Friday, June 27, 2008

Edwin Georgi: The Man Who Loved Colour

Who was Edwin Georgi? Really, we know very little about him... but this much is clear: he was a man who loved colour.

Where others might have seen a tree trunk as a strip of brown bark, Georgi saw an opportunity to sprinkle down a swath of candy-coloured paint daubs.

No grey tones for Georgi -- he filled shadows with deep purples to counterbalance the rich yellows of his sunlit spaces.

Like Seurat, Edwin Georgi shunned the easy solution of using literal colour, preferring the challenge of conducting an orchestra of coloured points to play a symphony of dazzling luminosity.

That lack of literal color gives Georgi's illustrations a magical quality.

Sometimes their intensity is almost too much to bear.

Georgi, perhaps more than any other illustrator, was capable of creating such ferocity of colour that the art fairly glows white-hot.

But when he wanted to, Georgi could tame that fire. More startling than his riotous colour schemes are those that radiate a quiet intensity.

Georgi's masterful command of colour allowed him to temper his work to the mood of any particular assignment.

I found this wonderful quote attributed to the artist Paul Klee that I think Edwin Georgi would easily have related to:

"Color possesses me. I don’t have to pursue it. It will possess me always, I know it. That is the meaning of this happy hour: Color and I are one."

Edwin Georgi, the man who loved colour, died in 1964.

My Edwin Georgi Flickr set.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Where There's Smoke... There's Georgi

Cigarettes, cigars, pipes... in 1950's illustration they were common props. In Edwin Georgi illustrations their presence was almost mandatory!

Perhaps Georgi included them so often because he wanted to remind tobacco companies of his stunning series of cigarette ads for Phillip Morris (it never hurts to do a little subversive product placement if it helps land you a lucrative ad account).

...Or perhaps Georgi just liked the look of a smoking woman. Erm... you can take that last sentence either way. You get my meaning.

Whatever the case, cigars, cigarettes and undulating tendrils of smoke are as ever-present in Edwin Georgi's work as curvaceous hips...

and plump, red lips.

Think I'm exaggerating about Georgi's obsession with having his subjects smoke? In Illustrating for the Saturday Evening Post, author Ashley Halsey Jr. recounts one occassion when Georgi sent a sketch in for approval:

Associate Art Editor Frank Kilker phoned back and asked what the man in the center was holding in his hand. "A cigar," Georgi replied.

Kilker then asked what he had in his mouth. Georgi gulped and replied, "Another cigar!"

The extra cigar was promptly thrown away.

* The good folks at American Art Archives have devoted a page to Edwin Georgi's cigar and cigarette ads.

* My Edwin Georgi Flickr set.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Edwin Georgi: Too Sexy for The Post?

Not by half.

In fact, Ashley Halsey Jr., in his book, Illustrating for the Saturday Evening Post, tells the story of one occassion when The Post actually requested a little more skin...

"Now this is for the Saturday Evening Post, a family magazine. It better be nice. Can't get away with that sexy stuff that runs in some magazines," chides Halsey Jr.

But when Edwin Georgi submitted the preliminary sketch below for a story entitled "Date With Death", he was shocked to hear Associate Art Editor Frank Kilker wonder why he "hadn't turned the girl around"?

"I was speechless," Georgi reported to Halsey Jr. when he recounted the anecdote. The author describes Georgi's first sketch as "the very nicest way of undressing a heroine in the Post."

"Losing no time," writes Halsey Jr., "Georgi recalled his winsome model and spun her around to face the new situation."

"I completed that painting," Georgi recalls, "and then - just to make things cozy - I threw the whole damn thing in the ash can and started from scratch."

Halsey Jr. writes, "The third version, much like the second in general outline, shows the girl from the front. Note the girl's posture compared with the sketch."

Halsey Jr. notes with much delight that in this final version we get "more girl than ever."

* Although I don't own the issue of The Post in which Georgi's half-dressed heroine appeared, I did find a colour scan of her at this site.

* My Edwin Georgi Flickr set.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Edwin Georgi: "lavish and dramatic"

Edwin Georgi's approach to painting colour, what Walt Reed describes in his book, The Illustrator in America as "lavish and dramatic, a kind of pointillism layered in colored ink, watercolor and gouache", gave the artist's work a truly unique look.

