Category Archives: Pen & Ink

Jim Woodring

Jim Woodring, surreal comics, illustrations and paintings
Jim Woodring is a comics artist and painter who delves into strange and wonderful imagery derived from dreams and a history of childhood hallucinations.

Woodring is known for his short comics stories, told wordlessly and in a stream-of-unconsciousness manner, that feature his recurring character, “Frank”.

Frank is something of an apparition in himself, a fever dream version of 1920’s anthropomorphic animal cartoon characters, who is the center of the dream and also a stand-in for the dreamer.

Woodring also does painting, in monochrome and in color. I’m not one to toss the word “surreal” around lightly — having read the Surrealist manifestos, and aware that true Surrealism is by definition drawn from the unconscious in the form of automatic drawing or dream-state imagery — but Woodring’s work is truly that: surreal.

As much as I enjoy his work in color, I find it most entrancing in the form of his black and white pen drawing. His thick repeated linear patterns and woodcut-like wavy lines create “colors” in much the way the gray inks of Chinese ink painting are said to have colors. This is wonderfully evident in his comics, which are dream-like in the telling as well as the in the imagery.

You can see previews of two of his titles in the comics section of his website.

I will be the first to suggest that Woodring’s work is something of an acquired taste and not likely to appeal to everyone. However, if you acquire that taste, you may find it irresistibly fascinating.

If you were not previously aware of Woodring’s work, and the small taste here has piqued your interest, believe me when I say the small online excerpts here and on his site don’t do justice to the way his drawings look in print.

There are several collections of his work: The Frank Book, which collects 10 years of his signature work; a follow-up: Congress of the Animals; a one-off treat for fans of 3-D comics: Frank in the 3rd Dimension; and the latest, Weathercraft, a full-length graphic novel, told — like most of Woodring’s work — wordlessly. You will also find other titles, most published by Fantagraphics Books.

There is currently an exhibit of Woodring’s work at the Frye Museum in Seattle, for which the museum commissioned a series of large scale pen drawings — drawn with a large scale dip pen created by Woodring — that is on display until April 16, 2017 (images above, bottom three).

 
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Tonči Zonjić

Tonci Zonjic, comics and illustration
Tonči Zonjić (pronouced TAWN-chih ZAWN-yitch, according to an article on Illustrator’s Lounge) is a contemporary Croatian comics artist and illustrator.

I make a point or mentioning that he is contemporary because of the wonderful feeling his work has for the classic comics artists of the past. His chiaroscuro ink style carries echoes of early 20th century greats like Noel Sickles and Milton Caniff, but melded with the sensibilities of modern European comics and perhaps a touch of Will Eisner.

The blend, however, is definitely Zonjić’s own, and his cinematic approach and visual storytelling skills have made him a favorite of many readers as well as admirers of comics artistry.

Zonjić signs his work “To Zo”, and you will see him under that name.

Here in the U.S. Zonjić is noted in particular for his work on Mike Mignola’s Lobster Johnson (Amazon link, preview pages here), which has a nice “Blackhawk” kind of vibe, and two spy thriller series with writer Nathan Edmondson, Who is Jake Ellis? (amazon link, preview pages here) and Where is Jake Ellis? (Amazon link, preview pages here).

There are lots of examples of his comics and illustration work on his website and blog.

He also has a Tumblr blog on which he produces a short feature that I particularly enjoy, called Not/But (images above, panels on colored backgrounds at bottom), in which he wryly addresses the anxieties and self-doubt that all artists face at some point.

 
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W. Heath Robinson (update)

W. Heath Robinson, illustrations, cartoons, contraptions, watercolors
William Heath Robinson, who signed his pictures “W. Heath Robinson”, was an English illustrator, cartoonist, author and watercolorist known in particular for his wry cartoons and his series of drawings depicting unlikely and complicated contraptions for accomplishing mundane tasks.

