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Sunday, May 03, 2020

Illustrators #29 (Spring 2020)

Issue 29 is Illustrators in a lighter mood than usual. From its cover illustrations – Charles Addams on the front and Lawson Wood on the back – through most of its 96 pages, the latest outing offers a bit of comic relief from the daily stresses of the lockdown.

"Chas" Addams was a master of the darker side of humour, which he depicted with ghoulish delight. His most famous creation, The Addams Family, and his macabre sense of humour made Addams the subject of several odd rumours and he could not live up the expectations of what he was like in real life. Tall and well-dressed, Addams was thin-lipped and had a bulbous nose and small eyes – nothing like Gomez or Morticia or even Uncle Fester, although they shared the large nose and prominent ears.

His cartoons appeared in The New Yorker, Collier's and TV Guide, but it was the two seasons of The Addams Family (1964-66) that made him a household name. The TV series was dropped after only two seasons; a similar fate befell another family of monsters, The Munsters, at the same time, both black & white shows losing out to the popularity (and colour) of Batman. His editor felt that the TV series was too low brow for The New Yorker and wanted no more of the family in his pages.

While Addams died in 1988, his characters survived, through syndication and in animation, feature films and a recent (2019) CGI animated movie.

The work of Lawson Wood couldn't be more different. His fame rests on the shoulders of monkeys, chiefly those of Gran'pop, an elderly monkey, and his family who became the star of The Sketch and, in America, Collier's, appearing in colour and quickly establishing an audience that went out and bought Gran'pop postcards, posters, calendars and Gran'pop Annuals.

Wood was trained at a specialist school of animal painting in London where he followed in the footsteps of Alfred Munnings, Cecil Aldin and George Studdy. From illustrating popular magazine stories in the pages of Pearson's, The Strand, Boy's Own Paper and The Captain, Wood turned to illustrating books and leading illustrated magazines The Graphic and The London Illustrated News. His talents were recognised by galleries and even the Royal Academy.

Another change of pace brings us to Roy Wilson, although Wilson, too, had the talent to bring animals to life in his watercolour covers for annuals. Wilson's ability to depict motion and movement was unequaled in comics in the 1930s. He began his career in comics as an assistant, but had surpassed the abilities of Don Newhouse by the time he went solo in 1933. Wilson was often tasked with producing the front covers of Amalgamated Press's comics – Butterfly, Merry and Bright, Sparkler, Puck, Golden and, most notably, 'At Chimpo's Circus' for the beautifully gravure printed Happy Days.

Post War, he brought life to the adventures of Morecambe and Wise and Terry-Thomas and other celebrities, never skimping on the detail and always including little visual extras ‐ a cat clutching its sides at the antics of the star of the strip, a rat sniffing a flower, a startled dog peering around a fence, etc., etc.

One of the earliest creators of bizarre caricatures was the French illustrator J. J. Grandville, who was one of the most influential fantasy and science fiction artists, drawing whimsical images of animals in human clothing and remarkable futuristic cityscapes. His series Les Metaphorphosis du Jour brought him fame and ran to 70 prints and led to a new law censoring cartoons and caricatures in France.

Grandville's Un Autre Monde (1844) explored social and scientific advances combined with surreal dreamscapes. The artist continued his depictions of human-animal and flower-human hybrids until his death in 1847.

Another darkly comic cartoonist wraps up the issue. Ersin Karabulut is a Turkish digital illustrator and graphic designer who co-founded the prestigious satirical weekly magazine Uykusuz in 2007, although he now lives in Los Angeles.

For more information on Illustrators and back issues, visit the Book Palace website, where you can also find details of their online editions, and news of upcoming issues. Issue 30 will have features on Mort Kunstler, Earl Norem, Norman Saunders and men's adventure magazines. There are two specials also due shortly: a Crime Comics special, featuring the works of Sean Phillips, Jordi Bernet and Charles Biro, and The Art of John M. Burns.

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