Thursday, March 22, 2007

Thornton Utz: Sequential Artist

Many terrific illustrators did covers for the Saturday Evening Post, but from what I've seen, only two artists did silent comic strip covers: Constantin Alajalov and Thornton Utz. While all of Alajalov's work - single or multiple image - has a consistent charming stylized quality, the always versatile Utz brought a hint of cartooniness to his otherwise realistic painting style when doing these sequential art images.

When I look at his work here, I'm reminded of those fabulous artists who did similar lavishly detailed art for the early issues of Mad magazine, or the top-notch talents who painted gag panels and strips for Playboy. Utz would have easily fit in at either magazine.

I really marvel at these covers. Imagine getting assigned to do a painting for the cover of the most popular magazine in America. Now imagine being asked to do three paintings for one cover.

How about nine!

This nine panel cover might be my favourite Utz piece ever. Each panel is a tiny perfect Saturday Evening Post cover all on its own. Every panel has that quality of typical middle class American life The Post loved to show, from the gently humorous... the quiety charming.

If I didn't know better, I could almost imagine that Utz painted these panels over pencil drawings by Wally Wood. All the characters have a tiny hint of that slightly pixie-ish cartooniness Wood used so effectively in much of his work. Its realistic painting -- but with a dash of Disney.

If you haven't yet gone to look at my Thornton Utz Flickr set, today's the day to treat yourself to a closer look at Utz's wonderfully detailed work.


  1. I have only one word to say about Utz "WOW!"

  2. That's about the way I see it too, mac's mom -- its nice to hear from you -- thanks for your comment! :-)

  3. Call me a sap, but I love those old '50s slice-of-life covers. That nine-panel is a wonderful, charming piece.

  4. "This nine panel cover might be my favourite Utz piece ever. Each panel is a tiny perfect Saturday Evening Post cover all on its own. "

    And how! I couldn't imagine painting that kind of detail in each friggin' supermarket product knowing the panel would be reduced to the size of a cracker. But then again, the pay was so decent that it made the chore a labor of love. Illustrators weren't having to stress about having to knock out half a dozen pieces just to pay for their monthly medical insurance (like I have to). :)

  5. Brother -- you said a mouthful!

    You and I can only dream about the days of that kinda paycheque. ;-)

  6. What a lot of work. Great work by the way, and Leif I hope you're right about the paycheck of those days. Maybe because I'm working on a very long-winded project these days: I look at Utz's work and as much as I marvel at the quality and complexity of the work: I think of the deadline he had to meet!

  7. These strips are WONDERFUL!