Wednesday, July 25, 2007

WOW. MILT GROSS. style, observation, sincerity, humanity

...all in one cartoonist.

Milt Gross is a designer in the best sense of the word. He loves shapes and balance in their relations to each other.

But he's more than a designer. He's a cartoonist.

He particularly loves funny shapes and that's what makes him a cartoonist, rather than say - a fashion designer or a Dreamworks employee.

Funny shapes are we cartoonists' most basic tool. Let us never forget this!

Milt communicates all his ideas, his every unique view of the human condition through the medium of funny shapes.
Each moment in his stories are funny even out of context, funny and beautiful.

Milt has talents over and above the average merely brilliant cartoonist. He sees the world through eyes unfogged by the dark spectacles of style and habit. He is able to see the world clearly with acute observation. He translates what he sees with his mastery of the uniqueness of every interesting detail.

Tangent: Mastering Yourself In Your Art

To elaborate a difficult concept: It is hard to be yourself when you are on stage, right? Is it hard for you to make a speech - even about a subject you talk about naturally every day? Why?

Because you think there is a formal "correct" way to make a speech and it inhibits you. You can't be you. You imitate (badly) how you think newscasters or professional speech makers speak. Your unique personality - your humanity is lost to the audience and you are a robotic speech imitator. Stiff and unnatural.

You might know someone who has very charismatic or funny personalities. Maybe the life of the party. Maybe he or she has unique gestures and expressions that are really funny.

If you put this person on the spot and told him to "do that funny thing you do" to some new friends he can't do it. All of a sudden he tries to "act" and is no longer himself.

Many cartoonists have this problem with their pencils. We are so conditioned by the system to draw in whatever style we are brought up in or were trained in, that when we get the chance to express ourselves in drawings and animation we can't do it.

The style you draw in doesn't allow for the expressions you actually do in real life. Your pencil won't allow you to be yourself and thus the world is deprived of your unique take on the world. You draw "animation expressions" instead. The ones you have absorbed from years of watching your favorite cartoons. You make your characters move and flail their arms like animated characters do, very similar to the way motion capture actors act. Like how they think cartoons are supposed to move.

But not like true people move or act. And especially not like YOU move and act.

It takes a very special type of talent to be able to connect his humanity, his personality and his observations to his poor pencil. Especially these days.

I know this from direct experience of working with hundreds of artists.

I've had artists that were personally really funny and had unique gestures expressions and ways of moving. I'd tell one-put that in your drawings...and I'd get back a Nelvana or an 80s Disney drawing instead. He couldn't break out of how he had been conditioned, how he is supposed to draw things.

A small few uninhibited cartoonists are able to draw naturally and convey what amuses them about the world and from their pure imaginations. These are the cartoonists that generally, in today's environment, suffer the worst persecution from executives, bland directors, producers and model sheets.

Yet these are the people who can move the whole art forward and inspire everyone else. When they do get the chance they influence the next couple of generations.

Milt Gross is one of the most natural and unfettered cartoonists in history. He has no problem at all expressing himself, free of what is supposed to be the standard cartoon-style of the times.

While some less confident but hugely talented artists stop looking at the world and eventually get trapped in their own stylistic habits, Gross kept growing and evolving right till the end of his life.

End of important tangent.

now...Milt Gross knows that

Each head is Funny

He loves how funny different people are. He doesn't draw the same person over and over again with different hair styles. He doesn't even resort to a small handful of stock types. He constantly invents new designs-most likely because of how interested he is in how unique people are all around him.

The upper crust is always good material for comedy. Milt draws many unique examples of the general snooty type.

The Elemental Sausage
All real cartoonists know that the sausage is a perfect funny shape. Milt made a whole strip that takes place in a sausage shop. He fills it with every human type and countless individual variations of each. He balances their designs with the ultimate cartoon shape, the sausage.Look at the beautiful cat and fish shapes.

I could talk forever about many aspects of his work: the compositions, his encyclopedic knowledge of how things look, his background designs, his dialects and much more, but the most important thing we can get from Gross is his honest and sincere ability to connect his pencil with his outlook on life.

The moral of Milt Gross' cartoon style.
Be Inspired By Outlooks Rather Than Stealing Styles

Milt Gross has a strong style obviously and I'm sure he has many artistic influences, but he is no slave to them!

His style doesn't obscure his keen view of humanity and life.

What he sees in the world is his biggest influence, and that is the inspiration for his style.

He uses his style to convey not how he thinks a cartoon should be, but to make us see life in the unique and entertaining way he does.


special thanks to Marc Deckter for spending hard earned cash to unearth these babies!


Anonymous said...

I'm glad you decided to post more about Milt Gross. Coincidentally, I was looking at some of his comics today (including the Dave's Delicatessen comic at the Archive). And to Marc, thanks for donating these.

John said...

I can Definitly why you have so much respect for this guy!Before today I never heard of the guy but from what Ive seen here it looks really great!

stephen rogers said...

Speaking of Chuck Jones, I'd never seen this before.

I thought there were some things here related to stuff you've talked about in the past: Jones' experimentalism, his stringent control over his animators, his use of unusual angles and complex perspective in his layouts, and even certain autobiographical touches (such as his similarity to the Papa Bear in his 'Three Bears' series). Actually, it's quite funny since the three figures Jones acknowledges as being most like himself are Papa Bear, his version of Daffy Duck, and the Grinch.

