Category Archives: artists I admire

Winsor McCay

One work of comic strip art stands alone as having earned the artist, Winsor McCay, a full-fledged exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  Little Nemo in Slumberland is a one-of-a-kind achievement in fantasy art.

Winsor McCay lived from his birth in Michigan in 1869 to his finale in Brooklyn in 1934.  In that time he created volumes full of his fine-art pages of full-page color newspaper cartoons, most in the four-color process.  

The New Year’s page 1909

As a boy, he pursued art from very early on, before he was twenty creating paintings turned into advertising and circus posters.  He spent his early manhood doing amazingly detailed half-page political cartoons built around the editorials of Arthur Brisbane,  He then became a staff artist for the Cincinnati Times Star Newspaper, illustrating fires, accidents, meetings, and notable events.  He worked in the newspaper business with American artists like Winslow Homer and Frederick Remington who also developed their art skills through newspaper illustration.  He moved into newspaper comics with numerous series strips that included Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend and Little Nemo in Slumberland.  And he followed that massive amount of work up by becoming the “Father of the Animated Cartoon” with Gertie the Dinosaur, with whom he toured the US giving public performances as illustrated in the silent film below; 

The truly amazing thing about his great volume of work was the intricate detail of every single panel and page.  It represents a fantastic amount of work hours poured into the creation of art with an intense love of drawing.  You can see in the many pages of Little Nemo how great he was as a draftsman, doing architectural renderings that rivaled any gifted architect.  His fantasy artwork rendered the totally unbelievable and the creatively absurd in ways that made them completely believable.

I bought my copy of Nostalgia Press’s Little Nemo collection in the middle 70’s and have studied it more than the Bible in the intervening years.  Winsor McCay taught me many art tricks and design flourishes that I still copy and steal to this very day.

No amount of negative criticism could ever change my faith in the talents of McCay.  But since I have never seen a harsh word written against him, I have to think that problem will never come up.

My only regret is that the wonders of Winsor McCay, being over a hundred years old, will not be appreciated by a more modern generation to whom these glorious cartoon artworks are not generally available. 

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The Artist Who Masters the Darkness

Do you know who Bernie Wrightson is?

Bernie Wrightson in 1972, when I was a freshman and sophomore in high school, created for D.C. comics the character known as The Swamp Thing.

Of course,

being a stupid kid at the time, I totally ignored his genius with pen and ink, ink and brush, and fascinatingly dense forests of intricate detail.

I didn’t really get it until he joined The Studio with Jeffery C. Jones, Michael Kaluta, and Barry Windsor-Smith (whom I idolized for his work on Conan.)

And while in college, consuming everything available by The Studio that I could find and afford, I fell in love with his deeply dark and brooding illustration work for a new edition of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Frankenstein had 50 illustrations by Wrightson that firmly established the fact that by drawing with black ink you could show in startlingly real ways the qualities of white light. That appealed to me both literally as a way to make beautiful art and metaphorically, as that last thing was what I was doing with my own life, drawing the darkness to get to the beautiful light.

Most of his work

was drawing monsters; werewolves, zombies, the creatures of H.P. Lovecraft, and numerous things from nightmares.

But it has a definite beauty of its own. Darkness, evil, and corruption brings out the quality of what is light, righteous, and pure. There is truth in approaching reality from the dark side of the equation.

Of course, he would also do work on heroes like Batman, because the darkness breeds its own defenders of justice.

I am not so much a fan of monsters as I am a believer of taming the monsters who beset us as we try to make a worthy life for ourselves. But I can definitely see where Bernie Wrightson has been doing exactly that with his brilliant pen-and-ink artwork. Sadly, he will be doing no more of it since we lost him in 2017. But it is a legacy he left behind that will make his light continue to shine forth from dark places for a long time to come.

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My Precious Things

david-cassidy

The dawn tomorrow is a hoped-for event, not a promise, not a guarantee.  For some it will not come again.  But that is what life is for, to be lived.   You must find the value in living and wallow in it while it is yours, and you must measure it not by the world’s measuring stick, but your own.