Georgi's illustrations positively shimmer with tiny sparkles of colour - a quality that perfectly suits the sophisticates that so often populate his scenes.

By contrast, when the artist turned in the occassional unadorned spot, like the one below, it was even more startling because it is so 'un-Georgi-like'.

Georgi's powerful design sense should not be overlooked. He used colour, light and shade to create strong contrast in his compositions that catch the viewer's attention, then force closer examination. The eye is compelled to scrutinize the nooks and crannies of each piece by Georgi's sumptuous colour patterning.

My Edwin Georgi Flickr set.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hey There, Georgi Girl!

There's just no denying it, Edwin Georgi had a talent for illustrating women.

Recently, a TI list member requested a look at some Edwin Georgi artwork. I was only to happy to comply. Georgi's delicious damsels have long been a favourite of mine.

He must have been a favourite of Cosmopolitan magazine's art director as well. Robert C. Atherton commissioned all of these pieces from Georgi - and many more - during his tenure at the magazine. In fact, had speed dial existed back in the day, I'm sure Edwin Georgi's studio number would have been on every major magazine art director's list, especially when the job called for the depiction of a lovely gal or two.

The good folks at The Society of Illustrators are actively seeking out the estate of Edwin Georgi at this time. Its my hope that some Georgi family member or friend will stumble across this week's posts and get in touch. Its certainly happened plenty of times before with other illustrators we've showcased here. If you're reading this and can help locate the Georgi family, drop me a line.

My Edwin Georgi Flickr set.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Tom Sawyer: "Truth-time"

Concluding this week's excerpts from Tom's memoirs...

"During this period, I ghosted several weeks of strips for Stan Drake’s very popular The Heart of Juliet Jones,"

"...spending some time at Stan’s home in Westport, Connecticut, where I got a taste of the attractive lifestyle enjoyed in that community by cartoonists and illustrators, who seemed to comprise about half the population. In addition to Stan’s flamboyant, entertaining presence the area was crawling with such ‘bigfoot’ luminaries as Dik Browne, Ralston Jones, Frank Ridgeway, Mort Walker, plus noted illustrators Steven Dohanos, Harold von Schmidt, Noel Sickles and others whose work I had admiringly clipped out of national magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post since I was a kid. It hardly needs to be said that lunches with those I already knew, and a few I met via Stan, talking shop, chatting and joking with them, visiting their homes and studios, were tantalizing experiences for me. Glimpsing those artists’ lives markedly pointed up my own fish-out-of-water status among my New Jersey neighbors, most of whose lives seemed to revolve around sales quotas, expense accounts, and their golf game…"

"… I’d already decided we had to move to Westport."

"At the same time, while I remained committed to selling and authoring my own comic-strip, that goal had, in a sneaky way, become somehow less urgent. In part, I knew, it was because of my busy professional life, as well as the enjoyment of our little family and our attendant activities."

"But there was another element at work on a less-conscious level. That was my gradual absorption, via observation, of certain realities about such work, about the endless grind of actually turning out a daily, 365 times a year, comic strip. Resulting cumulatively from my exposure to, and working with these guys – and though I did my best to deny it, to dismiss much of it as the exception – I was picking up, inferring, a growing sense that it might not be the best way in the world for me to spend my life."

"And meanwhile I was beginning to see myself having a limited capacity for doing the same thing over and over. Waaay limited. I had by then, after a lot of years and hard work, mastered the knack of drawing as well as the best in the business, and even with my added trademark specialty of infusing my figures with a particular energy/vitality, I was beginning to have vague, nagging worries that that might be all there was. Oh, there was still room for improvement in my work, I knew, but in much smaller increments, the challenges more internal, more head-of-a-pin personal."

"Still – none of these concerns translated into my actually asking hard questions, such as really reexamining where I was going. I mean c’mon – wasn’t the comic-strip my Grail? My unquestioned Calling? My True Belief? So none of that mounting negativity about it – none of those intimations – could apply to me, right…?"

