Monday, December 07, 2009

"Cartoonists Are Artists" - Richard Taylor

"For some reason or other - perhaps because cartooning is a humorous art, and perhaps because of all the "cartooning-is-easy" catch-penny books the world has been flooded with of recent years - the general public seems to have the erroneous notion that the drawing of funny pictures is not a serious business."

"And it often comes as a distinct shock to the would-be cartoonist to learn that his work isn't eagerly snapped up by art editors the moment he decides to unveil his talent. What looks to be a cinch turns out to be a toughie."

"The bald fact of the matter is that cartoonists such as Charles Addams, George Price, Virgil Partch (ViP) and all the others worthy of their salt are excellent artists and very fine draftsmen judged by any standards. Theirs is an "art that conceals art" and behind every line stands years of development and experience. The drawing in the work of these humorists is very good drawing, and it isn't nearly as far removed from the kind of drawing Leonardo da Vinci used as a casual observer might think."

One need look no further than the remarkable piece below by Hank Ketcham to appreciate the veracity of these words Richard Taylor wrote in the October 1950 issue of American Artist magazine. Look at the two pieces at top - both of which are terrific in their own right - and see how in the space of just a couple of years Ketcham developed a remarkable sophistication that is at once expressive and admirably reductive. Ketcham says a lot with very little - and does it with grace and confidence. This is "art that conceals art"... this is very good drawing... and this is not easy to do.

Here's another from a couple of years later. I included it because it provides an easy comparison with the similar piano playing scene at top ( but also because a famous Ketcham character makes a cameo as a bit player here! )

Finally, an amusing, esoteric find: Hank Ketcham schilling for an art correspondence course in cartooning. Certainly not a "cartooning-is-easy" catch-penny book - Art Instruction Inc. has a long history of training professional illustrators and cartoonists and, like the Famous Artists School, is still in operation to this day -- but in the context of Richard Taylor's article, I thought it was kind of amusing.

This week: some great mid-century cartoon art by some of my favourite mid-century cartoonists, along with Richard Taylor's reminder that "cartoonists are artists" - and don't you forget it!

* My Hank Ketcham Flickr set


  1. These Ketcham pieces are stunning, especially the one with the young lady.

    I often feel that cartooning has been undervalued out of ignorance of what good cartooning actually demonstrates. Good cartoonists require a deep understanding of design, flow, energy, of which lines to include, which to leave out; they're like jazz or rock and roll musicians, or poets. And while they don't realistically represent their subjects, they are able to communicate the true spirit of a subject better than any detailed, full-colored realistic painting could; they leave the skin but take the blood, if you will. Unfortunately, while jazz and rock and roll have ascended to respectable places in the music world, cartooning is still generally seen as an inferior visual art form.

    I'm looking forward to seeing some more examples of great cartooning throughout the week. Once again, great subject Leif!

  2. Great POST! I love Hank Ketcham, he had some of the most beautiful lines in cartooning. I am eagerly awaiting more mid-century cartoonist posts!

    Your couldn't more right either about how many people don't consider cartooning a real art form, which is a downright shame. It makes you wonder why some of us want to be cartoonists in the first place? It takes years and years of disciplined work to become any good at it, only to realize not many people really can appreciate it.

    Thanks for the post

  3. Charlie Allen4:00 PM

    Great subject, Leif, and great commentary....right up your alley. There were dozens of fine cartoonists in newspapers and magazines in the 'old' days. Not so sure now. Political cartooning has definitely declined, it seems to me....scratchy, unclear, techniques, and just poor drawing. Thanks....should be an interesting week.

  4. Many of the very early print magazines around the end to the 19th century on, like Punch, had cartoonists whose style was more realistic. I think the "cartoonish-ness" if you will has led to the assumption, mostly from within the "art establishment" itself, that strip artists are a tier below serious gallery artists. Of course, we know better.

    Charles Schulz and Mort Walker also were taught by and later at AIS. I'm a grad of their program myself. They had a very good cartooning course, and probably still do.

  5. Great stuff...I'm following your blog as I speak now..


  6. When I came to this link I thought i might see the "paintings" that I heard him speak about. Apparently he took up dabbling in paint media in retirement.
    However, I'm not disappointed at what is posted here--I never am when I look at any of his work. He has a completely matured style, draws "fast" and employs many Modernist (see: Ben Shawn/Picasso) design elements (broken lines, thick and thin lines, flattening the picture plane, abstraction of forms, etc.) that strike a seductive compromise between Modern art and cartooning.

    Thanks for the eye candy!


    Papa Tango