Saturday, October 31, 2009


I was pleased that my last post about working with ink triggered a discussion in the comment section about the great Leonard Starr.

Regular readers know that I am a big admirer of Starr's brilliant draftsmanship in the comic strip On Stage. At regular intervals, I revisit On Stage just to renew my education. In view of the comments from readers, I thought it would be timely to share some inspiring examples of Starr's work with brush and ink.

Starr's no. 3 Winsor & Newton brush gave him more descriptive power than he could have obtained from a pen.

In the following panel, note Starr's elegant brushwork on the crouching figure, especially the brisk contoured shading of his left arm.

The next panel is a good example of the range of delicate applications for a brush in the hands of a talented artist: contrast the freedom of the curls in her hair with the lines of the folds in her nightgown sleeve, and contrast both with how effectively Starr sculpted those hands holding the phone:

Starr knew how to apply heavy inks for dramatic effect:

If anyone knows the whereabouts of the original of this daily strip, I'd love to hear from them.

But the heavy ink never gets out of control. The consummate craftsman, Starr maintains complete balance. In the following daily strip, only one face ever comes out of the shadows but the moonlight on that single dubious face works perfectly, both visually and as stagecraft.

Also, note the woman's upturned head as she offers her lips for a kiss (quite sexy, I thought). Starr gets the tilt just right, and delicately captures the effect of gravity on the back of her hair. You can tell when an artist is using silhouettes to avoid work, and when he really knows what he is doing.

For me, a bonus in Starr's artwork is that he is a master of facial expressions. Look at how he captures the emotion in the face of the loyal old soldier in the last panel...

Or the disappointed bemusement of the woman in the last panel here... not the simplest emotions to depict.

Starr seamlessly combined the strengths of the pen and the brush to create unified pictures of integrity and class.

For me, it defies the laws of physics that Starr was able to write and draw three such panels every day, six days a week, and three times that amount on Sundays.
Today, the medium of the comic strip has evolved and no longer has room for this type of craftsmanship.

The entire wonderful series of On Stage is being reprinted by
Classic Comics Press and I highly recommend it to you. The reprints have now reached the years where Starr really hit his stride. It is truly a pleasure to read.


Will said...

I will definitely be looking to get a copy of the reprint, his work is brilliant.

Rob Howard said...

As you say, Starr defied the laws of Physics in producing that much writing and drawing of such consistent quality. It's bot humbling and joyous to behold.

David Apatoff said...

Bombproof, his work is indeed brilliant. In my view, there was no better adventure strip in the 1960s than On Stage.

Rob, I agree 100%. There is always a tension between deadlines and craftsmanship. It is both "humbling and joyous" to see how Starr balanced the two. And while this blog is about the pictures and not the words, I have to say that On Stage was, in my opinion, the most erudite and intelligently written adventure strip ever.

Unknown said...

"Today, the medium of the comic strip has evolved and no longer has room for this type of craftsmanship."

I would change that statement to 'devolved' myself!

Another wonderful post and an example of how incredible work can be when produced by someone with both experience and imagination.

You know what, David...if you haven't already, I think you should do a post on the great hand letterers in comic books and strips, as they tend to get overlooked more than anyone (I should say 'tended,' since virtually all lettering is done digitally nowadays).

Ken Meyer Jr.

(sorry, my daughter was logged in and I was too lazy to change it)

Øyvind Lauvdahl said...

Fantastic craftmanship. And thank you very much for the effort and enthusiasm you pour into this blog.

, Øyvind Lauvdahl

Joe Jusko said...

GREAT post!!! This is one of the all time adult dramatic strips! I was fortunate enough to obtain the original art to one of my favorite Sundays. Not much Mary, but some great pin up art!
The color guide is by Leonard, also.

Joe Jusko said...

BAD LINK! Here's the right one!

Hellström said...

I stumbled on to your blog a couple of days ago, I forget from where, and now find myself rereading every post. Again and again. I just wanted to drop you a line and thank you for all the great stuff here. Fredrik Hellström, Ystad, Sweden.

Rob Howard said...

Thanks for the link, Joe. Nice enough color work but not in the same class as Casey Ruggles by Warren Tufts (no mean hand with ink, either). Tufts really pushed the limit of web press color and some of his panoramas were worthy of framing.

BTW, Joe...any relation to Don Jusko?

Jesse Hamm said...

Hooray for Leonard Starr!

"For me, it defies the laws of physics that Starr was able to write and draw three such panels every day..."

FWIW, I think Starr had Tex Blaisdell drawing the backgrounds for most or all of his run of On Stage, which cut the workload considerably.

Joe Jusko said...

I forwarded this link to Classic Comics Press publisher Charles Pelto. Hopefully he'll chime in here when he gets it. @ Rob- no relation to Don Jusko.

MORAN said...

