Today we have the triumphant return of R. Fiore, with a column all about one of the most discussed books of the past few months, Bill Griffith’s Invisible Ink.
The heart of the story is the 16-year affair the author’s mother Barbara Griffith conducted with what the subtitle calls a “famous cartoonist.” The perspicacious reader will suspect that if the cartoonist had actually been famous the jacket would have told you who it was. And yet the cartoonist’s very obscurity leads us into an unknown country. We know plenty about the bright bon vivants of the cartoon world, the Peter Arnos, the Charles Addamses, the Edward Goreys, the Al Hirschfelds. We know little of the likes of Lawrence Lariar. Lariar is one of those cartoonists who builds a career not by distinguishing himself but indistinguishing himself. If you are the sort who haunts the humor sections of used bookstores you may have seen his work a number of times and it would not have registered once. Not being capable of delighting or amazing, he has mastered the craft of calculating what will meet the editor’s needs at this time, this being the time to fill X number of pages. By its look you will know that it’s humorous art. The punchline will be recognizable as a joke, though it will not quite generate the energy for a laugh. It will be suggestive enough to inform you that the subject matter is sexual intercourse but not dirty enough to incite the wrath of the Postal Inspector.
Elsewhere in the universe…
Jack Elrod, who produced Mark Trail for over half a century, has passed away.
Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager is also a comic book store owner!
Emily Flake, interviewed.
Today’s image is a Grateful Dead poster by an unknown artist c. early 1970s. As with comics, I’ve spent so long looking at perfectly crafted psychedelic design (Moscoso, Griffin et al) that I now seek out and really enjoy the uncategorizable vernacular mode of psych drawing that tries for, say, Griffin but winds up in some other place by virtue of basic lack of skills. I enjoy that. Yes I do.
On the other end of the spectrum is this phenomenal page by Alex Toth, from Land of the Unknown, 1957. It’s Toth at the apex of his Caniff/Marsh-mode, setting the tone, really, for what Hugo Pratt would become. Look at how FULL the panels are. Note in particular panels 1 and 4. In panel one Toth sets up three distinct spaces, and delineates the goddamned smoke by scratching away the ink with a razor blade. The ropey vines in the foreground are lovingly rendered, but the bush is just a jumble of quick, gorgeous brush strokes — very much as Jesse Marsh would have done. Then in panel 4 he smartly switches to thin pen lines to allow for a real depth of space and again brushes in the foreground, creating a rather remarkable, little accidental abstract drawing there. Plus, none of this drawing distracts from moving the narrative right along. Just a fucking masterpiece. Have a nice weekend.