You can tell by the heat and humidity around these parts that summer has definitely arrived. As an adult, I find myself hiding inside, enjoying the comfort of my air conditioned studio. But as a kid, I spent days like this riding my bike, fishing for brook trout in a nearby stream, going swimming at the pool or playing baseball at our local park...
... and reading under a big shady tree. Reading comic books and chapter books; that was probably my favourite summer activity.
Among my favourite things to read were these thick, digest-sized collections that reprinted old Dennis the Menace comic books from the 1950s. I still have a pile of them, purchased at our local used book store for a quarter a piece when I was probably eight or nine years old.
I didn't know it at the time, but those comics weren't drawn by Dennis creator, Hank Ketcham. The early Dennis comic books - the one's reprinted in those digest-size paperbacks - were drawn by a tremendously talented and largely unknown cartoonist named Al Wiseman.
Wiseman was, in no uncertain terms, a brilliant cartoonist.
Using a refined, almost 'technical' line, Al Wiseman managed to capture all the character of his subjects and impart a range and subtlety of motion - and emotion - missing from the vast majority of work done by lesser cartoonists.
Wiseman's impressive drawing skills are evident in every panel of any page he drew...
... but nowhere more so than in panels that show the human form is motion.
Combining slapstick body language and the accuracy of superior draftsmanship gave Wiseman's work a believability that had me hooked from the first page of every hilarious story.
Wiseman's Dennis lived in an alternate reality of suburban mundanity I could totally accept as being 'a real place.' It looked very much like the neighbourhood I was growing up in...
... which made Dennis' outrageous antics all the more appealing to me as a kid.
I could relate because Wiseman seemed to be drawing my world with tremendous accuracy - but with more crashing, smashing and yelling!
One thing I was oblivious to at the time but now have tremendous admiration for is Al Wiseman's expert use of silhouette.
No doubt Wiseman intended to save some time rendering detail... but drawing a well-defined silhouette is not easy to do well.
Wiseman's silhouettes were always attractively designed, easy to read, and told the story of the picture in a clear, concise manner.
When he really wanted to show off though, Wiseman would spare no detail in delineating the complex chaos and joyful mayhem only Dennis Mitchell could create!
This week: a look at some of the great illustrators of books (and comic books) from my childhood summers.
* Al Wiseman's grand daughter has created a blog about her grandfather with some biographical information. Click here to take a look.