Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lowell Hess: In Praise of the Little Things

A couple of weeks ago I showed you a series of covers from 1950's issues of Boys' Life by Lowell Hess. I talked a little about how Lowell, as a boy growing up in Oklahoma, had always wanted to work for Collier's magazine, and how he eventually did 3 covers and many interior illustrations for that magazine. Lowell had a great relationship with Collier's AD, Bill Chessman, who called Lowell his "Number One Fireman" because he always seemed to come up with an interesting and entertaining illustration idea for those stories Chessman was struggling with.

Lowell's work for Chessman lead to an opportunity to do additional spots for Collier's Cartoon Editor, Gurney Williams. Collier's ran a regular humorous column called "48 States of Mind" which required several postage stamp-sized cartoons each week. Around 1950 or '51, Williams offered Lowell the chance to do a few of these spots.

Unfortunately, because of their small size, they are the sort of thing one might pay very little attention to when reading the column or flipping through the magazine. You get the sense that the AD's intention was not much more than to break up a large field of dull grey type with a little bit of decorative colour.

But look closer...

There are wonderful details,

amusing concepts,

and great character design...

... invested In real estate not much larger than your thumbnail.

Gurney Williams obviously thought so too.

In his scrap books of old printed samples, Lowell had carefully clipped and saved many of those tiny spots. Among them he enclosed a post-it note about the assignment for Williams, indicating that he had produced a year's worth of them for Collier's.

Here, for your amusement - and inspiration - are a few more (blown up big enough to properly appreciate).

* My Lowell Hess Flickr set.


  1. These are so inspiring. I pay the bills with a lot of spots, sometimes, and this post proves what masterpieces of design they can truly be - I must work harder! I am really floored. Thanks so much for posting these, Leif.

  2. Anonymous3:00 PM

    These are real little gems. This guy has a Sergio Aragones-type eye for boiling the gag down to only the necessary elements.

    I wonder if Sergio is a fan.

    As alway, thanks for your efforts, Leif!

    Huw Evand
    EYECATCHER Graphics & Design

  3. Anonymous3:02 PM

    Good grief. I can't believe I spelled my own name wrong on that last comment! My typing continues to get worse, it seems.


    Huw EVANS

  4. Charlie Allen3:30 PM

    Wowee....just super stuff. Thanks, per always.

  5. These images are so beautifully designed! They are a pleasure to look at. Great post.

  6. Wonderful! But I've come to expect that from Mr Hess. Looking forward to more!

    Thanks Leif!

  7. downright impressive. and so small!

  8. Fantastic work, thank you !

  9. Thanks for highlighting more of my father-in-law Lowell Hess's work. These mini-masterpieces were fun to explore. Just a note: he grew up in Oklahoma.