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Looking at it mathematically with only the cold hard facts, my life has come to very little.  After teaching for parts of four decades, I was forced by ill health to retire from the job I loved.  As it will in this country where profits for corporations are more important than people’s lives, my personal fortune, that horde of wealth that is allotted for public servants like teachers, was absorbed by the health care and pharmaceutical industry, and health insurers managed to get away with paying out less than I put in through premiums for a lifetime.  After having to pay for the removal of the pool, and after having to go into bankruptcy because Bank of America decided to sue me instead of help in my debt resolution, I really have nothing left.  And if we can’t pay the property taxes that keep going up because the State is continually reducing funds to public schools, we may eventually lose the house.  Broke and homeless.  But they cannot take away my precious things.  It simply isn’t possible.

6a0120a6abf659970b01348734d01c970c-800wi   I saw a woman and her two kids getting breakfast at QT this morning.  The kids, a boy and a girl, were both wearing jackets and pajama pants.  They were both cute, and happy, and speaking Korean to each other.  And I realized after smiling at them with my goofy old coot grin, that I am not prejudiced in any way when it comes to other people.  They were Asian.  I notice details.  But that was an afterthought.  It really wouldn’t have mattered if they were black, white, purple, brown, or yellow.  (Though I have to admit I might’ve been slightly more fascinated by purple.)  Not being prejudiced is a precious thing.  It comes from a lifetime of working with kids of all kinds, and learning to love them while you’re trying to teach them to also have no prejudices.

And, of course, I still have my family.  I was a professional when it came to talking to kids, so I applied those professional skills to my own family as well.  I actually talk to my kids, and know them pretty well.  They have learned to draw and paint and tell stories from me, and may one day be better at it than I am.  They are musical and play instruments… and, hey!  Maybe we could form a family band!  All of those are also precious things.  Let’s see Bank of America try to take those things away from me.

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And it may have occurred to you by this point why I am thinking about precious things and using pictures of my sister’s favorite TV show from the 70’s.  We just lost a singer and actor from that show whose music meant a lot to my family once, and always will.

And he was not a lot older than me.  And his life was not easy either.  But he lived with music in his heart and artistry in his soul.  David, you will be missed.  But your precious things still benefit us.  And some of us will probably be seeing you again soon to thank you yet again.

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The Golden Age

I am certainly no expert on the Golden Age of Comics. I was, in fact, born the year that the Golden Age ended. I am a child of the Silver Age (1956 to the early 1970s) and those were the comics I grew up with. But I admit to a fascination with the initial creation of the characters I love, including Batman, Superman, the Flash, Captain America, the Phantom, Steve Canyon, Wonder Woman and numerous others who were first put on the comic book pages in the Golden Age. And being subject to comic book prices that zoomed upward from a dollar an issue, I was bedazzled by the ten cent price on old comics.

Comic books owe their creation to the popular newspaper comic strips from the Depression era and WWII wartime. Originally, comic strips were gathered and printed on cheap paper. Dick Tracy, Prince Valiant, Terry and the Pirates, Flash Gordon, and other adventure strips would lead to the war comics and hero-centered comics that would morph into superhero comics.

Some of the artwork in Golden Age comics leaves a lot to be desired. Especially original, straight to comic book publications that were produced fast and furiously by publishers who would open one week, produce three issues. and go out of business three weeks later. But in the mad scramble, some truly great artists formed the start of their illustrious careers, Will Eisner, Hal Foster, Milt Caniff, and Bill Elder learned to master their craft in the newspaper strips, and all later created comic books and graphic novels. True geniuses like Jack “King” Kirby and Bob Kane and Jack Davis grew directly from comic book studio madhouses into comic-book-artist immortality.

As with most things that have a Golden Age, the truth was that later comic book eras were superior in most ways. But this Golden Age was the foundational age for an American art-form that I truly love. So, flaws and warts are overlooked. And some of these old ten cent books on super-cheap paper are worth huge amounts of money if you still have a rare one in mint condition. Ah, there’s the rub for a manic old collector guy like me.

Most of the Golden Age comic book images used for this post were borrowed from the ComicsintheGoldenAge Twitter page @ComicsintheGA. If you love old comics like I do, you should definitely check it out.

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Mickey Makes Manga Art

I always loved this song.  When I was a boy, it was the song I would sing when I was alone in the darkness.  It made me feel better, able to march toward home in spite of potential spooks and brain-eating zombies.  The weight of the invisible future world could not drag me down if this tune was in my head, filling it with helium and good spirit; it allowed me to fly.

