Fine Cartoon Art

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Archive for the ‘artists’ Category

What I’m Reading Now if Now Were Two Years Ago

Posted by jtebeau on September 15, 2012

Paul Madonna’s fabulous book

I picked up Paul Madonna’s All Over Coffee a couple years back during a visit to San Francisco. Bought it at the fabled City Lights Bookstore in fact, right there on Columbus Avenue in North Beach. Historic store, historic neighborhood.

Madonna’s brush and pen and ink work is revelatory. I’ve never seen anyone capture both the subtleties and the power of light so well USING ONLY BLACK AND WHITE FOR PETE’S SAKE. How does he do it? Practice. And a great eye. And practice. He describes his learning process (and much more) in the book. I appreciate an artist who shares his process. It’s both encouraging (because since he wasn’t always that great, there may be hope for us mortals) and enlightening (ahh… so THAT’S how he did it!).

Paul Madonna © 2007

This book is a collection of work Paul did for the San Francisco Chronicle. Ostensibly, it’s a comic strip in which disembodied voices provide text to go with gorgeously rendered scenes of San Francisco, arguably the most scenic city in the U.S.

Madonna nails the feeling of San Fran, sometimes with just a clipped view between buildings, or the very top gables of an unmistakeably San Franciscan Edwardian mansion. It’s absolutely uncanny how good he is. All Over Coffee. Check it out.

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Jaime Hernandez: One Helluva Fine Cartoon Artist

Posted by jtebeau on May 1, 2012

When you feel like you know a cartoon character, not just due to solid dialogue, but also due to little, visual things, like the way they hold their cigarette and shift their weight with their moods, then the cartoonist has done his job well. The cartoonist has transcended the medium of paper and pen and ink and created somebody bordering on real and meaningful. Jaime Hernandez has been doing that for years in “Love and Rockets,” and I’ve only recently been learning about him, thanks to this book.

Author Todd Hignite does an admirable job of fleshing out both Jaime and his recurring characters that will please longtime readers (and lookers… reader-lookers. This is comics, after all) as well as newbies like me. It came out a couple of years ago, published by the folks at Abrams Comicarts, but it’s new to me.

I picked this up at the good old Brooklyn Public Library (a tip o’ the cap to Andrew Carnegie, my favorite plutocrat), and have just been digging the bejesus out of it. It makes me want to do better work, and devote more time to art.

Thank you Mr. Hignite, and thank you Mr. Hernandez. Nice work, gentlemen.

Thanks for all the libarries!

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Crumb, the Next Generation: Sophie’s Show Opens in NYC

Posted by jtebeau on November 15, 2010

Sophie Crumb’s first solo art show opened this month at DCKT Contemporary here in Manhattan. I went with Mike “Art in Brooklyn” Sorgatz and we took it in. I was curious to see what this young woman was doing artistically, the daughter of two well-known neurotic artists, and I was particularly motivated because I felt I knew her since she was a little girl. By gad, her dad Robert has been documenting the [actually fascinating] minutiae of her life (as well as everything in HIS life) through his cartoons for decades now. On the verge of 30, little Sophie (love that name; the goddessness of it and all) is all growed up. I wanted to see what she was producing.


Sophie at nine, by Robert & Aline



"Sophie Manson" by Sophie herself

Her work is good. She’s got skills, especially in the ink-and-watercolor department, something I really admire. She comments on life’s gruesome and absurd truthiness, not unlike her folks. The stuff of hers that I saw was less autobiographical, though – more akin to the paintings her uncle Maxon did. An outsider looking in, like Tocqueville or Magaret Mead.


The scene at the opening was good. A lively mix of odd comic geeks and LES/Bushwick hipster-artist types. Bottles of Miller on ice. Many pieces sold. Go get ’em Soph’.


Uncle Max and an original oil of his

"La Vraie Vie Des People" by Sophie (2010)

"Snooki Gets Booky" by Sophie (2010)

Dad Robert (in cap) at Sophie's opening (courtesy Slum Goddess)

The show runs till December 30, 2010 at DCKT Contemporary in Manhattan.

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Words? Lynd Ward Didn’ Need No Steenkin’ WORDS!