I've heard people say that Starr is a genius but this is the first time I've seen his work up close enough to see it for myself. Are these from the originals?

dave said...

I love high contrast black and white art. That brush does seem to be second nature to him. Although I wish he could have found an alternative solution for middle tone apart from the spiderweb cross hatching (it DID work beautifully in the 7th picture down, however).

Thanks for bringing this artist to my attention, David!

David Apatoff said...

avery / Ken-- my personal perspective is the same as yours, that we are witnessing devolution rather than evolution. I am sad to see this kind of technical skill and craftsmanship disappear. Of course, many other kinds of skills are also on the trail of the dinosaur, now that the economic justification for newspapers is gone. Many great writers have joined comic strip artists in the unemployment. We can only hope that capitalism has new, equally challenging art forms in store for us.

squidmonk3j, thanks for an extremely nice note. I must confess, I truly do love this stuff.

Joe Jusko-- I share your obvious affection for this great strip, and I enjoyed your introduction to volume 3 in the classic comics series. Thanks for sharing another great original. (I can see what attracted you about that last panel).

David Apatoff said...

Hellstrom, what a nice comment! Thank you very much. I spent some very pleasant days in your country recently; I was handling a biotechnology patent dispute in Gothenburg (which I know is north of your town Ystad) but all I wanted to do was find more artwork by Zorn!

Tom Lyle said...

Beautiful stuff. Starr has always just been brilliant with the lush black and white work that he created.

I have been pushing him at my students every quarter just to expose them to his black and white placement and the use of minimal lines for maximum effect.

His stuff is just fantastic. It still gives me goosebumps.


David Apatoff said...

Jesse Hamm and dave-- I have the same answer to both of you. I agree with Dave that cross hatching is not the optimal solution for achieving a middle tone and I agree with Jesse that Starr had an assistant who helped with those backgrounds. For a long time, that assistant was Tex Blaisdell.

Starr wrote the whole thing, and drew and inked the characters, but only roughed in the background. It made no sense for him to spend his time doing mechanical cross hatching. (I seem to have included a disproportionately large percentage of examples with cross hatching here, but the strip had far more variety than that.)

Tom Lyle-- me too!

Moai said...

I want to echo some of the previous posters and say thanks for the time and love that you put into this blog. Your posts don't come often, but they're always thoughtful and heartfelt, and they usually introduce me to a wonderful artist that I'd never heard of. So, again, thanks.

Rob Howard said...

It's reputed that Pasteur's last word were...the milieu is everything (doubtless referring to bacteria) but that statement has great bearing on all aspects of life in a society. Wonderful pen and ink artists such as Vierge, Coll, Foster and Starr are products of their milieu...conforming to the relatively simple reproduction methods that allowed simple line art but faltered with tone and color.

Thus, David, when you say that these skills have devolved, I feel that doesn't take their function into consideration. The reality is that in an online environment, sophisticated line work does not fare well so there's little reason for today's artist to learn it any more than there's a reason for use to learn to make fire by rubbing sticks together. Sure, learning those skills are of historical interest but why bother when you have a flick of the Bic or a stroke of the Wacom?

Just comparing the style used in Doonesbury to that used in Day-by-Day speaks to the change in strips from web printing to Internet delivery. In artistically uncertain times there will always be a strong draw toward nostalgic things (ARC is a prime example of returning to "those thrilling days of yesteryear, when out of the past came the thundering hoof-beats of the great horse Silver..." To an extent, so is this revisiting of Leonard Starr's excellent ink work. The truth is that there will never be a reason...a functional reason for ever developing those skills again. Admirable as they are (and they are indeed, admirable) they no longer have the same pressing need as they did, so pursuing them is something of a abstract exercise. In that way, much of the art over at Conceptart, as derivative and repellent as it might appear at this stage, is pointing toward the next stage of development. It will evolve and there will be a few wondrous artists arising from that milieu. And then new technologies will supplant it and thus moves the panoply of art.

David Apatoff said...

Rob, an interesting hypothesis. I don't want to underestimate the impact of the medium or the milieu; clearly comic strip artists honed their skills in an era when you had to go over your pencil lines with ink in order to make them reproducible in a newspaper, just as Winslow Homer and Howard Pyle's pencil lines had to be transformed into wood engravings to be reproducible in an earlier era.

However, it seems to me that there is a whole separate artistic legitimacy that comes with the act of distilling a complex subject into a binary, black and white, two dimensional image.

Half tones and digital art allow you to fudge a whole lot of priorities whereas ink demands hard choices from the artist. But does that mean Starr's kind of ink drawing is necessarily an out of date medium? Certainly it is hard, which makes it less popular with artists. But I nevertheless think the artistic choices can be more interesting with such limitations. There is a reason why, even after photoengraving had been mastered and full color reproduction was economically viable, illustrators such as Ben Shahn continued to work in thick black line in the 1950s.