"…Nonetheless, I immersed myself, struggling to find ways to lay down a reproducible line that permitted more expression, was fresher, freer and more interesting than, say, the standard India-ink, brush-or-penpoint rendering. To that end, I’d begun experimenting with different tools – marking-pens, Wolf-pencils, charcoal and the like, and haunting art supply stores in search of drawing papers with unusual surfaces, a different tooth or texture. The resulting changes in the look of my drawings were mostly salutary, and at least momentarily satisfying, welcomed especially by my friend/client, Harry Volk. But even at the time I sensed that I wasn’t addressing the still-larger issue. It would be awhile before I understood why I was so reluctant to look it in the eye, that to do so would mean questioning the entire direction I’d pursued since long before my arrival in New York."

"I’d made several more passes at creating a syndicated comic-strip, each separated by months and my busy advertising illustration schedule. I approached each with progressively less enthusiasm but, because of the changes in my rendering technique, each one had a marginally better ‘look.’ One was about an adventurous space-and-rocket-scientist. I followed that with a strip about a crusading newspaperman. Both were rejected by the major syndicates – and I was in a way relieved. My final attempt, which I pretty much walked through, had a college setting, its protagonist a cutting-edge – and edgy – physicist/professor. I never got as far as trying to sell it."

"It was truth-time."

"Among the many realities-not-faced were personal readings gradually accumulated, about the essential nature of this profession I’d striven for since my teens. About what it did to its practitioners, the comic-strip artists I’d come to know who were successful in the business: Stan Drake, Leonard Starr, Johnny Prentice, Dan Barry, and others. Perceptions, and conclusions drawn that I’d either discounted or otherwise chosen to ignore. Namely, that in watching, and working alongside these guys, I had almost from the beginning seen some very real darksides to their for-that-era high-paying game.
First, I had gotten the sense that all of them were in this velvet-lined trap, profoundly bored by their work, but earning so much that walking away from it was off the table. Though none actually said so (to me, anyway), it seemed that were it not for the mortgages, toys and lifestyles they’d grown used to, most of them would abandon these endless grinds in a New York minute. For the story-strip guys especially, ‘endless’ was the keyword; they were never finished with a job, never experienced closure. One ‘story’ morphed into another, on and on, with no break. I suppose the gag-a-day strip guys had it a little better – but not by much."

"Along with these fellows’ lack of job-satisfaction were what I saw as resultant, very similar compulsive, compensatory behavior-patterns – usually in the form of booze and/or women and/or conspicuous consumption, or general neuroses. I recall commenting at various times that most of them seemed to be sitting at their drawing-boards, ankle-deep in pools of their own blood."

"Now, I realize that these observations had been made through my own, not-necessarily-universal filters, projecting myself, with my own limitations and hangups, onto their situations. And certainly chief among these was what I think of as my Jewish Prince mindset. My assumption, perhaps unreal but mine nonetheless, that I was entitled to enjoy what I did for a living. I mean, it was supposed to be pleasurable, right? Still another side of my slow dawning that not everyone is me. Like ignoring for so long the fact that for the average person, enjoying one’s work is a largely alien concept. Again, I thank my parents for instilling in me my unwavering though clearly romantic belief in that ‘divine right.’ It’s one more gift that has shaped my life and my approach to virtually all of my work: if it ain’t fun, to hell with it."

"That I’ve been able to hang onto that concept, to live it for all but a tiny fraction of my productive years, and, incidentally, to be well-paid for it, is but further evidence of my extraordinary good luck."

"Anyway, while the prospect of actually doing one of these comic-strips had gradually become less and less attractive, I continued to resist admitting it to myself, or questioning it at all. Further, I remained in denial of my need for fresh challenges."

"All this and more had been piling up inside my head, and I’d been doing my best to pretend it wasn’t there. I mean, we’re not exactly talking unique behavior here. And then, one day it came together. Unable to avoid it anymore, I finally, abruptly saw it."

"I didn’t care anymore about becoming Milton Caniff. More than that, I actively no longer wanted to be him."

"I finally knew what I’d known for a long time. That the very idea of spending my entire life working with the same-size sheets of drawing paper, and the same tools, over and over and over, with never a sense of finishing something and starting anew, would cause me, bluntly put, to go out of my fucking mind."

"Okay. But what else was I going to do? What profession was I going to pursue?"

