January 27, 2010 | Blog ~ No comments

The Original of Gluyas

When the booklets for our Gluyas Williams volumes came back from the printer with the backside of each page printed backwards, after engaging in some¬†understandable fist-pumping, I thought of the recent – and mildly controversial – publication of Vladamir Nabokov’s final and unfinished novel-in-fragments The Original of Laura. I thought, “maybe everyone wouldn’t mind assembling the story themselves out of single, loose¬†pages?” Alright, I didn’t actually think that, but to cut to the chase, the problem has been corrected.

Spending as much time as I have with these particular stories by Williams allowed me to appreciate many things about the artist. Something easy to overlook is his stature as a top-tier storyteller. The narrative of each of his stories is brilliantly conceived, and not just from the standpoint of a daily-strip cartoonist in terms of the beats and humor (although there is that too, of course). If you take a bit longer than a fleeting page-flip with each story you really come to marvel at how subtle and rich his storytelling really is. His stories are minimalist in their style but also their narrative. In cases where there is text, it is always written as bare-boned as imaginable, conveying only what is essential to the story along with sprinkles of hints and clues as to some deeper meaning, thus allowing the reader to fill in the substance of each story as he or she sees fit.

Gluyas Williams provides the foundation upon which the reader’s imagination infuses each story with meaning. And so a simple eight page story about a child hoping her mother will give her another piece of cake comes alive with a sigh-filled observation on the conflicting nature of parenting and how one’s own ego and determination can wind up backfiring. One would say that in an eight-paged story, every single page counts. This didn’t create anxiety in Williams or stray him from his grasp of storytelling; he didn’t thus make every page a show-stopper, a triple¬†when what you really needed was a single. This man knew his craft and his careful insights into human frailties are truly on par with any other artist in any other medium who the touched upon the American middle class.

So after all, the structural puzzle will have to be left to Nabokov’s final index cards.

- Jonathan Barli

January 10, 2010 | Blog ~ 5 comments

The Economy of Line, or Graceful Gluyas

One of the great joys¬†in our debut of books is the ability to showcase the subtle brilliance of Gluyas Williams: one of the masters of black and white cartooning. In fact, so associated is he with the monochromatic that to see any of his work in color is jarring. To the best of my knowledge, aside from the flat colors LIFE occasionally applied to his cartoons in Christmas issues¬†during the 1920’s, the only example of color in his work is the hand-colored place cards he did, along with other cartoonists, for the “Ice Breakers” series, which Rosebud Archives will be reissuing (perhaps in black and white as well, for the faint of heart):

for your ice-breaking needs

That Gluyas Williams was subtle in his cartooning is axiomatic, but the subtlety in his humor and approach shine through not long after. Steven Spielberg spoke of the late Stanley Kubrick as a filmmaker who started, conceptually, with large, primary-colored¬†brush strokes and utilized subtle, delicate direction within a scene that nonetheless hammered its point home.¬†I thought this was as concise and discerning an evaluation of the great director’s MO as I’ve encountered. I won’t attempt such profundity, but will only add that Gluyas Williams, consistent with his highly reserved personality, celebrated the quiet victories and defeats that life peppers us with… well, quietly.

A quiet victory

But more often than not, it was the defeats that drew the gaze of Gluyas Williams. Without bitterness, without self-pity or undue sentimentality, he presents the ultimately inconsequential stumbles and missteps that make up so much of our human story. He doesn’t simply draw some such defeat. He laughs at it and, in kind, allows us to laugh with him. One can imagine how this relieved whatever pent-up tension a reader of the day may have felt over their own little defeat¬†that morning he or she read one of his charming cartoons in the newspaper.

It's happened to us all

There is much to say (and will be said)¬†on Williams’ place in cartooning, his formal brethren,¬†and his character, but I’d like to simply touch upon a purely¬†aesthetic appreciation of his elegant and graceful cartooning. There are few such masters that can achieve so much with so little. Not to romanticize his work too much, but I often think of Williams as a cartoonist who was given a relatively insufficient amount of ink and told to make the most of it. And so, setting out without panic or complaint, he did just that.