I think that a large part of the viewing public will always prefer a medium that spoon feeds them 3D modeling in full color, and if it also moves and makes noise, so much the better. Less mental work for the viewer. But I don't believe that such technology will necessarily supplant the older art forms.

lorenabr said...

Like the illustration very good job.:)

Rob Howard said...

>>>illustrators such as Ben Shahn continued to work in thick black line in the 1950s. <<<

Yeah, that just brought images of David Stone Martin to mind. For them, line art took on an expressive quality that could not have been attained with tone. But that is somewhat beyond the purview of this discussion.

Ryan Cecil said...

I'd never heard of the artist, yikes, but what beautiful beautiful drawings! Thanks you for the post, as Rob said at the top: humbling and joyous.

Dominic Bugatto said...

Leonard Starr will always be one of my all time faves. The quality of the work speaks for itself.

I've had the great fortune of working closely with both Charles Pelto ( publisher ) at Classic Comics Press and Leonard Starr himself assembling the covers for the books and they're both class acts.

I've a coupla 'On Stage' originals from Leonard that I cherish hanging above my drawing table. They continue to both inspire and humble me.

I'm glad Leonard's work is now reaching a new generation of readers , it deserves another audience.

Cheers, Dom

Rob Howard said...

Dom, is Starr doing any sort of artwork these days?

Hellström said...

Zorn! Fantastic. Next time there's a dispute that needs attention over here perhaps a Carl Larsson could suffice if no Zorns can be found;-) You probably already know of him of course, but if not he could be worth a look. Like Zorn, Larsson was a gigant in his time not least in illustration art. Ikonic status here. Not alot of ink though.

Adam Black said...

Thanks for this post. That's some incredible brushwork right there.

andrea joseph's sketchblog said...

Wow. Yes, his work is stunning. Great blog.

Solo said...

Looks brilliant! Ill going to my local bookstore to find a copy of these books.

Joe Jusko said...

Solo, you can order the books directly from them at

Anonymous said...

I agree with Rob Howard too. "Humbling and joyous," especially humbling. Who can draw like this today? Nobody. In the graphic novels, It says he did this for 20 years.

Joe Jusko, I came to this from another site that said your On Stage original shown here is for sale. Is it?

Joe Jusko said...

No it's not! I reactivated the gallery so it would show up here. It's not in a For Sale room. It's a prized piece! :-)

Dominic Bugatto said...

Rob - apart from putting the covers together for Mary Perkins and coloring them with inks , I don't think so.

David Apatoff - I have a great jpeg of a limited edition litho that Classic Comics Press put out to help promote the books. Not sure if Charles has copies of it still , but some of your readers may be interested. All sales go to helping offset the cost of publishing the books. It's a really lovely piece. Send me an e-mail if you're interested. It shows Leonard's diversity knew no bounds.

Cheers, Dom

Mahendra Singh said...

Rob Howard's points about the demise of intricate inking are very interesting …

But I think he missed one aspect of the issue: real cross-hatching and brush work are out of style because they take too long. Most illlustrators today will not, or cannot, take the time for such rendering techniques, either because they want to maximize output or the deadline is too tight.

Time is money and money is the bottom line of most illustration work, unfortunately. Pride in craftsmanship is a luxury and in many cases, the artist (and more & more ADs) may not even be aware (owing to bad education or laziness) that such techniques exist.

Rob Howard said...

Mehendra Singh, you echo what many are saying...bemoaning the passing of once-worthwhile skills. I liken it to the passing of the great ship's carvers who carved decorative figureheads and scrollwork on wooden ships. Clearly, that magnificent work was out of place on modern steel ships. One can say the same about the demise of great swordsmanship and riding skills.

Times change inexorably and it would be wonderful if they carried only the dross in their wake but, sadly, many of the admirable skills pass away from lack of use due to lack of function in the new era.

My personal list of sorely missed skills and traits are the general decline in ballroom dancing, reading and writing classical languages, writing bread and butter notes, tying bow ties, the ability to hold a pen properly, leather watchbands, shined shoes and rising when a woman enters the room. As we Yanks become increasingly ghettoized, we do not understand why many in the rest of the world consider us boors. But these are the changes of the times and there's no use in trying to revive those old skills and traits as we hurtle forward.

Unknown said...

Our dear friend Shel Dorf, founder of the San Diego Comic Con, died Tuesday. He brought so much joy and delight to thousands of people by creating and guiding the Con through its formative years. He was one of the good guys.

StimmeDesHerzens said...

re:I was handling a biotechnology patent dispute in Gothenburg
and therein is the answer...neat
re; For me, it defies the laws of physics that Starr was able to write and draw three such panels every day, six days a week, and three times that amount on Sundays.
Defying Rob's wrath (yikes!), I wonder what Leonard's 'personal life' was like...Starr's skill is admittedly lovely tho. thankyou for this entry.

