Making Attractive Pictures

Posted by on August 18th, 2010 at 8:38 AM

Jef Mallett frequently deploys the pictorial element of his medium in wonderfully memorable ways in Frazz, his comic strip in which the school janitor (Frazz) is everyone’s friend and confidante. Our first example I’m including because of its eye appeal.

(If the image is too small to read—which, for most of us, it is—the recommended procedure is to click on the image and it enlarges. For some inexplicable and presumably temporary reason, when you do that here, you and the picture are merely transported to another plane, where the picture resides more-or-less alone, same size as before; but if you click on it again, there, it’ll get much larger—large enough, usually, to read. Try it: you’ll like it.)

A playful cartoonist will sometimes produce a strip solely to attract attention, and my guess is that’s what Mallett did here. The imagery of the strip is divided in two, and the obscured image half contrasts with the starker white of the other half, the contrast attracting the roving eye of the reader of a page of comics.

Solid white and solid black will also attract attention, but Mallett does it here with a kind of gray, the vertical lines that delineate not only the rain shower but the figure of Frazz caught in it.

On Sundays, Mallett shines. Here the green of a vast expanse of grass makes Frazz look different than any other strip on the page that day.

And Mallett turns the vista into a pair of poignant comments on our preoccupations as a society.

The next image is stunningly inventive.

The pictures of the tumbling kid at the right will attract attention because they seem to be floating against an expanse of white, but it’s Mallett’s arrangement of the rest of the strip that is particularly engaging: he’s staged the action from the lower left up across the top of the image area and then plunges into the pool at the lower right. Nifty progression.

And the terror on the kid’s face as he falls through the air at the right belies his nonchalance in the center, concluding, picture that gives this elaborate visual construct its punchline.

In our next Frazz, as in the two preceding examples, Mallett creates a visual that attracts attention on a comics page otherwise a-clutter with a riot of color.

But more than the visual device, I enjoy the poetry. And the punchline—”a learning risibility.” And the message of Frazz’s t-shirt. “Barenaked ladies” indeed; Mallett has been reading too much of my stuff.

For our last instance, I leave Mallett and turn to Patrick McDonnell, who, like Mallett, often rejoices in the color and greater expanse of the Sunday strip format.

Here, the expanse of the depicted animal kingdom across the bottom of the strip will attract a reader’s eye. And it’s nice to remember Jane Goodall, too. The Wall Street Journal interviewed Goodall on this anniversary, and she remembered that her “favorite chimpanzee of all time” was called David Greybeard. “David lost his fear of me before the others,” she recalled. “He became the first chimpanzee to take a banana from my hand, accepting an offering of friendship from a member of a different species.”

At 76, Goodall exercises a healthy caution about her wild acquaintances. She’s seen rival groups of chimps engage in deadly warfare and has observed adults kill and eat infants. She was even attacked recently by a male called Frodo.

“He almost killed me, dragging me to the edge of a cliff” she said.

Despite the risks, Goodall prowls the jungle alone for hours on end, and she chuckles, thinking of what the news media would say if something happened to her: “It would be quite a story, wouldn’t it?” she said, laughing, “—Jane Goodall, killed by a chimpanzee.”

But not in McDonald’s strip.

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