Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Gene Colan - and Realistic Artists Drawing Cartoons

I loved many kinds of comics when I was a kid. Not only cartoony comics, but superhero comics too. When I was real young I loved DC comics- Superman and Batman. These were the bland superheroes! I was a bland little boy until I discovered the joys of weirdness. I thought the "Marvel style" was too bizarre looking and harsh until I was about 10 and my friend Tommy King forced me to read a bunch of Kirby comics and then I was hooked. (He also made me tell his family I had accepted Jesus in my heart!) I soon discovered the extreme weirdness and the quirky styles of all the Marvel artists. My favorites were Kirby, Ditko and Gene Colan.

The Marvel style differed from the other "realistic" comics in that they were really dynamic. The artists drew difficult angles and wild powerful poses.Compare these Colan covers to my favorite DC comic, World's Finest.Pretty stiff and awkward! (like today's cartoons). They are funny as Hell though.
(Later, DC started imitating Marvel and introduced more dynamic artists like Neal Adams into their stable. The modernized more serious DC comics to me aren't as fun as the more naive corny ones.)
The Marvel comics were much more alive and full of crazy action.
Each Marvel artist had a really unique style-and Stan Lee promoted that in the comics! Most comics didn't even credit the artists in the 60s. Stan boldly bragged about them. Stan Lee did lots of other brilliant things too and I'll talk about them in a later post.
Colan has a really unique style and it'd take a better man than me to define it. But I could see it all the way across the drugstore.

I was completely jealous (and still am) of the best "realistic artists" because they could draw really difficult things that are outside the realm of most cartoonists. They had to be able to draw not only realistic (sort of) humans, they had to be able to draw them from crazy angles and had to be able to draw every imaginable type of background.

Animated cartoon artists tend to be specialized. Some draw characters, some draw backgrounds, someone else paints them. The odd guy like Jim Smith can do it all, but he's an exception. Bob Camp is another.

In the mid 60s at the height of "The Marvel Age" and popularity, Stan grew so confident in his success, that he started a comic title that made fun of not only the other superhero comics, but his own. (it was largely inspired by Harvey Kurtzman's Mad Comics of the 50s)

I loved "Not Brand Echh"

It was a strange invention. It was a comic that was drawn by the same Marvel "realistic artists" in a cartoony style. A lot of "realistic" artists can't really crossover, but some of them can. Gene Colan drew some great funny superheroes.
They aren't as cartoony as a cartoon specialist, but they are much more alive than most straight comics. The poses are much more natural - specific and defined.
Colan is not afraid of any camera angle. You see angles like this in some modern animated features and they look awkward as hell and unnatural. The animators aren't used to drawing this realistic way -even when they are forced to by the executives.
Look how solid the characters are from every angle. Impressive!
To be continued...

As you can see, I'm not opposed to more realistic cartoon art at all. If it could look that good and natural in animation I'd be all for it. It hardly ever has and there are numerous practical reasons for that. The producers of realistic style animation are anything but practical though so it never works.

Here's a preview of the great Jack Kirby's cartoony style. Coming Soon!


Paul B said...

Hi John and all of you cartoon maniacs!!

John, I uploaded a real jewel, a porn cartoon from the 20's, it's really funny, i hope you like it!


Sean Worsham said...

"Not Brand Ecch Ruled!" I even loved it's spinoff "What The!?" I especially loved Marvel's own version of Alfred E Neuman, "Forbush Man!" Thanks for the memories.

Rob said...

paul b-

that was insane and hilarious! I can't believe they were making that in the 20s! They had some really good gags and were totally unafraid to do just about anything. That farmer and the mule, then the cock fight, holy shit...

I forgot what I was going to say about your post John, other that I'm going to keep an eye out for that "Not Brand Ecch."

Operation GutterBall said...

Gene Colan did an awesome run on Howard the Duck as well. Kirby's cover of Not Brand Ecch with Forbush man walking towards the Fantastic Four is amazing!!

Anonymous said...

I can see how the Ripping Friends were inspired from the Kirby, Ditko, Lee era of Marvel the concept sketches and story pannels, at least.

Callum said...

Wow..."Not brand Ecch" looks really good, I didn't even know it existed.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I found this quote from Milt to be quite interesting, in Richard Williams book, "The Animators Survival Kit", explaining about learning the principles:

"Someone once asked Milt Kahl: 'How did you plan out the counteraction you used on that character?

Milt blew up: 'That's the wrong way to look at it! Don't think of it like that! I just concerntrate on giving the preformance - THAT'S what's important! The play's the thing. You'll get all tangled up if you think of it in a technical way!'