Posted by jtebeau on October 18, 2010

Lynd Ward from "Gods' Man"

I trucked on up to the Whitney Museum one day last spring. Made a special trip of it, too. It’s not every day I amble up the toniest precincts of Madison Avenue, winder-shoppin’ in my jeans and rope-belt. I like the Whitney (all American art, all the time!), and wanted to see what they had going that week. Always there will be some Hopper, and that’s worth the trip alone.

Anyway, it was closed. But NOT the GIFT SHOP! So I did a little book browsing, which, if you’re into that sort of thing, can be about as good as spending a couple of hours at a museum.

I happened upon a book about “wordless novels,” a trend in publishing from the first half of the 20th century. They were usually illustrated in a classic woodcut style and often told a story of the Common Man. Lots of melodrama, class inequity, despair, revelation, redemption, etc. A friend had recently given me two books by one of the featured artists, Lynd Ward (1905 – 1985), who illustrated a couple hundred books in his day, winning a Caldecott Medal for children’s book illustration in 1953.

His book Gods’ Man is mesmerizing, the tale of artistic integrity and the price paid to achieve it. If you look at no other work by Ward, check that one out at least.

from "Gods' Man"


So there’s a little about Mr. Ward for you. I’m inspired to write this post due to a new collection of Ward’s work released this month by the Library of America and edited by Art Spiegelman. The Times ran an excellent review of the two-volume set by Steven Heller, and it inspired me to do this little write up on Ward and re-read Gods’ Man. Excuse me: re-look.

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Wayne Thiebaud: This Week’s Fine Cartoon Artist

Posted by jtebeau on October 11, 2010


"Lemon Cake" (1964) by Wayne Thiebaud


I like looking at Wayne Thiebaud‘s paintings. I mean, seriously – how could you not? The colors are vibrant as the sun shining into a Laguna Beach bakery window at 10 a.m. And the subject matter is often dessert. What’s not to like?

But one time someone said to me, “What is there to his work? What’s it ABOUT?” Well, it’s about still-lifes. And light. And beaches. And peace.

His colors are hyper-real. His subjects are outlined, and often “haloed” in warm tones. Thiebaud’s art is rooted in the fundamentals of cartooning: solid composition, strong lines and bold colors. And that makes sense when you know his back-story.

Thiebaud grew up out west and in his teens briefly worked at the Disney studios. In the Army he drew a comic strip for the Sacramento base newspaper. He also worked as a cartoonist for the Rexall Drug Company in Los Angeles. He wound up teaching art at the little UC campus in Davis, CA, about as far from the Aht World as you could be. This allowed him to do his thing, which was basically representational pop art. His signature maneuver is slathering the paint onto the canvas like frosting (which is at times only fitting), creating what former student and current Director of the Yale University Art Gallery Jock Reynolds calls “the most tactile and sensuous visual compositions imaginable.”

That’s what it’s about, my friend. And Mr. Thiebaud’s still doing it, painting twice a day at age 90.


"Bakery Case" by Wayne Thiebaud



"Fields and Furrows" by Wayne Thiebaud


The New York Times ran a nice piece about him recently. Another nice piece:


"Lemon Meringue Pie" by W. Thiebaud


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In New York, It Heats Up in the Fall

Posted by jtebeau on October 5, 2010

... and a tip o' the hat to Bruegel the Elder

Something about the energy of fall…. Why is it that when nature starts shutting down, we humans start revving up? Maybe it’s a leftover, Pavlovian reaction to the bounty of the harvest or some inherent understanding that we only have a handful of perfect days left before The Big Sleep of winter nails us indoors for a few months. We make the most of it, like the peasants in those Bruegel paintings going bananas at their rowdy little peasant parties. Bruegel – now there’s a fine cartoon artist, but not now, not now….

That autumn buzz goes back to childhood. School would start up, Halloween was just around the corner, and of course (perhaps most importantly), THE NEW TV SEASON STARTED. I believe it was Albert Brooks who said television was like heroin when you were a kid. Seemed that way to me, I guess, though I wouldn’t know for sure. I think I literally did convulse if the cable went out, having conniption fits if I missed an episode of “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” or “Dusty’s Trail.” You can understand. I was a visual kid. Who didn’t play football.

And in New York, fall is When Everything Starts Happening Again, after, it’s implied, three months of Nothing Important Going On. Actually, except for the vomit-sauna effect of certain special streets and a forced reliance on wicked, wicked air conditioning, I sort of dig summer in NYC, provided I know that I have the option to split. It’s not so crowded and there’s actually plenty to do. It’s just really, really farging hot und shticky while you’re doing it. But there’s stuff to do. In the fall though…. Ahh, that’s when the real action goes down. Like art openings.

