The Temple of Silence: Forgotten Worlds of Herbert Crowley


Beehive Books is kickstarting a super-deluxe book of the work of Herbert Crowley, who was kind of an early 20th Century Jim Woodring.

The cartoonist, painter, illustrator, and sculptor Herbert Crowley was an innovator at the dawn of comics, and a defining figure of the early 20th century New York City avant garde art scene.

He exhibited his work in dozens of venues, including the legendary Armory Show of 1913 alongside Picasso and van Gogh, and in a joint exhibition with Léon Bakst in 1914. He received countless glowing reviews, describing him as a visionary voice exploring a brand new form of art. His cartoons were featured in the now-storied New York Herald Sunday comics section, printed on the reverse side of of Winsor McCay's masterpiece LITTLE NEMO IN SLUMBERLAND.

A 1915 article in The Bookman called Crowley an artist whose “star is very decidedly in the ascendant. New York City at large discovered Herbert Crowley only a few months ago; but, once having been discovered, he is not the sort of person easily to be forgotten.”

But then… he was.

In 1917, he disappeared from the New York City scene, and never showed his artwork again.

In Art Out of Time, Dan Nadel’s 2006 collection of comics by unknown cartoonists, several of Crowley’s strips are reproduced as examples of vital early newspaper cartooning that had been unjustly and completely forgotten. In a short piece at the end of the anthology, Nadel describes Crowley as representing the “single largest information gap in this book,” — a book about unremembered artists — and writes that that aside from the existence of these comic strips, “nothing else is known about Crowley or his work.”

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What Am I Doing Here? Existential absurdist cartoons from the 1940s


What Am I Doing Here? by Abner Dean New York Review Comics 2016, 168 pages, 7 x 0.75 x 9.5 inches $19 Buy one on Amazon

In the 1930s and 1940s, Abner Dean was a highly sought-after illustrator who drew covers, cartoons, and illustrations for The New Yorker, Esquire, Time, Life, and Newsweek, as well as advertising illustrations for insurance companies and product manufacturers. In 1945, Dean quit his day job and drew the first of seven books that have been described as “existential gag cartoons.”

What Am I Doing Here? is Dean’s second book, and is generally regarded as his best work. It was originally published in 1947. This facsimile edition just came out today and contains about 100 single panel drawings, rendered in India ink and graytone washes (in the classic New Yorker style of gag cartoons).

Dean’s drawings look like cartoons but they aren’t very funny, at least not in the traditional sense. They’re absurdist and disquieting. Everyone is naked and the action takes place either in decrepit urban settings, living rooms filled with grinning desperate characters, or barren surrealistic wastelands. Each drawing features the same hapless character, a lonely youngish man who questions his role in the human race, represented by a crowd that changes its form and behavior from page to page. The people are sometimes club-swinging brutes, other times they are blinkered sleepwalkers, insincere mask-wearers, bloodthirsty mobs, hysterical celebrators, suicidal lemmings, or guru-seeking fools. They often look more like animals than people. The protagonist is at times foolhardy, delusional, disappointed, fearful, proud, insecure, ruthless, or bewildered. Read the rest

How Cuba's greatest cartoonist fled from Castro and created 'Spy vs. Spy'

From Spy vs. Spy: The Complete Casebook (Watson-Guptill, 2001/Spy vs Spy © E.C. Publications Inc.)

As a kid, my two favorite things in Mad magazine were the Fold-In and Spy vs Spy (which I pronounced "spyvisspy"). It was a wordless one-page comic about two oddly pointy faced spies, one dressed in black and the other dressed in white. Other than their different colored outfits, they behaved identically. They hated each other and created elaborate Rube Goldberg type machines to try to kill each other. Sometimes their machines worked, often, they’d backfire. They were tricky but usually too clever for their own good.

Atlas Obscura has an excellent article about Antonio Prohías, the creator of Spy vs Spy.

