Sunday, March 31, 2013

Moon Comics

This article is dedicated to all you Night Owls out there:

Night Owl (2012)

Prehistoric Moon Phases Sketch

Chauvet cave
This sketch of the markings found on a Cro-Magnon bone tool, c. 28,000 BCE, may indicate one of the earliest forms of notation. The markings are suggestive of the phases of the moon, and correspond with lunar phase data of that time 
(Marshack 1993, p. 14).

Approximately 4.4 billion years ago the moon turned one side of itself away from the Earth and never looked back. Despite the moon's apparent disinterest in humanity, it has captured the imagination of artists since prehistoric times. 

The moon continues to captivate the interest of scientists and artists, alike. With NASA pressing forward on assessing the value of a "human-tended waypoint" near the far side of the moon - known as the Earth-moon liberation point 2 EML-2 - no doubt we'll see a surge in "moon-oriented comics" and artworks coming up for sale at auction. 

Two particularly lovely pieces by Andreas Cellarius caught my eye...

(Stellar Hemispheres of Antiquity:)

Andreas CELLARIUS (1596 - 1665)
Haemisphaerium stellatum australe aequali sphaerarum proportione (1708)
Copper engraving (colored)
Hammer Price € 1,650 ($2,151, £1,337); Estimate € 1,300
Auction House: Auktionshaus Kaupp GmbH

Andreas CELLARIUS (1596 - 1665)
Coeli stellati christiani haemisphaerium prius (1708)
Copper engraving (colored)
Hammer Price € 1,800 ($2,346, £1,458); Estimate € 1,300
Auction House: Auktionshaus Kaupp GmbH

Andreas Cellarius (c. 1596 - 1665) was a Dutch-German cartographer, known for his Harmonia Macrocosmica of 1660. 

The solar system according to Copernicus was published in Amsterdam by the 17th century Dutch cartographer, Johannes Janssonius, who owned a bookstore in Frankfurt am Main, as well as bookstores in Danzig, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, Königsberg, Geneva and Lyon. 

Moving ahead a few hundred years...

Gustave Doré (1832 - 1883) contributed to the visual representation of the "mysterious", much as Poe was able to do in literature. J.J. Grandville (1803 - 1847), in particular, helped to provide a firm basis for absurdity in comics as well as modern art through the surreal juxtaposition of ordinary objects and settings. His depictions of Parisian bridges connecting planets in space and animal figures going about ordinary urban tasks paved the way for Herriman's animal allegories, as well as Spiegelman's figuration of Jews as mice and Nazis as cats in Maus, his graphic novel about his father's experience during the Holocaust. Doré's illustrations, London: A Pilgrimage, were serialized in Harper's Weekly in 1872, which made them immediately available to American illustrators eager to find fresh pictorial sources. 

Gustave Doré
Illustration for Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven (1832-3)
© DACS, London 2007
© Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library, San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection

The Brooklyn Museum has one of my favorite Honoré Daumier comics depicting the moon.

Honoré Daumier (1808 - 1879)
La Vue (1839) 
 Lithograph on wove paper, Sheet: 9 15/16 x 13 7/16 in. (25.2 x 34.1 cm)

Fortunately, for those seeking to light their way through the darkness of night, a particularly nice piece by Daumier is up for auction, which depicts some Chinese warriors out on patrol in the night, carrying lanterns.

This series consists of 27 prints which were published in the CHARIVARI between December 1858 and April 1860. A drawn double fram embraces each print. The numbers appear as follows: 1 to 7 are being repeated, while 11, 16, 20, and 22 are missing.

The prints DR 3096 to DR 3124 deal with the intervention of England and France in China. After the assassination of several Christian missionaries in China, Canton was occupied by European troops in 1857. The treaty of Tien-Tsin accorded to Western states to send ambassadors to the court of the Chinese emperor and to open the harbors to European products. Since China didn't honor the treaty, the occupation of Beijing followed and in 1860 a new treaty was drawn. 

Daumier was quite unique in expressing common day behavior in an exotic surrounding, while still making the viewer understand the hidden message without reading the caption. He succeeded in projecting typically French activities of daily life into an exotic setting, which would eventually distort the obvious while leaving the provocative message intact. He chose China as a setting for his lithographs since especially during the period of the early 1840s Chinese curious as well as chinoiseries had become fashionable.

