Monday, April 06, 2009

My Favourite Cartoonists Part 4: Wally Wood


My appreciation for Wally Wood is complex and contradictory, much like the man himself. He was one of the greatest inkers ever, with a virtuoso ability to render images in black and white. Yet his inking almost completely obliterated the penciller's work. He could draw beautiful and fluid cartoon figures, full of energy, life and charm, yet his more illustrative work often looks stiff and stilted. His work is marked by an attention to detail and obsessive craftsmanship, yet his thoughts on his art are often filled with cynicism and a "just get it done" mentality. He was nothing if not complex.

Wood was, in many ways, a tragic figure. His tale is a cautionary one, and several books and articles have been written about this aspect of his legacy. But for all the darkness that surrounded his personal life, I'll always remember and treasure the great cartooning he left behind: Superduperman and the Mad magazine parodies, the endless stream of inventive sci-fi imagery that poured out of him, the big-foot cartooning that looked so solid and believable with his application of light and shadow and, of course, the gorgeous women that only he could draw. And I'll always remember the sheer joy of looking at the art of a virtuoso cartoonist working with total confidence and a with a staggering command of his tools.

For samples of Wood's art, you can check out this very nice blog dedicated to his work. Thanks to Rich Dannys for the link.

16 comments:

Brad said...

very nice tribute!

Parker said...

Since you mention Superduperman and the Mad stuff, I'll say this- as much as I loved Wood, all my most favorite work of his was the Mad stories, working over Harvey Kurtzman's layouts. Teddy and the Pirates being maybe my all time fave. I wish I could find some writing with him talking about those so I could figure what made that art ratchet up into the stratosphere like it did. It wasn't just that it was comedy, he did that elsewhere- of course it could be a combo of being the right age- old enough to have the serious chops but still young enough to invest the massive time and energy into the pages. Or maybe just because he got to parody things he loved.

My alternate reality scenario is always what would have happened had he been given Prince Valiant instead of Cullen Murphy- would it have changed his life for the better?

Rich Dannys said...

An excellent likeness of him, Michael.. A younger likeness, it appears to me. Later on, he always looked so dour & world weary.

I'm a HUGE fan of his MAD work. I have a binder of just those color reprints. Can't beat his EC Science-Fiction stuff, either..

It's exasperating to read of his "just get it done" attitude. But I think he always had a crew of assistants around. And maybe he just wanted to pass along his "workmanlike" approach to his peers?

He had so many disappointments in his life.. It's difficult to take him to task on those kinds of details.

I've got a link to a neat Woody blog on my site, btw.

Michael Cho said...

Brad: thanks, Brad.

Jeff: I agree 100%. As much as I like Wood's "straight" stuff, my personal fav is his cartoonier, big-foot stuff. He was just so damn good at it -- he had the cartooning chops, but also the illustrative skills to take that stuff to the next level. I always think his work was most alive when he was cartooning. Teddy and the Pirates is FANTASTIC. Just like his Black and Blue Hawks and all the rest.

And I've thought about the Prince Valiant question too. I remember reading Foster's response to Wood's sample, saying he thought Wood was an excellent fantasy artist, but not suited for the realistic and historical aspect of P.V. I wonder what would have happened if Wood had got it too - lord knows he idolized Foster. At that era for Wood, in the early 70's, it might just have been the turning point for him: instead of banking on Bakshi making a film of the Wizard King, he might have lived out his life in peace doing Valiant...or gotten restless and gotten in a fight with the syndicate or Foster. Foster was, after all, one hell of a hands-on kind of guy with Valiant.

Michael Cho said...

Rich: thanks, Rich. I'm gonna check out your link asap!

And yeah, Wood certainly had more than his share of disappointments. I remember the vitriol in his letter about an editor taking a big red pen to his art and writing "KILL THIS". Lord knows he had a right to be angry. But it seems from what I read that Wood had a real difficulty with dealing with that kind of thing too. He internalized so much of it, and didn't develop some of the skills to deal with things like that in a professional manner. He seemed to just stay silent until he blew up and quit, you know?

Either way, he certainly had more than his share of bad breaks.

Michael Cho said...

And yes, Rich, I chose to draw the younger Woody instead of the squinting, world-weary Wood. For these portraits, like the Kirby one, I mostly chose to try and draw these cartoonists when they were young and fresh and not the typical shot everyone is used to.

Eric Orchard said...

This is probably the most nuanced tribute I've read about the man, wonderful post. Good timing as well as I just ordered a bunch of his EC stuff.Comic book mentality was so different in the '40's and '50's, for the most part the artists didn't think in terms of creating art at all. Amazing portrait, too.

alan said...

That's a nifty bit of inking yourself. I agree absolutely with that analysis of Wood's work - spot on. I love Wood's rendering of sci-fi machinery

Booksteve said...

A very nice portrait indeed and thanks fro the link to my Wood blog!

The Stapelia Company said...

Love the portrait, very nice. He did some of the best sci fi illustrations ever published in my favorite comics of all time: EC Comics. His women, and monsters and spaceships and detail fascinated me as a kid and still do today. Nice tribute.

Honolulu Dogfight said...

I remember being a teenager and reading about Wally Woods life and getting genuinely sad over it. Now I'm 40 and still genuinely sad about it. I'll have to read some Sally Forth strips later to cheer up.

Michael Cho said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I love all those examples of Wood's work too. And especially dig that giant over-sized Sally Forth collection I have - what a great combo of Wood's women & big-foot cartooning!

Paper Dreams said...

Michael:

How about turning your famous cartoonists series into t-shirts.
I've seen the Kirby and Wood and both are fantastic images. How about some Cho-wear?

W.D.

Dominic Bugatto said...

Nice one! Wood kicked serious ass!

Ralph said...

Not a bad likeness but you didnt do justice to the bags under his eyes. Nobody seems to have much appreciation for the Mad magazine (as opposed to comic book) stuff he did in the later fifties which was some of his finest work. I dont see any of those pages posted anywhere.

Michael Cho said...

Ralph: You're right about the bags under his eyes. But like the other portraits I've done in this series, this was a drawing of a YOUNG Wally Wood, so I didn't draw the bags, the receeding hair, or those veins that developed on his forehead during the later years.

And you are right about the Mad stuff -- it IS some of the best cartooning and some of my favourite work by him. But even Wood was aware of how much people prefered his earlier stuff -- I read somewhere that he often complained about fans telling him how much they preferred it to his later work.

Personally, I like both. As obsessively detailed as that early stuff was, I also appreciate how elegantly he simplified his compositions in later life.