Monday, April 24, 2006

Artistic Influences?

Two threads today that I'm going to try to braid into one....

Thread One: I'm back from a week's vacation, and my family and I had a good and productive time. What I didn't reveal in my last post is that some of that time was spent in Hollywood with my sisters wrapping up the last of Mom's life. Deciding, dividing, disposing. Of course as you dig through your parent's life you inevitably excavate your own, and I was surprised by some of the treasures that turned up. We found the beaded blue hospital bracelet tied round my wrist when I was born; I had no idea it still existed. Mom also saved a lot of my art--even had some of it framed--and I retook possession of doodles and school projects I last saw years ago.

Thread Two: Cartoonist Rod McKie recently started a blog titled
The Cartoon Fiend, in which he asks several cartoonists a series of similar questions and posts their replies. Rod has invited me to participate, and one of his questions asks me to name my major artistic influences. On the list of Questions I Find Impossible To Answer, that is very near the top. All I can say is "no one and everyone." I understand how unsatisfying an answer that is, but it's the only honest one I've got.

I've never consciously mimicked or borrowed anyone's writing or drawing style. I never tried to develop a style per se at all; I just try to convey information as accurately as I can while at the same time simplifying it to its essence. To me that's cartooning. I've read a few analyses of my work that tried to pin me down: "He's clearly derivative of Smith mixed with a little bit of Jones." Almost always, the creators whose work so obviously shaped mine are people I've never heard of who were babies when I started writing and drawing the way I do. It's pretty funny.

There are many creators whose work I've admired and studied, mostly old-school: Walt Kelly, Hal Foster, Charles Schulz, Winsor McCay, Cliff Sterrett, Milt Caniff, Will Eisner, James Thurber, Bud Blake, Stan Drake, Neal Adams, Gus Arriola, everyone who worked at DC Comics in the 1960s and Marvel in the '70s. I suppose they all influenced me, but when I really ponder the question I come up with names that have nothing to do with cartoons or comics.

Exhibit A: In college I devoured everything I could find by E.B. White. Many of his old New Yorker essays in particular are brilliant little gems. For months afterward, everything I wrote sounded like him and it took me a long time to shake his voice. In fact, I'm not sure I ever really did. Fortunately, I could have absorbed much worse. White was an economical writer who believed in getting to the point with speed, clarity, and grace. That is a good trait for a cartoonist to develop.

Exhibit B, recovered from Mom's closet last week:


I was about 14 when I did this pointilism exercise in art class. It is 100 percent pure Chesley Bonestell, or as near as I could get as a kid. (It's also very bad, but I'm learning to cut the younger me some slack.) For decades through the middle of the 20th century, Bonestell was the leading illustrator of outer space: the man who showed us what it would be like out there before any robots had actually made the trip. Mom had a couple of old Bonestell books I read repeatedly, my imagination alighted by the wonders I'd surely see myself in the 21st century, when spaceships would be as common as flying cars. I lived for years on worlds he created.

So who were my major artistic influences?

E.B. White and Chesley Bonestell. Plus many others. No one and everyone. That's the best I can do.

4 comments:

A Wagner said...

I think inspired might be a better word than influenced. I too was a fan of Bonestell, I remember probably boring Willie Ley to death asking about him. Still, there was no temptation to do what he was doing, though I also walked on the worlds he portrayed.

BrianFies said...

Arnold, you knew Willy Ley?! You realize if we ever meet in person I shall have to bore you to death asking about him.

"Inspired" is good. I like that.

Lynda said...

That is better than I can draw. I was reading past posts, and like I said, I can't draw, but there is something therapeutic about writing with a pen and paper for me also.

Lynda said...

I forgot to mention we are still going through Laurianne's stuff also. It is a difficult task, but since she lived with my parents for the last few months, we don't have to hurry with it.