Tuesday, May 26, 2009

George Baker's Sad Sack Evolves

I love seeing the progression of a talented cartoonists' style. When I was a kid, I bought all the Harvey Comics' Sad Sack books, just for George Baker's covers. Unfortunately the insides were mostly drawn by a very generic boring artist, but the covers were wildly stylish.

Baker's early style was not anywhere near as extreme as it became, but you can see the beginnings of his signature approach.
He was very good at drawing scenes from slightly high angles, looking down on his characters.


As his cartoons became more and more angular, he still maintained a gruff kind of regular joe feel to his work. He didn't become stylish to prove he was high class. I think his style just evolved naturally, a bit at a time.

Watch how the dog evolves over time...

MIDDLE PERIODBaker was great at feet, whether they were human feet or dog paws. Stylish, but firmly planted on the ground. You can't draw a horizontal line through the left and right foot as you can with most characters today.

Great use of composition and hierarchy!

His late period was extremely harsh stylistically, but I love it. It's so uniquely his own style, and doesn't seem self-conscious at all to me.
I love how solid his backgrounds are, and the feet keep getting better and better.

No matter how stylish and severe, Baker's drawings got he still maintained some basic skills-his great compositions, and dynamic perspectives and angles. He really had a talent for planting his characters' feet solidly on the ground plane.
The dog always show off Baker's talent for mixing high stylistic license with solidly thought out perspective and construction.
His vehicles were fantastic!

Aren't these beautiful? - in a manly, chunky gritty way?

I've struggled in the animation business with all the controls and systems set in place to stop styles and regular characters from evolving naturally. Many producers think it's a sin for characters to ever change and they make huge model sheet binders filled with arbitrary constrictions to clamp down on any individuality or inspiration, or just plain stop the process of slow natural evolution. Studios beat this into their cartoonists, until they finally get to the point where they are afraid to let their natural feelings or personality guide their drawings.

The other extreme is when young cartoonists think they need to express their unique personality through an artificially created personal "style". This usually consists of skipping the steps of learning basic drawing skills in general and going right to copying someone else's already established style superficially or or doing a slight variation of a school of style. This also gets in the way of natural evolution and the ability to express one's self.


Niki said...

How do you think this evolution came upon his work? did it come naturally or did he continue to learn more and apply it?

HemlockMan said...

Baker was quite good. When I was a kid I was initially surprised to open the books with those great covers to find the blah artwork inside. Still, for some reason, I liked those comics and read lots of them. The scripts appealed to me when I was eight or nine.

Years later, when I was selling old comics for a living, I hated the era when Harvey used that postage stamp design to show number and price, because people would often slice them off. What were they doing with them? Putting them in booklets? Whatever they were doing, I would find Harvey comics collections wherein all of the covers on such issues would have razor-cut gaps in them where the "postage stamp" was cut out.

mike f. said...

I wish I knew more about George Baker. His covers remind me of another underrated midcentury cartoonist - Bud Blake, who did TIGER.

Blake had a similar style; (not his layouts, just the way he designed characters.) Blake's drawings were rounder, softer and cuter - with a kiddie motif.

In fact, Sad Sack's pet dog (whose name was Muttsey) seems to be evolving into Tiger's dog, Stripe. (From what I can remember, neither dog ever impacted the stories much. They were background props, like the Bumsteads' dog Daisy, in BLONDIE.)

Sad Sack was popular enough to be made into a movie in 1957 - with Jerry Lewis and Peter Lorre. You can't beat that combination.

Jack G. said...

I had a Sad Sack book from Baker's army years.

All the strips had no dialog.

There was a funny strip where Sad Sack reacts while watching an army film about VD! His reactions were really funny.

Tony said...

On your last note, I recently came upon the character bible for the new show Adventure Time coming to Cartoon Network: LinkWhat do you think?

Thomas said...

reminds me of Don Martin - the angularity

Paul B said...

Yeah, it gives me the same Don Martin feeling

Oliver_A said...

>>On your last note, I recently came upon the character bible for the new show Adventure Time coming to Cartoon Network: LinkWhat do you think?<<This is pure comedy! They pretend to start with good intentions by saying "All of these rules are intended as a place to start, not as the one and only way to draw the show. We want you to have fun." only to continue with a sermon about how NOT to draw the characters. Shouldn't this stuff be judged on a scene by scene base? Stuff like, "Oh no, we can't draw him with a grinning smile, because he has bad teeth!" seems very odd to me, especially considering the name of the show.

Instead, they seem to endorse copying expressions from the japanese "weird cutey" look. Quite adventurous...

Andrew Mortlock said...

The diving board in the first cover is difficult to focus on, the effect of motion is so perfect I can't look at it without seeing the movement!? amazing!

David R said...

I feel like the boxing cover could have been designed a little better - the overlap of Sad Sack and the crowsd seems a little confusing. If he had dropped the heads down below Sack' body, wouldn't that have framed it better? Just trying to apply your principles.

Zoran Taylor said...

Ah, I don't think that character bible is so bad. The suggestions are pretty interesting. I mean, Pen Ward is pretty young, isn't he? Never mind getting into an argument about how old you should be before creating a series (I realize this isn't the same thing as experience and I make that distinction deliberately) - I'm sure it can be intimidating to start a series and get to know a crew for the first time in an era like the present. And Ward strikes me as kinda conservative anyway, despite the oddness of his sense of humour. Anyway, those drawing look more fun that most of what I've seen in years. Even though I'm not much of a fan of the pilot, I think the show has potential.

Zoran Taylor said...

*BTW, I'm now picturing someone starting a needless argument based on my last post, and it cracks me up.*

ejco said...

remember the Harvey comic HOT STUFF? that was a cool looking little devil baby toon and had some mad good covers, but when you opened it up ( like alot of Harvey stuff) it looked like a cheap Twinkees ad with massive yellows and reds, poorly printed and like off center in many odd ways