Anonymous said...

From a younger guy's parody inclined mind:
I got 99 problems but my brush aint one, if got a wacom tablet I feel bad for u son!
Peace out :)

Rob Howard said...

>>>Defying Rob's wrath (yikes!), <<<

Wrath? Perhaps as in the "momes rath outgrabe", but not mine. I am awestruck by his skills and have been for years. Indeed, I copied many of his conventions when drawing stuff for a couple of clip art services. To this day I still reverently repeat Starr's drawing conventions with mouths and hands when I do storyboards.

His analysis of form and translating it into useful, repeatable convention is the reason he was able to produce so much work with such topnotch consistency. The operative word here is "consistency." 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 reapeatable conventions.

No wrath...just true humility in the face of that man's work.

StimmeDesHerzens said...

>>>Defying Rob's wrath (yikes!), <<<

Not against the artist Rob, but against me, for possibly questioning the quality of Starr's personal life (ie marriage?), after spending ...hours upon hours... on his work ~ possibly his consistency helped. Your admiration for his skill is well-expressed.

however, don't know what "momes rath outgrabe" means
greetings Beth

David Apatoff said...

Einbildungskraft, I think Rob (he of the slithy toves) is offering you a line from the Jabberwock.

I do remember (even if he doesn't) that in an earlier e-mail, Rob chastised those who speculate about the love life of an artist. Personally, I think it is fair game about artists who are long gone.

All I will say in the case of Starr is that On Stage is the smartest comic strip about male / female relations that I have ever read. Some time ago, I wrote a post ( here)
about how much I learned from reading that strip.

Jesse Hamm said...

"...Rob chastised those who speculate about the love life of an artist. Personally, I think it is fair game about artists who are long gone."

Happily, Starr is still with us (though his wife of three decades has passed on).

And 27 panels a week was a standard workload among both comic strip and comic book artists. (Starr had the additional task of writing the strip, but since his art chores were cut by 1/3 to 1/2 by a BG artist, I reckon it evens out.) Which isn't to subtract from Starr's accomplishments, but only to say there's no reason to speculate that his workload ruined his marriage.

StimmeDesHerzens said...

re: All I will say in the case of Starr is that On Stage is the smartest comic strip about male / female relations that I have ever read.

I just wondered, thats all, didn't assume that the marriage was 'ruined', and apparently this is a normal workload for a comic artist, and the marriage lasted 3 decades. So we can presume that this question is resolved. (But your words above remind me of something--someone once asked Lionel Richie (all niiight long!), one of the most prolific and successful writers of love lyrics, if he ever sang such words to his lovers, and he admitted that he never does. I was so disappointed! Such lovely melodies, such insight and romanticism, ...and never expressed to his women!!!)

anyway, think i will try to find the reprints of "On Stage", for the combo of the art and insight will be a fun read.

now I have to google Jabberwock but suspect all this might have something to do with master Harry, but since I have not yet read the books nor seen the movies, I guess I am a bit culturally ignorant here.

StimmeDesHerzens said...

re; Einbildungskraft, I think Rob (he of the slithy toves) is offering you a line from the Jabberwock.

I thought this was from Harry Potter. ooops!!
for the BENEFIT of your readers who might be as gallingly ignorant as I am!!! from wiki:
"Jabberwocky" is a poem of nonsense verse written by Lewis Carroll, originally featured as a part of his novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871). It is considered by many to be one of the greatest nonsense poems written in the English language.(but still no translation of "momes rath outgrabe")

ok on to more important things now,
PS went to the earlier post, delightful stuff isn't it!

kev ferrara said...

Yeah, all those guys, Drake, Starr, Raymond... they did very fresh looking work in this style of strip.

I don't know if anybody has ever seen it, but John LaGatta's short-lived, but apparently well-regarded 1941 strip Sallee Forth anticipated, seemingly, everything these later strips had, including the loose pen and brushwork, the referenced realism, the glamorous cosmopolitan girl as the lead, cliff hangers, romances and all the rest.

It would be interesting to find out if it was an influence.

Rob Howard said...

I had no idea that LaGatta did a strip. I can only imagine the women were drop-dead gorgeous.

Rob Howard said...

Einbildungskraft, the point of those masterpieces of nonsense rhyme is to not make translatable sense but, rather, to evoke meaning where there clearly is none. Were it not for Tenniel's illustrations, we'd have no idea of what a Jabberwock looked like. Indeed, we have no idea of what the "frumious Bandersnatch" is like except that we should shun him (probably for being outwardly frumious).

You must understand that Charles Dodgson (who was a mathematician and logician by trade) wrote under the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll and seems to have applied logic to the bending of words and ideas into word-plays best understood (if at all) by those with a native ear for the language.