In New York, Prohías took work in a factory during the day, while working up his illustration portfolio at night. Taking inspiration from his supposed spy status, Prohías altered the look of El Hombre Siniestro, and gave him a counterpart, creating what we now know as Spy vs. Spy. In 1960, just months after moving to the city, Prohías, along with his daughter Marta who acted as an interpreter, walked unannounced into the offices of MAD Magazine. The editors were skeptical of the artist, but his silly spy gags won them over, and he had sold three of the strips to the magazine before leaving that day.

Spy Vs Spy: An Explosive Celebration, by Antonio Prohías and Peter Kuper, is an excellent book about Spy Vs Spy, with lots of sample strips. Read the rest

Watch: Daniel Clowes Complete Eightball release party at Meltdown Comics


I had a great time interviewing cartoonist Daniel Clowes at Meltdown Comics in Los Angeles about his Complete Eightball anthology. This video was shot in glorious VHS by filmmaker Rocio Mesa and was produced by Gaston Dominguez-Letelier.

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Dan Clowes profiled in California Sunday Magazine


Robert Ito wrote a wonderful profile of cartoonist Daniel Clowes in California Sunday Magazine. It includes some nice illustrations of Clowes by other cartoonists.

In the third issue of Eightball, Clowes published “The Return of Young Dan Pussey,” a scathing takedown of the comics industry. In the strip’s satirical alternate reality, Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee is a glad-handing cheapskate with an eye for prostitutes, while Fantagraphics co-founder Gary Groth is a bully who consults a thesaurus mid-rant to come up with fresh ways to insult his artists. Art Spiegelman is a creepy, chain-smoking taskmaster who forces his stable of unpaid artists to create work for his comics magazine in a miserable hovel with burlap sacks for beds. “I just felt it was nasty, snotty, gratuitous,” recalls Spiegelman. Françoise Mouly, his Raw co-creator, says, “I became aware of [Clowes] as a wise­ass a long time ago.” Clowes has a different explanation. “Jealousy isn’t the right word, but I just had a longing to be a part of that world and had that feeling that I wasn’t,” he says. “It was sort of an expression of rage and self-pity and trying to make myself feel better about that.”

Clowes' full-length graphic novel, Patience, will by published March 1, 2016 by Fantagraphics.

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A biographical look at pre-digital sign making by comic artist turned sign painter


See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Justin Green is the author of the classic Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary, an underground comix autobiography about growing up Catholic and OCD. Sadly, creating brilliant underground comix doesn't provide the most stable of incomes, so in the mid-1970s – with a family to support – Green went into business as a commercial sign painter.

Sign painting, or "commercial brush lettering," evolved over hundreds of years and is probably the earliest form of advertising. But by the 1980s – when Green was seriously devoting himself to the business – it was being eclipsed by computer type and cheap printed vinyl signs. Master sign-painters were aging out and few young craftspeople were taking up the brush, so Green started his monthly comic strip "Sign Game" (collected here) to record some of this hard-won knowledge before it disappeared.

The early strips tell how Green found his footing; including the one-thousand hours required to brush a perfect "O." In later strips he requested techniques and stories from veteran brushmen. They offered priceless knowledge like how to mix your paint so it stays put under the hot sun or how much arm-twisting to apply when a client lets an invoice sit for too long. Some of these sign painters became recurring characters in "Sign Game," and a few died during its run leaving these strips – and a few fading signs – as their final memorial.

Like a great sign, Green's strips are dense with information, lettered in classic historical styles, yet easy to follow. Read the rest

This poster for the Cincy Comicon pays homage to old comic book ads


Cartoonist Tony Moore (co-creator of The Walking Dead comic book series) designed this very fun poster for the Cincy Comicon (September 12-13), which pays homages to the old comic book ads for novelties and practical jokes. He did such a good job that I asked him to write a bit about it. Read the rest

Alex Toth - the cranky genius cartoonist who designed Johnny Quest and Space Ghost


The three Genius Illustrated books dedicated to the life and works of Alex Toth make up what’s likely the most lavish and complete portrait ever of an American comic book artist or animator: Toth was both. In the worlds of both comics and cartoons, Toth was viewed as an artist’s artist. His figure work, use of light and shade, and especially his sense of character and page design were universally admired by his peers.

