Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Inspirations Old and New, Part 3: More Inkspirations

In this installment I'm going to feature more ink guys, both in the children's book field and in comics, since a lot of the best work in ink right now is being done in comics, some of it little seen. To start with, one of the truly great cartoonists who's still working today::

Ronald Searle

English artist Ronald Searle has done everything from children's books to adult satire...

and is known for his wicked sense of humor.

Searle's influence runs deep--there would be no Steadman or Scarfe without Searle.

William Steig

Steig is an American contemporary of Searle, and first gained his reputation doing cartoons for the New Yorker in the early days of the magazine:

Yes, there was a time when, more often than not, New Yorker cartoons were well drawn and funny. There are still some standout artists, but you just don't have talents of the caliber of Steig and Charles Adams working for the magazine anymore. Steig's relationship with the magazine continued until his death in 2003. By then his work had reached its full maturity, with a direct and spare pen and ink approach.

But I grew up on Steig's children's books. He's probably best known for Shrek because of the movie franchise. Shrek! was published when I was a teen, in 1990, so I didn't discover it till later. Not surprisingly, the book is very different than the movie.

But I grew up on books like Sylvester and the Magic Pebble...

And my favorite, Amos and Boris, about a mouse who rescues a whale.

Heinrik Drescher

One of my favorite children's book illustrators and authors is Heinrik Drescher. I first discovered Drescher as a teen, from the children's program, Reading Rainbow. Reading Rainbow was hosted by LeVar Burton who was famous for his role in Star Trek The Next Generation, and the focus of the show was primarily on picture books. It featured picture books narrated and animated with limited animation, and best of all, would often take you into the artist/author's studio. One of those artist's studios was Heinrik Drescher's, and the featured book was Simon's Book.

In the book, Simon's doodles come to life, and I loved Drescher's lively, scratchy, doodle style. I remember Drescher showing Burton all this cool stuff in his studio, including a hand made folding book that featured a monster eating a kid. There was some weird tension between Burton and Drescher that I couldn't figure out, and Burton seemed unable to contain a general sense of being underwhelmed. But I loved it!

Here's Drescher's Pat the Beasty, a Pull and Poke book, a parody of Dorothy Kunhardt's classic "touch and feel" book for babies, Pat the Bunny. In it, a girl and boy abuse a hapless beasty, as you're instructed to pull on his rubber boogers, annoy him with scratch and sniff dirty socks, and generally abuse him. In the end, the beast is unable to take it anymore, and he eats the children. He also eats you, as his mouth folds open pop-up style and you see a little mirror inside. It's a fantastic book!

And more by Drescher:


Drescher is also known for his gorgeous, mixed media and collage sketchbooks:

Now for the comics guys. I'll start with:

Richard C. Thompson

For me, Cul-De-Sac is the last of the great newspaper strips, as good as anything in the history of comics. Consistently funny, and character driven.

If that weren't enough,Thompson does great editorial work as well.

Greg Ruth

Greg Ruth has done children's books, illustrated classics like Jack London and Sherlock Holmes, and comics. It's amazing work all around. His dry brush technique is unparalleled, and looking at Ruth has changed my whole approach to dry brush.

Perhaps his best work is his comics work, and he's one of the few artists who does high fantasy whom I really appreciate. I've never been a great fan of Conan the Barbarian, but somehow Ruth makes it work. Here's Conan as a child doing some horrible injury to a wolf. He certainly catches the mood.

And more comics, this time in rich, painterly black and white. Some of his work reminds me of the German expressionist, Käthe Kollwitz.

Everything from figures to andscapes, Ruth treats with effortless-looking facility and evocative mood.

Sammy Harkham

Sammy Harkham is best known for the progressive comics anthology, Kramer's Ergot (Stubbornly pronounced by Harkham as ur-got. I always feel like a jerk when I call it that, though. I remember asking for it at a convention and calling it this, and being corrected by the publisher, so basically, at this point I give up). Every issue of Kramer's is packed full of beautiful work by veterans of the field and artists whose work is seldom seen. Harkham has done only a handful of comics, but all of them are worth tracking down. Early on he did a story called, "poor sailor" about a sailor lost at sea, that continues to be an influence on many of his peers. Unfortunately it's a hard story to track down. It was printed in an issue of Kramer's and in it's own little hardbound book from Buenaventura Press. Both are rare and hard to find.

