Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Owen Fitzgerald and His Descendants


You know, a funny thing about DC comics. Their "cartoony" artists are generally much better draftsmen than their "realistic" superhero artists.
Owen Fitzgerald is kind of the father of the DC "funny human" comic lines. Owen was an animator and layout artist for many classic cartoons and drew comics on the side. He drew a beautiful comic series in the 40s called "Starlet O'Hara in Hollywood"
Starlet O'Hara in Hollywood (1948) 1

and a few others before he started doing Hollywood star comics for DC. His Bob Hope comics started a style that was adopted by other top cartoonists at DC who all developed their own takes on what was basically Owen's style.

Owen is a master of pretty girl art, in fact, in my opinion, far superior to any of the Archie artists, even though I like some of them very much. Owen is a much more observant artist than the average comic artist. While most comic artists imitate other comic artists, Owen actually draws his style from life. His poses are very natural, his anatomy (esp. the girls) very studied and yet he brings an elegant animated cartoony flair to his work.He is great at composing crowds of girls, and manages to give each one her own distinct pose, while at the same time making all their poses flow together into a complete design.

He also gives each girl her own hair style, so I imagine he must have collected fashion magazines and copied real hair styles to get his ideas from. He does the same thing with their clothing. He doesn't use stock skimpy outfits that most men draw on their sexy girls.

Owen doesn't use a lot of detail within his scenes. His poses and compositions are so strong they carry the work. He is working on the top levels of the drawings. Many lesser artists try to clutter up their lack of knowledge with lots of details, hoping to hide the fact that the underlying drawings are weak.

Owen's style evolves constantly. If you collect his comics you can see him trying endless variations of his basic style.

Not sure who this is, maybe it's early Oksner, but it looks like it's imitating Owen's style pretty closely...

A lot of people mistake Owen's books for Bob Oksner, another skilled cartoonist. Oksner had a different style before he started doing celebrity humor comics for DC, and it looks to me that he was influenced by Owen's work.
Oksner is more detailed and less cartoony and less fluid than Owen, but he has a solid knowledge of real anatomy, great compoistion and perspective. I loved his comics when I was a kid.

I'm not sure if this one is Oksner. It could be Adams or maybe Ross Andru, but it's all part of the DC funny human school of drawing, which is much more natural and less stiff than their typical superhero books.

Here's Oksner's early style, obviously influenced by Milton Caniff. It's funny that Owen's background is animated cartoon style and Oksner's is comic strips, but the two later converged into similar styles coming from such different directions.

Here's Oksner's hippie style, still amazingly solid and composed.

Oksner or Adams??

I remember Shane Glines telling me that Mort Drucker spoke highly of Owen Fitzgerald's work and said that he was partly mentored by him. (Shane tell me if I got that wrong!)

Mort is a giant in his own right for his work at Mad, but I also love his DC work. He, like Owen is a real admirer of female charms.

I don't know if Neal had any contact with Owen, but he certainly spoke highly of Mort, and Adams' own cartoon style is very reminiscent of Drucker's.

Oksner or Adams? I've seen them credited to both.

All 4 of these artists' styles overlap and sometimes it's hard to tell who did what. Here are a few that I'm not sure of, but they are all great.
The girl in this one sure looks like Owen, but the rest seems like someone else.

I don't know how they grew artists like this in the old days, but I sure wish there was a way to do it today!


Sherm said...

Hey, John -- Thanks for the delicious appreciation of the DC "funny-humans" trifecta: Owen Fitzgerald, Mort Drucker and Bob Oksner. I'm glad these comics can be seen on the web because they're not likely to be reprinted...but who knows? Thanks!

Bitter Animator said...

I like Supergirl outfits. Just in general I mean.

Gchaime said...

Where the hell is that last page from?

Aimee Inc. said...

There is some really amazing stuff here! My fave's are the Bob Hope Girls and the Binky comic cover! I have thoroughly enjoyed your posts lately. Inspirational. :)

Lucas Nine said...

Great artwork, thanks for sharing it. Amazing artists.
I guess if the fact they were not haunted by a past golden age (they were inventing it along the way) has something to do with the great work they did.

wolfboy said...

Too bad "cartoony" comic book artists get paid a fraction of the superhero take.

And is it possible some of those unkowns were Gil Kane? Probably not, but check out his very brief run on Plastic Man (post Jack Cole, of course)--he definitely was going for the same feel.