"The good news came unexpectedly, if not somewhat predictably, within a few days. Several years earlier, I’d become fascinated, on a totally amateur level, with making home movies, shooting prodigious amounts of 8mm. film footage of my daughters, of Holly’s and my wedding trip to Europe, and of friends at social functions. The part that had really grabbed me, though, was the editing process. I found myself eagerly cutting and splicing until far into the night, then staring bleary-eyed into the tiny screen as I’d wind and rewind past this or that edit, astonished at the result. I had discovered a phenomenon known well to people who worked in the medium, wherein two pieces of film having been cut together, can often add up to something greater than its parts. Sometimes exponentially so. The creative possibilities were genuinely intriguing."

"For me, contrasting with my childhood, ever-the-outsider view of Hollywood, and maybe because all of the above had conspired to make the stars and filmmakers of that period seem less godlike, the possibility of my somehow getting over that wall had begun to feel like a serious maybe, something to which I just might aspire. It was an exciting, though still very unlikely prospect, but hey – why not…?"

* Many thanks to Tom Sawyer for sharing these fascinating excerpts from his memoirs with us this week, as well as providing such a wealth of fabulous artwork for our enjoyment.

Jim Amash conducted an excellent and very thorough interview with Tom Sawyer in Alter Ego #77, which is still available from the publisher.

All of this week's content is Copyright © 2008 by Tom Sawyer Productions, Inc.

My Tom Sawyer Flickr set.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tom Sawyer and Harry Volk

Continuing with excerpts from Tom's memoirs...

"…I stayed busy drawing advertising comics through Johnstone & Cushing, as well as picking up some interesting new clients, two of whom happened to be located in New Jersey. The Boy Scouts of America, headquartered in New Brunswick, became a major source of work. For them I illustrated merit badge pamphlets, equipment catalogues and a lot of other material. But the most creatively productive, joyous, and what would become my longest-running association, was with a man who, despite our being less than a two-hour drive from each other, I wouldn’t meet face-to-face for five or six years."

"Based in the southernmost part of the state, ex-journalist Harry Volk had come up with the idea of publishing stock artwork – high quality line-drawings of people and objects, generic, any-purpose illustrations and cartoons known in the trade as ‘spots’ – and in Harry’s case as ‘clip-art.’ "

"Printed on glossy stock, costing the end-user pennies, these drawings were cut-and-pasted into advertisements, brochures, newsletters appearing all over the country, even used as artwork on packaging, on TV and displayed on billboards."

"For years the Volk Clipbooks of Line Art were ubiquitous, a presence in the art departments of virtually every non-major ad agency, house-organ and art service in the US."

"Harry became my favorite client, both as a person and because of the creative freedom he gave me. This came about after his first few specific assignments of, say, a woman smiling as she clutches a fistful of paper money, or a man at the wheel of his car, grinning or worried or whatever."

"From then on, Harry would simply tell me he needed various numbers of spots for one or another of his clipbooks, on this or that subject. I could then decide what I’d draw and, without showing him pencil sketches, I’d rendering them with any kind of even marginally reproducible line, from ink to pencil, charcoal or crayon, and send Harry the finished art."

"I became his star illustrator, and because of the broad, even international exposure my drawings got, a lot more work came my way. I cannot come close to counting the times over the next fifteen years that I’d open a magazine or newspaper, change TV channels, receive a pamphlet, or pass a signboard, and unexpectedly see one or more of my Volk drawings."

"With all of it, largely out of curiosity I learned more and more about how the business side of advertising worked. Which resulted, I suppose inevitably, in my becoming something of a pain-in-the-ass at Johnstone & Cushing, and eventually alienated me from the larger arena of cartoonists and illustrators in general."

*Jim Amash conducted an excellent and very thorough interview with Tom Sawyer in Alter Ego #77, which is still available from the publisher.

All of this week's content is Copyright © 2008 by Tom Sawyer Productions, Inc.

My Tom Sawyer Flickr set.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Tom Sawyer at Johnstone & Cushing

Continuing with excerpts from Tom's memoirs...

"While I remained fixated on the goal of writing and drawing a syndicated strip, and thus had no desire to paint, Leonard [Starr]’s discovery of advertising illustration raised my sights to another level. And not least because, per Leonard’s counsel, the key skills required – an ability to draw pretty girls and handsome men (virtually the only types represented in advertising art at that time) – seemed fairly easily achievable, and definitely not a detour from my end-frame. It was in fact a major no-brainer."

