Today’s Quote

July 14, 2017

“I have known writers at this dangerous and tricky age to phone their homes from their offices, or their offices from their homes, ask for themselves in a low tone, and then, having fortunately discovered they were “out,” to collapse in hard-breathing relief. This is particularly true of writers of light pieces running from a thousand to two thousand words.”

James Thurber

My Life and Hard Times

Preface to a Life


Cartooning Tip #5

June 3, 2016

ToonQuote:Amerogen-lzClick image to enlarge. This cartoon tip originally appeared in the January-February 2016 issue of The Cartoon!st, the newsletter of the National Cartoonists Society. All series images and texts are copyright © 2016 by the artist.


Return of the Moose

April 10, 2013

When Bob Weber, creator of the classic comic strip “Moose Miller” (re-titled “Moose & Molly” since 1998), visited Baltimore about ten years ago, he called and invited me to dine with him at the Denny’s out on Ritchie Highway. Bob, born and raised in South Baltimore, has for many years lived in Westport, Connecticut. We hadn’t talked for at least ten years, hadn’t seen each other for over twenty, but I wasn’t surprised to hear from him. You see, Bob sort of owes me—or at least I think he thinks he does.

Our connection goes back to June 27, 1986, when I wrote the following note to the Features Editor of the Baltimore Sunday Sun: “I’m a big fan of comic strips—have been all my life—and I especially love some that appear daily in the Evening Sun: “Peanuts,” “Andy Capp,” “B.C.,” and, more recently, “Zippy,” “Calvin & Hobbes,” and “Moose Miller.” However, it’s very disappointing to follow these features each day of the week and then not be able to enjoy them in color on Sunday. I refer to “Calvin & Hobbes” and “Moose,” my two very special favorites, which have so far been missing from the Sunday pages. Can this situation be corrected?”

That was the first of several letters I wrote, over the span of a few years, to insure that “Moose Miller” got some respect in the Sunday comics section, and to help see to it that the feature was reinstated once it had been dropped from the funny pages altogether—which, if memory serves, happened three times, with the third strike turning out to be terminal. Sadly, “Moose” has not run in Bob Weber’s hometown paper since about 1995.

During the period I was able to help keep “Moose Miller” in Baltimore. My reasoning emphasized the local angle, the fact that the characters referred often to Baltimore landmarks such as “Sparrows Point Shipyards” “Curtis Bay” and “Pratt Street,” and used the names of local people in the balloons, mine included. Here’s a memory jogger for Balti-morons, as we like to call ourselves. In the strip below “Bill Buxton” refers to the Baltimore Sun fishing writer Bill Burton; “Vince Baggy” was the beloved local sports columnist Vince Bagli; and announcer Stu Kerr plays himself, a real announcer for a real local TV station; and me, Jim Sizemore. Along with Vince Baggy I’m the “written by” guy. For some reason Bob didn’t, or couldn’t, come up with nicknames for Stu Kerr and me. (There are also three names in the strips I was unable to I.D. (If you know them, let me know.)

But I believe the strongest points I made in favor of the strip were aesthetic and social. The gag writing is excellent, words and images working together to create the humor, a characteristic always present in the best comics. The visual appeal of “Moose” is the result of strong composition and the use of simple shapes to define human and animal characters, places, and things, as in the “Nancy,” “Henry,” and “Snuffy Smith” mold, all of which, like “Moose Miller,” read well visually when reproduced at very small sizes. That’s important these days with the shrinking space given to comics features. The strip above is an excellent example of Bob’s astute way with dramatic visual composition—it couldn’t be simpler, or bolder, or better.

In my opinion “Moose Miller” was (and is, since it’s still running) a unique work at once fluid, funny and very lively—and it’s an example of very good graphic design. And finally, the strip has social value. It may be the only remaining syndicated comic strip that depicts the day-to-day humorous conflicts of working class family life. These are simple comic characters but they have real lives and real jobs. Well, except for Moose—but at least he makes an effort to find work, he just can’t seem to hold on to it when he does get it.

The way I see it, Bob repaid my small efforts on behalf of “Moose Miller” many times over with his friendship — intermittent but always fun — plus the pleasure the feature gave me when it ran locally and I could read it every day, including Sunday. (Not to mention the sliver of immortality having my name appear in it from time to time.) Bob, being a humble South Baltimore guy, doesn’t realize I’d happily settle for that. Well, a bit more than that. I would like Bob to show up in Baltimore more often so we can stroll around the old neighborhood and gab about the misty days of yesteryear. But it’s O.K. with me if he never again feels he has to spend big bucks on me at fancy restaurants. After all, guys like us have simple tastes.

This is an edited re-post from May 28, 2008
Copyright © 2013 Jim Sizemore

Krazy Kat

February 23, 2011

Until I came upon the Bill Watterson essay, below, I had planned to write one myself about the brilliant George Herriman comic strip, Krazy Kat. But I now know I can’t compete, so I’ve decided to filch the whole thing and present it to you here as-is. (Hope they don’t sue me.) P. S. Get The Komplete Kolor Krazy Kat book (see link below)  and view the amazing — and oh so juicy — drawings of George Herriman in all their graphic glory. They don’t make ’em like this anymore, folks — and more’s the pity.