KJ said...

My 13-year old son would say, "OMG!" I didn't realize that there was a comic strip about Bob Hope! I was just sharing with my daughter and her fiancé that I met Bob Hope (over 30 years ago) backstage at the Shrine Auditorium in LA. I had just performed and he was getting ready to go on. I remember him being shorter than I thought he was and looking much older up close. He was very cordial and my friend and I had him all to ourselves. "Thanks for the memories..."

I teach drama and I very often interpret comic strips into sketches. The writing is to the point and the comedic timing is usually right on. I could almost hear Bob saying those lines. The writing was true to his on-screen persona. I write scripts as well and I am always looking to remove the clutter.

I have to admit that as a female, I appreciated the artwork in comic strips and understood the art of exaggeration; however, the renderings of women were very Barbie dollish to me. It seemed that they took the same model with a sloped-nose profile, and just changed the eyes and hair color. The limbs were the same length, the dinky waist was a rare occurrence on most women, and most of the time the chest size was cookie cutter. Even as a young girl, I wanted to see the variety that I saw on the golden screen. Straight noses can be very provocative! (I noticed that the science fiction artwork was a bit more realistic.)

I do agree that the artist did focus on the subjects and not distract with lavish backgrounds. This is a gift. The facial expressions are wonderful!

All this is not to say that I don't enjoy these comics, I just desire a bit more realism. There was much more variety in the way male characters were drawn.

This is a very fun site!!!


Weirdo said...

Awesome! I love Mort Drucker's style and Bob Oskner is pretty cool. Mort Drucker was an influence on Neal Adams. Thanks for posting this. I love those covers from the sixties.

Dennis said...

What an outstanding post ... Owen Fitzgerald is my hero!

cartoonretro said...

Hi John
I remember discovering Owen's comics in your librabry- I was knock out. I've spent the last 10 years tracking down just about every comic he drew- many of them are posted on Cartoon Retro. I also wrote an article on Owen for Drawn magazine. If I can find it I'll email it to you.

cartoonretro said...

Here is a great Owen story:

Feel free to post it.

a few years ago I was contacted by Stephanie Fitzgerald, who I believe was Owen's niece. I sent her a list of questions and asked her for some biographical info. She sent the following letter:

Dear Shane...
thanks for the list, that is really helpful. I will
go over it with my family and get back to you. I will
also dig up some work of his I have, and check with
the other and get it copied and mailed up to you..that will take a little longer.
Owen is truly one of those amazing least
I have always thought. the quick version of how he
happened..and I will expound on it later with accurate dates and places Owen was the son of a man who ran the lumber yard in Caldwell Missouri (i believe that is the name of the town) and he had been drawing since formal training...educated literally in a one room school house, maybe his older sister and her soon to be husband and his classmate
would eventually become his wife (that's how simple a place and time it was) He was very smart as well as talented...I think he told me he was doing the family books from the time he was 9...he was really gifted in math...eventually he got a job in the lumber yard and started drawing plans for houses and there is even a church that he designed and was built some where in the area.....that is just a little info...somewhere along the way (16-17?) his older brother James submited a picture of his (my understanding is he always wanted to be a political cartoonist, I think I have a book of someone he admired) James mailed in a picture of his to Disney Studios...I guess they had a habit of soliciting artists...(one of those "if you can draw this to can be an artist") and they sent him a letter saying if you come out we will meet with you...his dad scrapped the bus fair together and a little extra and sent him to Hollywood...probably Burbank...I really think this may have been the first place he saw a nude woman...His first classes (my understanding) were at Disney....that is where it all began.....which I think is one of those Hollywood stories....also he was in the army....and I can't think of his name...but his reporting officer of his division was the well loved DR.Seuss......which I believed was one of the very last projects he ever worked on..the DR. Seuss show which was on not long ago...he did all the presentation stuff...characters.
His story, as unassuming as he truly special...(to me) and I would love to share these stories with you...they are little bits of Hollywood and this industry that made it the town to be in at the time. he had a ton of them...but I would like to get it right for you, so I will write later. Thanks
again for your time and interest.

Nsixqatsi said...

I love you, John K.

litlgrey said...

Look at that characture of Godfrey Cambridge. Just beautiful. I could swear I am looking at a blow up of a frame from "The President's Analyst."
I would assume that's Mort Drucker but John, you can correct me if I am wrong.

Tony C. said...