And So to Bed

You will notice in his impeccably-composed cartoons that as important and carefully positioned as the ink may be – those fine lines, those lush black splashes that add balance and vitality¬†- so too is the white where he chooses not to draw. With Gluyas Williams, it’s never negative space. In¬†his cartoons¬†white is as important as black.

Mother's Day

A few elements often overlooked give us some insight into the man and his work. You will sometimes notice that some of his pen lines never reach their realistic completion. To that end, so many of his cartoons could be seen as sketches were they not so refined.

detail

Those fortunate enough to have seen or own an original of his will see no white-out, and, if present, only the sparsest of initial outlines. These are hallmarks of a cartoonist who has true confidence in his abilities, and the ability to make good on that promise.

Just as noteworthy is the way in which Williams imparts his supporting cast, so to speak, with Dickensian detail. In some of his more complex cartoons there are no main characters to speak of, yet even if there are, each character, whether in the foreground or way off in the edge of the background, is imbued with life, with personality,  no matter how small, large, seen, or unseen they may be. Each character has character. And he is able to capture such humanity with the simplest of lines and curves.

crowd

And then there are the lines themselves. Economical in their way, but they even seem to have a character all their own. With the simplest of means, Williams is able to depict motion, movement, stillness, and a wide array of emotions with slight variations in his minimalist form.

A Child in the Seat Ahead

His cartoons are never stiff or overwrought, but fluid and disciplined. It was a fine balancing act he achieved day in and out, of which one can only ask, “How on Earth did he do it?”

-Jonathan Barli

January 7, 2010 | Blog ~ 1 comment

Happy New Year!

We’ve received a deluge of encouragement and well-wishes over the holiday season, ¬†for which we’re very grateful, as we’ve worked out a few kinks here and there. Although a bit late, we want to wish everyone a happy new year. Although we had the opportunity to roll out on the very lip of the now-previous decade, it is this decade, this year, when you will get to know more about us, and we get to know more about you! There was a slight delay at the printer, so we should be able to start sending out orders by the weekend.

-JB

Happy New Year!

December 18, 2009 | Blog ~ No comments

The Kitchen Table

I always loved comics and cartoons — old ones. Before I could read, I would pull two books off my father’s shelf (he was a huge fan of comics), and look at, laugh at, and try to copy the older cartoonists displayed in these books, THE COMICS by Coulton Waugh, and CARTOON CAVALCADE by Thomas Craven. Opper, principally; Dirks and Outcault, Zim and Sullivant. A B Frost.

When I was in second grade, the cartoonist Al Smith, who drew MUTTAND JEFF, joined our little church. Our pastor took me to meet him at his studio, where I showed him my awful sketches. But the friendly cartoonist gave me two of his original strips, and one 1927 daily original MUTT AND JEFF  by Bud Fisher. It was huge, detailed, cross-hatchy, slapstick, larger than life (until then I thought cartoonists drew their work the size of newspaper reproductions) and simply awe-inspiring.

They say that some people, at the moment of their death, see their lives flash before their eyes. At that moment, at a kitchen table in Al’s Demarest NJ, studio, my FUTURE life flashed before my eyes. It wasn’t just funny little drawings: I was hooked by the charm of those picture-stories; the beauty of original art; the mysteries of what cartoons of a previous time “said”; the thrill of discovery; the challenge of finding and acquiring such things.

Fast-forward to now. I drew political cartoons for years. I have been a comic-strip editor of three newspaper syndicates, an editor at Marvel, a writer of Disney comics. I have taught about comics on the teaching staffs of four colleges. I consulted with the US Postal Service when they issued 20 stamps to celebrate the comics’ centennial; and the State Department has sent me overseas (I keep coming back) to mount exhibitions and talk about comics. I’ve written 62 books; edited several magazines and founded a few (like the late “nemo” magazine; and my beloved “Hogan’s Alley,” so magnificently edited by Tom Heintjes). And it has not just been comics; I have written four books on country music, two on television history, and am today finishing a biography of Johann Sebastian Bach. For the past decade, most of my activity has been in the Christian field.