Numerous pedantic scholars have laid waste to great forests of paper trees to write dry and dull analyses of what these words meant and whether the slithey toves did "gyre" (with a hard G or an elided G) in the wabe. None of those scholarly books are remotely readable whereas the Alice series is an endless delight.

Shane White said...

Thanks for sharing such close-ups of work I'll probably never have the pleasure of owning.

Your rebuttal to how it still serves a "functional purpose" was well put and better said than what I would have come up with.

I've been a user of the brush and ink method for a number of years because I knew it was hard to do. It was right around the time everyone was using Micron Pigma pens. Not only did it give me an edge over my peers it also gave me steadier hand for detail and deftness of stroke that could translate into all brush mediums as well as crowquill.

It's not always so direct what one is training for. Anyone remember the movie Karate Kid? Obviously that's a bit more extreme but hopefully you get what I mean. :)

One huge issue I have with reprints...okay maybe two...are that many of them are reprinted from the newspaper art or stats that are scanned in at too low of resolution. I mean what's the purpose of digital technology if it cannot surpass photographic reproduction from days of yore? Checker Publishing's Steve Canyon stuff was such a letdown.

Granted most people are buying the books to read. There are artist and admirers of the work that wouldn't mind seeing all the great detail.

Another issue I have is when it comes to color reproductions. The latest Prince Valiant from Fantagraphics took care of the previous volumes they did by making the paper a soft paper as opposed to the clay-coated stock. The colors and the linework are better married on the soft stock. If you haven't seen's well worth seeking out.

Prince Valiant's lipstick, isn't so noticeable. :)


Tom said...

It seems to me in regard to different eras and techniques, what do they matter if you understand the principals of art? I think Rembrandt or Boucher could draw well with any new medium of today. The power of art lies in how the artist thinks the subject.

AG said...

I love reading this blog and the discussions your posts generate, but I do wish occasionally that you would post about more recent artists instead of comparing how great things were in the past, the digital vs. traditional...etc.

IDK, maybe it's harder to convince people of the power of ink and brush when you almost always use references from illustrators "back in the good ol' days". Sometimes it's hard to relate to them even though I can certainly appreciate their mastery of the medium. (This coming from someone who was born in the late 80s)

there're many great illustrators using ink and brush now like Dave McKean for example:

I'd love to see your take on their work, and how they've utilized and merged the digital and traditional to produce something that illustrators in the past could not have done as easily.

Rob Howard said...

>>>I'd love to see your take on their work, and how they've utilized and merged the digital and traditional to produce something that illustrators in the past could not have done as easily.<<<

I don't know how to respond to that without seeming to insult your taste...this is clearly not my intention. Nor is it my intention to say...wait until you have more experience. I can respond from my own background and say that when I was less skilled, I appreciated styles that were within the reach of my limited skill sets. As my skills grew, I came to appreciate styles and approaches I dismissed as boring and dry. Can you imagine that I once looked upon Velazquez' portrait of Juan de Pareja as being dull and boring?

The wonderful thing about this field is the opportunity for constant growth.

Unknown said...

Great Blog Mr. Apatoff!
as an aspiring artist I enjoy your blog greatly. Your article are definitely endowed with a gravitas that lots of mainstream blogs on the subject lack. Keep it up.
Your article reminded me of this quote by Bill Evans:
“There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin stretched parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible. These artists must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere. The resulting pictures lack the complex composition and textures of ordinary painting, but it is said that those who see well find something captured that escapes explanation. This conviction that direct deed is the most meaningful reflections, I believe, has prompted the evolution of the extremely severe and unique disciplines of the jazz or improvising musician. (liner notes to Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’) ”

AG said...

>>"I can respond from my own background and say that when I was less skilled, I appreciated styles that were within the reach of my limited skill sets."

I find it as easy to admire a Tiepolo or Ingres or Egon Schiele as to admire David Levine/Bernie Fuchs/Dave Mckean, etc. I don't really think my ability to appreciate good art or drawings is directly tied to my (admittedly amateurish) abilities as an artist.

I like coming here to read about all the artists that I'd never have known about otherwise, and also reading Mr Apatoff's interesting anecdotes about the illustrator's background as well as the comment on pieces that he puts up as a sample of the illustrator's work.

I don't take it as an insult of my taste actually, but perhaps you misunderstood my earlier post.

All I'm saying is, I'd be very interested if Mr Apatoff highlight recent illustrators who may or may not work traditionally to see what he would say about their illustrations beyond the digital/traditional debate. Like the way he would comment on Jeff MacNelly or Norman Rockwell.

Tom said...

