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Celebrating Illustration, Design, Cartoon and Comic Art of the Mid-20th Century

The Art of Summer Reading: Al Wiseman

Monday, July 08, 2013

You can tell by the heat and humidity around these parts that summer has definitely arrived. As an adult, I find myself hiding inside, enjoying the comfort of my air conditioned studio. But as a kid, I spent days like this riding my bike, fishing for brook trout in a nearby stream, going swimming at the pool or playing baseball at our local park...

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... and reading under a big shady tree. Reading comic books and chapter books; that was probably my favourite summer activity.

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Among my favourite things to read were these thick, digest-sized collections that reprinted old Dennis the Menace comic books from the 1950s. I still have a pile of them, purchased at our local used book store for a quarter a piece when I was probably eight or nine years old.

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I didn't know it at the time, but those comics weren't drawn by Dennis creator, Hank Ketcham. The early Dennis comic books - the one's reprinted in those digest-size paperbacks - were drawn by a tremendously talented and largely unknown cartoonist named Al Wiseman.

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Wiseman was, in no uncertain terms, a brilliant cartoonist.

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Using a refined, almost 'technical' line, Al Wiseman managed to capture all the character of his subjects and impart a range and subtlety of motion - and emotion - missing from the vast majority of work done by lesser cartoonists.

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Wiseman's impressive drawing skills are evident in every panel of any page he drew...

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... but nowhere more so than in panels that show the human form is motion.

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Combining slapstick body language and the accuracy of superior draftsmanship gave Wiseman's work a believability that had me hooked from the first page of every hilarious story.

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Wiseman's Dennis lived in an alternate reality of suburban mundanity I could totally accept as being 'a real place.' It looked very much like the neighbourhood I was growing up in...

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... which made Dennis' outrageous antics all the more appealing to me as a kid.

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I could relate because Wiseman seemed to be drawing my world with tremendous accuracy - but with more crashing, smashing and yelling!

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One thing I was oblivious to at the time but now have tremendous admiration for is Al Wiseman's expert use of silhouette.

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No doubt Wiseman intended to save some time rendering detail... but drawing a well-defined silhouette is not easy to do well.

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Wiseman's silhouettes were always attractively designed, easy to read, and told the story of the picture in a clear, concise manner.

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When he really wanted to show off though, Wiseman would spare no detail in delineating the complex chaos and joyful mayhem only Dennis Mitchell could create!

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This week: a look at some of the great illustrators of books (and comic books) from my childhood summers.

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* Al Wiseman's grand daughter has created a blog about her grandfather with some biographical information. Click here to take a look.

The Art of WoW! featuring Doris Jackson

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Every Wednesday I'm featuring a female illustrator of the mid-20th century, hoping to create greater awareness of all the talented women illustrators, designers and cartoonists who perhaps are less well known than many of their male counterparts.

One recent discovery (for me) was a terrific artist named Doris Jackson.

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I have a few issues of Parents magazine from 1961 and '62. Doris Jackson did double page spreads in two of the six issues I own.

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Jackson's style during this early '60s period suggests she was influenced by the work of Jack Potter. Certainly many artists, including Bob Peak, seem to have been riffing on Potter's style at that time.

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Unfortunately, finding verifiable information on Doris Jackson wasn't possible. I did find an obituary for a Doris S. Jackson whose career path makes her a likely candidate: she attended Art Center in L.A. (where, incidentally, Jack Potter and Bob Peak also went to school). She moved to New York City and worked "as [a] graphic artist designing advertising, wallpaper, and textiles."

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If this is the same Doris Jackson, for a short time in the early 1960s, she also produced at least some magazine story art and a children's book or two.

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If you have any information on Doris Jackson, please let us know!

Steven G. Dobson, Famous Artist School Alumnus

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Sometimes it seems like every illustrator of the mid-20th century must have worked in New York, Chicago, Detroit or San Francisco/L.A.

That's because we've come to know so many of them by seeing their credit lines and signatures on illustrations in magazines or on books, catalogues and posters published in those major centres. But as long-time readers will already know, there were countless talented artists working in smaller towns and cities all over North America, enjoying successful careers as professional illustrators. One such artist was Steven G. Dobson of Downers Grove, Illinois.