Jordan Crane

Jordan Crane did a picture book called, The Clouds Above, which is ostensibly a comic book, but no more a comic book than In the Night Kitchen. it was published by a publisher primarily known for doing alternative and avant garde comics, so it fell under the radar of the children's book community. As a result, it was ignored by Library associations, children's book critics and just about everyone with any influence who cares about children's books, but I feel its destined to be a classics once it is discovered by the right people.

And this is Crane's infrequently published anthology for adults, Uptight. Jordan is well known for his expert use of spot colors, as you can see here. You can also buy his beautiful silkscreen prints on his website.

Last but not least, the great...

Rick Grimes

I first discovered Grimes in the comics anthology by Steve Bisette, Taboo, with his story, Hell's Toupee. I was about 16, and the story made a huge impact on me:

As did each successive Grimes story in later issues of the anthology. Grimes work seemed to be, in part, influenced by German Expressionists like George Grosz, but like Jim Woodring, it seemed like he was channeling some unique and fully realized world.

Grimes' work is little known, and even in the comics community, seldom seen. His work represents a truly unique vision, but remains under appreciated.

Ryan H., a few years ago, discovered that I had mentioned that I was a fan of Grimes on the cartoonist, Mark Martin's blog, and said he was putting together a fan site. He put me in touch with Grimes and I decided to write Grimes a letter. Grimes replied with a long handwritten letter that I still keep and treasure, and later sent me various magazines in which his work had appeared. This became the start of a correspondence and online friendship, and I continue to keep in touch with Grimes. To his credit, Ryan H's fan site turned out to be this monumental and comprehensive tribute to Grimes, and is where you can see virtually his complete body of work.

Speaking of Mark Martin, Mark is another long time online friend, and I've been corresponding with mark for over 10 years now! He does some of the funniest comics I know, and his work is well worth tracking down. I wish I had some better images to post, but you'll have to settle for these, until you check out his website:

I just checked, and Mark's website seems to be in a state of transition while he works on his current project, but check back! I'm sure he'll be posting there, soon.

You can see more of these artists work on their websites below:

Rick Grimes, Ronald Searle (another amazing tribute site), William Steig, Heinrik Drescher, Richard C. Thompson, Greg Ruth, Sammy Harkham, Mark Martin and Jordan Crane

And I think that covers it! Let me know if I left anyone out. And thanks for reading! It might be a while till my next installment since this has proven to be more time consuming than I thought. In the meantime I'll try to post at least a little artwork in the weeks to come, but I'm a bit preoccupied right now with a project for a competition that I'd rather not post until the competition is over in mid September.

Thanks for reading!


  1. Jed, sou chargista do "Jornal Pessoal" (publicação independente de Lúcio Flávio Pinto, tenho um blog sobre artes gráficas em geral e gostaria da tua autorização para postar teus três artigos (Velho e Novo), não literalmente, mas citando a fonte.
    Desde já agradecido e me colocando a tua disposição para quaisquer esclarecimentos e colaborações.
    Luiz Pinto
    Belém, Pará, Amazônia, Brasil.

  2. Courtesy of translation software, I was able to translate this from Portuguese! It was a polite request to repost the links to these articles. I responded in my best translated Portuguese with a enthusiastic affirmative!

    1. Caro Jed, fiquei muito feliz pela tua generosidade. Cheguei ao teu site através de uma busca pelas ilustrações de Sullivant e fiquei maravilhado pelo conteúdo do blog.
      Só tenho a agradecer.
      PS: espero que possas, futuramente, conferir no meu blog o resultado da postagem que farei dos teus artigos.
      Felicidades a ti e aos teus.

  3. É surpreendente para mim quanto é fácil comunicar através desta Babilônia tradução site, mas parece que somos capazes de compreender uns aos outros. Obrigado pelo seu interesse, e vou tentar verificar para fora seu blogue.

