Wednesday, July 24, 2013


This year's Comic-Con in San Diego was like the ancient bazaar of Constantinople teleported to the third moon of Zarbtron. There were charlatans and geniuses in abundance, hawking their wares from platforms that ranged from a cardboard box on the sidewalk to a glittering Hollywood extravaganza on the stage of the huge convention hall.  (Of course the platform was no predictor of quality, so you had to check out everything.)

Comic-Con provides a true kaleidoscope of popular culture.  Where else could you find Neal Adams competing with Sergio Aragones-- his artistic opposite-- in a "quick draw" competition?  Where else would author Neil Gaiman discuss the merits of Jack Kirby's different inkers? One of my favorites: 20th Century Fox, promoting the new blu-ray edition of The Predator, used 3D copiers to scan the heads of the first 500 customers and create an action figure of the Predator holding up the customer's severed head.

The loud, pounding base line from amplifiers in some of the booths made your lungs compress as if you were in the front row at a Metallica concert (yes, the band Metallica was at Comic-Con too).


But Comic-Con is governed by the same laws of physics that apply to the rest of the universe, so many of the most interesting things took place quietly at the subatomic level.  This year's lesson in quantum mechanics comes from these tiny preliminary sketches by illustrator Saul Tepper, found in a quiet corner of the exhibition hall:

For scale, those holes are staple holes.

Each one is about the size of a postage stamp, yet they have all the DNA necessary for a larger, more elaborate image.

Tepper has worked out all the fundamental creative choices.  His composition is settled, his priorities are established, his lights and darks are in place, he has decided on the gestures and the movement of each picture. 

From tiny acorns such as this grew finished drawings, then big oil paintings on canvas, then pictures that moved and talked, and then 3D digital animation on IMAX screens.

(Detail) Note how Tepper has decided when to dig in hard with the point of his pencil (as with the hand raised to this woman's face), when to cruise along lightly and when to apply the flat of the pencil for tone.

In their rush to get to the flashing lights and big screens at the LucasFilm and Sony Pictures displays, I'm not sure many of the participants recognized the seeds from which those mighty oaks grew. But the genetic code starts right here.

(Thanks to Comic-Con exhibitor Taraba Illustration Art for these sketches.)

Monday, July 15, 2013


 "Wildness can be the picture's better part, its physical delight."  -- Gordon Parks
 In the 1960s, American illustration entered a wild, expressive phase.  Many illustrators employed vigorous, slashing strokes to convey the new mood (and speed) of the country.

Bob Peak

These pictures had an energy and virility that still stands out, fifty years later.  Bob Peak was one prominent example of that style, but there were dozens of less well known illustrators who helped to visualize the mood of the '60s.

For example, the talented Harvey Schmidt worked in a similarly robust, vigorous style:


Another talented illustrator, Jim Jonson, made expressive, high velocity illustrations of figures stretched to the max:

Here, Neil Boyle applies this same energetic line to inanimate objects:


The Society of Illustrators annuals from the '60s contain a great deal of art in this dynamic spirit; lots of slashing lines and lightning bolt scribbles back and forth.  In later decades illustration might adopt a more conceptual approach.  Later audiences might grow to prefer a more controlled look.  Yet, these pictures from the '60s retain a potency that is undeniable.

One reason these pictures feel good to look at is because they felt good to make.  They exemplify what Parks called the "physical delight" of picture making-- something that seems less evident in the era of Wacom tablets.

Robert Weaver
Al Parker

Joe Cleary
Like Parks, I believe that the wildness in a picture can be the picture's "better part," and that in the right circumstances it can hold up against anything else a picture has to offer.