Yet since that afternoon in Al Smith’s little studio-house, it has been collecting that has animated me, informed my pursuits, and indeed been the foundation of all my writing and speaking. Over the decades I have acquired complete (sometimes virtually complete, you will understand) runs of American humor magazines, and popular monthlies and weeklies, women’s and children’s magazines, news and opinion journals, and art magazines. I have a few thousands pieces of original artwork. I have complete runs (preceding the advent of color comics, and then into their debuts and then through the years) of the Hearst and Pulitzer newspapers, the NY Herald, the comic sections of the obscure syndicates of World Color Printing and McClure. Vintage posters, about 1500 comic-character post cards. About a thousand vintage Christmas cards, the private ones, not commercial, done by cartoonists. About 500 of those funky cartoon-character pinbacks from the ‘teens. Hundreds of comic-strip songsheets with great cover art. Toys, games, figurines. Animation. Comic books. Reprint books (complete Cupples and Leon books, for instance) Also, runs and runs of European cartoon magazines, and…

… it’s said to be the largest such private collection. Some people or institutions have more, say, original art, but they don’t know from 150-year old political cartoon weeklies. Or someone has more old funnies, but¬† licensed merchandise has never been on their radars. And so on. What’s the point? Well, one “point” has been to provide data and illustrations for all my work.

And the other point of all this, you see before you in the ROSEBUD ARCHIVES site. Cartoon art, comics, and graphic humor was made TO BE SEEN. It is our intention, first to sensibly assemble and then to restore, then to re-introduce the fantastic treasures of our rich heritage to a new generation. Jon Barli, dedicated collector himself and master of meticulous digital restoration, and I will continually expand the menu of images and themes, famous and obscure artists, through ROSEBUD.

And, when all is said and done, for all the mature collectors and cartoonists and scholars and critics and just-plain fans who will love seeing some old favorites through ROSEBUD ARCHIVES, my greatest joy will be knowing this: Somewhere, here or there around the world, maybe never to be known by me, there might be a couple of young people who will discover this amazing artwork — let us call ROSEBUD a virtual kitchen table in a Demarest NJ cartoonist’s studio — and see his or her future life pass before their eyes; that they, too, may learn of the joy, the quality, the significance, and the great and glorious continuity of it all.

-Rick Marschall

December 15, 2009 | Blog ~ No comments

After much ado…

It has been a long time in the making, but it’s finally here. This dream of mine sprang up years ago when I found the even-then-out-of-print volumes of Krazy Kat at my school library. Checking them out, even whenever I wanted, wasn’t good enough. I needed to have them at arm’s length, to reference them whenever I wanted, even in the middle of the night, should I chose. So I photocopied every single one and kept¬†this giant stack of papers with me… at arm’s length. Years have passed and Fantagraphics has since published the color pages and will soon publish the black and white pages. But I still have my giant stack and will keep it.

Then I¬†bought a scanner. I digitized old comics and poured over them on my screen. Eventually I turned to ebay and, pockets rather empty, I bought old (and expensive) material, digitized it, and then sold it.¬†I was loaned a bound volume of The NY World from 1905 and 1906 and, one summer, spent a month¬†with a friend using his brother’s photography equipment to shoot each page (in two pieces- for extra resolution!). I knew others were interested in all this great material so I thought I could make digital compilations to sell, and then use the money to buy more great material. My mission caught the attention of Adam Kempa who generously spent his own time to create and host a website for my compilations: Digital Funnies.

Soon after I came in contact with Rick Marschall and together we dreamed up Rosebud Archives. I went from photocopying volumes in a library to now having access to a massive archive of such stunning material, so much of which I had never even heard of, let alone seen. My own personal desire to see and read this material was complete, but my mission, our mission now, endures: to bring this material to the world. So much of it forgotten, so much uknown and unspoken of. So finally, after years of work, and with the help of Adam Kempa and Steve Conley to get this site up and running, things are underway.

The horizons are broad, and it will be an exciting voyage…

-JB