The dresses shown in the "Voyage en Chine" series have been "adjusted" to what a bourgeoise Parisian would expect a Chinese to look like, sporting Chinese embroidering, ankle length wide trousers and flat slippers with upturned toes. The ladies' hair was also worn the Chinese way, while some of the men wore the long, "typically Chinese" braid."

Honoré Daumier (1808 - 1879)
Patrouille chinoise en reconnaissance
Published in Le Charivari, November 7, 1859

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hooked on Old Comics

Issue #1936
Radio's Orphan Annie's Secret Society was published by The Wander Co., Manufactures of Ovaltine. This was given away as a promotional item to members of Radio's Orphan Annie's Secret Society. Includes games, stories, and more fun. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, every afternoon at 4:30 you could hear this introduction by broadcaster Pierre Andre blaring from every radio in the neighborhood, "Wh's that little chatterbox? The one with the auburn locks? Who can it be? It's Little Orphan Annie." Full color, 12 pages, 6-in. x 8.5 in.

While my kids were "Hooked on Phonics", I have long since been "Hooked on Old Comics". Growing up, my mother claimed that she "didn't care what we read, as long as we read." 

Thanks, Mom! 

In addition to our studies, my brother and I were encouraged to read everything that had words on it; from billboard signs and license plates (while driving along the freeway) to the TV guide to Money magazine to the back of our morning cereal boxes - and, of course, our favorite comic books (which we immediately copied onto on Silly Putty). 

While Star Wars and Michael Jackson's Thriller overshadowed most everything in our young worldview, comics provided us with a window to our imagination - and a stick of Bazooka bubblegum, coated with a translucent layer of powdery goodness!

When the movie A Christmas Story by the diarist of American popular culture, Jean Shepherd, came out in 1983, it was actually targeted to my parents' generation, those who grew up with Little Orphan Annie and who still had that shiny metal disk that had long ago arrived via post...

1939 Mysto-Matic Decoder

as well as a bent-up Whirlomatic Decoder tucked underneath papers and old driver's licenses in their top dresser drawer (the one we weren't supposed to "get into"). 

The front of the 1942 Secret Guard Whirlomatic Decoder 
(because of the metal shortage, this one was made of paper).

The back of the 1942 Secret Guard Whirlomatic Decoder.

A 1941 Slidomatic Radio Decoder

A 1941 Secret Guard Magnifying Ring

A 1941 Secret Guard Initial Ring

A 1935 Brass Decoder

A 1936 Secret Compartment Decoder

A 1937 Sunburst Decoder

A 1938 Telematic Decoder

A 1940 Speed-O-Matic Decoder

The amazing 1942 Radio Orphan Annie Altascope Ring.
Only 9 known to exist!

As a kid, I was fascinated by mysteries. I ran home lickety-split from school every day just so I could make it in time to hear the theme song to Scooby Doo ...

grab a snack and reread The Sunday Funnies before it was time to start my homework.

Captivated by humorous monologues, feeding my young adventurous spirit, comics offered me a world of my own. An escape from school, parents, chores, and homework. The rest of the newspaper interested me - NOT! 

It was from comics and cartoons where I learned about trivia and popular culture, which while unbeknownst to me at the time, I was picking up via osmosis. Learning about the world referentially was fun, and truth be told, it's how I still assimilate and absorb facts in my own mind as well as how I present them to others. The subtle reality of life is magically sidearmed by fantasy in comics, which pioneered this sort of communication. 


Nine-year-old Ralphie, a fan of radio's Little Orphan Annie, had sent away for the Ovaltine-sponsored secret decoder to decipher messages given during the radio program. Weeks went by before he received the shiny metal disk in the mail. But, he finally got it! He ran off to the bathroom, seeking privacy as his little brother banged on the door, he decoded the jumble of letters that he had anxiously transcribed from the broadcast. Letter by letter the message revealed itself - 


"Ovaltine? A crummy commercial?" Ralphie lisped. "Son of a *breakfast cereal manufacturer!" 

*Text adjusted in honor of my girly sensitivities. 

Saturday Evening Post Cover
December 20, 1947 Sunday Funnies (Jack Welch)

Still, Ralphie's colorful sentiment is exactly how I felt when after entering an art contest (advertised weekly in the Sunday Funnies). I waited a couple of weeks, which at the time seemed like an eternity, for the mail to arrive. Instead of receiving a prize or bubblegum or money for my hours of comic genius artwork, I received, to my dismay, a lame advertisement to send some company money for art lessons. 

