Sunday, January 31, 2010

Happy Birthday, David D. Dowd, Jr.!

Today is my father’s 81st birthday. He (and indirectly, me) walks the earth due to the late life exploits of one Colonel David Dudley Dowd, born in Saybrook, Connecticut in 1806. He moved west to Seville, Ohio in 1831 and remained there for the rest of his many days. He acquired the honorific "Colonel" during the Civil War by raising local troops. After his wife Mary died in 1875, the Colonel remarried. As it turned out, the old bird retained his youthful vigor, or enough of it anyway to produce what otherwise would have been denied him: a male heir, or David Dudley Dowd No. 2. “Dud,” as he was called, became father to my grandfather, David Sr., who with his wife Martha produced three sons, David, Jr., Jack, and Jim.

There are now three David Dudley Dowds: my dad, my brother (David III) and nephew (David IV).

My Dad, like the colonel before him, has ceded little to age. He remains an active member of the federal judiciary, and though he’s lost some distance and added some strokes to his golf handicap (he was once a scratch player) he’s a threat to place whenever he enters an event.

Given the subject of this blog, I offer a few visuals in honor of the occasion, each a nod to one of Dad’s passions: a film still from Touchdown Mickey (1932), one of my all-time favorite cartoons, Disney or otherwise, featuring Mickey’s Manglers versus the Alley Cats, with an incomprehensible Goofy providing the play-by-play; Leslie Saalburg, On the Green–Hole High, Esquire, March 1935; an SI cover from 1965 highlighting better days for the Cleveland Browns; and an editorial cartoon from 1912, by Clifford Kennedy Berryman, How They’re Acting and How They Feel, from the three-way presidential election of 1912 between Wilson, the Democrat, incumbent Taft, the Republican, and Teddy Roosevelt, Republican renegade Bull-Mooser; and the Touchdown Mickey theatrical poster.

Happy Birthday, Dad! Have a wonderful day.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nonfiction Illustrated: Bibliography 2

The other day I posted a few examples from the Social History category I put together for my Nonfiction Illustrated course. Tonight, I'm putting up one counterintuitive example from the Informational Works category. (I'll add a few more later.)

By way of introduction, from the annotated bibliography: These works are often the most straightforward of all illustrated subjects, but not necessarily the simplest. The seeds of modernity were carried in illustrated botanicals and technological manuals, which provided access to knowledge of manifestly concrete, non-verbal subjects: an overlooked and grossly underestimated realm of achievement. The secondary versions tend to be composed for educational settings and audiences. Informational picture books for small children comprise another set of such works, which offer the child a chance to pause over things and environments that might otherwise go by too fast to absorb. One example from this category delivers a great deal of cultural spin.

The reference to spin shows up in tonight's example: Badasses; Guys + Girls + Rides, a repackaged zine by Mark Todd. Published by Blue Q, 2007.

Todd’s book is a hilarious compilation of deceptively crude drawings in a two-color palette with a scrawled text. The project provides a mock-survey of “badass” characters in popular culture from the 1970s and 80s, and includes men, women and vehicles. Lovingly compiled, silly, knowing and heartfelt.

I received this book as a Christmas present from my son Andrew, whose taste I respect. After working my way through it I immediately observed a) that I loved it, and b) what a good example it would be for my students, who can tend to think that nonfiction = snoozefest.

Despite the goofy affect, it is undeniably true that Todd's book documents a set of cultural facts, including the dominance of the great Snake Plissken (above).

I'll post more examples soon.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Chevron Supreme, 1958

Soon I'll put up a few more examples for the Nonfiction Illustrated course. In the meantime, I have been assembling a set of sources for my Postwar American Visual Culture seminar. Among my interests in this area is the use of surprisingly sophisticated animated television spots drawing on the emerging modernist strand of animation design in the 1950s, pioneered by UPA. I have renewed my relationship with a wonderful book by Amid Amidi, Cartoon Modern: Style and Design in Fifties Animation (Chronicle Books, 2006) and secured a few DVDs from Media Burn, a great media history outfit with a fascinatingly diverse collection of videotape materials. Through the latter I have acquired a set of 1950s advertisements. I'll post a few frames from a variety of things, but for now, two stills from a Chevron Supreme ad from 1958.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Nonfiction Illustrated: Bibliography 1

Classes started last week. I’m excited about the two courses I’m teaching: Nonfiction Illustrated for Page and Screen, to senior illustrators; and Readings in Postwar American Visual Culture, 1945-1965, my spring American Culture Studies offering. I’ll post intermittently for and about these courses. Below, the opening blurb from the syllabus for Nonfiction Illustrated:

