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!



Bitter Animator said...

Some lovely images here. Though you're not exactly comparing like with like on the modern image - I imagine you'd have no problem finding fairly dead samey faces in any age if you went looking.

But I guess that leads me to the opposite - what modern strip cartoonists do you admire? Are there any modern day equivalents at all?

Bitter Animator said...

Of course, I'm realising now that you didn't even mention age with that example... I guess I'm so used to seeing it. And it's very early here. Yeah, that's my excuse.

JohnK said...

What modern image?

These are all ancient.

Bill Watterson and Jamie Hewlett are modern day throw backs to when cartoons had skills.

Kali Fontecchio said...

Lots to chew on.

Bitter Animator said...

Yeah, I realised that after I posted. Not a good start to a Wednesday morning.

I love Bill Watterson's work. The thing about his work, is that he really seems to get inside the mind of children, and make it funny for adults. It's like two separate skills being put together to make something greater. And that's even before you get to the actual drawings.

I've lost all track of newspaper cartoons and have no idea what's out there now.

Andy said...

Hey John.

I was reading your older blog posts for the last hour and a half, instead of studying (ha).

I just want to say that you're one of the smartest guys in the world... And I mean it. You know so much about art and cartoons, that it astounds me.

I know that you wish you could have grown up in the Looney Tunes era, so you could've worked with the greats, but I disagree. Without you here today cartoons would be bland and visually boring. The past is over but you're here to give the future's entertainment some hope! lol.

It must annoy you to see things like Family Guy become so popular. But is the show that much fun to create like your stuff? Do the fans of Family Guy really care that much about its creation process? Your work is a million times better than all cartoons out there today. I really mean it!

You're the best... You don't have to publish this comment because it has nothing to do with the post, lol. But yeah, it'd be cool if you read this. When it's out, I'm gonna send your new show to everyone man.


diego cumplido said...

why do you avoid talking about Jim Tyer (I think you said that you didn't because it could give a wrong idea to animation students) and not avoid talking about Milt Gross? is it because this hierarchy and negative space laws he follows? just an amateur's question, sorry.

Larry Levine said...

John, Milt Gross was one of the truly great masters of the comic art form, we're very fortunate that his legacy is alive & well in your work!!!

chrisallison said...

Hey John, I'd love to see some more character layout drawings if you get the chance!

perspex said...

how's THAT for a artistic meme?

perspex said...

Bill Watterson and Jamie Hewlett are modern day throw backs to when cartoons had skills.
indeed. i wish there was more of them.

Gabriele_Gabba said...

I'm with Kali on this one, it was a lot to chew on! I'm quite grateful you're exposing me to this cartoonist he is quite incredible!

I'm seriously loving this concept of clumps! I've never heard of it before and it really helps!

Also i can see how much he uses color to his advantage, i wonder if he did color tests before the final printing..

trevor said...

Glad you've finally said something nice about Bill Watterson, John.

What do you think of Jim Borgman and Mike Peters?

- trevor.

PS: This is the type of post I love!!! A lot of information with a lot of wonderful art to get lost in! I owe you a steak and a small fortune.

Ryan G. said...

Watterson and Borgman went to the same college. Later they were rival political cartoonists in Cincinnati. Watterson was much influenced by Borgman's talent.

Caleb Bowen said...

My favorite thing about Milt Gross is the way he draws eyes. They can be really close together or on the side of the head, but he makes it look right every time.

Anonymous said...

I gotta say John, you've got a great brain in that cranium of yours. Far too often these days cartoons are just awful. Saturday morning cartoons have deteriorated to nothing more than a big animated board or card game. it seemed to start with Pokemon, then Digimon was even worse.. Yu-gi-oh, Beyblade is the worst and most blatant episodic commercial I've seen.
Albeit the shows out now, are animated decently and all, but they just can't hold my interest.
It always seems to just boil down to Humans in some way or another battling someone else in some big ridiculous arena.
We need more people like you around in this industry, people who nurture the creative spirit rather than quash it because it won't make the most money.
And although not ALL cartoons these days fit into that category, it seems that those that do are the favorite to the mass, for what reason I'll never know.

But I digress...
My overall point aside from the rant, is that I definitely look up to you as an animator.
I grew up on Looney Tunes and Ren & Stimpy.
Good teachers.

And one more thing, I'm curious about any more Lost Episodes you may be doing.
I've got the others, and I would always love to see more, the psychodramas especially make me laugh.


Mitch K said...

Great post! Thanks a lot!

Matt Hawkins said...

It's high time some one talked Fantagraphics or someone into doing a retrospective book of Milt's work, with a forward by John K! He Done Her Wrong was a great start we need more Milt!

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

WHAT A POST!!! Many, many thanks!