. Maybe the experience of the story feels more believable because the images are completely without dramatic weight, merely uninflected diagrams to assist the text. And it is the text which is the main component of the work.

But I think an equally important factor is that childish, crude, small drawings give a feeling of meekness to the telling... adding a subliminal tone of helplessness to the story.

2/22/2011 11:05 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Try John Paul Leon.Darwyn Cooke's Parker books.Mike Allred.Bryan Hitch.

Haven't read comic books in awhile. Google image searches look like massively overworked razzle-dazzle to me.

2/22/2011 1:49 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"But I think an equally important factor is that childish, crude, small drawings give a feeling of meekness to the telling... adding a subliminal tone of helplessness to the story."

good point, although i don't think Maus is quite as childish as your example ;)


(by the way, i was meaning Maus drawn in a realistic human way, not as cats and mice)

2/23/2011 5:32 AM  
Anonymous Texen said...

Just look at the backgound in panels 3 and 4 quite a few inconsistencies and a bad tangent on the rug and girl's leg.

2/23/2011 11:42 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

"Largeness of conception is one of the principal elements of the 'grand manner', a certain distinction of mind which rises clear of details to some predominant idea."

John F. Harbeson
The Study of Architectural Design

2/23/2011 1:33 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

Texen, There are 20 paintings by Cezanne with inconsistencies and odd tangents in the planes. He painted it that way because it looked better.

2/23/2011 2:01 PM  
Anonymous Texen said...

Moran,so who changed the direction of floorboarding in the adjoining room between panels 3 and 4 and how would that help the composition exactly?.
It's almost like a spot the difference there are so many inconsistencies.
And anyway, Cezanne had real flaws in his draftsmanship as David illustrated in an earlier post.

2/23/2011 6:24 PM  
Anonymous Texen said...

Etc
"the devil is in the details".

2/23/2011 6:26 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

"the devil is in the details"

Texen,
I suppose it may very well be a necessary and beneficial stage in artistic development to be concerned with details. But, artistic maturity lies in a deductive understanding of the whole. Trust me, or trust Harbeson. The devil will lie to you every time.

2/23/2011 8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

comic books are awesome!!! i found this really cool artist that does really similiar stuff you might like it man.


LondonAir

2/24/2011 1:39 AM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"...so who changed the direction of floorboarding in the adjoining room between panels 3 and 4 and how would that help the composition exactly?"


i get the feeling the artist hadn't really thought too much about that rug, or how far the doorway was from the end of the sofa until he got to panel 4.
i'm pretty sure comic artists don't use bad continuity because it 'looks better' as Moran suggests.

(Tim Hensley's 'Wally Gropius' does indeed use bad continuity... for comic effect).

2/24/2011 8:24 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

It is true that workmen came in and rearranged the floorboards in the adjacent room between panels. They also added a wall behind the couch. But the changing distance between the couch and the doorway is done by a camera trick.

etc.etc., I liked your comeback "the devil will lie to you every time."

2/24/2011 9:32 AM  
Anonymous Texen said...

The fact that the background guy (Blaisdell?) couldn't be bothered to do the job right would annoy me.
You either care about getting something right or you don't.And when you don't you're on a path to declining standards.
If you want to be a smartass and pretend it doesn't matter that's up to you.

2/24/2011 9:55 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

Texen, the way to get a really tight knot out is to first pull gently on the outer loops. Bit by bit the chaotic structure will loosen up and after a while you will be able to analyze the remaining tangle and find a way to release the entire thing completely... revealing that, in the middle of all that confusion, there was nothing of substance but a single thread leading from somewhere to somewhere else.

;)

2/24/2011 11:27 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/24/2011 2:16 PM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

Cezanne painted bowls of fruit where the lines of the background didn't connect or make sense because it looked better compositionally, and he was right. Starr probably drew the lines of those floorboards in the way that made sense visually and looked better for each picture, and he was right too. I bet that in 50 years nobody complained.

