Thursday, February 22, 2007

J C Orozco - Man on Fire

Last week we were in Guadalajara, Mexico. One of the highlights was seeing the murals of Jose Clemente Orozco. The Cabanas Cultural Institute is his Sistine Chapel, dominated by the central dome and the "Man on Fire". All the walls and ceiling of the main building are covered with these intense paintings. The photos don't do his work justice, since they are all much larger than life. His work is incredibly violent, but I like it because he uses a lot of the techniques of cartooning: caricature, exaggeration, line of action, etc.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

More Milt Stein

By popular demand (Well, one person asked for it---) Here is more early Milt Stein. This is from issue #11 of CooCoo comics from 1943. This is serious wartime propaganda, and you can see that Stein's style has really evolved into a wonderfully exuberant and expressive look. Still rooted in the "rubber hose" tradition, Stein creates dynamic compositions filled with depth of field, and a very cinematic approach to comics. Stein stopped drawing Supermouse shortly after this, and he did a ton of work for Timely comics (what would later become Marvel Comics) - working for editor Vince Fago (Stan Lee was in the army) In the '50s Stein returned to drawing Supermouse in his own book, with a more sophisticated style.

Some of these are at

and also at Shane Glines' Cartoon Retro.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Thomas Nast

A few months ago I was at a party at John K's house, and, having had a few drinks, I was railing about how cartoonists were once important and influential contributors to culture, and not the hired "wrists" many of us have become today, grinding out corporate product for a few bucks. Thomas Nast was one of the names I held up as an example of how cartoonists once had integrity and could change society - Well it was obvious that none of the "younger" crowd, many of whom were students or graduates of expensive animation schools, had ever heard of Thomas Nast or had any idea what I was talking about. (could have had something to do with the alchohol)

Steve Worth suggested I write a blog about Nast. At the time I was really busy with work and with finishing my "Attila" movie, and there was no way I had the time to get into this "bloggging" stuff. Well, now my workload has eased off quite a lot, so I have more time to hang out of the internet and post stuff on a blog and read other people's blogs - So here is the promised piece on Thomas Nast

Nast is remembered today as the "Father of American Political Cartoonists". While still a teeenager in 1860 a New York newspaaper sent him to London to cover a prize-fight (In those days, pre-photography, newspapers hired artists to illustrate the news - America was a nation of immigrants, many of whom could not read, so this was a way to sell papers to illiterate "New Americans") He stayed on in Europe to follow Garibaldi's army and document the unification of Italy. Returning to America, he "covered" Lincoln's campaign for President, supporting the "abolitionist" Republican party against the "states' rights" Democrats. (Yes, the Democrats supported slavery! Times have changed!) Nast drew some great propaganda in favor of the Union during the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln said of him: "Thomas Nast has been our best recruiting sergeant. His emblematic cartoons have never failed to arouse enthusiasm and patriotism, and have always seemed to come just when these articles were getting scarce."

But Nast's most famous crusade was against Wiliam Marcy "Boss" Tweed and the Tammany Hall political machine in New York City after the war. Tweed ran a notoriously corrrupt ring of politicoes, controlling all the politics in New York state. Through the late 1860's, Nast did a famous series of cartoons, mercilessly exposing the corruption of the "Tweed Ring". Tweed tried to bribe Nast, offering $500,000 to drop the whole thing. (I can only imagine how much that would be in today's dollars!) Harper's championed their star cartoonist: "Believing that 'every man has his price' they have tried to buy him off. To their astonishment they found they were dealing with a man who was not for sale. Then they tried the efficacy of threats. Letters of the most violent character poured in upon him ... threatening violence and even death ... The pages of this paper show and will continue to show that threats are quite as impotent as bribes with Mr. Nast."

Nast kept up the deluge of cartoons, and the Tweed Ring was toppled from power in the elections of 1871. "Boss" Tweed fled the country to avoid arrest, but he was recognized as he was hiding out in Spain. Someone recognized him based on Nast's caricature!

Nast continued his career, creating the famous "Republican Elephant" and the "Democratic Donkey" as well as drawing the modern concept of Santa Clause (before Coca-Cola)

Just writing this story makes me feel like a complete wuss! The proud heritage of cartoonism has been laid so low! We cartoonists have sold our souls to faceless corporations for a few pennies - when it was our destiny to change the world!

Research for this post is from "Th. Nast, His Period and his Pictures" by Albert Bigelow Paine, 1971

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Milton Stein

John K requested some "early Milton Stein" comics. This stuff is pretty early - kind of crude looking, but you can tell he was working really hard on some of this stuff. In the next few years he developed the "rubber hose" style of cartoons to great heights! I don't know much about Stein except that he was a New York animator, he worked at Terrytoons on & off - spent a lot of time doing comics, for Fago's shop in the early '40s for Timely, and then for ACG/Standard for many years on "Supermouse" through the '50s. "Supermouse" actually predates "Mighty Mouse" (That's why they changed the name to "Mighty Mouse" after the first cartoon) - With Milton working for both companies was he involved in some corporate espionage? We may never know - he apparently commited suicide in the early '70s.

I've got a bunch of early "Supermouse" from the early issues of "Coo Coo" comics if anyone really wants to see more. Shane Glines has the story from Coo Coo #8 on his Cartoon Retro site, which is a real nice one - Milt really had his style together by then. In the late '40s he developed a more "illustrational" style, with nicely composed landscapes with well designed perspective and energetic posing - Streamlined and simplified without getting too "angular" like a lot of "modern" styles of late '40s/early '5os. He was as good as Harvey Eisenberg at this time.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Dan Gordon

John K wrote about Dan Gordon today, so this was a good time to post some of his comics. He was a story artist at Fleischer's and then when Famous Studios was formed in New York he was one of the directors. He directed the classic Superman short "Mechanical Monsters" and also did some great work on Popeye - then he was no longer working for Famous Studios, and he started doing comics. Not sure what happened at Famous, but Gordon spent most of the '40s and '50s doing comics, mostly for ACG but also for DC, working for Jim Davis (the Fox & Crow artist, not the Garfield artist) Then he worked as story artist at Hanna Barbera in their early days on Huckleberry Hound & Flintstones. Here are some comics from the early '40s that show off Dan's skill as a cartoonist - I like the way he'll sometimes imply the punchline instead of making it obvious. He had a long-running series "Superkatt" in Giggle Comics that was briliantly written and drawn. For today, here are some selected shorts.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Anton Grot

Anton Grot was the Art Director at Warner Brothers Studios from the late twenties through the '40s. He had started working in movies in 1913, so he was already very experienced when he started at Warners. He created sketches for set designs that are brillliant works of art in their own right. He would create the set-up for the "Master Shot" for a scene, and then this is all the set that would be built - sometimes incorporating false perspective, so the set could only be photographed from one camera angle, or it would look fake. (an example of how good design makes good business sense) The collection of Grot's originals is at UCLA Library, and years ago I asked permission to take pictures of some of these. (I had an alumni card at the library) They've since gotten more strict about taking pictures - I think these pieces should be in a museum for people to see - they're relatively small (most are about 4x5 inches - some smaller) and drawn in pencil on paper, but they reallly show how the "Warner Brothers look" really came from his designs. Enjoy.