Wednesday, February 09, 2022


 Another bright, shiny apple in the cornucopia of the 1960s comic page was Apartment 3-G (1961-2015).  

The strip was created and, for the first 30 years, drawn by the talented and hardworking Alex Kotzky.

Kotzky and his son, Brian, who would eventually take over the strip

Kotzky spent years illustrating comic books, advertisements for the renowned ad agency Johnstone and Cushing before serving as a ghost artist on strips as varied as Steve Canyon and Juliet Jones, he finally landed his own syndicated strip, Apartment 3-G, and from that moment on he worked like a dog for the privilege. 

The best history of Apartment 3-G and the other photorealistic strips of the era was Prof  Mendez's beautifully written The Look of Love: The Rise and Fall of the Photo-Realistic Newspaper Strip, 1946-1970.  In it, Mendez describes Kotzky's exhausting work process:

Kotzky would rough out the week from the script given to him by Dallis then would go off to find "the right reference files," four layers in all. The first layer was the use of celebrity photographs--celebrities because of the ample supply available--for faces. Whenever a new guest star was introduced, Kotzky would spend considerable time finding the right actor to cast then developing how his version of the character would appear in his strip, his vibrant line masking the identity of the real person used. The second layer was instant photographs for body positions, the animation of the gesture into story, drafting family and friends for posing duty. Brian noted his father didn't deviate from using the camera until the very end of the strip. The third layer, mostly for women, was the transposition of the latest fashions from glossy magazines, necessary because the girls always had to look stylish and up to date.  The fourth and final layer was the use of photo scrap for concrete details-- telephones, lamps, desks, purses and briefcases, stairways and mailboxes.  

It's no wonder that Kotzky's son recalled,  "As far back as I can remember, Dad did nothing but work. No vacations, no hobbies, no sitting around reading the Sunday paper--it was a life spent at the drawing board." Kotzky died with an uncompleted Sunday page still on his drawing board.

Like every other illustrator who worked in the 1950s, Kotzky seems to have studied the great Al Parker's treatment of women:

Apartment 3G was never quite in the same league with the very top strips, such as Alex Raymond's Rip Kirby or Leonard Starr's On Stage, but that's not my point.  It was a smartly drawn, tasteful strip which year after year, demonstrated skill and craftsmanship.  There is no strip that comes close to it on the newspaper comic pages today.

Comics pages in the 1960s were overflowing with fine drawings.  A young boy who couldn't afford 12 cents for a comic book could still receive a fresh gallery of free drawings every day.  He could observe and learn from their use of line, their compositions, their solutions to problems, their anatomy lessons.  He might even cut out the strips he liked and carefully preserve them in a special shoebox.  Then one day in 2022 he might take them out again and fondle them, a little surprised by how they (and he) have turned brittle with age.   

Sadly, this is what Apartment 3-G looked like when it finally crawled across the finish line in 2015:

As Shakespeare said, “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

Young children who love pictures have to turn elsewhere for inspiration and guidance these days.  This school is closed.


Wednesday, February 02, 2022


Technically, the comic strip Gasoline Alley began in 1918 but by the 1960s it had been taken over by artist Dick Moores, who changed its look.  

Unlike other strips in this series, Moores did not use a photorealistic approach.  He clearly mastered the technical skills of drawing, so he was able to place figures in a setting and draw with perspective but his style was closer to the style of a children's book illustrator such as William Heath Robinson.  

In the 1960s, the size and pacing of comic strips enabled Moores to populate his panels with lots of characters and interesting details.  In the following strip note how Moores stages the introduction of a mysterious new character.

You won't find a similar example of the dramatist's art on the comics page today.  Comic strips have become a different kind of art form. 

To get a sense for what has been lost, enjoy some examples from a story about a character who was a cross between Ebeneezer Scrooge and Scrooge McDuck: 

Angle shots showing layers of privacy (door after door) details such as floorboards, cheap plumbing, cluttered desk, cracked plaster, broom and pail-- these are all essential for the story. 

Dangling locks and chains and a cartoonish vault worthy of the Tower of London

In a Christmas time delusion the Scrooge character impetuously gives away his money to the poor, enlisting the aid of two incompetent handymen.  Moores draws it from every angle.

As they reach shantytown, it starts to snow.  Every snowflake is a separately drawn circle, every shack has its own personality.  Moores no longer needs the facial expressions of the handymen so they are expendable.

Of course, the scrooge character snaps out of it and decides he's been robbed. How will this end?

The poor people are honest and return the money, receiving a laughable reward from the old skinflint.

During the golden age of comic strips, master storytellers were given the tools to keep large audiences mesmerized, with strips such as Gasoline Alley or Little Orphan Annie. Readers became emotionally involved with the characters and stories.  They couldn't wait to see what would happen next.  

Note that with a richer, more nuanced set of tools,  cartoonists could take up topics like the selfish rich,  the perpetual poor, the educated and the uneducated, or disputes between neighbors without immediately resorting to Defcon 1 the way political cartoons do.  The same human foibles existed, but sometimes they were just met with bemusement or used for a parable.

Today newspapers compete with TikTok and have different requirements for impatient readers with short attention spans.