Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Eisenberg and Kelly

Harvey's compositions are more mathematically careful than Kelly's, but his details in BG elements are more conservative or "realistic" than Kelly's.
Eisenberg's characters are more solidly constructed. Constructed totally out of cartoon forms - pears and spheres.
Thanks to Bill Perkins for this Mickey page!

All the details fit snugly and in their perfect hierarchical place on the larger simpler forms.

Kelly's construction is not so tight. The features on his characters tend to float around.
On the other hand, he mixes in suggestions of actual anatomical forms. The mouse above has a skeleton, not just a line of action supporting him.

The dog below has suggestions of actual dog anatomy: his wrists, his spine

Eisenberg can draw elaborate BGs and in any perspective. His panels tend to be a lot more dynamic than Kelly's. - or anyone else's.Kelly tends to keep his characters staged left to right and is not as comfortable with perspective.

Both cartoonists use lines of action and opposing poses from their animation training, but Kelly's tend to be more subtle, His characters are more straight up and down. The principles are still there, but toned down. This is great if you can do it. Later cartoonists who might have admired Kelly could easily miss this aspect of his work and really eliminate any lines of action and opposing poses completely - as most cartoons and comics today.Subtlety is good, but tends to lead to a next generation of blandness.
The whole cartoon business by the 50s toned down it's earlier dynamic style in favor of characters who merely walk and talk. When the next generation of cartoonists grew up on these cartoons, they assumed that you don't need any poses at all and everything from then on was walking and talking and straight up and down characters.

Kelly is obviously capable of more dynamic posing and when his stories call for it, he does it - as in the page above.
Kelly also dabbles in soft little character scenarios like the page above. This is so Chuck Jones! Little cute bits of business between ignorant animals. Even the design of the characters is very Jones/Cannon early 40s. Right down to the loose construction. I wonder who influenced who.
Eisenberg, schooled by Joe Barbera on Tom and Jerry doesn't get into character so much and so focuses his creativity more on technical aspects of comic layout, dynamics, graphic page flow and strong character posing.

Kelly's characters are cuter - they have bigger eyes and pupils. For some reason, Harvey draws tiny little eyes which takes away some of the cartooniness and fun. McKimson did that too.

Both these cartoonists are top talents and have 90% of their approach in common. The 10% or so where they vary is where their personal styles happen.

On the surface the 2 styles look very different, but a lot of the appeal of both styles is that they have such great drawing skill supporting the individual differences.
A lot of Kelly's style is in his inking. The drawings themselves don't deviate much from standard 40s cartoon style, but the finish really grabs your attention and seals the deal.

A lot of the appeal of any skill is the skill itself. Just the fact that someone can do something technically amazing- that most of humanity can't is entertaining. That's why there is such a big audience for the Olympics of for UFC. Each athlete may have his own own personal style, but if he doesn't win then it didn't do him much good.

This aspect of technical virtuosity is missing from today's popular entertainment, yet I meet plenty of cartoonists who think they have "a style" and want to be judged on their individuality. Usually this style is just a collection of ignorant mistakes or a superficial imitation of the latest decadent trend in executive-pleasing cartoons.


By the 1960s most cartoons had become really stiff. Eisenberg's posing retained the line of action and opposing poses of classic cartoons.
The poses are more subtle in these comics, but still show extreme knowledge and control.


patrick said...

The comic with the alligator and the board is hilarious, every panel!

Peggy said...

I think a lot of the appeal of Kelly's drawings for me is the subtle balance between sloppiness and solidity. The way he mixed simple construction with off-hand, loose hints of carefully-observed anatomy is really fascinating; these casual little flicks of the brush suggesting flesh wrinkling around a joint are still awe-inspiring to me.

Rob Peters said...

Great post comparing two very talented artists. I can't help but wonder if the lack of dynamic-ness in Kelly's panels comes partially from the comic strip size restrictions. Most of Kelly's best known work was confined to the very small newspaper comic strip. I wonder what he would have done if he had room to stretch out in?
Eisenberg is an artist that I've never heard of outside this blog. Do you know if any of his work is in print anywhere? I'd love to study it.

Caleb said...

Great examples to explain how 90% of their techniques are the same. To me it seems like Kelly is intentionally making choices to be unique, where Eisenberg is going for more of a classic look. Even with all of the skill involved, they must have churned these out very fast.

trevor said...

A lot of Kelly's style is in his inking.

I've often wondered if Walt was responsible - even if only partially - for the thick-line appeal that has prevailed over political cartoons for the last thirty years.

George Herriman probably has something to do with it too.

- trevor.

Whit said...

Walt Kelly drank a hell of a lot, which may or may not have been a contributing factor to the amount of life he put into his work. Don't know if Eisenberg imbibed.


Hi John.
When I was a kid I was blown away by the "Hey there it's Yogi Bear" comic book tie in... great poses it was like looking at a terrific board as well the inside of the front and back covers were covered with yogi in what looked like very strong animation poses. It was so strong I was disappointed by the film. I know this is a specific question but any ideas who the artist was.. Hazelton ?..Eisenberg ? Great blog by the way.

chrisallison said...