Here in the U.S. we associate the latter with American cartoonist Rube Goldberg, but Robinson was the original, and Goldberg… well, lets just say he “borrowed” the idea from Robinson. Robinson’s elaborate nonsense machines were also the inspiration for Nick Park’s delightful Wallace and Gromit animated films.

W. Heath Robinson’s brothers, Charles Robinson and Thomas Heath Robinson were both well known illustrators, as was their father, Thomas Robinson.

W. Heath Robinson was active in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, during the “Golden Age” of illustration. He is not as well known here in the U.S. as contemporaries like J.C. Leyendecker, N.C Wyeth, Arthur Rackham, Franklin Booth, Elizabeth Shippen Green and Maxfield Parrish, and Robinson doesn’t really get the recognition he deserves, even among aficionados of classic illustration.

Also, Robinson’s cartoons, as delightful as they are, often overshadow his achievements as an illustrator in pen and ink and in watercolor, and he sometimes is thought of more as a cartoonist than an illustrator. I love his cartoons, but I think it’s unfortunate that many miss out on his superb book illustration.

For me, one project of his stands out as a high point in the annals of pen and ink illustration, up there with the best of the best, and that is his illustrations for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (images above, top, bottom and several of the more complex images in between).

The project also included several color illustrations (image with the reflecting pool above), but it is the ink drawings from the book that have always captured my fascination.

Exhibition at Delaware Art Museum

As much as I have long admired them in print, I was astonished to find how beautiful the original drawings are when I had a chance to see some of them — along with a wonderful selection of Robinson’s other work — at a new exhibit that opened recently at the Delaware Art Museum.

The exhibit is a retrospective drawn from the collection of the William Heath Robinson Trust (UK), and it covers the breadth of his styles and length of his career. It is beautifully arranged and presented, and the selections of his work are superb.

Wonder and Whimsey: The Illustrations of W. Heath Robinson is on view until May 21, 2017.

I intend to go back as I have the chance.

Books

There is not a catalog accompanying the exhibition, but there is a nice book from Dover titled Golden Age Illustrations of W. Heath Robinson that makes an acceptable substitute, and gives a nice overview of Robinson’s work. It was authored by Jeff A. Menges, who wrote the terrific book on 101 Great Illustrators from the Golden Age that I recently reviewed. Dover also publishes an edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Robinson’s illustrations.

There is a new book of Robinson’s clever contraption illustrations, Very Heath Robinson, coming from Sheldrake Press in the UK; I don’t yet know if it will be available in the U.S.

A general Amazon search will bring up many more titles either by or with illustrations by W. Heath Robinson.

Online images & articles

As far as online resources, the selections are not as wide as I would hope. The Delaware Art Museum offers a modest gallery of a few of the images from the exhibit. The websites of William Heath Robinson Trust, Heath Robinson Museum offer image galleries, but the images are frustratingly small, and in the case of the Trust, defaced with watermarking.

The best and most extensive source I’ve found for Robinson’s images is Poul Webb’s Art & Artists, which features 20 extensive articles filled with Robinson’s cartoons and illustrations.

You can start with the first article and look for links to the others in the sidebar under November and December, 2015; or you can do a general search for W. Heath Robinson. If doing the latter, keep clicking through the “Next Posts” links at the bottom of the pages; there are 20 articles, but not presented in order when viewing that way.

I’ve linked to some additional articles, image sources and biographical information below.

 
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Bernie Wrightson

Bernie Wrightson, oen and ink Frankenstein illustrations, Horror comics, Batman, Swamp Thing

Bernie (Berni) Wrigntson was an American comics artist and illustrator known for his work on horror comics for DC Comics and Warren Publishing, on titles like Batman and, in particular, Swamp Thing.

Bernie Writghtson died on Saturday at the age of 68.

His work on Swamp Thing set new standards for horror comics art and was influential on other artists. Wrightson eventually left DC for Warren Publications, which was publishing black and white horror comics Creepy and Eerie that were printed larger than typical comic books, at magazine size.

