Thursday, November 18, 2010

What's My Verb?

Tomorrow I head over to the Modern Graphic History Library with my juniors to look at periodical illustration. We're doing so as background to the Two-Color Figurative Suite project. A wonderful, challenging problem. How do you arrange figures to tell a story?

On Monday we cleared out a big space in the room and "directed" scenes with students as actors: a sentry stopping would-be pedestrians; two women at a bar, one of them tipsy and flirting with the barkeep, the other trying to get her out of there; a trial and a jury box. We spent a lot of time talking about verbs. Every character gets a verb. Forget adjectives. What are each of them trying to do? (communicate interest in him; hustle her out; get her number)

Students, here is the Halloween Party illustration (and Freudian bonanza) I mentioned the other day.

Check out this post for reproductions and some of the cultural background on midcentury periodical illustration, most of it for women's magazines. These illustrators became experts at narrative built from arrangements of figures. And why not? They did it week in and week out, for good money, too. But Al Parker added a level of intelligence and finish that few others could.

Images: Al Parker, Government Girl, goauche on board in the collection of the Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University (and courtesy of Kit and Donna Parker), Ladies Home Journal, 1943); Al Parker, "Frankenbunny" (or so I call it), 1960.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Alex Eben Meyer

As a teacher, one of my favorite experiences is the discovery of great work by former students, especially when encountered through the random bounces of consumerdom. Today I opened my copy of the New York Times to discover a great half page illustration by Alex Eben Meyer in the Dining Section. Alex graduated from the Illustration Program at Washington University in the late 90s, when I was transitioning from the Core program, which I'd been hired to lead on my way into the institution. Alex was a student of Jeff Pike's, primarily; I taught a methods studio for seniors in that first year, which methinks was 97-98, and worked with him then. Anyway, I claim no credit, but it sure brightened my day. Thanks, Alex!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Stories & Artifacts

I have been exploring ways to dovetail the documentary methodology I've been using for the past several years with concept-driven projects. The other day I mentioned that Dan Zettwoch's Famous Fictional show provided an opportunity.

Here are several spreads from an upcoming zine/serial project I'm working on that I devoted to Dan's show, two an Old MacDonald riff and one (at the top of this post) self-evidently a Simple Simon thing. The Simple Simon sources are a Botero sculpture in Clayton, Missouri, near our old condo and the Federhofer Bakery sign on Gravois in St. Louis, a subject I worked with once before. The critters directly above were taken from the 2nd Presbyterian nursery/play area for children, which I work in every fourth Sunday (yes, I'll take them back!). All, that is, except the Chinese Allosaur, which is a remnant of our boys' childhoods. Even the goofy farm picture with the horse from the earlier post was seen, on a reference drive north and west of St. Louis a month or so ago.

I posted a version of this awhile ago, but reworked the color and added the vehicles in the background to establish the space more effectively.

Comment welcome–I'm pumped about these things, but curious about how they come across.

Yellow Kids and Anonymity

Richard Felton Outcault (1863-1928; published as R.F.) is a major figure in the history of American cartooning as well as a commerical innovator, specifically in the development of licensing of visual properties.

Outcault created the extravagantly illustrated feature Hogan’s Alley in 1895 for the New York World. The lead character of the feature was “the Yellow Kid,” otherwise known as Mickey Dugan, an Irish tenement dweller. (There is much to say about the feature itself, but space will not permit today.) Outcault was hired away from Joseph Pulitzer’s World to join Hearst’s New York Journal, where the feature was retitled The Yellow Kid (1896-1898). The Journal's version was drawn by George Luks, a future member of the Ashcan School and confederate of William Glackens, who also worked for the papers and would go on to prominence as a member of The Eight.

For his part, Outcault went on to produce Buster Brown (1902-1910). Having been burned by copyright restrictions from realizing licensing income from the Kid, Outcault copyrighted Buster Brown before the feature ever appeared in print, and went on to create licensing deals for his character in a wide variety of product categories. The one we remember today is Buster Brown shoes (manufactured by the Brown Shoe Company, which was owned by a real and not fictional Brown).

The Yellow Kid is considered an important starting point for the development of American comics, though its previously attributed status as the first real comic strip has been disputed by recent scholarship.

The Yellow Kid also gave his name to yellow journalism.

All of which is background to the following observation. I have spent the last several days in Washington D.C. doing research on an exhibition several years in the future. Spent Friday in the Library of Congress looking at Civil War drawings (and a few of William Glackens' very striking Spanish American War drawings from on location in Cuba). Subsequently I went with a colleague to the Newseum, a pulsating temple of infotainment which did not much satisfy this visitor.

I documented a thing or two with my iPhone.

On the fifth level there is an overwhelming accretion and arrangment of historical items and placards which aspire to tell the history of the news business. While the objects are interesting, they are so numerous and tacked-together that an orderly absorption of their content does not seem possible.

The Yellow Kid makes several appearances among this mish-mash. But scandalously, R.F. Outcault's is never mentioned! Nor, for that matter, is George Luks! Why? Mind you that the heroic reporters and photographers are credited. So if the articles don't write themselves, and the photographs don't orchestrate their own existence, why suggest illustrations are not made by actual persons with names and histories?

From this we learn yet again that ignorance of functional and commercial traditions of image-making are absolutely standard, even among well-educated people. Art is made by individuals; illustrations and cartoons are made by "the culture." Galls the hell out of me. More reason to continue to bang away on the limitations of art history, and to advocate for alternative, parallel histories of visual culture.

Image: R.F. Outcault, "What they did to the Dogcatcher in Hogan's Alley," New York World, September 20, 1896. Published shortly before Hearst hired him away from Pulitzer in October of that year.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Old Macdonald Had a Show

The indefatigable Dan Zettwoch is at it again. His third Famous Fictional show opens tonight at the Mad Art Gallery in St. Louis. This one required people to create work that addressed two characters: one from poetry, and one from song. I chose Old MacDonald and Simple Simon, on an experimental basis: could I apply the documentary methodology I've been using to solve such a problem? More soon...