2/24/2011 5:20 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"Starr probably drew the lines of those floorboards in the way that made sense visually and looked better for each picture, and he was right too"

that is a hilarious excuse for a bit of lazy background inking.

"I bet that in 50 years nobody complained"

you're probably right. most people had more important things to do.

2/25/2011 10:28 AM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

"that is a hilarious excuse for a bit of lazy background inking. "

You must go to a Kurosawa movie looking for continuity errors in the background clouds. You know what's important in a picture, so lets make you the policeman of background floorboard lines. Im more concerned with other things.

2/26/2011 8:14 AM  
Blogger kev ferrara said...

It is a good bet that if both panels had the exact same room layout and details, one of the panels would not work as well. Each panel has been designed to read quickly and effectively, while keeping to a sufficient standard of continuity for the task at hand.

Somewhere out there is a rule book that declares that all tangents are bad and that room layouts must be absolutely identical from panel to panel. This is a rule book for a very narrow game.

2/26/2011 11:43 AM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

In case anyone was wondering about the duck.

“In Christian iconography, the duck sometimes symbolizes constancy and adoration - the first stemming from the Duck’s link to Penelope, the ultimate constant and virtuous wife of antiquity.”
Encyclopedia on Animal Symbolism in Art by Hope B. Werness

2/26/2011 1:47 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2/26/2011 1:59 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Kev,
That's what I was thinking. In addition to the change in the adjoining room floorboarding, in the penultimate panel there is no indication of the foreground floorboarding. In the last panel, my guess is it is used as a device to separate the woman from the background. Since there is no color and it is basically a linear technique, the most lucid and practical way to create separation (i.e. for the sake of visual clarity) is to introduce transverse lines behind an object. Not that it is an excuse for the oversight Texen pointed out, but rather that there were more important considerations.

2/26/2011 2:17 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

The difference in floorboard direction could also be a visual device drawing the two characters together.

2/26/2011 2:45 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Moran, it's even worse than we suspected. Those floorboards in panel 3 are made of oak, while the floorboards in panel 4 are made of maple.

How is it possible that I could I have thought so highly of Starr's work all these years?

2/26/2011 3:27 PM  
Blogger Laurence John said...

"You know what's important in a picture, so lets make you the policeman of background floorboard lines"


it was Texen who spotted them, not me. credit where credit is due please.

2/27/2011 7:46 AM  
Anonymous Texen said...

So this is what a collection of inbred idiots waste time talking about while busily amounting to nothing in their careers.

2/27/2011 8:16 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Texen wrote, "So this is what a collection of inbred idiots waste time talking about..."

Ummm... Texen, I think that was the original thrust (in a somewhat kinder form) of the reactions to the criticism of the floorboards.

2/27/2011 8:59 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Texen wrote, "So this is what a collection of inbred idiots waste time talking about..."

Ummm... Texen, I think that was the original thrust (in a somewhat kinder form) of the reactions to the criticism of the floorboards.

2/27/2011 9:03 AM  
Anonymous Texen said...

Thanks for posting that incisive post twice David.
It was rubbish the first time. It doesn't get better with repetition.
And if you did know anything about Starr's work you'd know he didn't do his own backgrounds.
And to suggest that care and attention to your work is pointless reveals your stupidity.

2/27/2011 9:55 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Texen-- I assume this means that even if I posted the same message five times, you wouldn't pick up on my subtle hint about a "kinder" approach.

2/27/2011 11:08 AM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

I am trained as an architect and am in no way a comic’s connoisseur but love line drawings. I enjoyed trying to untangling the mystery of the changing floorboards. Texen, thanks for noticing the inconsistency and bringing it up in comments. I actually learned something from this discussion.

2/27/2011 1:33 PM  
Anonymous Texen said...

All you need to learn is panel to panel consistency.

2/28/2011 2:56 PM  

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