Wow Eisenberg is awesome. Thanks for the tip, John!

Matthew Long said...

There's an appeal in Kelly's work that I love, and his inking is amazing, so loose but controlled. I was originally introduced to Pogo after finding out Jeff Smith of Bone fame imitated his style. But like you say about later cartoonist, it's much more toned down than the original and loses much in the process.

Pete Emslie said...

What a great analysis of these two cartoonists! I'm glad that you can appreciate Walt Kelly for what he brought to the medium, John, even though I can understand why you might personally prefer Harvey Eisenberg.

My own feeling is that Eisenberg chose to remain truer to the medium of animation, maintaining a greater consistency in his characters from panel to panel, as well as imbuing them with the illusion of frantic movement. In contrast, I suspect that Kelly, despite his obvious influence from his Disney animation years, was far more in love with the print medium, and therefore not that interested in slavishly adhering to consistency from panel to panel. This lack of what I call "artistic accountability" is a luxury that we print cartoonists can get away with, whereas animators have to account for how everything moves from frame to frame, without something randomly changing and "boiling" on the screen. (This rule seems to apply more strictly to commercial studio animation than personal "fine art" animated films, however.)

Perhaps this lack of accountability in Kelly's work would help to explain why Chuck Jones was unable to successfully translate "Pogo" to the screen. I really don't think it is due to any visual shortcomings in Jones' work, so much as a basic no win situation in trying to adapt the liberties that Kelly deliberately took in his own art to then making the characters adhere more to the rules of animated design. Though I think the script to Chuck's TV special is a mess, I think he actually did the best he could to maintain the integrity of Kelly's art, all things considered.

As you mention, the wonderfully juicy thick to thin ink lines of Walt Kelly's work is an inherent part of his visual appeal. As simple as his characters are, it is that great inking that helps to "sculpt" them on the page as 3-dimensional entities and the loose, unlaboured approach also brings out so much of the inner life in these drawings. I must confess that much of my own inking style has been influenced to a great degree from studying Kelly's work. Like him, I too am more in love with the print medium than animation, especially since it can more easily be accomplished by a single artist as opposed to a team effort.

Peter said...

Eisenberg tends to "break the picture plain", meaning he usually puts a bush or rock in the corner of the frame to create more depth in the composition...Kelly rarely does this.

This would come from Eisenberg's years of doing high quality Layouts for MGM, while Kelly was an animator so he focused on the poses and probably "built" his BGs around his poses.

Also, I suspect Jones was influenced by Kelly when he was doing his Sniffles cartoons...it seems more likely Jones picked up a Dell comic than it would be for Kelly to be aware of Jones' cartoons. Either way it's REALLY INTERESTING to see the similarities to Jones' early work here!

HemlockMan said...

Did Eisenberg write his stories, or did he compose them from scripts done by another writer? I ask this because, while I read both Eisenberg stuff when I was a kid (I didn't know who he was, but I read those books) and Kelly's work, I don't recall laughing out loud at anything in Eisneberg's comics. I did, however (and often) laugh out loud when reading Pogo comics and Pogo strips written and illustrated by Kelly.

Which doesn't mean that I'm challenging any of your declarations about Eisenberg. Merely the effects of each of the artists on my the sense of humor of me between the ages of five and twelve (when I stopped reading all funny animal comics save for Kelly and Barks).

It's obvious that Kelly certainly was the least dynamic of the two, when it comes to figure drawing.

JohnK said...

Just for the record, I'm not saying one artist is better overall than the other. I like them both a lot.

They both have good things that we could apply to our own work.

Rich said...

This is off-topic, but check out this YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4wQfQtpDAc

It's a clip of an interview with this fundamentalist Christian woman about who to vote for.

Look at the way her eyes go all wide when she talks. And the way she purses her lips! She looks so crazy/angry, she's like a caricature of a human being. I wish I could capture it for reference.

Deniseletter said...

Hi John,You're right, the inking makes the difference!Apart other details,that is why Kelly impressed me the first time I saw his drawings.

Nikita said...

I really enjoyed those musketeer Tom&Jerry's I still sing that song the little one knew.

really useful info, I've been learning more extreme poses than the usual 'just standin around' I used to do. I'm still not sure if their right though, I want to show you some if your willing to judge them cause I've got alot.

and before I forget I noticed its ok to make mistakes starting out and something I noticed from Chuck jones really gives me hope for the future.


John S. said...

Thank you for this analysis, John. I've studied Kelly's work for years, and yet never really understood his style to this degree. Thanks!

tx721lx said...

Regarding the 40's cartoons,
I have a Hollywood question that maybe someone knows the answer to.
Is there a "standard" cartoon sound effect and music library? If so, how would one obtain said sounds their amusement?

As I watch new cartoons, so many of them use the SAME sounds and even the music from the far past. Just wondering. PS: I love the old music and sounds.

notanymike said...

Weren't there some execeptions to the standard even to this day? Bloom County? Calvin & Hobbs? Bizarro?