Monday, November 29, 2010

Cartoony, Graphic and Directly to the Point: Kurtzman's Hey Look

Harvey Kurtzman's "Hey Look" is UPA before UPA. It's also something more. It has the graphic qualities of "Gerald McBoing Boing" and "Fudget's Budget", but without abandoning its cartoony roots. It's similar to T. Hee's style, but with a lot more verve.
Technically, Harvey has a lot of obvious great qualities but above and beyond them all is his ability to balance them graphically to convey a sense of uber-life.
His use of space, positive and negative is the best of any cartoonist I've ever seen. He balances the spaces to make perfectly readable and appealing pictures that tell a story in the most direct possible way. I could write a whole page just explaining the genius of the picture above.
His continuity is wonderful too. He only changes what needs to be changed from panel to panel and uses hierarchy in how much he changes each character. The chef above changes more from panel 1 to panel 2 than the guy watching him. He is the active character while the little guy, being reactive, moves only enough to help draw more attention to the main guy.
His angles, compositions, poses and eye direction all serve to focus our attention exactly to the point of the scene. I don't know any other cartoonist who is so perfectly direct in his graphic technique. No extraneous busy distracting details. Everything leads our eyes to where Kurtzman wants us to look.
It's very hard to have this much thoughtful planned skill and still be able to convey a sense of spontaneity and fun.
I love the way his characters are so interested in everything they do. They believe intensely in every pose, gesture, emotion and expression they perform.
Even without knowing the context of some of these drawings, the graphic skill and balance of shapes are aesthetically beautiful. It's truly modern art.

Very graphic, but still cartoony.
Nothing vague about his poses and expressions.
This is such a contrast with today's completely timid approach to everything. No one wants to commit to a clear statement anymore.
It takes a rare kind of talent to have such an unabashed and bold way to communicate clear ideas through his art.
Even though the images are beautiful in of themselves, the content and context of the stories is what inspired every pose and composition. These aren't floating doodles in a sketchbook. They are all continuity drawings of characters acting out a little story.
More cocksure masterful balancing of positive and negative shapes. I feel like I'm reading the comic equivalent of Fred Astaire. This work glorifies in its confidence and show offy skill.
One of the few real cartooning geniuses: Harvey Kurtzman.

To Denis Kitchen: Please re-release "Hey Look"!

Thanks again to Chris Lopez for scanning all the great comic art from his collection to share with us.
HEY LOOK! and Harvey Kurtzman's great MAD covers