Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Some Things Milt Gross Excels At

I think Milt Gross is probably the most all around talented cartoonist in history.

Many great cartoonists are known for certain distinct skills or unique traits. Gross had a ton of rare skills.

Oddly, many of Milt Gross' main characters were fairly indistinct basic 30s style comic strip characters. He used more imagination in the designs of incidental characters.

What really amazes me is that he will design each character in a crowd individually, where most cartoonists will just repeat the same designs in a wall of generic people.

I love this kid design!

Gross is my favorite funnny animal designer.


Gross knew that facial hair is intrinsically funny, especially when you juxtapose variations of it.
He loved to draw mustaches and beards. Here he draws the same mustache 3 different ways.

He uses the facial hair to help create the expressions.
Like all truly creative cartoonists, Gross wouldn't ever draw the same character the same way twice.
This Indian's turban, proportions, beard and nose are different shapes and sizes in every panel, yet you always recognize him as the same character. Even the stripes on the turban can't make up their minds about which way to transverse the hat. You would get fired at any studio today for being this free and creative. I don't even think it's possible in CG.
Kirby shared this talent of eschewing consistency in favor of spontaneity and visual fun. I used to be in awe of how his uniforms would change from panel to panel...so would his machinery and weapons. I think I read somewhere that it drove Stan Lee crazy, but he had to put up with it.

Kirby would change Doctor Doom's mask of armor from panel to panel to give him expressions! A crazy impossibility; cartoon license in a serious comic book!

Most comic artists draw the same characters as if their faces are even incapable of moving:


This is a rare talent for any cartoonist. Milt Gross was a master of staging and composition.

One of his unique recurrent framing devices was to have an L shaped frame to one side of the panel.I haven't noticed other cartoonists who use this. Maybe I'll try it. It looks so great.

This is a device that really makes the characters come alive. One character's pose directly affects and balances the other's pose. The poses compose around each other.
The negative spaces between them are as much of a design as the poses themselves.
Other artists with this skill: Harvey Kurtzman, Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, Tex Avery,Owen Fitzgerald, Hank Ketcham.

Owen Fitzgerald was also very aware of the power of opposing poses.

Composing crowds is very hard to do. The more details and characters in a scene, the harder it is to arrange them so that you can see what's important.

Gross arranges his groups of people into clumps in a clever hierarchy. The kid and the man are one clump. The evil Punjabs are another clump that fit into a large overall shape. Then that shape is in turn broken into sub-clumps. The main Indian in front has a unique outfit and is separated by more tightly grouped villains behind him.

Even that group has a sub hierarchy made of sub-sub-clumps.

Gross even controls his mayhem scenes. Everything in this panel reads clearly: first as an overall statement of anarchy, but then it breaks up into sub-scenes and groups of actions and characters.

Jack Kirby has this same talent of controlling complicated crowds and making them easy to read.Jack Kirby Marvel Not Brand Echhhttp://www.animationarchive.org/2008/01/comics-jack-kirby-in-not-brand-echh.html
Owen shares another trait with Kirby and Gross - design and control of crowds.

Other artists noted for drawing crowds are the Mad artists of the 50s. The difference between their crowds, and Gross' are that the Mad crowds are usually wall-to-wall haphazard piles of people with not as much planned arrangement.http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v500/dantiques/36000b/36771.jpg
The fun in these is to hunt through the picture to see how many gags you can find. It isn't an overall design.

Controlling crowds with composition is difficult enough, but then to add a feeling of wild action with a lot of stuff happening is simply amazing.

Every one of these panels of crazy action has a plan and a center of energy that controls the arrangement of the mayhem.
All the crazy stuff flying out of this window radiates from the same point. The crowd and police at the bottom of the frame curve around and frame the radiating energy.

Buy The Milt Gross Funnies Book!