Saturday, January 30, 2010

Leggo Lamb in "What Are Friends For?"

I have long been a fan of Jim Engel’s smooth, sumptuous work. His story here, from Critters No. 18, September 1987, would have fit snuggly within the pages of 1940s era Ha-Ha or Giggle Comics without a hiccup, alongside work by Dan Gordon, Jack Bradbury, or Lynn Karp.

Engel has it all going on here: Great art and layout, a smart (and very funny) story, and great characters. I really want to see more of Grover Cleveland Goose, who makes me laugh out loud.

Next, we have a great treat!

In preparation for this post, I contacted Jim Engel requesting permission to blog his story, and he proved very generous. He was kind enough to share some of his memories about this particular story and cover. As it happens, Jim is a great student and fan of Funny Animal comics, and elements in this story pay homage to many past and current masters of the genre. Let’s start with Jim’s thoughts about his cover, which is posted again here in a much larger size (just click!) so details can be easily seen:

About this cover, Jim says: “This was really fun to do. Editor Kim Thompson asked me to do a cover and lead story for this (great, and missed) "funny animal" anthology comic. I did a story featuring "Leggo Lamb & Grover Goose" (they're sitting on the right railing & bottom step respectively). For the cover, I wanted do something that evoked an old Dell annual cover, and celebrated my love of funny animal comics, so I included the other two characters (not mine) that appeared in that issue (Lionheart, the cat in the yellow jacket, and The Blue Beagle, the superhero at top left on the stairs), my characters from The Comic Reader, Dick Duck (Duck Dick) and Pavlov (heading left on the sidewalk), and Mickey Mouse (that's his yellow shoe & red pants on the left).

It's hard to make out here, but each comic shown represented one of my favorite funny animal comic artists---Blue Beagle's reading a Mickey Mouse comic (Paul Murray), on the step next to him is an issue of "Giggle Comics" with Super Katt on the cover (Dan Gordon), the bunny's reading "Hi-Jinx Comics" (Jack Bradbury), Leggo Lamb's got "Pogo" (Walt Kelly), to the right of Grover Goose are “Yogi Bear" (Harvey Eisenberg) & "Scamp" (Al Hubbard), left of him is "Dizzy Dog" (Sheldon Mayer). Grover's reading "Uncle Scrooge" (Carl Barks), and Lionheart's reading "Fox and Crow" (Jim Davis).

Finally, I wanted the whole thing to look like a still from an animated cartoon, so I drew the background separately, did a color guide, and my friend Don Toht, a wonderful "realistic" illustrator, rendered it (beautifully) in water colors. I inked the characters on a separate page, and then took it over to my friend Ray Cioni's animation studio (Cioni Artworks), where Ray copied it onto a cel, and I spent an evening there painting the cel with his cel vinyl paint... The result, I think, turned out very well. Don & I opted not to sign it and mar the "movie still" illusion."

In our email correspondence, Jim also remembered several more tidbits regarding this story, some further honoring the masters; some relating to family and friends. Panel details discussed are enlarged and highlighted (click).

About the splash panel (above), Jim says: "in the splash panel (pg. 1), there's a Coo-Coo Comic...Super Mouse is my favorite funny animal comic book character ( not only are Hughes' stories hilarious, but what a roster of artists that DREW it---Stein, Gordon, Hubbard, Bradbury)...

There's also a Beany & Cecil, one of my favorite Bradbury books, and Bob Clampett was a friend of mine, too.

And there's a (made up) Don Rosa's Comics and Stories--Don is also an old and good friend of mine..."

About the above panel: "On page 2, panel 4, that's me on the book page under Leggo's thumb . . ."

This one is my favorite! About the above panel, Jim remembers: "Page 6, panel 1---on the newspaper 'CAL-MART' refers to my sons, Cal & Marty... it also says 'ANNIE ENGEL BORN 5/20/87'--my daughter was born the year i did this story. Also on that newspaper page is a caricature of my good friend Mike Tiefenbacher, who edited The Comic Reader, where my Dick Duck strip ran, and who also collaborated with Chuck Fiala & I on DC's 'Funny Stuff Stocking Stuffer'..."

And finally: ". . . along the top edge of the last panel on pg 8, you can read 'Hey, Bennett!, a shout out to my good friend (and great cartoonist) Dave Bennett (who's also THE expert on Jack Bradbury), and "SHAW!" a shout-out to my OTHER great L.A. cartoonist pal, Scott Shaw!"

In summation, Thanks, Jim - I really enjoyed your thoughts and I appreciate your generosity! -- Mykal Banta

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sparkle Comics - "Nancy by Ernie Bushmiller"

Reading Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy is as close to Zen meditation as I will come in this life. Only in Bushmiller’s work do I touch the stream of thoughts without interference.

With Bushmiller, every single line has an exact purpose; set on white paper for a reason. They do not vary, they do not waver, and they are perfect. This supernatural draftsmanship soothes me to the center. Oh. I nearly forgot. Nancy is also very funny. This is from Sparkle Comics No. 4, April-May 1949.

These two ads come from the same issue. The first one I love for its wonderful graphic design – the hand-lettering and the colors – also the swell drawings of Snap, Crackle, and Pop!

This second one is about a boy and his toy gun. Kids, really, really, really don’t try this at home! Frankly, Billy, you lucked out. Things could have really gone the other way for you. Thank your lucky stars you drew an extremely docile bank robber – one not only easily fooled but also very generous in his post-arrest remarks.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Woody Woodpecker - "Woody Buys a Car"

I love the art of Dan Gormley; who did the pencils, inks, and lettering for all of the following (including the lustrous cover). Little is known about Gormley. He worked for Dell on-and-off throughout the 40s and 50s. What happened to him after about 1958 is anyone’s guess. Nothing seems known about his private life. Place or date of birth? Death? Favorite color? All a mystery.

What is known, for sure, is that he had an incredibly bold, cleanly-rounded style that is pure pleasure. This is from Four Color No 336, June/August 1951.

These two, black & white, one-page stories are from the inside covers. Gormley was certainly an artist that was well served by black & white: nothing to get in the way of those luscious brushes.

This last one is from the back cover. On the other hand, color certainly didn’t do Gormley any harm.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Pogo Possum - Two Stories from 1953

Chaos: a state of things in which chance is supreme.
Lush: appealing to the senses - Opulent, Sumptuous.
Funny: affording light mirth and laughter – Amusing.
         --Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 11th Edition

The following visual example of all three concepts comes from Pogo Possum No. 12, April-June 1953; and the great Walt Kelly.

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