Holy Super Post John! Absolutely amazing! Thank you again for bringing artists like this to our attention.

Here's something you might be able to use in a future post. Coop just posted a ton of vintage Ed "Big Daddy" Roth decals to his Flickr page.

Great cartoony stuff with NO hippies in sight!

trevor said...

Anybody know who Alan Kursrock ( sp? ) is?

- trevor.

David Germain said...

One thing I've noticed that Mort Drucker is amazing at (besides caricatures) is fingers. Check out that page at the bottom, specifically the closeup of the guy pointing his finger. That goes beyond merely well done. It jumps right out at you.

SoleilSmile said...

Great post John. As great as this art is, I still see the same trend where the guy is not as interesting to look at as the girl.
What I loved about Galaxy High School ( a cartoon you worked on, but hated) is that Doyle Cleverlobe was just as appealing as the girls around him. He had broad shoulders, a small waste, a handsome neck and FULL THIGHS. That's very rare in comedy cartoons. You can also tell that the TMS animators enjoyed animating him. Why not? Doyle was actually pleasing to the eye. Therefore,the artists weren't tempted to treat him like a throw away character.

Sid said...

This is too cool. Love the images, thanks for the hook up!

Anonymous said...

Those are great. I'm glad that you write about what you like in these pictures, rather than just post them. I think we can learn alot from that, thanks.
Josh Heisie

Bill Field said...

That last page was from Cavalier magazine-- I think Dick Gregory wrote that, too.

John, the vast majority of the art in question is Bob Oskner- whose Shazam stories were really entertaining in the 70's... he & Kurt Schaffenberger more or less replaced CC Beck on Shazam, after Beck stormed off after issue #9.
Tony Tollin told me that he was really a favorite at DC, he was fast, dependable and really drew "funny". Oskner was the cartoonist on the I Love Lucy strip as well.

Bill Field said...

OK- I meant Godfrey Cambridge, earlier, not Dick Gregory.
Shane that is some wonderful background on Owen F., his family really seems to appreciate his legacy.
I have been using a style akin to these fellows for work I've done for Hooters as well as some club chains- it's fun stuff to draw (cat calls), I'd love to animate in that style.

CartoonSteve said...

Wow John - great post! Is that Spiro Agnew under Jerry on the totem pole?

Shawn said...

Love it love it looooove it!!!

Mitch K said...

Owen and Oksner were able to overlap and adapt styles so easily because back then, animation was just an extension of illustration (or fine arts).

Somewhere along the line, art schools divided animation from illustration. Now we have something called 'illustration/fine arts,' and it resembles nothing of the original idea. Separately, we have animation, which is also now something of its own...

HemlockMan said...


I wonder why Oskner became the better known of the funny human DC artists?

Racattack Force said...

Awesome, I always like these types of posts.

Chip Butty said...

Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis aside, I love how if any of these titles needed a little extra pizzaz they would just throw Frankenstein or Dracula in there. They spice up anything!

Jon, Garaizar. superstar said...

those are all really great.

but that last page is out of this world.

Jack Ruttan said...

Thanks a million for this amazing post. I can't believe someone used that finished art as scrap to point their brush on, but it may have been the artist.

:: smo :: said...

this post is awesome! thanks john!!!

Steven said...

Great post.

It's refreshing to remember that underlying the stuff that bad artists swiped and turned into a cliche, Neal Adams was a cartoonist with a great sense of rhythm.

I think Steranko said that imitators always copy the worst stuff from one's work.

Owen Fitzgerald comes out looking sharp in this company, thanks again for this entry.

mindwrecker said...

Ha! I was aghast as well at that page with all of the brush-swiping and blotting and pointing on it. Finished pages were just trash around the studio once they'd been shot in those days. Sigh. This blog just gets better and better.

Paper Dreams said...

John K.
I've got the entire run of Jerry Lewis on DVD (the DC comics). Any interest? They can be viewed with an easy free piece of software and look great on screen. Don't know if Fitzgerald did any Lewis, but man, there is a ton of Oksner.

webmaster said...


webmaster said...

whoops, sorry about that last comment!

I had no idea who this guy was till i bumped into Dizzy Dames. His girls are just the cutest things, at least on par with Dan DeCarlo!

Kip W said...

The Windy & Willy cover also reminds me of Nick Cardy — he had that nice, loose, very comfortable-looking way with anatomy and facial expressions.