I thought I’d use this post to talk about a few cartoonists whose art I admire. No, I’m not going to dedicate the entire post to Bill Watterson. I grew up copying Calvin and Hobbes comics (I can still draw a pretty good Hobbes). I also copied FoxTrot, Garfield (at the very beginning of my love of comics), and once I bought a “How to Draw The Simpsons” book that I still own. The cartoonists here all have styles very different from mine, and that’s one of the reasons I like them so much. I could never do what they do. So here they are, in no particular order:
Mike Mignola. One would not assume, from reading my comics, that I would include a cartoonist best known for a book called Hellboy. Mignola’s art is so graphic, so well-balanced, that I find myself just looking at the panels instead of reading the story. That’s not to say I don’t like the story; it’s just that the drawings are so good, I want to spend time looking at them. He draws gothic architecture very well. A lot of old, broken-down stone buildings litter his world. He would make a great stain-glass artist, I imagine. His characters look cut from the same rock as his buildings. He makes liberal use of black ink, increasing the shadows and giving the stories a feel of the macabre. Glance at one of his pages, and you’ll feel shivers. Increasing the creepiness factor is his specialties: monsters and skulls. A friend of mine in high school loved drawing skulls, and was good at it. His style was sketchier, more spidery. Mignola’s skulls are blocky. I admire someone who draws a good skull – one that looks different from the rest. People are so used to seeing skulls in horror comics, TV, and movies. You have to do a lot to make your skulls stand out in the crowd (heh – crowd of skulls). I’d love to see Mignola do either a book of Grimm’s folk tales or Victorian ghost stories. Good bedtime reading…
Edward Gorey. Gorey draws scary things, as well, but in a completely different way. If you’re curious, I am drawn to artists who can draw scary things with restraint. I don’t really go for the straight-up gorefest. It’s so obvious. To me, scary things are scary because they are hidden or implied. Such is the case with Edward Gorey He is almost British in his restraint. I was first introduced to Edward Gorey through his tiny book, The Gashlycrumb Tinies. It’s an alphabet book, and each letter is the first letter in the name of a child who has died in some novel manner. My favorite: N is for Neville, who dies of ennui.
Gorey’s style has a delicate line quality. He draws very innocent-looking children, and his monsters are not always the meat-eating kind (see: The Doubtful Guest, about a terrible houseguest). He is very meticulous. His books are full of repeating patterns, primarily seen as wallpaper, or on the many knick-knacks inside the characters’ houses. His drawing style works perfectly for his often dark subject matter. He is humorous and scary simultaneously; his light touch makes his pairing work.
Edward Gorey died a few years ago. I remember reading an interview with him, in which he expressed consternation that he couldn’t be more productive. He had written so many stories, but it was the art that took so long. Looking at his books, you can see why. There is such wonderful detail to be found in each panel.
Glen Baxter. There might be a pattern emerging here. These three cartoonists all have a style that seems old fashioned in a way. They don’t look inspired by art from a generation ago – they look much older. In that sense, Glen Baxter has the most recent style so far. His drawings resemble classic Western comics from the 1940’s and 50’s, with maybe some 50’s magazine ads thrown in. There is no mistaking a Baxter comic. It is a bizarre juxtaposition of modern humor with that period drawing style. If humor is surprise, then Baxter has taken it to an extreme.
Robert Crumb. The above three artists can draw anything in a specific, unique style. Crumb can draw anything, period. Everything is well drawn. He just lays down line after line, and it all works to make a picture. It’s expressive, three dimensional, balanced. I have to say that one of my favorite things about his style is the way he draws the detritus of modern life. Telephone poles, junked-out cars, overflowing garbage cans. He even seems to relish drawing the people who inhabit the messy world. Some of his comics seem to say that we live in a trashed world, and we ourselves have become a part of that rubbish. And yet, there isn’t a sense of judgment you would expect with such a statement (maybe because he includes himself in that statement – just look at the hilarious way in which he’s caricatured himself over the years). His stories are engaging, and a big part of that is the way he draws. I’ve seen a lot of imitators of Crumb’s style, and I have to wonder why they would even try. What’s the use? It’s already being done so well. I only hope that I can draw as well as he does someday. Not in his style, of course; in my own way.