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March 01, 2007

Apatoff on Illustration

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

We Blowhards might not be jacks (some might prefer "jerks") of all trades, but each of us covers more than one waterfront (man, does that last phrase ever date me!).

Michael's main beats include movies, book & other media biz, literature, architecture, immigration news and The New York Scene. Among other subjects he's been known to write about are economics, yoga and even sex.

His college chum Friedrich specializes in history -- art history in particular -- yet from time to time drops in with solid essays on topics that seem out of synch with the serious persona he often projects here: an article featuring girlie pin-up artist Gil Elvgren comes to mind.

And me? Just the usual adolescent drivel about cars and planes along with an interminable series of articles about painters no one with conventional college art-historical knowledge ever heard of.

Sometimes I even write about the illustration sub-field of commercial art. I'm very much interested in the subject and really ought to write about it more.

But why should I bother when you can always check out David Apatoff's Illustration Art blog. That's because David specializes, unlike we eternal amateurs and arts buffs.

As I write this, David's latest post deals with comic book artists who, in his judgment, came up a bit short in the skills department yet produced stuff he finds enjoyable. He comments:

I find it is much easier to accept mediocre art when it is unpretentious. Artists such as [Wallace] Wood and [Will] Eisner toiled for decades pouring creativity onto cheap pulp paper. They were under appreciated and underpaid. By contrast, their modern counterparts found early fame and are lauded in deluxe coffee table books from the Smithsonian Institution filled with gushing self-congratulatory prose about how the new generation has elevated the medium...

I also like Wood and Eisner and rate their talent higher than David does (Eisner took drawing courses from George Bridgman, after all, and some of it seemed to rub off on him). Plus remember that these guys were cranking out reams of comics, for heaven's sake, and can't fairly be compared to "pure" illustrators such as John LaGatta or Coby Whitmore -- and Apatoff does not make any such explicit comparison. BTW, I'm inclined to agree with the thrust of the above quote.

Another article takes on The New York Times' suddend embrace of comics. After listing a number of talented artists the Times ignored in past decades, he observes:

The Times seems to have been duped by the currently fashionable "I'm-so-smart-I don't-have-to-draw-well" genre. Many popular comic artists explain that the quality of their drawings is not important except to move the narrative forward. To me, such an art form is closer to typography than comic art. It shrinks from the potential of a combined words-and-pictures medium.

Har! Great fun! As one great blogger sage puts it, read the whole thing.



posted by Donald at March 1, 2007


"Many popular comic artists explain that the quality of their drawings is not important except to move the narrative forward."

For an example of a comic artist for whom the art is entirely subsidiary to the story, and whose work I find excellent, see Rich Burlew's Order of the Stick.

(It probably won't make much sense unless you play D&D, but it's quite popular among those of us who do.)

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on March 2, 2007 1:28 PM

Hello, first time posting here, came via gnxp.
Reading the cited postings on modern comics what seems to get me is the sense of a generation gap. While I'm not too into Chris Ware (too twee and hipsterish) or Art Spiegelman (too filled with pompous pomo crap left over from the 60s and 70s) I'm an avid collector of modern small press comics. I agree that the craft and draftsmanship is nowhere near what it used to be in the past, much of which can be linked to the decline in art education in modern times, still when purged of excessive naval gazing and flavors of the moment, many gems can be found.

I'm particular fond of ones that take a lot of cues from the illustrations of children's books from the 70s and 80s. Granted, I think many of the best artist/writers are not the ones lauded in the pages of art columns in papers.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on March 2, 2007 2:45 PM

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