Bob and Me and Kal

June 5, 2013

Characters and Caricatures

Two cartoonists walk into a bar — No, wait . . .

lzBobMe739When two cartoonists, Bob Weber, Sr., (on the left) based in Westport, Connecticut — and Jim Sizemore (me), on the right, based in Baltimore, Maryland — meet for a “bro-date,” what do we decide to do for fun? Drink? Nope, we’re both too old and wobbly for that, so scratch an extended saloon visit. Chase women? Once again, bad idea and for the same reason. Mud wrestle? Naw, I don’t think so. I’m three years younger than Bob, but I’m sure he can still take me.

But for old guys, we are pretty busy. Since 1965, seven days a week, Bob has drawn Moose & Molly, a nationally syndicated comic strip; and with his son, Bob Weber, Jr., he produces the kid’s comic activity feature, Slylock Fox, both distributed by King Features. While Bob is a big-time syndicate guy, I do magazine-style “gag” cartoons, marketed to print and web publications around the world by the London-based outfits known as CartoonStock.com and Jantoo.com. I also take on the occasional freelance humorous illustration project — a recent example being eleven images for a National Parks Service “Jr. Rangers” booklet at Fort McHenry.

So when Bob, who has lived and worked for many years in “Westpork” (as he likes to call it), shows up in his hometown of Baltimore, we usually try to get together for dinner. This trip — on May 11, 2013 — he had a different goal. Bob came down to attend a presentation by the internationally known, and locally based, editorial cartoonist, Kevin “Kal” Kallaugher. Kal has drawn his famous caricatures for The Economist magazine and the Baltimore Sun for over 35 years, and he had scheduled a multi-media book-launch extravaganza at the Walters Art Museum. Bob was keen to attend, asked me if I’d like to tag along, and I was happy to. So, what do old cartoonists do for fun when they get together? Why, whenever possible, they try to hookup with another cartoonist!

Kal began the presentation by talking at some length about his new cartoon collection titled, Daggers Drawn, all of the images done for The KalBook3-024Economist. He said he got his big break there as a result of doing caricatures of people on the streets of London, and showed a slide of the cover of the book. He also promised that at the end of the show he’d teach us — the entire audience of over 100 — to caricature President Obama. (By the way, how many of the book cover caricatures can you can name?

KAL-Self102

Before our turn came to show our stuff, Kal did a self-caricature. That’s him all right!

Then he did a bunch of other folks, some of whom I think you’ll recognize, including the first President Bush, Al Gore, John Kerry, Bill Clinton. (You can enlarge any image by clicking on it.)

Gore-470As Kal drew the caricatures, he explained his use of simple shapes — circles, squares, triangles, rectangles, etc. — to capture a likeness. For example, the Al Gore caricature is accomplished using mostly triangles — right side up, upside down and sideways. But he pointed out that the most important Gore feature was his half-circle”vampire-like” eyes, underlined generously with “bags.”

Kerry-510Another fun example. Kal began his John Kerry caricature with a very long chin-shape, then “realized” that it was by no means long enough, and proceeded to tear off the flip chart page and stick it on the bottom of a clean sheet of paper. Then, with a few more deft lines, he produced the clever drawing you see here.

Now that big finish: Kal’s demonstration showing how we can all “do” President Obama in 10 easy steps. Below I’ve tried to recreate his process, more or less . . .

OBAMAcari-ture1) Kal directed that we draw a large “C”shape at the top of the page, turned on its side with the open part down.

2) Then add a long interior horizontal line, and two short vertical lines, to reinforce the top and sides of what will be the skull; and fill the spaces those two actions create with squiggly lines to indicate hair.

3) Next, place two short angled lines jutting off either side of the skull, then continue downward with two long inward slanting lines for the sides of the face.

4) Back up top, outside where the skull ends and the face lines begin — on both sides — place nested “C” shapes for ears.

5) In the middle of the interior face space, give him two dots for eyes.

6) Above the eyes, add several lines close together to suggest very bushy eyebrows.

7) Below the eyes, about half way down the face, draw a series of three large, connected, open-topped “O’s,” with the middle one bigger than the other two, to form the nose; then place a small open Obama “O” just under the nose.

8) Below that, add a stretched out “M” shape, enclosed with a horizontal line and filled in to make the upper lip; then a stretched out “U” shape under that for the bottom lip.

9) At the bottom of the face shape, add another — smaller —horizontal upside-down “C” to make the Obama chin.

10) To finish our Obama caricature, Kal had us begin at each side of the nose and draw long parentheses lines that extend all the way down to the chin.

KALobom-772Kal writing a dedication on the Obama caricature he did on stage during the presentation.

GroupOs-681Select members of the audience, including Kal’s mother and wife — both in blue —  showing off their Obama caricatures.

KAL-Darrenn782Darrenn E. Canton, a young illustrator from the Washington, D. C. area, with portfolio. He waited patiently at the end of the book-signing line in order to have an extended chat with Kal.

BobKAL733In this photo Bob Weber, Sr. is either telling Kal a joke, or suggesting how to improve his presentation — or, knowing Bob as I do — more than likely both . . .

Kevin Kallaugher (KAL) is the international award-winning editorial cartoonist for The Economist magazine of London and The Baltimore Sun. In a distinguished career than spans over 35 years, Kal has created over 8000 cartoons and 140 magazine covers. His resumé includes 5 collections of his published work, one man exhibitions in six countries, international honors and awards in seven. KAl is currently the artist-in-residence at University of Maryland Baltimore County. He has created acclaimed animations and calendars, toured the US with Second City improv comedy troupe and addressed audiences around the world. In 1999, The World Encyclopedia of Cartoons said of Kevin “Commanding a masterful style, Kallaugher stands among the premier caricaturists of the (twentieth) century.”

To order Kal’s new book, click on his name in the sidebar links.

All photographs in this post © 2013, Bruce Guthrie.

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