Wednesday, 26 December 2012

ELEGANT COMICS FROM A BYGONE ERA

Fifty years ago, some comic strips presumed readers had a level of literacy, as well as a patience for drawings, that today's readers lack.

You won't find anything on today's comic pages today to resemble this Sunday strip by the great Leonard Starr.  Here, a journalist is smuggling a Chinese defector out through the jungles of Vietnam.  The two have begun to get on each other's nerves.  Starr's smart dialogue combines politics, human nature and humor.  


Note Starr's cinematography,  his facial expressions, his understanding of anatomy and design.  Readers today don't linger over the comic page long enough to appreciate such characteristics.  


I love the elegance of Starr's lines, both written and drawn.

Around the same time, MAD Magazine was producing satires that assumed even children knew the words and music to Gilbert & Sullivan songs.  MAD writers and artists even thought their young subscribers would get jokes about rivalry between Nelson Rockefeller, Richard Nixon and Barry Goldwater.


Here the great Mort Drucker conjured up a crowd scene with caricatures of the extended Kennedy dynasty, in a scene that relies on your knowledge of the wealth and influence of the Kennedy family patriarch, the family's love of football, and the roles of the other celebrities in the family.





Today MAD Magazine has been dumbed down to appeal to a less literate audience, and streamlined for bright readers who process large quantities of information on an accelerated basis.

Karrie Jacobs wrote that in our information era, we have been "seduced into thinking about ideas-- the intangible stuff that comprises our cutlture, our mental universe, our homegrown organic realities-- as information."  This, she objects, is misguided: "information should be our raw material, not our end product.... Point and click is not a satisfying form of interaction.... With information technology our reach is infinite but our grasp is weak."

It is exhilarating to live in the information era but it is important to maintain enough self-control so that we don't let it ruin our attention span for the kind of art that needs to be savored. Some images are best experienced abruptly, but others (such as the drawings of Starr and Drucker above) need to be approached with a level of literacy and patience that unfortunately seems to be waning in popular audiences.

There is a benefit to surrounding ourselves with objects of craftsmanship and beauty, even in morning newspapers and cheap magazines.  In the long run, it helps to shape our reaction to the world around us.  So I offer you these lovely drawings at the end of 2012, as something to consider as you set your pace for 2013.