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.


  1. Anonymous1:54 PM

    ..."our educational system is designed to beat out our natural creative gifts to death as quickly as possible!"
    There surely are exceptions; but on the whole...

    Great fist-hand-stuff, ehh.. first hand...First Class!
    Thanks for it, Leif.

  2. Anonymous2:31 AM

    Great drawings man.