John, you've touched on Clampett's cartooniness and sense of design in relation to Gross before - any thoughts on how Jones embodies Gross' qualities of cartooniness, prior to the onset of the stylistic repetition you talk about? Certainly Jones seems to be the director whose personal draughtsmanship was the strongest of any 40s/50s director, but I've never seen any of Clampett's drawings from that time, and few of Avery's. Jones and Gross are both masters of strong and funny poses, for one thing. Plus, Jones' dogs, who are usually total hams, remind me of Gross' Pete the Pooch. Any thoughts?

Paul B said...

Hi John, can you show us some cartoonists that have all the principles of a good drawing and also a unique style and a specific vision of the world in his drawings?

I start by drawing a good construction, but my drawings end up being classic designs of Warner in the 30s-40 or Ed Benedict style or Roger Ramjet. How can I move away from this to generate something more unique?

Gosh! its difficult to express this things in words!

Your pal, Paul

Marc Deckter said...

Great post!

I was hoping you would write about these Dave's Delicatessen dailies.

We should add the elemental sausage as secret ingredient #6 to WHAT MAKES A CARTOON, right after butt stabs.

Marc Deckter said...

Roberto: My pleasure - glad you enjoyed them!

mike said...

Awesome post. Very true about getting railroaded in style and not looking at the world itself...nice one ;)

Mitch said...

Really cool post. Im now looking at a whole different way at Milt Gross comics. I liked it before but now i'm understanding it more.

Thnks :)

Anonymous said...

Can you please post some other artist's pictures?

Milt Gross is good,but you always post him.What about some other artists?

Adam said...

I recently bought 'He Done Her Wrong' by Milt Gross. It's basically a cartoon version of a Fitzgerald or Hemingway novel with no dialogue, meaning there are no text bubbles to get in the way of his drawings.

He tells a really great story entirely with the character's gestures and the layout of his panels and his pacing ( how different one panel is to the next ) AND I learned tons of tricks on how to communicate funny ideas using just composition alone ( He knew a ton of them ).

Essential reading ( staring? ), especially if you draw storyboards or comics. It's easy to find. I got my copy at my local comic book store but you can get it on Amazon for around 13 bucks.

Paul B said...

Me again John:

I can't scape from normal shapes like spheres, cylinders, pears, etc.

Can yo show us more cartoonists who work with unusual shapes but keeping the principles of a good drawing?

JohnK said...

Go look at Harvey Kurtzman's comics at the asifa archive site.

Hank Ketchum is great too.

CGsucks said...

Hey john, how about the cartoonist Thomas Nast. He did alot of the things you mentioned on this post. He was never a slave to style, and he always put his observations of the world into his work. And damn he could draw!

Stephen Worth said...

Harvey Kurtzman at the ASIFA Archive

William said...

One of your best blogs yet, John; but I have to ask how you'd explain the interface of living without the slavery of conditioned influences, like you explain here, and the foolery of young artists trying to draw their entire new style like you've critiqued before. Is the difference in the latter that they've not learned root principles first? Or how should copying the greats' drawings not affect our sense of "this is how a cartoon/background is supposed to look" as you warn in this entry?

I guess I'm asking how we analyze and take the best from the masters before us without losing something of our own ability to create true newness.

Anonymous said...

>>Go look at Harvey Kurtzman's comics at the asifa archive site.

Hank Ketchum is great too.<<

will do,thanks for the tip

Bob Flynn said...

Great post, John. Thanks for kindling the connection between cartooning and animation. Both born out of the same desire to imitate life in a funny way, they will be forever connected. And Milt is one of the greats.

Paul B said...

>>Go look at Harvey Kurtzman's comics at the asifa archive site.

Hank Ketchum is great too.<<


JohnK said...


I mean Hank Ketcham...

Anonymous said...

That has to be the worst Chuck Jones picture I've ever seen. That's appalling. His later stuff was awful.

Milt Gross, on the other hand. His pictures are hilarious! The written humor isn't always my cup of tea, though.

pappy d said...

It seems like a strange choice of cartoonist to use to make this point.

Milt Gross is a giant of cartooning, but his range of expression runs the gamut from A to B. There has to be more to funny faces than this same crosseyed Ben Turpin look. The silhouettes are nice & contrasty, but the faces are all the same.

In "Pete the Pooch", I could never have told he was bored if I didn't read the copy. Don't get me wrong, he's an idiot, I get it (idiots are funny). He just has the same popeyed grin in every panel.

That later Chuck Jones piece is a sad reminder that death is a gradual process.

JohnK said...

Yeah I agree that Gross uses a limited range of expressions, but not so the poses. They are incredible. And the later his comics the more creative they get.

Specific expressions are a fairly recent development in cartoons and have always been rare... as I've mentioned many times.

pappy d said...

Point taken!

Sean Worsham said...

Here is one of only 2 animations by Milt Gross:

His work really translates to animation well! :)

Sean Worsham said...

Another short by Milt Gross, "Jitterbug Follies."

JohnK said...

Hi Sean

It's a shame they cancelled that series, I think the animators would have quickly found a way to draw and move Gross' stuff more in his spirit.

Spence's animation in Follies starts to approach it.

I think Bill and Joe snuffed out that unit. (Joe pretty much told me that)

Too bad for history! I bet it would have resulted in new exciting ways to animate.

Okapi Figment William said...

This guys pretty great! Thanks!

Jim Rockford said...

Pete the pooch reminds me a lot of Jasper in "big house blues"

JohnK said...

Yeah, I ripped him off

Jim Rockford said...

I am curious,why were they killed after only two outings?
I wish they would have made more than two count screwloose cartoons.
They were both incredible.
I loved how J.R. got the best of his master by pasting an actresses photo over the ugly woman in "Wanted:no master"
The best part was the dog laughing hysterically all the way home after Count Screwloose got trapped into marrying her!