He was also a real pill.For every story about Toth’s genius, there are those about his cranky moods and prima donna behavior. He regularly walked out on jobs or was fired because his vision conflicted with that of editors and other supervisors, who Toth nearly always viewed as his inferiors. If he didn’t like a comic book script, Toth would simply change or re-write it as he saw fit. As a result, his work for publishers such as DC and Marvel Comics was sporadic and limited. He hated superheroes, anyway. He had a memorable run at the Standard Comics, producing romance comics and tales of adventure and suspense.

Toth loved the movies, especially old, swashbuckling ones starring the likes of Errol Flynn. His Zorro comic for Dell is a classic with its use of shape and shadow, the main character swooping through the night with his cape swirling and sword gleaming. He could also draw airplanes and aerial battles like nobody’s business. But Toth found his most steady and productive work in Hollywood, principally for Hanna-Barbera, where he storyboarded cartoons for TV and designed characters. Read the rest

Art Out of Time – Strange and now-forgotten cartoonists

When comics in newspapers (“funnies”) were first invented in the 1900s, a thousand crazy ideas were tried in every local newspaper in the country. Most of these local attempts at this new media were awful, but many of these earliest comic strips and later comic books were truly innovative, original, and bizarre.

There was nothing like them before – or since. Even the underground comix in the 1970s were not as strange and unusual as these now-forgotten visionaries. Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969 presents a sampling of overlooked fantastic and fantastical comics harvested from small town papers, yellowing zines, and short-lived strips. Like many other types of first-attempts, there is still much to be learned from these odd pioneers.

See sample pages from this book at Wink. Read the rest

Listen: interviews with Scott McCloud and Jim Woodring

On his RiYL podcast, Brian Heater interviewed two extraordinary comic book people: Jim Woodring and Scott McCloud. Read the rest

UPDATE: Ivan Brunetti's Nancy comic strips

You asked for them, here they are: a sample of Ivan Brunetti's Nancy comic strips. I think they are great! (See Ivan's feature, My failed attempt to draw the Nancy comic strip.)

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My failed attempt to draw the Nancy comic strip

Nancy is a harsh taskmaster; resuscitating it was a grueling task, but the challenge was invigorating and edifying. By drawing Nancy, I realized that every character (even the environment) in a strip is the cartoonist and is invested and imbued with the cartoonist’s life force.

Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio

The names Joe Simon and Jack Kirby are synony­mous with comic books, and their partnership ush­ered in the Golden Age of comics starting in the 1940s. Together they created memorable characters such as Captain America and Sandman, invented romance com­ics, and raised the standard for the genres of western, crime, and horror comic books.

Dick Cavett & Al Jaffee talk cartooning in a limo

Jeff Newelt says: "Here's a video of a deep sublime conversation between Dick Cavett and Al Jaffee about cartooning... in a limo!"

Jeff wrote about the meeting in Heeb Read the rest

Reed Crandall original comic art

Cartoonist Reed Crandall was one of EC Comics' many superstars in the 1950s, drawing stories for Crime SuspenStories, Shock SuspenStories, Tales from the Crypt, Two-Fisted Tales, The Vault of Horror, Extra!, Impact, Piracy, Weird Fantasy, and Weird Science-Fantasy. As a freelancer, he drew stories for various publishers. His splash page from “Hot Spell” in Warren's Creepy #7 (1966) shows why Crandall was one of the greats. (Full-size page) Read the rest

Drew Friedman portrait of Daniel Clowes

The great illustrator Drew Friedman drew a portrait of the great cartoonist Daniel Clowes. Amazing! 10 prints are available. Read the rest

Cartoonist Ed Piskor visits his decrepit childhood home

Ed Piskor says: "Pittsburgh magazine followed me around for a few weeks and put together a little piece on me and the Hip Hop comic. The highlight is going through my decrepit boyhood home for the first time in like 18 years and seeing artwork on the walls that survived."

I loved seeing Ed in this 8-minute film, which was produced by Dave Cole. Favorite quote: "There's not enough money in comics to listen to anybody. You should just do what the heck you wanna do." Read the rest

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