"What a ripoff!" I thought. 

Thus, I decided to investigate.... taking my cue from Little Orphan Annie...

I decided to check out the stack of Sunday Funnies and comic books my family had tucked away in boxes in the cellar. Sure enough, this conspiracy had been going on since my grandparents' time. Asking aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, they had all, at one time or another, been duped by licensing and merchandising hidden in their childhood comics. These corporate monguls had a receptive audience of millions of children hanging on their every word. 

In later years, I learned that cartoon advertisements for Red Ryder guns (toys, games and apparel) was ultimately what connected kids' dreams of reading about cowboys to being the supportive cast for their playing cowboys after school. If you didn't have a horse in your backyard, at least you had the gear should one somehow magically appear. 

Red Ryder Comics #54

Getting duped by cartoon advertisements is as old as some of the comics our family has tucked away for generations. Despite my frustration by the propaganda concocted by cartoon monguls and my childhood solemn assurance that I'd never ever again be duped in the future, comics and their professionally engineered advertisements supporting consumer habits and appetites for fantasy, are a right of passage for most kids that continues to teach generation after generation vital lessons on life - from spelling...

to the importance of good hygiene... 

to how to solve mysteries...

Mystery Men Comics #11 (June 1940) by Joe Simon
Courtesy Kirby Museum

"Joe Simon's cover to Mystery Men #11 was done while he was editor at Fox Comics. At that same time, Kirby was also there doing the Blue Beetle syndication strip. Joe's cover has the Blue Beetle using a rope or a wire for moving between buildings. Our hero has exited one building just in time to avoid an adversary. However his destination seems if anything even more perilously filled with enemies. I presume the Blue Beetle is using something like a telephone wire that connects the two buildings, that may seem more realistic than a rope that just happens to be conveniently available. Unfortunately, it does make it harder to understand how the hero manages to use the wire. With one arm being used to both hold the swooning woman and fire a gun, the Blue Beetle has only one arm to move along the support. It would seem a rather daunting challenge, but then again that is what heroes are for..." 

even the ones who use cartoons and comics as bait to lure its prey to spend bundles of money on cartoon paraphernalia that now goes up at auction, fetching ridiculously high prices. 

A life-size bronze sculpture of Tintin by Belgian artist Nat Neujean sold for £108,705

Of course, for those of us who own such pieces, we couldn't be a happier group of patsies!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Psychology of Comics

Source: Caricatura.Ru


This comic is a bit "sharp" (pardon the visual pun), but it is an excellent example of how comics have long since depicted the perceived funniness in a situation that might otherwise arouse passionate discourse. 

Rather than providing a detailed analysis of the challenges surrounding global educational reform, this comic depicts the growing aversion parents, teachers, students, and administrators have toward today's "cookie-cutter" teaching methodologies. 


Utilizing Craik and Ware's (2007) table of humorous styles, we can identify the most common traits or components of humor in comics. According to the 10 styles of humorous conduct, the above comic represents a "Socially cold humorous style". 

  1. Socially cold humorous style
    • Smiles grudgingly. Responds with a quick, but short-lived smile. 
    • Is a ready audience but infrequent contributor of humorous anecdotes. 
    • Has a bland, deadpan sense of humor. 

  1. Socially warm humorous style
    • Maintains group morale through humor. 
    • Has a good sense of humor. 
    • Uses good-natured jests to put others at ease. 
    • Relative to other traits, displays a noteworthy sense of humor. 
A positive alternative to this comic depicts the same "cookie-cutter" or "sardine-like" challenge with a solution that inspires camaraderie among those who have looked to home schooling as an alternative to the situation. 

© Jason Holm (2007)

In addition to the socially warm humorous style Jason Holm's comic presents an alternative to the perceived challenge, this comic demonstrates a more competent humorous style in its witty and ready repartee. This comic presents a clever retort (home schooling alternative) to the problems surrounding mass education.

CHARLES SCHULTZ (1923 - 2000)

Charles Schultz's Peanuts Snoopy and Charlie Brown Daily Comic Strip Original Art dated 8-15-55 (United Feature Syndicate, 1955) is an allegory depicting mainstream reactions to the starch mannerisms of mass educators in the 1950s.