Which brings me to the point: this week at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, three-count-em-three shows open, with a great big reception tonight from 7:30 to 9:00 tonight: Tuesday the 5th. MoCCA is celebrating the work of three excellent artists, who have all contributed admirably to the great American art form that is cartooning: Al Jaffee, father of the Mad Fold-In and “snappy answers to stupid questions,” Liza Donnelly of New Yorker fame and underground comix kahuna Denis Kitchen, a pioneer of the scene (daddy-o) and founder of the venerable Kitchen Sink Press.




All three exhibits run through January 30 of 2011, so there’s plenty of time to check them out. I recommend stopping by the opening tonight, though. It’s autumn. It’s on. And nothing happens after the holidays. You know that.

And for your nostalgic, boob-tube enjoyment:

Darren McGavin: The Man.

And if you remember this one, you get a Coke….

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Justin Bua: Fine Cartoon Artist of the Week

Posted by jtebeau on September 19, 2010

“Jazz Trio” by Justin Bua

In the mid-90s I drove a van out to California and ended up moving into the top floor of a large, drafty Victorian house in San Francisco that had made it through two major earthquakes and a fire. She was a survivor, and she swayed when the damp west wind screamed over the hill at Alamo Square, blasting down Grove Street and boom, smack into the side of 640 Laguna: Ol’ Wobbly. My room was large, and I took full advantage of all that wall space by letting my inner 13-year old decorate it as he saw fit. That meant posters, baby, and plenty of ’em.

San Francisco is the legendary home of the “rock poster” movement of the 1960s and 70s, and I figured I’d get my mitts on a few of those. Reprints, yes, but the originals were pretty pricey, so I kept looking. At one of the 1,500 stores with posters on Haight Street (lots of mushroom posters, people, LOTS of mushroom posters) I found something that knocked me out: a collection by an artist I’d never seen before. This alone was unusual.

I look at art, illustrations, cartoons and all types of graphic design constantly. CONSTANTLY. I soak it up, noticing it all even when I’m not paying attention. For something to catch my eye, overloaded as it is like Mr. Creosote in the Monty Python flick just before he eats the dessert wafer, well… a poster would have to be pretty good. These posters were excellent. The composition, the colors, the mood, even the paper they were printed on – everything was top-notch. I was delighted. I was mesmerized. I had to have one. Fortunately they were in my price range, which was just about big enough to squeeze a gnat through in those days. Man, it was a drag being that broke. The upside was having plenty of free time and all those BYO parties with other budget-constricted neo-bohemian types, but man…. Being broke in a city that swank could be a bummer. The best of times/worst of times, fer sher.

Anyway, I got the poster, and savored the purchase. “Jazz Trio” by Justin Bua. It called to me partly because I had jazz trio on the brain. My roommates and I were into seeing the Charlie Hunter Trio play in SF around that time Yes, they played The Jazz. In those days you could catch them all the time at Cafe du Nord on Market Street for about $5. A deal, to be sure. Plus, we could walk there. Frugal entertainment, I love ya!

Bua is solidly based in the cartoon idiom, and given the formidable quality of his work and of the production of the poster, it felt like fine art to me. It was lyrical, moody and surprised me with its originality and wit. Bua’s an “urban artist.” I know, I know. I don’t like the moniker either, but he comes out of the hip-hop tradition of art. Urban? Have it your way, Dude. In the old days art which affectionately featured city folks was called the Ash Can School. Bua seems influenced by guys like Ernie Barnes, Archibald Motley, Jr., and I’d say a little Thomas Hart Benton too, both accepted as fine artists. The lyrical, exaggerated figures, the rich colors, the obvious fascination with people and what they do: Bua, Benton and Motley all the way.

Check out these dance scenes, one by each artist, and you’ll see what I mean.

“The Twist” by Thomas Hart Benton

"Nightlife" by Archibald Motley

“Nightlife” by Archibald Motley

“Sugar Shack” by Ernie Barnes

“1981” by Justin Bua

Take a look at more of Bua’s work here. And that poster? I’ve still got it rolled up and stored away, ready to be tacked up again in my man cave. Or should I say manchild cave, covered in posters, to be sure.