Of course he's right. If a musician knows his scales, he can concentrate on giving the performance and bringing out the ideas inherent in the music. But if he constantly has to think of all the mechanics of what's he's doing - then he can hardly play.

Therefore, if we knew and understand all the basics-then we've got the tools to create. Only THEN we can give the performance."

Straight from the horses mouth.

Brian B said...

What do you think about later DC artists.. let's see. Like Mazzuchelli's "Batman: Year One" work, his "Daredevil: Born Again"(generally looser, earlier), Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, Tim Sale's Long Halloween. I really think Batman had some incredible work in his span. Not to mention some really great villains. You have to like some of the Batman work. He stand alone outside of DC as his own brand almost with so many artists contributing.

Rodrigo said...

"How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way" by Stan Lee is a great book for budding artists. It covers principles such as perspective, line of action, construction, etc -- all in the cool context of comic books.

So it seems to me that cartoons with dynamic realistic characters using full animation are non-existant. The only ones that come to mind are those vintage Superman cartoons which were a lot of fun.

billehB said...

well yeah, but you cant say batman and superman are bland characters because there were some artists you didn't like in the past, theres always good and bad artists breezing through the doors.

More and more commonly, artists and writers drift between the major publishers, sometimes it works out well, sometimes it doesn't - but i think for this reason you cant really say either Marvel or DC (or any other of the many major publishers) are BETTER than the other, because they're constantly changing - and they're all the same for gods sake, only the writers and artists and their stories and their takes on characters are different from one another.

PS. Kirby is brilliant.

Karswell said...

Man I loved this comic too, still do! Gene Colan's Tomb of Dracula (comic and mag) were equally awesome to a pre-teen kid like myself growing up in the 70's who could't seem to get enough horror no matter how supernatural Marvel got during that era. I have a nice pre-code horror sample of Colan's 50's work on my blog THE HORRORS OF IT ALL devoted to golden age horror comics, big scans too so check it out:

Adam said...

I got into Jack Kirby after getting Fantastic Four reissues, not knowing they were reissues at the time, at a flea market with my dad when I was a little tyke.

Jack Kirby's characters are great but his backgrounds are AMAZING. For superhero comics to work for me I have to believe the world around the characters, and Kirby, if you have any of his Fantastic Four or Nick Fury comics you'll see, could do this better than anyone. The Fantastic Four's lab or Dr. Doom's lair give the characters a setting where they can look kinda 'natural'. I remember wishing the places were real more than the heroes.

A lot of modern superhero comics have abandoned the fantastic backgrounds which really sucks all the appeal out of them. Superhero style comics are the perfect medium for creating escapist fantasy, which really needs detailed surreal/fantastic backgrounds to work, but few series these days play to the medium's strength. I guess maybe its because it's easier to write dialog than to draw a background, so they're more about plot than about place, which is a shame.

Check out the Fantastic Four's Manhattan skyscraper... The Baxter Building . I would pause on a page like this and actually playout a new adventure in my imagination. Whose selling experiences like that anymore?

Rodrigo said...

Hey JohnK, this might interest you:

Granted, you don't bode well with their show, but at least this shows that there is hope for creators.

Dume3 said...

That Fantastic Four cover is awesome. Look at how the Japanese copied Jack Kirby's style for Transformers:

Your statements about about realism not working in animation makes me think of anime--they have always been proccupied with detail and form over motion. I have to say, the level of detail in Transformers the movie astonished me--and it was quite smooth in some places.

Check out the opening shot where the ship is passing by.

harpo said...

Kirby will always be The KIng.

Bluedog said...

I loved Kirby's rubber style. I seemed to convey so much emotion in a realy bizarre way. Not Brand Ecch was neat in the sense that it ridiculed all that we held holy back then. It was part of the whole iconoclastic thing going on back then. It showed that when you loved something you could kick the shit out of it for artistic effect.

Tyler said...

John, these Gene Colan examples are fantastic (I love "Not Brand Ecch" as well), but I was wondering if you had any comments on the fact that nearly all of these stories had separate writers and weren't completely dictated by the cartoonists/illustrators who drew them. Is the difference just that comic book writers can be closer to the material and are less likely to lose touch?

JohnK said...

Maybe that's why they aren't as funny as Mad Comics, which were written by Harvey Kurtzman.

But the drawings are great.

The straight Marvel comics were largely plotted by the artists I think. And then Stan would come in and change the dialogue to make it snappier.

I'm not sure if Brand Echhh was done the same way.

mike f. said...

