Friday, December 29, 2006

Andy’s Early Comics Archive

OK, I’m going to divide you into two groups for this tour.

Those of you who think you don’t like comics (possibly because you associate them with bland newspaper strips and endless arrays of costumed superheroes), please get on the bus labeled “Quick Tour”. You should at least take a peak at this, even if just out of curiosity. You may find that your image of comics is unnecessarily limited and discover some wonderful visual art you’ve been missing out on.

I will suggest those of you who love comics, but limit your appreciation for them to modern superhero comics, join the first group on the “Quick Tour” bus.

In the other group are those of you who love comics and revel in the wide spectrum of accomplishment in this amazing and unbounded art form, along with those who are simply adventurous in terms of your appreciation for visual art.

I will ask those of you in this group to pack a lunch, sign a waiver releasing me from responsibility for exposing you to a major time sink, and get on the bus labeled “Magical Mystery Tour”.

Both groups may find their eyes opened about what “comics” are, have been or can be, and may allow themselves to be dazzled with some of the oldest, weirdest, and finest examples of this wonderful medium.

Andy Konky Kru (Andy Bleck) has compiled an amazing archive of “early comics”, hosted on the site of Bugpowder, a collaborative weblog devoted to the UK independent comics community.

If, like me, you think of “early comics” as being the wonderful work from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, you will be amazed and delighted to find that Andy’s collection begins in 300 A.D., and includes examples of “comics” (which has been defined as images in sequence, often combined with words, that tell a story) from the dusty centuries of the dark ages, the flowering of the Renaissance, through the 18th and early 19th centuries and up to the early 20th. He leaves off at around 1929.

For those of you on the Quick Tour, don’t miss the transcendently amazing work of Winsor McCay (see my previous post), George Herriman (and here), and Cliff Sterrett .

You might also want to check out modernist artist Lyonel Feininger and wonderful oddities like Gustav Verbeek and Hubert Crowley.

Those of you on the “Magical Mystery Tour” will find prime examples of favorites as describe above, the expected landmarks like Wihelm Busch, Rudolph Dirks, Frederick Opper, Richard Outcault, Frank King and others, but you may also encounter surprise treasures like Harry Grant Dart.

Aficionados of the great illustrators will find unexpected examples of “graphic stories” by such luminaries as Howard Pyle, Gustav Dore, Augustus Egg, Heath Robinson (and here), A. B. Frost, John Held Jr., Ernest Shepard and John Tenniel.

Wow.

There is a handy chronological index at the top of the pages. The index page has a more descriptive listing of the periods.

My only complaint is that, in what I assume is an effort to make them easier to read on web pages, Andy has taken the liberty of rearranging the panel layout of many of these comics and placing them in vertical stacks, sometimes missing their titles. I would much rather scroll around if necessary to see them in their original layout, but this is a minor quibble and pales in the light of what a tremendous service he is providing with this archive. Here’s an opportunity to see these gems on the web, large enough to be close to their original size in early newspapers and book printings, and you can search them out in their original form elsewhere once you find yourself fascinated.

While the archive isn’t complete, and is weak in some areas (E.C. Segar for example), I assume this is a work in progress; and on the whole, Andy has picked superb examples of these artist’s works. It’s an amazing resource and an absolute delight.

(Images above, top to bottom: Winsor McCay, George Herriman, Cliff Sterrett, Harry Grant Dart, Heath Robinson.)

Andy has also provided articles on speech balloons in cartoons and comics and an index of comics without words in his archive. He also provides listings of books with reprints of early comics and over 500 links to comics resources.

If that weren’t enough, Andy’s own paintings, drawings and travel sketches (and here) are quite nice and worthy of a visit on their own.

Whew! I’m glad I had you sign those time sink waivers.

 

2 thoughts on “Andy’s Early Comics Archive

  1. Daniel van Benthuysen

    An observation and a jumping off point.

    Observation: Andy’s archive is indeed a very amazing compilation but, like Wikipedia and a number of other web assemblies, it’s not quite as far-reaching or inclusive as it aspires to be. Don’t get me wrong, I VERY MUCH enjoyed trolling through these pages and I found artists who were new to me. But there ARE gaps as well: I could not find an old favorite, Honore Daumier anywhere even though English artists like Gillray and Rowlandson are well represented. Daumier’s nearly 4,000 lithographs appeared in Caricature and Le Charivari and his portrayals of lawyers and other governmental officials far exceed anything similar accomplished on this side of the Atlantic before or since. (see http://www.daumier.org) One can only assume Andy just hasn’t been exposed to this particular graphic genius. I can’t imagine he would knowingly leave out a talent of this magnitude from a timeline that starts with Greek papyrus.

    Jumping off point:
    For those interested, I highly recommend a wonderful book published a year or two ago called “The World on Sunday: Graphic Art in Joseph Pulitzer’s Newspaper (1898 – 1911).” It’s really a big picture book that reproduces (not quite original size) all kinds of graphic pages from the New York World in the period when “the comics” were coming to life. The Yellow Kid and the term “yellow journalism” come from this paper in this period, but what this paper did in an age when newspapers were still the primary means of conveying the news (today they’re not even among the top three sources for news to most of us) was to use artists in EVERY conceivable way possible to tell a story or provide background. The half-tone method of reproducing photographs had not been perfected yet and that left visual story-telling to the artists. So quite apart form telling cute stories about amusing, made-up characters in strips of panels, the World also did things like take a full page to print giant concentric circles so that readers could get a feel for the actual diameter of cannon on naval vessels fighting in the Spanish American War. Or a double-page depiction of what might happen to New York City if an earthquake of the same magnitude that hit San Francisco in 1906 struck the northeast. The amount of energy, talent and sophistication put into news graphics has waxed and waned in the intervening decades but what a start it all got off to at the beginning of the 20th century. (Personal interest disclaimer: My great-grandfather was Pulitzer’s managing editor at the World for six of the years covered in this book, and his son, a great-uncle, was a staff artist there as well. But you don’t have to take my word for it that the book is a wonderful one. Just look at the unanimously glowing reviews on Amazon.com.)

  2. Li-An

    It’s funny to read your “take care” about comics because in France, comics are considered almost as an art ( a great exposition about Hergé’s work not to miss at the Centre Pompidou in Paris).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>