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I first read about Steven Dobson in the Spring 1957 issue of Famous Artists magazine, which showcased him as a successful alumnus of the Famous Artists course.

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By coincidence, I'd come across an ad Steven Dobson illustrated in one of the mid-1950s issues of the Saturday Evening Post in my collection. Dobson's illustration had stuck in my mind, so when I saw the ad reproduced at thumbnail size in FA magazine, I was pleased to be able to go back and connect the two.

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Next came some online detective work. Much to my delight, I managed to locate Dobson's daughter, Katie Dobson Cundiff, who is a remarkably talented artist in her own right.

On her website Katie wrote, "I acquired an early appreciation for the fine arts, drawing, and painting, under the tutelage of artist parents." And when we began corresponding, she told me, "My parents met while attending the Chicago Academy of Art in the early '40's. My mom also taught for awhile and later became a display artist for Marshall Fields & Co."

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My correspondence with Katie is just getting started, so I hope to bring you more news about her parents in a future post. As I said, not every illustrator of the mid-20th century was a "famous artist" - but that doesn't mean they didn't leave behind a legacy of admirable work.

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And what could be more gratifying than to have inspired a talented daughter to pursue her own artistic ambitions? No fame could be more impressive.

Muriel Wood, a Canadian Illustrator

Monday, July 01, 2013

As today is Canada Day, I thought I'd like to showcase a Canadian illustrator. And because over the last few weeks my interest has once again turned to female illustrators, I chose to share some work with you today by Canadian female illustrator Muriel Wood.

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I actually don't have a whole lot of information on Wood - or very many examples of her work - but I did have these three lovely spreads from Chatelaine magazine, from 1971 and '72 (you can see one above and there are two more further down). I also managed to locate a few biographical details online, and my friend Bryn Havord, who knew Muriel professionally, provided some additional details.

According to her Wikipedia page, Muriel Wood graduated from Caterbury College of Art and began illustrating children's books. Another online source pins the start of her professional career as 1964.

Bryn told me, "I first met Muriel Wood and her husband John in Toronto in 1964, when I was over from the UK buying and commissioning illustration. They told me they wanted to return to England to live, and I told them that if they did I would give them some work. I was art director of Woman's Mirror at the time, and when they arrived in the UK I commissioned Muriel to do some illustrations, and John came to work for me doing page layouts. He was also a competent decorative illustrator, so I got him to do some of that work for me."

(Below, a Muriel Wood illustration from Woman's Mirror, 1965)
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Bryn continued, "They lived in Kent where they had originally come from, and rented a very interesting house on the beach in St Margaret's Bay near Dover. It was an Arts and Crafts house which had belonged to there actor Noel Coward. Although we had been quite friendly, I left women's magazines at the end of 1965 to work in national daily newspapers, and we lost touch. I believe they returned to Canada towards the end of 1966."

(Below, Muriel Wood illustration from Home and Gardens, mid-1960s)
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Fast forward to the early 1970s and you can see in the Chatelaine spreads below how far Wood's style (and skill) developed in just a few short years.

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Canada is a much smaller country by population than the United States. With relatively fewer consumer magazines than our neighbours to the south, it has never been easy for Canadian illustrators to land high profile assignments. That she was receiving commissions from Chatelaine to do double page spreads like these some ten years later, in the early '70s, suggests Muriel Wood's career was going well.

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Woods went on to become a full-time instructor in illustration at the Ontario College of Art & Design. She taught at OCAD for ten years. During all the years of her career, Wood continued illustrating children's books.

From Wikipedia:

"Among the books she has illustrated are The Olden Days Coat by Margaret Laurence,"

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... Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, Old Bird by Irene Morck, Lizzie's Storm by Sally Fitz-Gibbon, Scared Sarah by Mary Alice Downie, and Aram's Choice and Call Me Aram by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. Her illustrations have also appeared on Canadian postage stamps."

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"She lives with her husband, graphic artist David Chestnutt, in Toronto, Ontario."

(Below, a David Chestnutt illustration from Chatelaine, 1971)

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Happy Canada Day!

* Thanks to Bryn Havord for his assistance with today's post!
 

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