Hi David
This is off topic. I have been looking at Harold Von Schmidt’s painting recently. The work is so strong and sculptural he must have worked from his imagination and real models, right? Did he use photography? I bet he did not. Just curious.

astrobot said...

In prehistoric times what untrained hand or eye didn't marvel at a cave man’s ability to capture with only his memory those awesome asymmetries on rough stone walls? Are there pleasures and challenges in using even those more primitive tools or just more blood and sweat and less pleasant materials? Would the cave man keep his primitive tools and not grab the new: canvas, paint and brushes or pen tablet. It seems tools and new materials always undermine this individual and "primitive" prowess. A wonderful power that will hopefully still marvel the lazy people of the future in their fun fairs but that is only if we remain human and machines don’t ultimately render art for us in whatever style we want at the click of a button.

The camera obscura: how quickly it became, for artists traveling in foreign lands, a drawing aide to copy ruins and landscapes more accurately. There were magician artists who used it to make ghosts appear more real and eventually this led to motion picture special effects. A tool of both science and art used to study the nature of the eye and perception on one hand, and on the other an apparatus for magicians and painters to fool that eye. Vermeer is an example of its exemplary use in painting and the controversy about its use.

Yet its offspring photography led to motion studies, artists no longer had to vaguely and inaccurately perceive how horses galloped, for example, or how men actually moved when they ran or walked, so it proved invaluable to traditional sketching and study, for more realism. Also models need not stand like sculpture forever. Perhaps Disney’s animators are the best example of how the force of a new technology imposes it own will on traditionalists, despite being antagonistic to the rotoscope they had to adapt it to their gifts in order to communicate to a mass public. Disney studios it could be said mastered the use of references to perfection.

The traditionalists are faced with social forces, mass entertainment, consumerism, new technologies and and a history that undermines their gifts, their prowess, its virtuosity and its value.

astrobot said...

Writers and my comments above are from a writer's view point, writers could rightly say that film and comics diminish the power of books because they take the audience outside of their inner lives. We view films and comics from the outside. Reading a novel requires you to experience the text with your own powerful imagination. Its more intimate. How far should we go back to achieve purity of tools if we’re talking about storytelling and not something else? The experience of making art?

The early camp fire bards must’ve complained about the first theaters and stages and printing press, and then the players and writers of the theater complained about the novelists keeping people at home reading in their beds. And then the novelists complained about television keeping people from libraries. I complain about the internet that made everyone a writer! Perhaps like artists the real challenge and test of storytelling craft, skill, talent, virtuosity is around that camp fire, you alone, no text, only memory and the skill acquired and mastered over years of practice?

astrobot said...

Yet I'm not ready to go back to the camp fire as a writer, the novel offers much more or something different--it too is a tool in from. So I agree with those who say tablets, 3D software is just another tool, it's just another tool but yes there is something to say about that power artists have, too. But is this nostalgia?

Matthew Adams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew Adams said...

>>>"Perhaps Disney’s animators are the best example of how the force of a new technology imposes it own will on traditionalists, despite being antagonistic to the rotoscope they had to adapt it to their gifts in order to communicate to a mass public. Disney studios it could be said mastered the use of references to perfection."<<<

I remember one scene from Cinderella, where Cinderella descends a stair case and starts to dance. Her movement was rotoscoped from a real ballerina, but her dress, billowing up in such a beautiful manner was pure imagination. I doubt that they could have achieved that grace without the rotoscope, but if they hadn't imposed their own imagination it would have been grace without beauty, sterile and cold. That balance is not something that one sees in a lot of the latest cgi movies like Beowulf or A Christmas Carol, but i don't think it is the technology so much as the lack of imagination
(Sorry Astrobot, I am not harping on anything you said so much as going of on my own rant).

kev ferrara said...


Just because people carp, whine, complain, bitch, kvetch, and moan, that's doesn't mean they aren't right. What makes you think progressions or evolutions always spiral upward? What are you, a theosophist?


I'll put it succinctly: I don't want a virtual sandwich. They taste fake.

Rob Howard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob Howard said...

>>> Did he use photography? I bet he did not. <<<

That came up several times in conversations with Eric von Schmidt, his son. Yes, he used them rather than bring bucking broncos into the studio. Evidently Von had a barrel set up with a saddle on it and he'd pose models on it and make sketches or take pictures.

Photographs, previous sketches or any external aids do not make your work stronger or weaker. That's the province of the artist's skill and testicular fortitude. There are no magic talismans and surefire methods to insure top quality work. Norman Rockwell used photographs. His work was first rate. His old roomate, Joe Leyendecker did not use photos. His work was top tier, too. Could it have been their special brushes, the brand of paint or their mysterious painting mediums? Or could it have been Tyche, a mean-spirited bitch-goddess of chance who is capricious in her generosity to some and stingy with others.

