More and More In Pictures

Posted by on May 19th, 2010 at 9:51 AM

Before getting too far into this topic, we reach a point at which the visual extravagnaces—the erstwhile superfluities of drawing—become by their very copiousness essential to the jokes. The best current example is Zits, written by Jerry Scott and drawn—oh, my, how it is drawn, drawn to symphonic excess—by Jim Borgman. Here’s a recent daily and a couple of Sundays.

Despite the barrenness of the panels in most of the strip’s releases—some daily strips run their whole length, fore and aft, without a single shred of background detail, panels entirely blank, like the first and last panels in the daily at the top of our visual aid—despite this undeniable characteristic of the strip, Borgman is esteemed for his drawing. And here we can see why. How long did it take him to draw all those bottles in the second panel of the daily? But without them, the joke falls flat.

Reminds me of Al Capp’s admiration for the work Milton Caniff poured into his strips. Hasn’t he ever heard of silhouettes? Capp once asked.

Borgman, you may recall, gave up his editorial cartooning gig a year or so ago, so now he has all this spare time on his hands, and he fills it by making profusely detailed drawings in Zits. Like the first of the two Sundays.

Borgman is approaching Oliphantian exaggeration here—heaps of books, an unending parade of them, moving into Jeremy’s room by conveyor belt. All excess, all exaggeration—all a visual metaphor that gives Jeremy’s remark its comedic meaning.

The bubonic plague scenario of the next strip is another aspect of the same treatment. Borgman must’ve been dying to draw medieval architecture and horse-drawn equipage.

And in our last two examples (and we could find many, many more in the Zits oeuvre), again—the pictures give the words their comedy.

What gorgeous visual excess! All that magnificent detail! But without it, the jokes would be a few decibels diminished. We are richer for Borgman’s dedication—or his obsession, whatever it is. And so is Zits.

By the way, Scott and Borgman have an unusually self-serving (but comically exaggerated) explanation for the success of their collaboration: each claims to do 75 percent of the work.

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