In the Peanuts cartoons, teachers were continually depicted as boring, monotonous, wah, wah, wah-type educators that bored students to tears.

Peanuts Snoopy and Charlie Brown (1955)
Charles Schultz
Drawing, dated "8-15-55"
Hammer price: $ 13,000; €9,015, £7,891
Sales date 08-18-2011
Auction house: Heritage Auctions, USA
Source: Artprice

Good Grief -- the things a dog has to do just to get a treat! 

"I'd always been drawing little dogs in the [Li'l Folks] strip, so I named one Snoopy, the one I would be using the most. The real dog who was the forerunner of Snoopy was named Spike. He was bigger than the beagle that Snoopy turned out to be, but he was kind of a wild dog marked in a way similar to Snoopy." ~Charles Schultz

Part of the charm of the early Snoopy episodes is the much more "realistic" behavior of the beloved beagle. 

Yousuf Karsh
Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery
in recognition of Schultz' impact on millions of people around the world
©2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc.

Charles Schultz, the creator of Peanuts, a renowned American comic strip, served in the army during World War II, later becoming an art school instructor and then a free-lance cartoonist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Saturday Evening Post. 

In 1950, Schulz sold the Peanuts strip to United Features, and it became the most widely-read comic in history, appearing worldwide in over 2,000 newspapers. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Winsor McCay Comic Artist

Winsor McCay (1869 - 1934)
Little Nemo (1905)


The newspaper comic strip began in the late 1890s when Sunday color comics supplements were used to sell cheap, mass market oriented papers. The early strips such as The Yellow Kid were curious combinations of down-to-earth slapstick, topical joking, and abstract referencing. 


In the hands of Winsor McCay, however, comics were creative, bordering on the surreal and handling social satire at the same time. Winsor Zenic McCay (who worked under the penname Silas on the comic strip Dream of the Rarebit Fiend) was perhaps the most innovative comic artist during the early days of comics. McCay's best known comic strip, Little Nemo in Slumberland and The Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, found their way into the New York Herald around 1905. 

Winsor McCay (1869 - 1934)
Little Nemo in Slumberland (1910)
Drawing-Watercolor; Indian ink/paper (signed)
Hammer Price € 25,000; $32,272, £23,122; Estimate: €22,500 - €25,000
Auction House: Artcurial (S.V.V.), Paris, France


McCay's comics are full of the kind of visual dexterity that characterize the best loved cartoons. McCay pioneered certain aspects of the comic page layout whereby the Art Nouveau shapes contrast with the rectangular grid of the page. 

The backgrounds in McCay's work are the real focal point of many of his cartoon strips. The detail with which he illustrates the palaces of Slumberland and other fantastical places Nemo visits take on that surreal quality we've come to recognize in his work, creating a greater sense of realism in what would otherwise be an unbelievable or fantastical context. 

McCay's comic panels successfully emphasize space. At times he used a single background broken up across a series of panels, where the foreground action did not have a movement. Meaning, the characters were standing still while the background moved through the panels. 


Clearly, McCay's comics were aimed at a popular audience, but they also flirted with serious art and expression as well as the nostalgic associations one makes when viewing them. The most popular comics are the ones depicting domestic humor involving marital conflict, issues with authority, and spoiled kids. 

According to John Carlin (Tate Etc. issue 9; Spring 2007), Winsor "did for comics what D.W. Griffiths did for film and Louis Armstrong did for music: he made them one of the great forms of personal expression in twentieth century American, and would in turn influence generations of comic and fine artists."  

McCay's comic films set a standard that Walt Disney and other animators later followed. Here's a link to one of McCay's 1914 comics, Gertie the Dinosaur.


Due to my extreme caution and aversion to receiving nasty-grams indicating that I've infringed on someone else's copyright, the comic depicted below is not the actual comic coming up for auction, but instead a similar piece that at first blush (without focusing on the direction of the dinosaur's head) might be mistaken for such. Nevertheless, the piece, in its similarity, does represent a fair market value of such a piece of comic art in today's art market. 

