Tuesday, January 25, 2022


 A cartoonist who really cares about drawing can turn a throwaway background scene of a random apartment window into a handsome, observant picture.

Note that even the word balloon has been trimmed to preserve the integrity of the drawing.

A cartoonist who really cares about drawing can turn even a background image of a plane trip into a strong, well designed picture:

A cartoonist who really cares about drawing is not afraid of the extra work to take a background shot of a building seriously:

 A cartoonist who cares about drawing will often exert the extra effort to come up with fresh ways to portray common scenes.

Artist John Cullen Murphy put this standard of care into his strip, Big Ben Bolt (1950-1978).  Nothing was wasted; there were no cheap placeholders, despite the strong temptations created by daily deadlines. Day after day for years, Murphy crafted complex, well composed pictures in his distinctive style:


The aesthetic of the "soap opera" strip hasn't been seen on newspaper comic pages for decades.  Its disappearance had nothing to do with quality and everything to do with the economics of the newspaper business.  Big Ben Bolt began at the start of the television era.  Television would gradually siphon enough of the advertising revenues from newspapers to have a material impact on newspaper strips.  During those years of slow descent, many excellent cartoonists worked valiantly to maintain their standards against the inevitable.

Putting aside economics, the qualities displayed here-- design, composition, line work, chiaroscuro, dramatic presentation-- are timeless building blocks of art, and will remain undiminished for revisiting after 50-- or 100-- years.


tarbandu said...

I'm amazed at how these artists would painstakingly cut out and paste in pieces of Zip-A-Tone to achieve various effects, even though such subtleties likely would be overlooked by the reader's first glance. No such thing as Photoshop back in those days, they had to do it all by hand........

chris bennett said...

Thanks David, I've very much enjoyed looking at these.

David Apatoff said...

tarbandu-- Yes, and they (or an assistant) also ruled the panel borders with T squares and triangles, and took care of other administrative chores. It's amazing to think about it now, but Mort Drucker used to cut out those little blocks of type and glue them down in the words balloons in MAD magazine parodies.

chris bennett-- Thanks, there was a lot of talent back then, putting their best into these strips. I think they deserve a second look.

Vanderwolff said...

Seeing this really drives home how much work went into the seemingly effortless visual slam-dunks of these panels. John Cullen Murphy was in the top tier of photorealistic icons who seemingly by instinct knew how to place his shadow blacks and economically rendered contour lines on both figure and objects to carry your eye to the intended visual target. And do it day after day, week after week, month after month---spot-on each time.

One can only try to fathom the innumerable hours of practice to reach that level of unerring, subtly unobtrusive compositional brilliance.

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