This course will be devoted to the development and production of a visual book or brief multimedia presentation (e.g., a short “film”) based on research and reporting. The student will be asked to select and investigate a subject, conduct observations and interview participants (if possible), produce descriptive writing and images, and arrange the parts to capture the essence of the subject. Significantly, the project must present an editorial point of view on the given subject. The running text of the project may not exceed 1000 words, excluding title and call out quotes, if used. The length of the project will run 18 to 24 pages at a scale of 8 x 10 inches. Multimedia projects will run two to three minutes. These are ballpark requirements, with details to be worked out on an individual basis.

To provide a sense of what’s possible in the nonfiction course, I have pulled a set of samples and established a set of categories for consideration. From the annotated bibliography:
These books and projects are presented here to give you a sense of the available range within the stated limitations. Read my annotations that accompany the citation, to be sure you understand the context in which the given work is being presented. Also please note that these sources have been arranged into loose categories, which may help you organize your thinking.

More from the bibliography:

Category One: Social History

Such works take experience in a particular time and place as their subject: the visual and social texture of daily life, the defining features of a culture or place, or a dramatic event grounded in culture. Sometimes these works are composed in the present, other times from a position looking back in time. In the latter case, they require significant research, which can often be accomplished in museums. There are ample resources in St. Louis to do such research--the Museum of Transportation in West County, the costume collection at the St. Louis Historical Society, the History Museum in Forest Park.

The works in this pile include Pascal Blanchet’s White Rapids from Drawn & Quarterly (2007), A chapter of Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan (1999), and Dan Zettwoch’s Won’t Be Licked; The Great ’37 Flood in Louisville, in the D & Q Showcase No. 4 (2006).

Reproduced here are the other two works in the Social History sample set: Miroslav Sasek’s This is London, and Rea Irvin’s illustrations for Snoot if You Must. I picked up the latter at an estate sale.

Snoot If You Must. By Lucius Beebe, illustrated by Rea Irvin. Published by D. Appleton- Century Company, New York. 1943.

The book contains a series of republished magazine features about metropolitan life. The length of the text would preclude its use for present purposes, but I have included the work in your references because of the accompanying cartoon drawings.

These are observed social follies and character types. Rea Irvin was the first art director at the New Yorker and created the masthead type, the Eustace Tilley character, and the magazine’s visual essence.

This comedy-of-manners approach could profitably be brought to a contemporary setting.

Note that this example suggests that cartoon drawing styles are perfectly appropriate for this project.

This is London. Written and illustrated by Mirsoslav Sasek. Originally published by Simon & Shuster in 1959. Republication by Universe Books, a divsion of Rizzoli, 2004.

One of a set of such books, including This is Paris, This is New York, and This is San Francisco. Note how whimsical yet informative the text and images are. Sasek clearly spent a great deal of time developing his representative content.

The illustrations range from occupational costume details [the man with the fish-carrying hat on p.13] to interesting transportation [buses on Fleet Street on p.16-17] to full-blown environmental scenes [view of an Undergound platform on p. 41]. Sasek’s figures have been widely influential in the “modern cartoon” figurative style revived by contemporary illustrators in recent years.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Recent Work

A new year and a fresh decade underway, and I am glad of both.

Over the last twelve months I posted less than in my first two years of this blog, and somewhat less substantively, too. In part, this was by design. I have been working on longer format writing projects, which require–and reward–serious rigor. The riffy, improvisional style appropriate for a blog would (in most cases) prove grating in a book. But blogging has helped me to clarify my thinking on host of matters. I'm still a few short sprints away from finishing a book-length project, which will continue to preclude more sustained theoretical pieces here at Graphic Tales.

The more improvisational, open-ended projects I've been working on have been visual in character. Last year I continued to explore the sketchbook painting work.

At the top of this post, a detail from a sketchbook painting drawn from the balcony of a Residence Inn. We were there because five days before we were to close on the sale of our condo and the purchase of a new home, our (new) furnace caught fire, delaying (but not scuttling, to our astonishment) both sales. Above, the whole painting.

I went back and painted a sketch I'd made at my younger son's high school football game (one of many such drawings, made at a variety of games, both home and away, in the fall of 2008).

I also worked on some more even more informal studies, like the still life above, in which a simple key drawing in black prismacolor was modified with flat color shapes.

In coming weeks, I will be taking the lessons learned from these and many other pieces from 2008-09 and beginning a new set of works, which I'll show soon.