In Which We Read With Awe And We Read With Wonder

From the introduction to The Komplete Kolor Krazy Kat

A Few Thoughts on Krazy Kat

by BILL WATTERSON

As a cartoonist, I read Krazy Kat with awe and wonder. Krazy Kat is such a pure and completely realized personal vision that the strip’s inner mechanism is ultimately as unknowable as George Herriman. Nevertheless, I marvel at how this fanciful world could be so forcefully imagined and brought to paper with such immediacy. THIS is how good a comic strip can be.

Interestingly, Krazy Kat gains its momentum less from the personalities of its characters than from their obsessions. Ignatz Mouse demonstrates his contempt for Krazy by throwing bricks at her; Krazy reinterprets the bricks as signs of love; and Offissa Pupp is obliged by duty (and regard for Krazy) to thwart and punish Ignatz’s “sin,” thereby interefering with a process that’s satisfying to everyone for all the wrong reasons. Some 30 years of strips were wrung out of that amalgam of cross-purposes. The action can be read as a metaphor for love or politics, or just enjoyed for its lunatic inner logic and physical comedy.

Despite the predictability of the characters’ proclivities, the the strip never sinks into formula or routine. Often the actual brick tossing is only anticipated. The simple plot is endlessly renewed through constant innovation, pace manipulations, unexpected results, and most of all, the quiet charm of each story’s presentation. The magic of the strip is not so much in what it says, but in how it says it. It’s a more subtle kind of cartooning than we have today.

To the bewilderment of many readers, there are few endings in Krazy Kat that qualify as “punchlines.” Instead, it’s the temperament of the writing and drawing throughout the strip that is the joke. If you don’t think it’s funny that a strip should have an intermission drawing, or that a character would refer to his tail as a “caudal appendage,” you’re reading the wrong strip, and it’s your loss.

Quirky, individual, and uncompromised, Krazy Kat is one of the very few comic strips that takes full advantage of its medium. There are some things a comic strip can do that no other medium, not even animation, can touch, and Krazy Kat is a virtual essay on comic strip essence.

In their headlong rush for the “gag,” most cartoonists run right past the countless treasures Herriman uncovered simply by taking his time to explore the freedom of his medium. The self-consciously baroque narrations and monologues (“From the kwaint konfines of the kalabozo del kondado de Kokonino — Officer ‘Pup’ gives answer”) show that words can be funny in themselves, just as drawings can. The sky turns from black to white to zigzags and plaids simply because, in a comic strip, it CAN. No other cartoonist ever approached his blank sheet of paper with so much affection for all its possibilities.

The scratchy drawings delight me no end. They have the honesty and directness of sketches. So many of today’s strips are slick and polished, the inevitable result of assistants trying to develop a mechanical style that can be continued indefinitely. The drawings in Krazy Kat are whimsical, idiosyncratic, and filled with personality. The bold design of the Sunday strips neatly compliments the flat expanses of color or black, and the wonderful hatching brings character to the otherwise posterish approach.

Nothing in Krazy Kat had a supporting role, least of all the Arizona desert setting. Mountains are striped. Mesas are spotted. Trees grow in pots. The horizon is a low wall that characters climb over. Panels are framed by theater curtains and stage spotlights. Monument Valley monoliths are drawn to look more like their names. The moon is a melon wedge, suspended upside down. And virtually every panel features a different landscape, even if the characters don’t move. The land is more than a backdrop. It is a character in the story, and the strip is “about” that landscape as much as it is about the animals who populate it.

As the artwork is poetic, so is the writing. With the possible exception of Pogo, no other strip derives so much of its charm from its verbiage. Krazy Kat‘s unique “texture” comes in large part through the conglomeration of peculiar spellings and punctuations, dialects, interminglings of Spanish, phonetic renderings, and alliterations. Krazy Kat‘s Coconino County not only had a look; it had a sound as well. Slightly foreign, but uncontrived, it was an extraordinary and full world.

Darn few comic strips challenge their readers anymore. The comics have become big business, and they play it safe. They shamelessly pander to the results of reader surveys, and are produced by virtual factories, ready-made for the inevitable t-shirts, dolls, greeting cards, and television specials. Licensing is where the money is, and we seem to have forgotten that a comic strip can be something more than a launchpad for a glut of derivative products. When the comic strip is not exploited, the medium can be a vehicle for beautiful artwork and serious, intelligent expression.

Krazy Kat was drawn well over half a century ago, and yet it’s a much more sophisticated use of the comic strip medium than anything we cartoonists are doing today. Of course, a 1930s Sunday Krazy filled the entire newspaper page, whereas editors today usually cram at least four strips in the same amount of space. This reduction of size greatly limits what can be drawn and written and still remain legible, and it goes a long way toward explaining the comics’ devolution.