    1. I started working in a newspaper in the 1970s. Teletype, telex, radiofoto were the "internet" at the time. We had to do mathematical calculations to pages diagram. I could never imagine being able to 'talk' with you through this technology and be able to bring this group of artists into the house. It really is a revolution that we can not measure. We just have to take some precautions (avoid coloquias texts) to assist in machine translation, the remainder, is a marvel. Hugs.

  4. This is the first time I've attempted a dialog using this kind of software. I think translation software has improved considerably since I last attempted to use it. In the beginning the results were often comical. I do think that the translation software of the future is going to have to be a lot smarter, not only, as you mention, because of colloquialisms, but phrasing, conventions of speech, grammar, and culture.

    Portuguese, as a latin based language, probably translates a lot better than Japanese, for instance. I think translation software is not only going to have to translate but interpret, and interpretation is an a little bit of an art. Computer-based translators are going to have to have some form of artificial intelligence behind them. Maybe they'll use search technology compare and choose what's the most frequently used and appropriate phrasing. Somehow it's going to have to be more of an open system.

    Still, no translation is perfect, and the risk is that we all become just a little more lazy about understanding other cultures. If we can put our own cultural "skin," so to speak, on another person's language or culture through either online translation or some kind of real time, on location, augmented reality technology (Google Glasses), we're not only translating but imposing our culture onto the culture of someone else. Words and their use have specific cultural meaning in context. We don't want to lose that. Understanding enough to communicate on a basic level is not the same as full comprehension, but it can give the illusion that you understand more than you do. Translation of any kind is a expedient, not a solution, an is often as much an impediment to understanding as it is a aid.

    But this is still all in the future, when tourists will visit other countries and have real time translations of their discussions and everyone will be able to make their basic needs understood when traveling abroad. Since there's no way (or way in the perceivable future) to fully understand every language we encounter, translation software will aways be a half measure. Still, it's a remarkable gift to be able to have this discussion. It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance!

  5. And in Portuguese:

    Esta é a primeira vez que eu tenho tentado um diálogo com este tipo de software. Eu acho que software de tradução melhorou consideravelmente desde a última tentativa de usá-lo. No início os resultados obtidos eram muitas vezes cômica. Acho que o software de tradução do futuro vai ter que ser muito mais inteligente, não apenas, como você menciona, por causa da linguagem coloquial, mas construção frásica, convenções do discurso, gramática e cultura.

    Portuguesa, como uma língua latina, provavelmente traduz muito melhor do que japonês, por exemplo. Eu acho que software de tradução não é só vão ter de traduzir mas interpretar e interpretação é um pouco de um art. baseados em computadores tradutores vão ter alguma forma de inteligência artificial atrás deles. Talvez eles vão utilizar tecnologia de pesquisa comparar e escolher qual é o mais freqüentemente utilizado e formulações adequadas. De alguma forma ela vai ter que ser mais um sistema aberto.

    Ainda assim, não houver tradução é perfeito, e o risco é que todos nos tornamos um pouco mais preguiçoso sobre compreensão de outras culturas. Se podemos pôr a nossa própria cultural "pele", por assim dizer, por uma outra pessoa da língua ou da cultura on-line através de uma tradução ou uma espécie de tempo real, a sua localização, realidade aumentada (Google tecnologia óculos), nós não estamos apenas traduzir mas impor a nossa cultura para a cultura da outra pessoa. Palavras e seus usos específicos têm significado cultural no contexto.

    Mas isso ainda está tudo no futuro, quando turistas irão visitar outros países e têm tempo real traduções das suas discussões e todos poderão fazer suas necessidades básicas entendidas quando se deslocam ao estrangeiro. Uma vez que não existe forma (ou forma perceptível no futuro) de compreender plenamente cada idioma encontramos, software de tradução terá brindes ser uma meia medida. Ainda assim, é um extraordinário dom de poder realizar este debate. É um prazer para tornar o seu aprendizado!

    Hopefully the translation is adequate. Thanks again!