"This fresh focus was purposefully in mind as I prepared a couple of new sample-pages and sought my first post-army client. Timely Comics was run by a gifted, charming, driven fellow named Stan Lee, already a legend in the business."

"I made it clear to Stan from day-one, insisting that in order to hone my skills for this next move, his romance comic-books were the only ones I wanted to illustrate. Very understanding and sympathetic, he immediately assigned me stories and cover art for those magazines. At his request, I agreed to handle some of his mystery-comics assignments as well. Stan and I got on very well, and he so liked my artwork that after a few gigs, he commissioned me to do several pages of heads – of gorgeous girls and beautiful young men – copies of which he then distributed, as examples, to his other romance artists."

"Re-examining my drawings from that period, it’s obvious that while they showed a lot of natural ability and, thanks to practice and working from photos, growing expertise, there was a painfully slick coldness, an unfeeling sterility to my line."

"…It was a wonderfully productive time for me, and a few months later, eager to be done with comic-books, I felt confident enough to prepare a couple of sample-pages of advertising-comics, which after vetting and approval by Leonard Starr, I presented to Al Stenzel, the diminutive, amusing white-handlebar-moustached art director at Johnstone & Cushing. Al liked my work, and immediately introduced me to Tim Johnstone and his partner, Jack Cushing who, on-the-spot, offered me space in their studio. My kind of meeting."

"The deal was that while getting started with them – basically, being an at-the-ready in-house guy who could handle quickie assignments for which the client hadn’t specified a particular artist – I would also be able to work on whatever outside work I had."

"…Within a day, I was drawing pages for Al Stenzel’s highly regarded – and relatively high-paying – comic-book section in Boys’ Life Magazine, the monthly publication of the Boy Scouts of America. And a week or so later, advertising art as well. The latter mostly consisted of what I came to think of as ‘happy people with happy problems'."

"Between those gigs and the occasional ghosting of syndicated strips such as The Heart of Juliet Jones for Stan Drake, I was soon able to say goodbye to the standard comic-books."

"…between Johnstone & Cushing and my other accounts, I was never without more freelance work than I could handle, even necessitating my hiring Tex Blaisdell to assist me. And one sadly memorable afternoon in September, 1956, he was working with me at my Jackson Heights apartment when we received stomach-sinking news. In Connecticut, earlier that day, Stan Drake had gone for a drive – as the passenger – in his new Corvette. At the wheel, his friend Alex Raymond, the great comic-strip artist and fellow sports car aficionado. Coming over a rise, Alex had lost control, the car had gone airborne, they’d crashed into a tree at high speed, and he’d been killed instantly, impaled by the steering column. Stan, fortunately, had been thrown out of the car and, except for a few bruises and an ear nearly torn off, was okay. For the rest of the day, Tex and I glumly lamented Raymond’s death. Held in awe by all of us for his legendary drawing ability – demonstrated first on Flash Gordon, and at that time on Rip Kirby – he allegedly knew human anatomy so well that he didn’t need to use photos, but rather would draw the skeleton, add musculature and flesh, and then drapery. The result: a kind of heightened, super-dynamic, line-rendered-realism. Tex and I discussed who might step in to replace Alex on Kirby. There were really only two qualified successors: Leonard Starr, or another of our pals, the laconic Texan, John Prentice."

"Within a day or two, we learned it would be Johnny. Leonard was suddenly no longer available. The head of the Chicago Tribune-New York Daily News Syndicate had been giving serious consideration to a comic-strip notion created by Leonard, and on learning of Alex’s death, knew instantly that Starr was the logical first choice, and would thus be lost – likely forever – to rival King Features Syndicate. Within minutes, he phoned Leonard and informed him that Mary Perkins – On Stage was a ‘go.’

An instant classic, carried in hundreds of newspapers, Leonard wrote and illustrated it beautifully for nearly 28 years, winning along the way the National Cartoonists Society’s coveted Reuben Award. And John Prentice handled Rip Kirby superbly for many, many years."

*Jim Amash conducted an excellent and very thorough interview with Tom Sawyer in Alter Ego #77, which is still available from the publisher.

*Many thanks to Dr. Michael J Vassallo for providing many of today's scans.

All of this week's content is Copyright © 2008 by Tom Sawyer Productions, Inc.

My Tom Sawyer Flickr set.