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And when I listened to it playing on the radio…  I always paused and listened to at least a couple of verses no matter what I was doing… I never once thought of Johnny Nash as a black man.  I didn’t know he was black until I first saw a picture of him.  But even then I didn’t think, “Oh, he’s a black man.”  I thought, “Oh, he’s a man like me.”  But, I, of course, am not black.  I’m not really white either.  I am a kind of pale pink to mauve mottled color with dark pink psoriasis spots in random places all over me. It is the man on the inside that is like Johnny Nash, full of uplifting things, and goofy grins, and… hopefully, hope.

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But when I was young it wasn’t only singing “I Can See Clearly Now…” in my goofy farmboy voice that filled my head with air and allowed me to float away from the troubles of the world.  I also learned to draw Manga style, in the tradition of Osamu Tezuka’s Astroboy , filtered through hours of practice copying Walt Kelly’s Pogo characters and various Disney cartoons.

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I copied the over-large eyes and big-headed cutsieness that informed the Japanese idea of the world after the atom bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I tried to capture innocence and wonder and adventure in drawings that took my mind off the terrible things of my childhood, being sexually assaulted, the assassinations of JFK and his brother RFK, and Martin Luther King Jr, the Viet Nam War, and Nixon with Watergate.  You can reclaim innocence and peace of mind, if you get the lines just right, and the proportions are good, and the character has just the right expression on their sweet little faces.

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Okay, maybe not always so sweet and innocent.  This is not the Dorothy I would want to mess with.  This girl is cocky, sure of herself, and more than a little impish.  A destroyer of wicked witches, that one.

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But that’s what Manga Art is all about.  You whistle away the darkness one drawing at a time.  And there’s plenty of darkness to whistle away anymore, isn’t there?  What with Tronald Dump taking on the NFL over the American Flag and National Anthem, Tronald Dump taking on Jim Kong Oon in an insult war backed up by ICBMs, and Congress busily trying to take away all our access to health care.  (I know I misspelled some names there, but I am tired of talking about that guy that Dorothy told me I should call the “orange-faced poop sack.”  No, Dorothy, I can’t call him that.  Using language like that robs my head of its helium.)  So, what do I do now about the state of the world?  Well, here is the Manga Art I drew last night.

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Catgirl and White-haired Snow White with a ping pong ball in her mouth.

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Irreverence

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It is a difficult thing to be an atheist who believes in God.  Sometimes it takes an oxymoron to find the Truth.  And you often have to go heavily on the “moron” portion of the word.

The thing I find most distressing about faith is the fact that those who have it are absolutely convinced that if you don’t agree with them and whatever book of fairy tales they believe in and interpret for you, then you are not a True Believer and you do not have real Faith.

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I remember being told by a Mormon girl in one of my classes that I was her all-time favorite teacher, but she was deeply distressed that, because of my religion (I professed to be a Jehovah’s Witness at the time) I was doomed to burn in Hell forever.

Hey, I was raised in Iowa.  I have experienced minus 100 degree Fahrenheit windchill.  I am among those who think a nice warm afterlife wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing.

But I am no longer actually a Jehovah’s Witness.  So I guess that helps with the whole Hell-burning thing.  The Witnesses are a religion that claims to understand the Bible is full of metaphorical truth, and yet insist that it is literally true.  They don’t believe in Hell, which, honestly, is not actually mentioned or explained in the Bible as we have it now.  But they do believe your prospects for eternal life on a paradise Earth are totally contingent on knocking on doors and telling other people that they must believe what you believe or experience eternal destruction.  I have stopped being an active Witness and knocking on doors because I got old and sick, and all the caring brothers and sisters in the congregation stopped coming around to visit because number one son joined the Marines, and the military is somehow evil hoodoo that cancels out any good you have done in the past.  Being a Jehovah’s Witness was really hard work with all the meetings (5 per week), Bible reading (I have read the entire Bible two and a half times), door-knocking, and praying, and you apparently can lose it all for saying, thinking, or doing one wrong thing.

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According to the Baptist preachers, Jehovah’s Witness elders, religious zealots, and other opinionated religious people I have known and dealt with in my life, if I do not believe what they believe and agree with them in every detail, then I do not know God and am therefore an atheist.  So, okay, I guess I am.   If I have to be an atheist to believe whole-heartedly that everyone is entitled to sincerely believe whatever the hell they want to believe, then I’ll wear that label.