The reality is that we are not all born equal. If we were, everyone would be exactly the same height. Some can use photos to good effect. Others cannot. It depends if you're guided by your own light or have the mentality of the perennial employee.

Matthew Adams said...

>>>"I'll put it succinctly: I don't want a virtual sandwich. They taste fake."<<<

Kev, I tend to look at illustration as the finished product, how it looks when it is printed, so i think we are going to disagree about the virtual sandwich thing. I've been looking up illustrators who work digitally (sounds obscene...) and have found some whose work is filling and tasty.

Mick Wiggins (probably the least filling and tasty of the two)

Christian Montenegro (I was impressed by his book The Creation)

astrobot said...

Kev, I don’t think we disagree that much--in terms of the novel, say, years ago in Omni I read about programs that could formulate plots and characters, they gave samples of these computer generated stories, I thought how dreadful, this is terrible— I thought they’d never ever get to fake it so we couldn’t tell the difference. They haven’t as far as I can tell.

Though William Gibson’s works were interesting, I was never a big fan of the hype, the SF fad, during the 80s, that craze for cyber-space, cyberpunk, virtual realities—so I was glad to learn that what stopped the development of virtual reality headsets for mass entertainment was motion sickness—you could project the images but they made too many people dizzy. They must still be working on those. For now though another imaginary future bites the dust.

It seems though the arts remaining the arts, human agency, contingency, as we know it, hinges on us remaining human, conflicted, flawed, always open to exploration, never perfected—gods in a dualist paradise or is it Hell. For novelists, selfishly, the world is perfect for storytelling as is.

The good thing about digital artists and model makers, the best ones, is that many of them encourage and seem to respect traditional methods of learning, too. Some saying the same things others have said here, that it depends on yours needs, your abilities. They use their imagination in the preliminary design phase, adapting the tools without losing the tradition. Yes, the smells, the tactile sensation of paper, pen, are gone, but there are advantages. They are working on readers screens that you can roll up. Perhaps they'll make pen tablets that smell of ink? I think there will always be room for both methods. I'm sure someone somewhere is recreating cave paintings right now with very ancient methods!

astrobot said...

Rob, I think that's a good example you gave with Rockwell. I tend to focus on comics as a storytelling medium first. I think, since you guys are mostly professionals, you are also talking here about the experience of making art, its pleasures, its challenges--its tools. And it came up as well the question of pro and commercial etc. I've read pros say whatever gets the job done! So the enjoyment, the aesthetic pleasures of using certain tools over others could depend on the leisure time a given artists has to enjoy his work not so much as a job but an experience of life, creativity, maybe there is something spiritual in the process, too—it is some form of meditation, contemplation, thinking. Artists are lesser gods, demi-gods if you will.

astrobot said...

"I remember one scene from Cinderella, where Cinderella descends a stair case and starts to dance. Her movement was rotoscoped from a real ballerina, but her dress, billowing up in such a beautiful manner was pure imagination."

The fact that we can and do want to do this as humans is a wonder in of itself. I'm fascinated by this desire to make art as subject of study.

Tom said...

Hi Rob

Compared to Von schmidt, and Leyendecker Rockwelll's work looks so flat, there seems to me little planer develoment. The space seems compressed like a photo. I am always amazed at how flat and slick they look in reality, like they are going slide of the face of the canvas. Unlike leydndecker or Von Scmidt you never feel like his brush caress the form. I think this happens from painting from photos, the issue of creating the substance the form travels across is forgotten and one lays the paint on Clement Greenbergs flat picture plane. His drawings really reveal this. Just my opinion. I bet Von Scmidt could draw a horse in any position from any view out of his imagnation. The tactial sense comes from long hours in the presence of real thngs.
Dean Cromwell never understood why one would even take a photo.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know to what extent Starr used models and photo-reference, or did was he very skilled at drawing figures from his mind?

अर्जुन said...


Do you think the admirals and generals posed for him to be painted from life, can you really tell the difference.

He worked for almost 20 years not using photos, even then it's 20 years more that his work becomes flat, in keeping with the then popular style of the flatted locals gouache painters.

Apparently your subscription to Popular Photography terminated at the close of 1937, else you would have read the article in the January 1938 edition.

David Apatoff said...

AG-- You raise a legitimate point. I have written about some of the current illustrators I like (such as Brodner, Kent Williams, Hendrix, Fluharty, etc.) but my general philosophy is that I can provide a more useful service by talking about neglected older illustrators, especially when I can post originals that demonstrate their true talents. There are so many under-appreciated illustrators from earlier years that I have tended to write more about them, but I will certainly be writing about more contemporary illustrators as I work my way forward.

Artists such as Dave McKean seem to have huge fan clubs out there already. He is an interesting case. I really like his earlier work-- such as Violent Cases-- but he began to lose me with his photography work.

David Apatoff said...

