Saturday, August 16, 2008

Kurtzman and Composition

This top panel has 2 large elements:

1) The falling pig.

2) The cliffs/rocks that he is falling off.

Each of those two parts is then again split up into smaller parts that make the bigger parts read clearly and look good.

1) The pig's pose follows a clear line of action and his clothes and features flow along the overall organic curve.

2) His silhouette is framed by the rope and the rope itself has a pleasing design which leads in perspective to the smaller pig in the distance.

3) Between the rope and the cliff you can see a few smaller falling rocks, clearly framed between the 2 larger elements.

4) The clouds have distinct shapes and are then broken into smaller rounded forms that flow along the overall shapes. The two clouds create a pleasing negative shape between them.

5) That negative shape frames a falling pick axe.

You can also split up the cliff half of the image into its individual rocks and the flowing details along the rocks. Everything fits together in an organic pleasing artistic pattern. No wonkiness. No haphazard arangement of unrelated shapes and details. This is all very cleverly thought out. It's not by accident. Every element is carefully arranged to create an overall design.

It is split up into segments, each which then again is split up and carefully arranged into smaller parts that enhance the larger parts. This pattern works al the way down to the smallest details.

I encourage my layout artists to use this system of hierarchy. It makes everything read clearly. It frames the most important elements of the picture and it makes for an overall pleasing graphic statement. It's also very hard to do, but Kurtzman makes it look easy.

Kurtzman is a master of clarity and design. I would love to see this concept of hierarchical arrangement of compositional elements return to cartoons. It's a sign of top professionalism and artistic control - and it both performs a function (making the important elements read well and quickly) and is really pleasing to look at.

Those 2 ingredients make it art.

Function and aesthetic.

Go see more of this lost classic comic by one of the all time great cartoonists!

Milt Gross is another master of composition:

Although his style is different than Kurtzman's on the surface, he is using the same underlying controls to make his images read.

Howie Post has this talent too:


Mitch L said...

Great post! These posts really help me allot, Thanks for that!

It really looks so simple and logical. But offcourse it's not that simple. Im gonna study some backgrounds like that soon.

Jake the Animator said...

Negative Space! Lovin' that Negative Space!

Bob Flynn said...

Great breakdown of a striking image. This stuff doesn't happen by magic. Good composition is certainly a balancing act. Equally important, if not more-so, in the world of comics. Where you're working with static images that need to imply movement.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

That's probabloy what makes King Aroo so disppointing. Great character design, but most of the sundays are just filled with random clutter.

Caleb Bowen said...

Thanks for all of the clearly explained info. There is a big negative space between the people that know this stuff and the people that don't(most teachers).

mike f. said...

Hey, John - can you do a post on MODERN comic book storytelling? You're not being fair, just analyzing all this OLD shit all the time...

Don't forget to point out the modern, innovative use of head shot panels - and LOTS of 'em. (And for added emphasis - lots of long, skinny panels of a character's eye or mouth, or something.)

THEN you could mention the tons of cross-hatching detail - delineating muscle groups that don't exist in humans - in order to impress fanboy wankers; and the use of multiple light sources for an added absolute minimum of clarity.

THEN you can move on to newspaper comics, and explore the exciting "rubber stamp" layout design schemes of award-winning modern comic strips like DOONESBURY, DILBERT, FOXTROT and BOONDOCKS.

Yes sir! I sure can't understand why the comics industry is dying, and perpetually on the verge of bankruptcy, though...

Mitch L said...

I couldn't sleep. So that whas a nice opportunity to study/breakdown some backgrounds.

Here is the homework!

Bitter Animator said...

The first one doesn't work for me at all - are my eyes broken? The character looks great and the rock shape works well when you colour it as one but, in the actual original image, whether it's the colours or the rock shapes inside, I find it hard to focus on the image. Just all seems blobby and unclear to me.

And yet, when you break it down to the shapes, it works much better. Is it poor colouring or am I just alone with that?

trevor said...

Hey John,

Why don't you charge for this? This is the type of stuff that only the best schools teach, and you're being so kind as to tell us for free!!!


- trevor.

Timefishblue said...

I can't get enough of these composition posts!

Melton Bing said...

Sometimes you drive me nuts, Kricfalusi. You completely disregard Robert Crumb and Edward Gorey, who fly in the face of these rules. Then again, they're from the latter half of the 20th century and dared to sign their own work, so I guess that's to be expected.

JohnK said...

Isn't Crumb a big fan of Kurtzman too?
What rules are you asking about?


I think of it as a tool, not a rule.

mike f. said...

Bing, please explain how Robert Crumb and Edward Gorey "fly in the face of" good composition and clear storytelling.

The world is waiting for the expert opinion of a self-described "bon vivant" and "boulevardier" on these weighty matters.

Jack Ruttan said...

That pig's nose creeps me out.

Gorey and Crumb have little to do with each other, outside of both using cross-hatching.

I like cross-hatching, but it's not very animator-y. (new word)

Still, every good artist uses aspects of those design ideas you're pointing out.

HemlockMan said...

What happened to Post after Harvey shut down? Was he even around at that time? I recall loving the comic book that he did for DC, ANTHRO. Damn, that was a good comic book. So different from anything else in those days.

Adam T said...

I went to the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco and saw some of Crumbs more recent original pages. They were done on light blue grid paper. The grid wasn't just used to create the panels, the drawings and the layout of text bubbles were composed using the grid as a guide.

Crumbs drawings have a lot of crosshatching but all of his work since like 1980 is really easy to read (visually) and this is because he's very good at composition. A drawing doesn't have to be sparse to be well composed I think that's what Melton Bing is assuming. It's just that sparser drawings are the best examples for explaining composition to beginners.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

One of these days I'll show you a whole run of Drop-outs, the strip he did in the seventies... not nearly as good as his other work.