(This is not the specific piece being sold at auction)
Winsor McCay (1869 - 1934)
Jumbo, from Gertie the Dinosaur (1914)
Drawing-Watercolor; Indian ink/paper
Hammer Price: $ 3,000; €2,389, £1,643; Estimate: $3000- $4000
Auction House: Bonhams & Butterfields


(Below) Another example of a McCay comic up at auction is a piece called Indecision and Weak Will. Note how McCay reflects "indecision" and "weak will" as an adult neuroses that result in subjugation and confinement. Each character has his own angst or method of coping with harsh reality (the man on the far-left is pensive, but still can't decide how to act; the second man imagines every possible scenario, and yet doesn't know what to do; then finally, the man on the far-right is tormented by not knowing what to do, and thus, does nothing). The elephant, while clearly confined against its natural will, is the strongest character of all. We recognize that the elephant would choose to run away if he could, whereas the men are under the domination or control of their own "indecision and weak will".

Winsor McCay (1869 - 1934)
Indecision and Weak Will, original newspaper editorial cartoon illustration (signed, lower right)
Drawing-Watercolor (Ink, pen/paper)
Hammer Price: $ 2,400; €1,756, £1,492
Estimate: $2,000 - $3,000
Auction House: Heritage Galleries & Auctioneer (USA)

While this comic reflects the fears, weaknesses, and failures of modern man, the elephant serves as a constant reminder - an "Elephant in the room" (an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is either being ignored or going unaddressed) - that man has at his disposal his imagination and intellect to free him - should he choose to unleash them. 

While many people dismiss comics as a form of throwaway amusement, there are many examples, such as those seen in McCay's work, that meditate on art, reality and love, in a manner not far removed from work hanging in galleries. 


Winsor McCay, who is generally regarded as the first artistic genius of the comic strip medium, produced the form's first masterpiece - Little Nemo in Slumberland - which ran from 1905 to 1914. The comic's premise involved a young boy's nightly adventures in the fantastic realm of - yep, you guessed it - Slumberland! Each episode concluded with the child being shocked back into reality as he woke up or fell out of bed. 


I can't help but wonder if McCay would be shocked by how much his comics are selling for at auction. Perhaps McCay's fascination with the juxtaposition of "real life" and the worlds created by the unconscious mind would have caused him to retreat back to his sky bombs, wild trains, dirigible rides, exotic parades, bizarre circuses, and Byzantine and rococo-like settings and landscapes where Morpheus and his beautiful daughter would have kept him entertained in that magical place whereby his vivid imagination was sure to soar. 

And thank goodness it did... otherwise we'd have no one (Nemo means "No one" in Latin) to thank for the visual feats that transport everyone to Slumberland, a land where anything is possible. 


Comics as Culture written by M. Thomas Inge, the well-known academic authority on comics, is an excellent resource on the history of comics. 

Winsor McCay: His Life and Art, written by the animator-film historian, John Canemaker, is the most comprehensive (richly illustrated) bibliography on McCay and a must-read for those interested in a more detailed understanding of McCay's comic genius. 


If you're interested in learning more about or purchasing a piece of artwork created by Winsor McCay, type in the name "Winsor McCay" into the search box and you will be directed to Artprice, "The world leader in art market information". 


Friday, March 15, 2013

Oreo Speedwagon

Oreo Speedwagon is an American rock band of cookies. Formed in 1912, Oreo Speedwagon has become the best selling band of cookies in the United States. The band of cookies cultivated a following with early 20th century rockers who were looking for an alternative to the small, flat, flour-based baked biscuits that were typically circulated at Rock Concerts

Sometimes called a "cookie" after the Dutch word koekje or (informal) koekie which means little cake, Oreo's trace their origins back to 7th century Persia, shortly after the use of sugar became relatively common in the region. 

Oreologists speculate that the cookie that gave rise to the Oreo spread to Europe through the Muslim conquest of Spain and that by the 14th century, they were common in all levels of society, throughout Europe, from royal cuisine to street vendors

As global travel increased, early Oreo Biscuits made a natural companion, a modernized equivalent of the travel cakes used throughout history. 

It was in the early 1900s that Oreo Speedwagon was formed, hitting the Top 40 charts with their "Keep on Eating You" and "Can't Fight This Feeling". 

While the origin of the name Oreo is unknown, Oreologist's believe that it is a derivation from the French word 'Or', meaning gold, or the Greek word 'Oreo', meaning beautiful, nice or well done. More radical Oreologist's believe that the word "Oreo" is derived from the combination of taking "re" from the word "cream" and placing it between the two "o"s in "chocolate" - making "o-re-o" (in the middle).