I loved NOT BRAND ECCH! and still do, and I collected all of them, but...
they're wildly uneven, and even the best of it can't really hold a candle to the guys who did it earlier and better - Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood.

SUPERDUPERMAN, BAT BOY & RUBIN, and FLESH GARDEN (just to name three) are classic satires that will live forever.

They're even superior to their source material, which - as much as I loved it - really can't be said about NOT BRAND ECCH! (or even what was arguably the greatest comic strip satire of them all: FEARLESS FOSDICK by Al Capp.)

JohnK said...

Aren't all comic books wildy uneven? As are most cartoons, TV shows, movies, etc.?

Raff said...

That Baxter Building...only a place like Toronto would put that up! Reed and Ben are lucky - they don't have their rooms next to a giant rocket exhaust pipe.

I miss having a kid's imagination.

kate yarberry said...

off topic, I found the most boring cartoon ever. It's called "the racoons" I'm sure everyone who worked on this has killed killed them selves by now. Go check it out if you want your nose to bleed out of boredom.

Wicks for Candlesticks said...

Nice comic book post. Going to the comic stores today is not too great. The 60's covers were so kooky and dynamic. The covers today are so dark and boring. It's hard to tell one book from another. Weren't comic covers supposed to get ones attention? All the new covers look like Heavy Metal album covers. I don't know if I'm viewing the new issue of Spiderman or the new Megadeth CD. Can't wait for the Kirby post!

-David O.

Tom A said...

>>Later, DC started imitating Marvel and introduced more dynamic artists like Neal Adams into their stable. The modernized more serious DC comics to me aren't as fun as the more naive corny ones.

Not to put words in your mouth, but does this mean you didn't like Dark Knight Returns?

Hans Flagon said...

I think Stan Lee's naive genius was that he was determined to do work he enjoyed, and also the kind of stuff he had already been pumping out already, before Marvel Superheroes came into fruition in the sixties. He basically wrote wisecracking Teen and Romance comics. When he did Superheroes, he basically wrote wisecracking Teen and Romance comics.

AND he was not afraid to use artists whose styles may not have been suited to the Superhero style as put forth by DC. Nor to tell them to punch up their smoothness with Kirby dynamics underneath.

Colan was always great with comic material, he just didn't get too many opportunities to do so; when he did, he excelled.

Tony C. said...

Great post John. I really enjoy the artistic references outside the standard animation world.

I've always loved Kirby, but never known a lot about Colan. Definitely want to pick up more of his stuff!

JohnK said...

Hey Ethan

take out the cursing and I'll post your comment.

Dume3 said...

Hey, we haven't even discussed Kirby's dots (a.k.a., the Kirby Krackle), one of the most copied effects in comics.

Tyler said...


I actually had the opportunity at this year's Comic-Con to listen to an interview with Marvel writer Gary Friedrich, who wrote several stories for "Not Brand Ecch."

He actually expressed disappointment with the book, saying that he wanted it to be a more general parody book (a la MAD) and not merely self-parody.

I agree with you that MAD is stronger, and I might argue that despite Gary's alleged boredom with the subject of superheroes, perhaps that single quality is what differentiated it from all the other MAD knock-offs?

It also suggests that perhaps there was editorial influence above even the writer's influence. Ah, what a tangled web seemingly simple creative pursuits become...

Jack Ruttan said...

The "Not Brand Ecch!" characters don't read at all to me. What happened to that advice about making a recognizable silhouette?

Anonymous said...

Hey! DC comics weren't bland! What about the wild poses Gil Kane did on Green Lantern's second run in the silver age?

But then again, I'm not a huge fan of the silver age.

Scott said...

Hi John,

Wow, I was a HUGE fan of Not Brand Echh too!! I've owned every issue at one point or another, and even have issue #1 signed by Stan Lee. It had a major influence on my drawing development and humor, as my friend and I tried to make up our own versions. It was hilarious, or at least I remember it that way.

Thanks for the reminder!

VanguardsOfComics said...

We created the box of KIRBY KRACKLE CEREAL! I made a Bowl of Kirby krackle, took pictures of that then did the graphics, printed it, assembled it and made krackle coming out of the top, too!

The box is on a WORLD TOUR-(4 conventions and counting) visit the gallery of comic book dignitaries that have shown their love for Jack Kirby at our page:

It has been featured in the prestigious Jack Kirby Collector #51, on the letters page!

We love Jack Kirby and without Jack, there probably wouldnt be an industry left in the comic book medium. This is one nod to him.


TedM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TedM said...

That was a cool blog. Marvel comics from the 1960's are my all time favorite comic books. What do you think of John Romita Sr.? He's one of my all time favorite comic book artists