Even so, the whiteness of paper is still vast, uncharted territory, ripe for exploration. There are plenty of exotic lands for a cartoonist to map, if he or she will leave the well-worn paths and strike off for the wilds of the imagination. Krazy Kat is like no other comic strip before or after it. We are richer for Herriman’s integrity and vision.

Krazy Kat was not very successful as a commercial venture, but it was something better. It was art.

Bill Watterson is the creator of Calvin & Hobbes.



My New Mailbox . . .

July 22, 2010

Why It Makes Those Sounds

By Jacquie Roland

Today, for some reason, I decided to redo my mailbox. (As if I don’t have enough other stuff to do.) However . . . When I came in to get out of the heat and have a cool drink, my phone rang. Not unusual. Except that I couldn’t find it. I could hear it, but . . . Well, as it turns out—in a fit of artistic madness—I had epoxied my live phone into the assemblage. (The old phone had dropped out of sight behind my work table.) And now my good Ma Bell is glued into the sculpture. Forever. *sigh* I guess it will just have to keep ringing until the battery wears out.

Copyright © 2010 Jacquie Roland.

This post was adapted from an e-mail I received yesterday from my friend Jacquie, who, as you can see, keeps very VERY busy in upstate New York. This 3-D doodle was too good—and the story of its creation ‘way too funny—to keep to myself. Click images for larger views.


Famous Artists Schools

May 7, 2010

On July 29, 2009 I did a post titled “Cartooning Lessons,” in which I described my experiences as a Famous Artists Schools correspondent student back in the early 1960s. The post featured my first FAS cartooning instructor, Randall Enos, who is now a famous illustrator and cartoonist himself. Somehow, Mr. Enos came across my little blog memoir, liked it, and in a comment suggested that I—but wait, let’s let him explain what happened next in his own words, which I copied from his blog post. If you’d like to check out the original Enos post, here’s the link: http://www.drawger.com/bigfoot/?article_id=9751

“Between 1956 and 1964 I worked at The Famous Artists Schools in the correspondence art school. I worked on the Cartoon Course. We would get a student’s assignment and put overlays on it and point out various “trouble” spots and sometimes re-draw the whole situation and then send a letter to accompany the crit. The letters were standard form letters (after all everybody would make the same “mistakes”) but we would “personalize” the letter by inserting certain words that applied specifically to the student’s particular picture. We had lessons on inking, heads, action etc.. There were 4 or 5 of us doing the lessons and we would bounce the student around between us so he or she would have the advantage of more than one point of view. I was the youngest, being hired at the ripeness of twenty years. The others were pretty much retired guys in their 60’s having had careers in the field. One of them had and continued to draw Popeye, another had worked on the Lone Ranger, another on Katzenjammer Kids, another on Captain Marvel Jr. and Captain Billy’s Whiz Bang and Playboy girlie cartoons etc..

“So . . . the other day I’m surfing the web and I come across a blog called “Doodlemeister”. The fellow that runs it named Jim Sizemore had a post where he, in great detail, described critiques of mine he had received when he was an FAS student. It was a trip down memory lane alright. He complained that I had always given him high grades and flattery when he really wanted tough criticism. He pointed out that my overlay comments were a little more to the point than my letters (form letters). I made a comment on his blog post and invited him, if he wished, to send me an assignment NOW and I would give him a free crit. He was 25 then and is in his 70’s now as I am. I promised him, in addition, that this time I definitely would not give him a good grade. Here then is my crit of his “assignment” because he took me up on it.” (Click images for larger views.)

The one disagreement I have with Mr. Enos’ critique is not visual but verbal—his suggested caption, making it about the mythical memory powers of elephants instead of cross-species relationships. In the writing process I considered the memory angle but quickly rejected it as too much the cliché. I  think the relationship idea is the more original—and funnier—choice.

Mr. Enos ended his blog post with these kind—and much too generous—words: “Y’know, the more I look at it . . . the more I like his cartoon better than mine.”

Copyright © 2010 Jim Sizemore.

Hands

April 13, 2009

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If you’re an artist, or have ever tried to become one, you know that the part of the human body hardest to draw is the hand. You can always spot an artist-wannabe when they present “finished art” wherein the hands of the people are hidden in some way—either in pockets, behind backs, under the table, etc., etc. A confident artist, on the other hand (sorry, couldn’t resist it), doesn’t hide hands because he or she has, to at least some degree, mastered their depiction. Actually, the skillful artist loves to draw hands because they know that after the human face, hands are the most expressive parts of the body, especially when it comes to gestures. On the other other hand, some newbie artists give up the game in frustration once they discover the difficulty of drawing hands. Many of those creative folks become photographers instead—as did Yours Truly, at least for a time. Or they try their own hands at cartooning (ditto), where the graphic standards are much lower, especially these days. (See my own limited efforts on this blog, and the many crudely drawn “Post Modern” gag examples in the New Yorker. BTW, the term “Post Modern,” as I understand how it applies to cartooning, means crudely drawn on purpose. The idea is to make an up to date graphic statement “against” professional slickness. Meanwhile, I’ve spent many years trying to become professionally slick. It’s all very confusing.)

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.