Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Art Collection: Magazine Drawings By College Student Mort Walker, 1947-8, Part Two

(Click any for bigger. Recommended!)

More fun college art from Mort Walker, drawn for the University of Missouri's "Missouri Showme" magazine. First up are two superbly competent deviations from Walker's "big foot" cartoony style, realistic portrait heads (unlabeled, alas) executed in brush, pen, and ink washes with white highlights. Very nice work, if a bit wooden. One can sense the laborious nature of these drawings, and they seem like more of an assignment than anything. Perhaps they were!

Now back to the more silly work we'd expect from Walker, another ad for Charlie's Café:

I really like his "raggedy" use of dot screens, although it does verge on sloppy in some cases. More fun spot illustrations:

His love of drawing people in humorous lounging/sleeping positions would come to serve him well in Beetle Bailey!

These are drawings of the UM mascot, Truman the Tiger:


Clearly Walker had no future as a "funny animal" cartoonist, but he gave it the ol'... college try!

And that concludes this episode of "Before They were Famous". Really glad I bought these fun drawings. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Art Collection: Magazine Drawings By College Student Mort Walker, 1947-8, Part One

(Click any for bigger. Above: ad drawing for Charlie's Café.)

I love seeing the early, pre-fame work of well-known cartoonists. It's fascinating to see them groping for a style. These drawings were executed by Mort Walker, later the creator of Beetle Bailey, Hi and Lois, Sam's Strip, and others, for his college magazine, the Missouri Showme, when he was a student at the University of Missouri in 1947-8.

(Ad drawing for Charlie's Café.)

As with the early work by Johnny Hart in my collection, here you can see Walker working in a classic, stereotypical "mid-century modern" cartooning style, and it's obvious that he's influenced more by magazine and commercial illustration than by comic strip artists. Compared to Johnny Hart's crude efforts, Walker has a real flair for the style, knowing just how to balance angularity with bulbousness. Clearly he was a natural-born cartoonist:

He's got a way to go, however. For instance, I find his failure to cut out the feet and bucket from his Zip-a-tone, above, to be almost inexcusable.

Another hallmark of student work is experimentation with technique and style. Above, he's used horizontal lines in an interesting way. Below, in both drawings, he's using white paint to achieve certain effects. On the left he's experimenting with a modernist faux-woodcut style in a drawing which reminds me very much of Wanda Gag's work.

Walker was familiar with modernism, and even did a spot-on Picasso parody (with a REALLY dirty "cherry" joke) for the cover of the magazine, a transgression which earned him a suspension as editor.

(Ad for Sampson's Grill.)

These drawings might not look much like Beetle Bailey, but their are some hallmarks of his style already present: the figures are lively and energetic, he has a tendency to give more emphasis to white or empty areas over blacks or shading, he composes carefully and with clarity, and he doesn't vary his line width much. These traits would serve him well when he started Beetle Bailey just a few years later in 1950.

You can read more about Mort Walker and the Missouri Showme at the link above, at Mort Walker's website,  at the Columbia Daily Tribune, and at UM's website.

More in a day or two!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Art Collection: Can You Guess The Artist?

(Click for bigger.)

I just acquired twelve drawings by this artist. They're all from 1947-8, just a few years before he became very famous and successful. More, and the answer, tomorrow!

Ugly Tour Bus Drawing: French Mutation

(Click for bigger.)

This is another case where I saw a bus I wanted to photograph but was unable to get close enough to it. Luckily, the detail I wanted was easy to recreate.

Still unable to decide if I should add some fake shadows or reflections to it.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Audioblogging: Pylon Live, Athens, August 2004

Pylon were an instant favorite of mine from the moment I heard their first 7". They were always somewhat overshadowed by their Athens compatriots the B-52s and REM, probably because they weren't as adorable and media-friendly as the former, or as slick as the latter. On the other hand, they WERE as catchy and infectious as their more fortunate native comrades.

Otherwise, Pylon had much more in common with British post-punk bands like Gang of Four and PIL, with their heavy-bass-driven grooves and scratchy guitar. I believe their greatest strength was almost certainly their fatal weakness: their lead singer. Vanessa Briscoe eschewed new wave girl cutesiness with a growling rasp and abstract lyrics. She was more like Johnny Rotten than Debbie Harry. In fact, the entire band was practically anti-cute.

During their first period, from 1979 - 1983, Pylon released a handful of superb singles and two great albums, Gyrate and Chomp, which I have never gone more than a couple of months without hearing. They gave it another brief go in the late 80s/early 90s, but the momentum had vanished, and their final album, Chain, was not without its charms, but fairly unmemorable. 

Fast forward to 2003: I was talking about music with a coworker when the subject of early 80s music came up. I was surprised when he asked, "Have you heard of Pylon?" and then I almost fell over when he said that they were old friends of his. About a year later, he revealed to me that Pylon had just done their first gig in years, and that Randall Bewley, their guitarist, had sent him a CD of the performance, which he passed along to my astonished hands.

Shortly thereafter, I was thrilled to meet Randy in person when he came to my work to visit our mutual friend. He revealed that Pylon wasn't going to attempt to get back together as a full-time thing, but that they'd have future shows and perhaps make new recordings. All of them had gone on to other careers, and they were happy with their "erstwhile beloved" status while being realistic about their place in the music industry food chain.

And then... Randy died. Horribly. And that, really, finally, was the end of Pylon. Sometimes the world just isn't fair.

So here, thanks to Randy, is their "public practice" gig from Summer 2004, the first time they had performed together in many years. I don't believe this has ever been released to the web. They sound really good considering the time which had passed, and it's telling that they didn't do a single song from their nondescript third album. The song list:

1. Recent Title
2. Cool
3. Working is No Problem
4. Gravity
5. Weather Radio
6. The Human Body
7. Read a Book
8. Driving School
9. Beep
10. Crazy
11. Dub
12. Volume
13. Feast on My Heart
14. Danger
15. Stop It!
16. M Train

The mp3 files are zipped up in a 85mb archive and downloadable here, and you can read more about the gig here.


PS: It turns out the Pylon typeface is Eurostile Extended Bold.