On a personal note, my favorite verse of the Bible has always been 1 John 4:8,  “He that does not love has not come to know God, because God is love.”  That is why I claim to be an atheist who believes in God.  I know love.  I love all men, women, children, animals, sunrises, artwork, paintings of angels by Bouguereau… everything that is.  And I even love you if you exercise your freedom to tell me, “Your ideas are totally wrong, and you are going to burn in Hell, Mickey, you bad guy, you!”  Mark Twain always said, “I would choose Heaven for climate, but I would prefer Hell for company.”  I am not going to worry about it.  I will be in good company.  Some things are just bigger than me.  And trying to control things like that is nonsense. Sorta like this post.

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Lazy Sunday Silliness

mr8kecd

Imagination is always the place I go in times of trouble.  I have a part of my silly old brain devoted to dancing the cartoon dance of the dundering doofus.  It has to be there that I flee to and hide because problems and mistakes and guilt and pessimism are constantly building un-funny tiger-traps of gloom for me to rot at the bottom of.  You combat the darkness with bright light.  You combat hatred with love.  You combat unhappiness with silly cartoonish imaginings.  Well… maybe you don’t.  But I do.

calvin-and-hobbes

When reading the Sunday funnies in the newspaper on lazy Sunday afternoons, I spent years admiring Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes for its artistry and imaginative humor, believing it was about a kid who actually had a pet talking tiger.  I didn’t get the notion that Hobbes was actually a toy tiger for the longest time.  That’s because it was basically the story of my own boyhood.  I had a stuffed tiger when I was small. He talked.  He went on adventures with me.  And he talked me into breaking stuff and getting into trouble with Mom and Dad. It was absolutely realistic to me.

Dinosaurs

I have always lived in my imagination.  Few people see the world the way I view it.  I have at least four imaginary children to go along with the three that everybody insists are real.  There’s Radasha, the boy faun, my novel characters Tim Kellogg and Valerie Clarke, and the ghost dog that lurks around the house, especially at night.  That plus Dorin, Henry, and the Princess (the three fake names that I use in this blog for my three real children).

calvin-hobbes-art-before-commerce-1050x500

Have you noticed how Watterson’s water-color backgrounds fade into white nothingness the way daydreams do?  Calvin and Hobbes were always a cartoon about turning the unreal into the real, turning ideas upside down and looking at them through the filter-glasses of Spaceman Spiff.

Spaceman-Spiff

Unique and wonderful solutions to life’s problems can come about that way.  I mean, I can’t actually use a bloggular raygun to vaporize city pool inspectors, but I can put ideas together in unusual ways to overcome challenges.  I almost got the pool running again by problem-solving and repairing cracks myself.

 

So, I am now facing the tasks of working out a chapter 13 bankruptcy and having a swimming pool removed.  The Princess will need to be driven to and from school each day.  I will need to help Henry find another after-school job.  And the cool thing is, my imaginary friends will all be along for the ride.  Thank you, Calvin.  Thank you, Hobbes.  You made it all possible.  So, please, keep dancing the dance of the dundering doofus.

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Sculpture Anatomy

Here is a collage that represents one of my hoarding-disorder collecting diseases enabled by the internet.  The rules for this collection are basically;

  1. Only photographs.
  2. Only human bodies, or people parts.
  3. Only artistically created people parts made of non-people stuff.
  4. Naked is not only allowed, but preferred.539637_414849215220540_1199730384_n
  5. 988544_991166777562976_6597368353492715309_n

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    1. This is a porcelain doll, not a real girl… just so you know I didn’t break any rules.
  7. david_1

    The point is, art is a depiction of us.  No matter how you create it, what it visually portrays is a reflection, like the one in the bathroom mirror every morning.  Beautiful, grotesque, sexy, repulsive, adorable, or disturbing… it is who we are.  The point is also, it allows me to point, click, and save and create a collection that I don’t have to hide from my wife.  Because, well, you know… it’s art.

