Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Milt Gross Crowds

Most cartoonists I know fear drawing crowds.

Crowds are hard to draw in these areas:

It's hard to compose a lot of characters together.
It takes more time for more characters.
It's hard to make each character have a different pose.
It's hard to design lots of different character designs. Most comic artists, even great ones like Jack Kirby tend to draw the same character over and over again in a crowd.Here's a dandy crowd of 'tudes with all the faces the same.

Milt Gross has none of these problems!
He draws crowds filled with different characters and with each one having their own faces, body shapes, and body attitudes.
Look how each of these top hatted fellows have a similar angle-but not exactly parallel. They are a group and individuals all at the same time.
This whole group has a single silhouette. They together make a single fun shape. Yet each character is an individual and s on a slightly different angle.

HIERARCHY OF FORMS- The specific details obey the general idea

Gross is a master of hierarchy. His individuals contribute to a group form.
Just like details on a face follow the construction of a cartoon face.

The specific parts obey the general idea.

All these snooty folks have a haughty demeanor, yet none are exactly the same. A variety of individuals that fit a type.

Hierarchy, rather than anarchy!

He has lots of different designs for women too.

Milt Gross is the opposite of today's rubber stamp comic strip artists. The ones that use the same stiff poses and expressions over and over again.
Look at the bustle of life.
The lines of action of all the high society folks here all work together to create an organic group flow.

I can't believe how many funny head shapes Gross concocts.




Kali Fontecchio said...


I like 'em.

Dan Jackson said...

Milt Gross was an amazing cartoonist, and his crowd drawings are funny and effective... but you're setting up a false dichotomy between two entirely different styles of of comic book art...

"Superhero Comics" versus "Cartoony comics"

The super hero comic book artist isn't generally going to be too keen on drawing exaggerated or funny head shapes (unless he's Sam Keith), like Milt Gross, Robert Clampett, or You. If they did, the comic book fanboys would riot.

Speaking of crowds, John, what do you think of Mort Drucker's or Sergio Argones' crowd drawings? I always thought those guys did fantastic crowds.

JohnK said...

>>The super hero comic book artist isn't generally going to be too keen on drawing exaggerated or funny head shapes (unless he's Sam Keith),<<

You don't have to be exaggerated to be varied. Just look at real people. Does everyone you know have the same face?

Dan Jackson said...

"You don't have to be exaggerated to be varied. Just look at real people. Does everyone you know have the same face?"

No, you're right... people do have different faces and head shapes, and true, most comic book artists do draw mostly generic head shapes.
But I think cartooning lets artists get away with much more elaborate or odd head shapes, whereas "non-funny" comics don't have that leverage, so they say in the safe zone of stock heads.

Can you give examples of "non cartoony" artists that use varied head shapes?

Marc Deckter said...

Great observations - I always enjoy your Milt Gross analyses posts.

D. (de Damián) said...


John, this might be a bit out of topic, but what do you think of Bill Plympton's work?

Brandon said...

Great Milt posts, and thanks for linking back to your previous post on crowds.

mike f. said...

I love that last crowd scene - the one with all the Happy Hooligan-types building a grandstand.

Speaking of Happy Hooligan - remember when hoboes were figures of fun, before they became "the Homeless"?

Milt Gross was lucky in one respect: he worked during a more innocent age - one that didn't automatically politicize every aspect of society until there wasn't anything left for a cartoonist to have fun with anymore.

Once upon a time, comic strip artists were able to make funny drawings - of cross-eyed people, fat women, midgets, hillbillies, etc. - and NOT draw the ire of every unamused, kneejerk special interest group in America.

(Gross was ALSO a master at creating comic Yiddish dialect. Try getting THAT past a newspaper censor today.)

Modern society is just begging to be lampooned, if you think about it.
I watch modern music videos and interviews with rappers on TV, and I can't even believe what I'm seeing.
(They already ARE cartoon characters - you're just not allowed to say it!)

Q: Why aren't modern newspaper comic strips addressing the more ludicrous elements of society?
A: Because they can't. They don't have the same degree of freedom, (nor the same deep pool of talent, frankly.)

This blog, and a handful of others on the Internet - most notably the ASIFA Archive - are becoming the last refuge for young people to experience genuine examples of pure cartooning from the past.

Enjoy it while you can, kids - before the corporate world and it's team of legal analysists determine that it's not good for you.
The Thought Nazis are scratching at the back door...

The Great Sir Josh said...

Hey, John--

The '87 Justice League cover isn't a good example of Kevin Maguire's work (at least in facial expressions). You should check out some of his in-book facial expressions, and cover art later in the series when it became more comedy-oriented. Guy Gardner (the green lantern) especially has some great faces-- you might wanna look at the recent "I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League" for some extreme examples of that.

Just throwing it out there.

Anonymous said...

Holy, those Milt Gross crowds are great! I'd pay good money if the Archive offered printed and binded copies of its collections. hint hint)

Jack Ruttan said...

I think a lot of it has to do with "observation." Check out the locals at your club, and think of them, and try to draw them!