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WILLIAM HOGARTH Analysis of Beauty, 1753

Theater for a rival syndicate. Thimble Theater grew to become one of the greatest comic strips of all time, even before Popeye joined the cast of characters in the late 1920s. Thimble Theater began just as the title indicates -an ensemble cast of characters acting out humorous stories within tiny successive frames on the printed page. But it grew to be as much about the drawings on the page as any sort of representational drama. In fact, Segar often ran a strip on top of Thimble Theater called “Popeye’s Cartoon Club” that was directly about cartooning and how doodles became representational figures that could engage in believable activities that ranged from funny and fantastic to truly terrible and terrific, such as the great epic “Plunder Island” featuring the Sea Hag and the Goon that Segar created in successive Sunday pages from December 1933 through July 1934. The doodle aesthetic (in which apparently simple black line drawings not only suggested characters and backgrounds but also the expressive energy of artists and their society) was pioneered by TAD, the cartoonist showcased in Davis’ Lucky Strike. TAD began his career in the earliest days of newspaper comics, right after Winsor McCay showed other artists how comics could be a medium for artistic expression and not just commercial success. McCay’s Little Nemo and Dream of the Rarebit Fiend (both published in the later half of the first decade of the 20th century) combined fantastic situations and an almost classical sense of craft with an utterly revolutionary way of designing the printed page. In McCay’s work, the page was not just the place where one could read successive panels to indicate a story unfolding over time; it was also an overall design object in which the formal relation of colors and shapes was as important as the dreamlike stories being told. This formal diagrammatic approach to comics created one branch 24 · ARTECONTEXTO · DOSSIER

of creative expression in the medium, which is currently best exemplified in the work of Chris Ware, who uses the contrast between the formal control of his designs to the lack of emotional control in his character’s lives to great effect. TAD began another approach, one based upon the inherent silliness and expressive power of line drawings themselves apart from the scenes they depict. TAD’s popularity dates from the late 1910s when black and white sports cartoons began to supplement the Sunday color comics that McCay and others created. A good example is a drawing from George Herriman’s collection that TAD dedicated to the younger artist. The page is an assemblage of six scenes related thematically rather than by an overall narrative thread or visual design. Yet the style of drawing and verbal expression unifies in the work in a different, more abstract, way. In particular, the drawing is as humorous as what the drawing depicts. Black lines indicate a kind of antic energy infused into them by the artist such as the big shoes on the little kid depicted just below the artist’s signature. This expressive quality connects with the viewer in a visceral way and makes the drawing something internal rather than a snapshot or a realistic representation of a scene. This is often termed the “big foot” style of drawing, which R. Crumb revived and popularized in the mid1960s and the painter Philip Guston drew upon a few years later when he abandoned abstract expressionism and began creating large canvases filled with crude line drawings and figures. In many ways the energy of expressive line drawings, what I am calling doodles, that radiate energy beyond the images in his paintings replicate the existential quality of abstract American painting from the 1940s and 1950s in figurative work from the 1960s and beyond. The British artist William Hogarth was the godfather of this approach to drawing -the Dickens of the doodle and diagram, as it were. His early popular paintings and prints such as The Harlot’s Progress and The Rake’s Progress were complicated visual scenes read one after the other to convey a story about a central character. They were as complex and bawdy visually as they were thematically. Late in his career Hogarth developed a series of enigmatic visual puzzles in print such as The Battle of the Pictures, along with a study called The Analysis of Beauty that is an instruction manual of visual picture-making at the same time as it is an ironic joke about representational art. The main scene in the first of two plates shows a courtyard filled with images that illustrate the history of classical art from Greek sculptures to contemporary printed books. Within the scene Hogarth employs a variety of visual gags that illustrate how representational art works while undermining it at the same time such as a well-dressed man holding the arm of a nude sculpture behind the juxtaposition of a detailed drawing of a man’s leg muscle with a boot lying on the ground. Around the border is something even more unusual -a series of “how to” drawings that show the wide variety of methods by which images can be represented on paper. These range from three-dimensional classical portraits rendered with great skill to flat cartoonish doodles. Hogarth compiled all these effects to show off his compositional skill, but also to demonstrate an 18th century critique of what Marcel Duchamp would refer to disparagingly as “retinal art,” which reflects how the world appears rather than exploring what it means. Duchamp

Profile for ARTEHOY Publicaciones y Gestion SL

ARTECONTEXTO Nº10.  

Dossier: COMIC WORLD / MUNDO CÓMIC 2006

ARTECONTEXTO Nº10.  

Dossier: COMIC WORLD / MUNDO CÓMIC 2006

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