Monthly Archives: August 2009

Congrats, Matt Baker!

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This year, cartoonist Matt Baker was inducted into to the Will Eisner Hall of Fame. I can’t help but feel a small bit of pride, since our students nominated Baker. For the past two years, CCS students have submitted Hall of Fame suggestions to the Eisner award committee. This is required course work in Steve Bissette’s comics history class, Survey of the Drawn Story.

Although Matt Baker’s comics career was cut tragically short (reportedly due to hear failure) he made a significant impact on the medium between 1944 and 1959. Baker was one of the first know African-American cartoonist, and arguable one of the most prominent in his day.

After attending the prestigious Cooper Union, Baker began his comics career at the Iger Studio at the age of 23. Through the studio Baker worked for such publisher’s as Fiction House, Fox and Quality. Baker’s redesign of the Fox character Phantom Lady made her popular among the “good girl” comics genre. Baker’s cover for Phantom Lady #17 is his most famous, and notorious, contribution to comics.

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Baker briefly drew his own his syndicated comic strip (Flamingo), contributing to the western genre (Western Outlaws, Quick Trigger Action and Frontier Western) and illustrating an adaptation of Lorna Doone for Classic Comics. In all these works, it was Baker’s masterfully rendering of the female form that set him apart.

My first introduction to Baker’s work was through the romance comics of St. John Publications, where he was the primary penciler and cover artist. In my opinion, Baker’s romance work is without rival. I’m a big fan of his his high drama romance covers, which were always carefully composed and rendered. In a genre that was overwrought by cliche, Baker’s covers were not generic, and they certainly weren’t boring.
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In 1950 Baker broke new ground by penciling Rhymes with Lust. Called a “picture novel” by its authors, Arnold Drake and Leslie Waller, Rhymes with Lust is one of the most noteworthy precursors to the modern graphic novel.

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The Schulz Library has in its collection the Dark Horse reprint of Rhymes With Lust, though sadly we are lacking Fantagraphic’s Romance Without Tears. Romance Without Tears is a collection of St. John’s best romance comics, and features many Matt Baker’s comics and cover illustrations. Do you have a copy you’d like to donate?

-Robyn Chapman

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Wilhelm Busch!

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Who are these punks?

Meet — if you haven’t met them before — Max und Moritz, one of the many ‘offspring’ of the amazing Wilhelm Busch, one of the 19th Century’s founding fathers of what we now call comics, comix and graphic novels!

Inspired by the work of innovative Swiss artist/cartoonist and pioneer graphic novelist Rodolphe Töpffer, Busch’s early cartooning blossomed into one of the real masterpieces of 19th Century comics in 1865, when the misadventures of the ever-opportunistic and often surprisingly sadistic Max und Mortiz were first published.
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Like the (then) far-in-the-future Tex Avery cartoon characters, Max and Moritz seemed capable of surviving even the most extreme acts of destruction and self-destruction to return, a page or two later, intact and ready to dish out or suffer fresh abuses. They were even baked into pies at one point (see above)!
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Building as he was on the essential groundwork laid by Töpffer, it’s no surprise that Busch pushed what was possible on the printed page even further than Töpffer ever had. Take a look at the Busch page above — that’s pretty imaginative panel/environment/layout work for the late 1800s, and it reads with effortless naturalism. Amazing stuff.

That’s the nature of cartooning: each and every generation learns from the one that came before, and creatively expands (consciously and often unconsciously) the parameters of what’s conceivable and possible with this most elastic and expansive of all narrative forms.

And so it went with Busch‘s own body of work, and all who followed. Max und Moritz was the most popular comic creation in 19th Century Germany and much of Europe, inspiring the American comicstrip artist Rudolph Dirks to spin Max und Moritz into new incarnations in the then-new canvas of the color newspaper comicstrips — as The Katzenjammer Kids!

Though Busch is primarily remembered today for Max und Moritz alone, he created many, many other 19th Century comics and precursors for what we now call the graphic novel. Popular as his ‘children’s books’ were, Busch also explored more adult characters and themes, though his characteristic wit always informed the narratives and artwork. Among Busch’s later works were Drei Bilderbogen (1860-62), Bilderpossen (1864), Die Kühnen Müllerstöchter (1868), Pater Filuzius (1872), Die Fromme Helene (1872), Dideldum (1874), Flipps der Affe (1879), Mahler Klecksel (1884), Von mir über mich (1879), Eduards Traum (1891), Der Schmetterling (1895), and others.

Busch was still active in the early 20th Century, and like the late, great Will Eisner, Busch died “with his boots on,” so to speak, still vital and creative to his last days. Busch completed Zu Guter Letzt (1904), Hernach (1908) and Schein und Sein before leaving this mortal realm behind (the latter was published after Busch‘s death in 1908).

We have a pretty good collection of Busch‘s works in the Schulz Library, in their original German language and in English-translated editions.

An evening or two spent with Busch and his marvelous trail-blazing creations is guaranteed to inspire any self-respecting 21st Century cartoonist to blaze a few trails of his or her own!

– S.R. Bissette, Mountains of Madness, 8/21/09

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Pont

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Without These Two Books Who Knows?

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— James Sturm

Incoming: Mélisande

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Mélisande by Margery Sharp and Roy McKie is a light-hearted rags-to-riches story about a canine opera singer. Like Don Freeman’s It Shouldn’t Happen (1945), Mélisande (1960) is a pantomime story featuring a dog. And like Freeman, McKie is best known for his children’s books— Ten Apples Up On Top is one of my all-time favorites for it’s delightful character designs and simple and expressive brushwork.

Each image in Mélisande is a double-page spread. The art is a cartoony rococo combo that is utterly charming— like a five-year-old playing dress-up. This book was donated by John Fox, a local photographer, who has been dropping off little stacks of interesting material for years.

— James Sturm

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