Speaking of Pictures

Posted by on May 14th, 2010 at 4:26 PM

The Life line that appears above conjures up the old Henry Luce mag, not the old humor magazine. The opening section of the magazine, which was founded in the mid-1930s to celebrate the new technology of news photography, was called “Speaking of Pictures.” It ran about three pages, and it displayed odd photographs, spectacular ones, or, even—sometimes—comics or cartoons. And none of that has anything to do with our sermon today except that I’m celebrating pictures, too.

You’d think in a colyum about comics that any pictorial festivities would have something to do with such realistic symphonies as vintage Rip Kirby or Tarzan or Flash Gordon, all exemplars of the illustrator’s art. And these days, when the number of realistically rendered comic strips can be counted on the toes of one foot (Judge Parker, Rex Morgan, Mary Worth, Apartment 3-G, Spider-Man, The Phantom—maybe that’s all; more than a foot’s worth after all), you’d think there’s nothing much to celebrate. Certainly not Cathybert or Drabble or Pearls or The Knight Life or…. Not much notable drawing in the usual line of humorous enterprises, you’d think.

But if that’s what you’re thinking, I hope to persuade you otherwise. Take, for instance, our first visual aid, Blondie.

Blondie scarcely leaps to mind when we start thinking about the pictorial content of comic strips, but look again. In the third panel of the first strip, why is Herb wearing a glove? Because golfers often wear a glove on one hand. Dagwood’s got a glove on, too. Why? The gag doesn’t demand this kind of visual detail. It’s patently nonessential. Nice. Atmospheric, so to speak. But not, in these days of bare minimum artwork, essential. But this kind of detail validates the reality of the strip: it supplies authenticity.

The same can be said for the elaborate treatment of the doctor’s office in the next strip. Why else picture Dagwood’s trousers draped on the chair, his shirt on a hook on the door, and his shoes, dutifully lined up at his feet? You need the examining table and, probably, the cabinet of medicines and potions behind Dagwood. But the other stuff is pure excess, a delight to find in any of today’s crop of comics.

And in our final Blondie example, the same sort of visual extravagance is taking place. We don’t really need all those people in the seats behind Dagwood and Blondie, but it’s wonderful to see them there, re-affirming the visual character of the medium.

The Young Blondie tradition (Chic Young’s and carried on by his son, Dean, who is the present steward of the strip) is to do what in other strips, shriveled these days to prune-size blots on the page, is almost unheard of. In Blondie, people are usually drawn full-figure. Not essential. Daisy the Bumstead dog is often in every panel, snoozing or reacting to whatever nonsense Dagwood is committing. Not essential. Visual details abound. Good work in a grand tradition. But to minimalists, not essential.

John Marshall, who draws Blondie these days, isn’t the only cartoonist drawing a humorous strip who seems to revel in visual details. Next time, we’ll take a look at a couple others. But to close this time, here’s a Sunday Blondie, admittedly pictorially spare.

All essential visual details are here, but there are no excesses to divert attention from a dumbfounded Dagwood, trying to understand but failing. The comedy here springs from the pacing. And Blondie’s invoking a child-like expression—”your little friend.”

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2 Responses to “Speaking of Pictures”

  1. patford says:

    Dean Young may well be part of the reason for the level of detail in the Blondie strip.
    There is an online interview with Stan Drake where Drake describes Dean’s attention to detail.
    Drake: Well, in the beginning, Dean’s phone bill must have been $4000 a month, calling Connecticut and saying, “The button is too big, the button is too small, do this, do that.” But I want to go on record as saying that every time he called, he was right! I just hadn’t seen it. He knows the strip so well that he just took it for granted that I would too. But he found that I was a beginner really, as tar as ‘Blondie’ was concerned. I really lucked out with Dean Young’s personality because he might have been the toughest guy to work with and I would have had to put up with it. But it turns out that he’s got to be one of the best guys that you’d ever want to meet–kind, patient, generous. It’s been fortunate that I’ve been able to adapt and now go back to the action and the little fun stuff that I love and forget all the folds and all the shading I had to learn in the illustrative game over the years. What l’m doing in ‘Blondie’ is what I always wanted to do.

  2. WLLilly says:

    …Actually , yeah , I have often though that once reading – was it even pointed out by YOU , O Master ????????? – something pointing out Daisy’s continuous takes and sequentially changing reactions in Blondie started me on noticing the comics in a different way…
    BTW , you , in this post , showing dailies and Sundays apparently from different sources , the dailies b&w and looking , with the logo over them , like you photographed physical clippings , while the color Sunday looking like you might have lifted a color Sunday from on-line…Is , um , that the case ?????????