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Bil Baird, Master of Marionettes

He was born William Britton “Bil” Baird in Nebraska during the Summer of 1904, but he was raised as a boy in Mason City, Iowa, the same city I was born in during the 1950s. So, he, like me, was an Iowa boy. You probably know his work if you’ve ever seen “The Sound of Music” musical movie starring Julie Andrews. The puppets above were featured in that movie during the “Lonely Goatherd” song.

Bil became puppet-crazy at the age of 8 when his father built him his first marionette. The string puppets pictured above are from a Bil Baird production of “The Wizard of Oz.” The growing television industry was a boon to Bil. I remember most vividly his TV production of “Peter and the Wolf.”

Here the Bremen Town Musicians trick me into making a selfie with them as I take the photo through the glass in the Hanford MacNider Museum in Mason City, Iowa. All of the photos in this post were taken by me at that location.
In 1950, Bil and producer Yul Brenner developed the TV show, “Life with Snarky Parker.” This was a spoof western-genre show like those popular on TV at the time where Snarky, the puppet, partially obscured by the reflection of the card display in the glass, had silly and funny cowboy adventures… possibly inspiring the character of Woody in the Pixar movie “Toy Story.”

Many of Baird’s puppets were made specifically for his work in TV advertisements and educational TV.

Flying monkeys and the wicked witch from Oz.

Baird’s distinctive style of marionettes was a common feature on TV, in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and in Educational Films throughout the ’50s and ’60s, the height of his popularity. And he continued to perform in World’s Fairs, theme parks, and special engagements until his death in 1987. Most of his puppets were sold at auction in 1988, that is how these puppets found their way into his hometown art museum. His son Peter continued working the puppet troupe with new puppets until his own death in 2004.

I owe a debt to Bil Baird, inspiring my own creativity and artwork. And I suspect the creators of the Muppets, Pixar movies, and puppeteers everywhere can say the same.

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Lazy Sunday Silliness

mr8kecd

Imagination is always the place I go in times of trouble.  I have a part of my silly old brain devoted to dancing the cartoon dance of the dundering doofus.  It has to be there that I flee to and hide because problems and mistakes and guilt and pessimism are constantly building un-funny tiger-traps of gloom for me to rot at the bottom of.  You combat the darkness with bright light.  You combat hatred with love.  You combat unhappiness with silly cartoonish imaginings.  Well… maybe you don’t.  But I do.

calvin-and-hobbes

When reading the Sunday funnies in the newspaper on lazy Sunday afternoons, I spent years admiring Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes for its artistry and imaginative humor, believing it was about a kid who actually had a pet talking tiger.  I didn’t get the notion that Hobbes was actually a toy tiger for the longest time.  That’s because it was basically the story of my own boyhood.  I had a stuffed tiger when I was small. He talked.  He went on adventures with me.  And he talked me into breaking stuff and getting into trouble with Mom and Dad. It was absolutely realistic to me.

Dinosaurs

I have always lived in my imagination.  Few people see the world the way I view it.  I have at least four imaginary children to go along with the three that everybody insists are real.  There’s Radasha, the boy faun, my novel characters Tim Kellogg and Valerie Clarke, and the ghost dog that lurks around the house, especially at night.  That plus Dorin, Henry, and the Princess (the three fake names that I use in this blog for my three real children).

calvin-hobbes-art-before-commerce-1050x500

Have you noticed how Watterson’s water-color backgrounds fade into white nothingness the way daydreams do?  Calvin and Hobbes were always a cartoon about turning the unreal into the real, turning ideas upside down and looking at them through the filter-glasses of Spaceman Spiff.

Spaceman-Spiff

Unique and wonderful solutions to life’s problems can come about that way.  I mean, I can’t actually use a bloggular raygun to vaporize city pool inspectors, but I can put ideas together in unusual ways to overcome challenges.  I almost got the pool running again by problem-solving and repairing cracks myself.

 

So, I am now facing the tasks of working out a chapter 13 bankruptcy and having a swimming pool removed.  The Princess will need to be driven to and from school each day.  I will need to help Henry find another after-school job.  And the cool thing is, my imaginary friends will all be along for the ride.  Thank you, Calvin.  Thank you, Hobbes.  You made it all possible.  So, please, keep dancing the dance of the dundering doofus.

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Filed under artists I admire, autobiography, cartoons, feeling sorry for myself, humor, imagination, strange and wonderful ideas about life