AKSerge-- Thanks for your comment, and for the quote about zen painting; I think there's a lot of truth in that.

Tom, I agree with you about Harold Von Schmidt-- I think he is a terrific artist, and highly underrated today. I have written a couple of posts about him and plan to write more. Rob is right, Von Schmidt did use photographs for reference, especially later in life. But I think part of the strength you detect is from the fact that Von Schmidt had decades of painting directly from life behind him. He knew horses up close and personal from years of daily contact. When he moved to Westport, Connecticut he used to hire local policemen to pose for long hours for his paintings. But he was willing to use photographs just like other illustrators of his day did.

Tom said...

Re: That's my point you can tell the difference. It is how Leyendecker thought i.e. As volumes concieved in space not as flat shapes. As Bridgeman said, It is not what the artist sees but what he senses.

Re: just because you work from life for 20 years doesn't automatically mean you think in terms of volumes. Look at David Hockney and Betty Edwards their conception of drawing is basically tracing. Look at a Tiepolo every volume maintains it's proper position in space behind the picture plane. A flat style ( of the 50's and 60's) does not mean you draw flat. The lighting maybe frontal like a Rubens or Manet but their form is not flat. Everything turns through 360 degrees.

Re; I never saw the 1938 Cromwell mag but here he is quoted from 44 illustrators tell how they work by E. Watson
Cromwell finds a precise pencil drawing, made on location, ten times more useful then a camera shot. "You're eye goes around what interests you when you draw it, " he says, "You put it's real signifinace- to you-in the drawing. But often referring to snapshots you even wonder why you took them.". Also didn't Cromwell have to take over a mural project that Rockell did not have that ability to complete?

Jesse Hamm said...

Tom, I don't know whether Hockney works from life, but Betty Edwards's method definitely involves a lot of light and shadow -- hardly "tracing."

Similarly, I find Rockwell's work rich with shaded forms that convey a three-dimensional feel.

As for Cornwell, I can understand the occasional misspelling, but I'm puzzled by how you could look up a chapter on his work, and quote both he and the chapter about him, verbatim, while continuing to misspell his name so many times. It makes me wonder how carefully you scrutinized the Rockwells you're criticizing.

astrobot said...

"Does anyone know to what extent Starr used models and photo-reference, or did was he very skilled at drawing figures from his mind?"

I’m skeptical that Starr doesn’t use references but even if he didn’t it seems the camera’s influence is there anyway, which is ironic given the discussion here. We don’t see action like this with our ordinary eyes, these are camera influenced vantage points, the camera frames just as much as the panel—the influence of film language or ideas. I suppose the eye of the Ancient Roman and Greek artist was the reference source for pre-camera artists or the stage or pageantry back in the day, maybe it was the Ancient Greek sports arena or theater.

Speaking of flat, much of ancient art is flat, isn’t it, without perspective, perspective comes much later another new tool to help with the realism? So wasn’t it used for the same reasons people use cameras. I forget my art history here. So perspective in some way must be related to what the camera sees and does, pushing and stretching the image, as it does, forgive my layman’s terminology. So cartoonists must even recreate the imaginary hyper-real life-likeness of motion cameras to capture excitement and action.

The power of the camera to create dramatic angles and so on certainly has an influence on any artists interested in storytelling for the large public, since people have grown accustomed to the photographed image. The movie influence on say a Jack Kirby is significant. But the idea of the close ups, the medium shot, etc. is visible in Starr's panels, don’t you think? The low angle shot in the library.

I hear that photo reference is a tricky business because cartoonists can simply use it to check how folds fold and then make their own; it’s not strictly copying anything as far as I can tell. What of artists using previous art works as references and not even photos, there is a Spanish website that shows how even the great Jack Kirby swiped the works of other cartoonists and illustrators. Kirby himself said that if he needed a jeep, a hand, well, he got those from say a Caniff or a Foster, see his comments in Shop Talk.

I have a picture of a smiling Herge with his toy model rocket ship, a reference he had constructed for Tintin's trip to the moon, maybe he learned this trick from Disney, he used this live model in his drawings as reference proper or he traced it. It has detialed interiors etc. I guess today it would be digitial
3D prop.

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Anonymous said...

Wish I found your blog earlier. Great posts! I'm a hobbyist but more towards drawing (superhero american) comic books, and I think the old comics are and should be great references! Art, particularly in comics, has become lazy and publishers just want to make a quick buck :-(

Anonymous said...

Drake not Starr, but wondered if you had seen these, Drake pencils for an unpublished daily strip? Pat Ford

Dave M! said...

Thanks for helping to keep this older stuff alive. Starr's drafting & storytelling are so strong it got me to read a Broadway soap opera strip!

Dave Marshall
"Inky Stories" is my web comic. "Art of the Comic Book" is my traditional ink-on-paper comics class.