Sunday, March 23, 2014


 Art critic Robert Hughes distinguished between two different aspects of a picture: the part "which can survive reproduction-- the story, the moral, the iconographic detail" and on the other hand "the authentic, expressive, incarnated touch of the artist."

If you want to appreciate the difference, go to the Billy Ireland Museum at Ohio State University to see their new exhibition of art from Bill Watterson's Calvin & Hobbes and Richard Thompson's  Cul de Sac.


I greatly admired these two strips when I first saw them reproduced in newspapers and compilations  but the original pictures on display in Ohio add a whole different dimension-- highs and lows of color and line well beyond the reproductive capability of the modern printing press;  preliminary pencil lines and mid-course changes which demonstrate the honest thinking of craftsmen at work; and most of all, the intimacy of what Hughes called "the incarnated touch of the artist."
Rather than reveal the secret tricks used to create the illusion of magic, these originals confirm that, indeed, the magic was true.
People have rightly bemoaned that history and economics have been unkind to the syndicated comic strip.  Newspaper circulation has dwindled, strips have shrunk to postage stamp size, and other more explosive forms of story telling have stolen away key audiences.  No wonder we are told that the medium can no longer attract Alex Raymonds and Walt Kellys.  But if you look at the diminutive originals on display at the Billy Ireland Museum, you'll see that artists who are good enough can prevail over such limitations.  Watterson and Thompson both simplified their images to the bare essentials.  They were also generous with their labor, not seeming to fret too much that nuances in color might not fully reproduce, or that a few delicate lines might drop out of the printed version.  

These two comic strips are my favorite strips of the past thirty years because of their marvelous drawing and imaginative themes.  But as I walked through the two adjacent galleries I was most overwhelmed by the incredible heart in this work.  I don't know how I missed it before... perhaps I had to see the originals to appreciate it fully.  But in my view, that's the single most important bond between the work of these two terrific artists.

 Big hearts are such a rare commodity these days, it's worth a trip to Ohio to witness the phenomenon for yourself.       


Fraser said...

Two of the best! I'v noticed Waterson occasionally tipping the hat to Herriman in the occasional frame. Waterson is a master of watercolour, very evident on the covers of collections of his strip. Only discovered Thompson recently and fell for his strip instantly. Same reasons.

MORAN said...

Thanks I didn't know anything about this show it sounds like the perfect combo. They're both awesome.

Anonymous said...

Do these two artists know each other?


Mike Rhode said...

There are some photographs and paintings from Watterson's interest in Herriman.

They do know each other, but only relatively recently.

Anonymous said...

Very imaginative indeed. I feel cheerful looking at it. There is actually a mobile app that has advanced artificial intelligence and can learn your taste. It can suggest art galleries and events to watch in a new city or in the weekend. It's called ArtGuru. They have a trial version available at their site. Do check it out.

Richard said...

Artists with over-sized hearts -- now that's something I can get behind!

David Apatoff said...

Fraser-- If you've only discovered Thompson recently, you're in luck. There are two collections of his work coming out this year. One is The Complete Cul de Sac and the other is The Art of Richard Thompson. More on those later.

MORAN-- Awesome, yes, and their work is very compatible.

Anonymous-- as Mike Rhode says, the two artists became friends fairly recently but they've known each other through their work.

David Apatoff said...

Mike Rhode-- Thanks for weighing in, I appreciate it.

Gwen at iSeed-- I think it is a "cheerful" show.

Richard-- Big hearts may be out of fashion in some quadrants, but this show is very convincing about the value of an appreciation for humanity.

Aleš said...

I wish I could see their originals. I've read on that museum page that Thompson has a Parkinson’s disease. That's just... how does someone who expresses so much love and heart through these strips and probably has so many creative ideas about further development of these characters and stories comes to peace with the fact, that he has to stop. It makes me angry. David, is he still drawing anything at all?

Anonymous said...

I'm hoping to go see these as well. Did you see the interview that Watterson gave? Pretty interesting stuff.

His comment about how it's hard nowadays to make a living in comics because there's no "gatekeeper" makes a lot of sense.

But, I don't think that will stop guys like me from keeping on in the world of visual storytelling.

On the subject of seeing the originals: I always get amazed at the colors and the sizes of things.

Recently I visited a retrospective show of another of my favorite artists (Carl Bloch). The way the light shines through the original oil is truly unique.

Hope to stop by Ohio soon.

Thanks for sharing! Post some pics!

David Apatoff said...

Ales-- Richard has pretty much given up drawing. The work on display shows that he put his time to good use. A lesson for all of us.

bryanbeus-- Watterson was every bit as gracious and thoughtful as you would expect from his work.

Your view of his work will be enhanced several fold if you make it to Ohio. Especially his colors, which were a real revelation.

Good luck with your work!