Wrightson was a major figure in American comic book art, and at one point joined together with Jeffrey (Catherine) Jones, Barry Windsor-Smith and Michael Kaluta — like-minded artists who took inspiration from the great Golden Age illustrators — to share a joint space in New York called “The Studio”.

Wrightson was inspired by 1950’s horror comics from EC, and in particular the work of Graham Ingles and Frank Frazetta, but later in his career the influence of great pen and ink illustrators become more prominent, particularly the fantastic work of Franklin Booth. Those influences became evident in Wrightson’s acknowledged masterpiece, a series of elaborate and beautifully realized illustrations for Mary Shelly’s classic Frankenstein (images above, top two, with details).

This was not an assignment, Wrightson took on the project in his spare time out of love for the material. The illustrations were initially released as a limited edition portfolio. (A personal note: when I got divorced many many years ago, my ex-wife and I didn’t have any children or a house to argue over, but we wound up splitting joint custody, half and half, of the Frankenstein portfolio).

The drawings were later used in new editions of the Mary Shelly novel published accompanied by Wrightson’s illustrations.

Unfortunately, as far as I know, the book versions are out of print. Dark Horse still has a listing for their digital version, also for their collections of work from Creepy and Eerie that include some of Wrightson’s work. The print editions of Frankenstein may still be available used, though prices are likely to go up.

Wrightson and writer Steve Niles later followed with a comic book adaptation, Frankenstein Alive Alive! (images above, middle) which was published by IDW.

You may be able to find other Wrightson materials through used book sources, including reprints of some of his classic Swamp Thing issues.

The best currently in print source for his comics work is probably Creepy Presents Bernie Wrightson, a compendium of some of his work for Warren publishing, meant from the outset to be viewed in black and white, which is how I think his work is at its best.

Unfortunately, I don’t know of a good major online resource for viewing Wrightson’s work.

There is an official Bernie Wrightson website, with a bio and image galleries, unfortunately, the images in the galleries are maddeningly small and not well reproduced for the web, though they can still give you an overview of the range of Wrightson’s work.

There are a few original art pages still for sale directly from the family (as of this writing) through Comic Art Fans, as well as some from other sellers. Nakitomi has Cycle of the Werewolf box sets available.

Otherwise, I’ll point to some obits and tribute pages that feature some examples of his art. You can also simply try a Google image search.

Included in my row of example images above, bottom, is a little gem from my own collection — a Bernie Wrightson convention sketch gifted to me by Galactic Geographic artist Karl Kofoed.

 
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Eye Candy for Today: Carlo Ferrario ink drawing

Ancient Structure Beside a Stream, Carlo Ferrario ink drawing
Ancient Structure Beside a Stream, Carlo Ferrario

Pen and black on on paper, roughly 6 x 9 inches (16 x 23 cm); in the collection of the Morgan Library and Museum, which offers both a zoomable and downloadable version on their site.

I love how free and gestural Ferrario’s lines and hatching are here, so seemingly quick and casual as to appear scribbled; but over a foundation of solid, confident draftsmanship.

Ferrario often did drawings for the designs of operatic stage sets. If this was not one of those, my guess is that it is still likely a capriccio, an imagined rather than observed scene.

See his design for a stage set, with rows of receding arches, in the middle of the images in this post about “Graphite Drawings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art“.

 
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Nico Delort & Teagan White at Gallery Nucleus

Nico Delort & Teagan White at Gallery Nucleus
Beautiful work by Nico Delort and Teagan White — both of whom I have featured previously on Lines and Colors — is currently on display at Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra, CA until March 5, 2017. Many of the originals have already sold, but some pieces are still available.

If you’re not familiar with these artists, see my previous related posts for more information and images, as well as additional links. Both are quite wonderful.

(Images above: Nico Delort, top six; Teagan White, bottom five)

 
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