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He Told It Like It Was. Comics Giant Harvey Pekar Dead at 70.

Posted by jtebeau on July 12, 2010

For decades he lifted the mundane nature of everyday life to the realm of art, getting some of comics’ heaviest hitters to help him capture the details of life in Cleveland. His blunt honesty offers comparison to great art. From the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s obit by Joanna Connors: “underneath his persona of aggravated, disaffected file clerk, he was an erudite book and jazz critic, and a writer of short stories that many observers compared to Chekhov, despite their comic-book form.” Chekhov. That’s pretty good company. That’s fine cartoon art, it is.

So long, Harvey. You’re being filed away now, but not forgotten.

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Fine (Animated) Cartoon Art… for Free

Posted by jtebeau on July 6, 2010

A lot of times when I mention “fine cartoon art” or even just “cartoon art”, people immediately think of animation. “Cartoon” for many people = Disney or Bugs Bunny or Pixar. But that’s not only what it means. Often I mean comic art (comic strips, etc.) or painting inspired by comic art.

Now, Nina Paley‘s been right there at the nexus of cartoon art and fine art for years. Her pen and ink creations “Nina’s Adventures”, “Fluff” and “The Hots” are personal, smart and well executed, with tight writing and drawing (a rarity). Her animated opus “Sita Sings the Blues” is a splendor to behold and puts her solidly in the other world of cartooning… you know: the moving kind. Sita has already traveled to film festivals around the world, making a splash at the Tribeca Film Festival here in New York. It’s won praise, awards, and reverent fans. Why? Because it’s visionary, honest, and extraordinarily well-executed. It’s (animated!) cartoon art at its finest. And you can see it for free here. In fact, you can show it for free. And if you’re a theater, you just might want to do that. Check out this rave review from Ebert.

Ms. Paley is a Free Culture activist. Her “first concern is Art, and Art has no life if people can’t share it.”

Says Paley:

“I hereby give Sita Sings the Blues to you. Like all culture, it belongs to you already, but I am making it explicit with a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License. Please distribute, copy, share, archive, and show Sita Sings the Blues. From the shared culture it came, and back into the shared culture it goes.”

Nina in NYC's West Village last year

She’s putting her art into the public pool. Take a dip.

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Deee-licious: Wayne Thiebaud

Posted by jtebeau on March 26, 2010

Cake Window by Wayne Thiebaud

When I say “fine cartoon art”, in the most basic sense I’m talking about art imbued with a cartoon sensibility that could (or should) actually hold its own in a museum. Art that you ‘get’ immediately. It says what it came to say in five seconds. You can spend more time with these pieces, perhaps, and get more out of them and appreciate the artist’s skill as a painter, but they state their intention quickly, like a good cartoon.

Take Norman Rockwell. Though a realist, his pieces were like one-panel cartoons. Then had a message to get across quickly, as you scanned the magazine rack. He told a story (some deeper, some wittier) with one picture.

Others, like Crumb, are strictly cartoonists, whose work has transcended the genre and pulled it up into the world of fine art. Witness the museum shows he’s had in Europe, and increasingly (such as the Carnegie exhibition a few years ago) in the U.S., too.

Then others are something a little different. They paint like cartoonists draw (unlike Rockwell, who generally painted in a realist manner): broadly, colorfully, playfully – but their work is pretty universally considered “fine art”. Think of Lichtenstein, Keith Haring and Wayne Thiebaud. This is what I mostly think of when I think Fine Cartoon Art. Even Picasso went here from time to time. And certainly Toulouse-Lautrec, Thomas Hart Benton and today’s Lowbrow artists like Glenn Barr and Robert Williams. Look for those two to end up in “legit” museums more and more, especially the latter, on the heels of the Whitney Biennial.

I like Thiebaud for his straight-forward colors and his graphic design skills. Like Rockwell, he kills on the newsstands. His New Yorker covers are gorgeous. When people say they don’t “get” his work, I’m surprised. What’s there to get about a still life? They’ve been considered fine art for centuries. Thiebaud continues that tradition with the vibrant, playful colors and bold lines of a cartoonist. This is why I consider him to be the epitome of Fine Cartoon Art.

If you’re ever in New York or San Francisco, check out his work for yourself at the galleries run by his son, Paul.

"Three Machines" © Wayne Thiebaud

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