American War Art Exhibit at DC Air and Space Museum

In 1918 the US Army commissioned eight artists as Captains and sent them to Europe to document WW1. The eight traveled with the troops and made large numbers of drawings and paintings. This was the beginning of the US Army Art Program, which continues to this day and now comprises more than 15,000 works by over 1,300 artists.

The original eight artists included several students of Howard Pyle who later became famous as members of the Brandywine School. The names of all eight artists are listed here, with links to additional information. 

William James AylwardWalter Jack DuncanHarvey Thomas DunnGeorge Matthews HardingWallace MorganErnest Clifford PeixottoJ. Andre SmithHarry Everett Townsend

The Air and Space Museum in Washington DC is currently hosting an exhibition of works from these early war artists, comprising over 100 drawings and paintings. I happened upon this exhibit, and was amazed at the quality of the images, which were created on-site under difficult conditions and with basic materials.

I especially loved the charcoal drawings of Harry Everett Townsend, shown below:

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And Harvey Dunn's more dynamic style is shown in the mixed media pieces below:

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I highly recommend the entire exhibit, which runs through November 11, 2018.

Ivan Thompson, Washington, DC

Bande Dessinee

I am a big fan of European comics or bande dessinee (BD). In fact, at present I would much rather read European comics than their US competitors. Let me try to explain why.

BD is generally characterized by serious and often realistic themes (although there are funny BD), high-quality art, and high production values. The typical BD book is hardbound, full-color and lengthy, compared to US or Japanese serials. In other words, a graphic novel. In France, Belgium and other parts of Europe BD is considered serious art.

Some BD artists and titles have become known in the US: Moebius’ Blueberry and his fantasy art, Canales and Guarnido’s Blacksad, Goscinny and Uderzo's Asterix and Obelix, and of course the most famous of all: Herge’s Tintin. The Steven Spielberg 2011 Tintin movie was obviously a labor of love and replicated the look and feel of the comics wonderfully. But in general European comics are a mystery to US audiences.

On a recent trip to Paris I visited perhaps a dozen excellent comic shops or BD sections in larger book stores, and bought several beautiful examples of BD, which I’d like to share with you. These are not necessarily the most famous or notable examples: they’re just what I saw and loved.

First, Blacksad. I had previously bought the US English versions of two Blacksad novels published by Dark Horse Books. They are amazing works of art. To quote Neal Adams, who wrote the forward to one of these books “…this was an incredible Disney artist who got into his Audi, or Citroen, or Fiat, and decided to drive down his own new road to give us Blacksad”. Unfortunately, a lot of Blacksad material is not available in English, so I bought three French books, and tried to piece together the stories. These illustrate the adventures of John Blacksad, an anthropomorphic panther noir detective, in 1950s Las Vegas, New Orleans and other moody locations. I was first blown away by the art of Blacksad, but the writing is just as good.

Below is an example of the sort of Disney-esque cartooning you can find on every page.

The second BD book I bought is a graphical adaptation of the award-winning novel Le Rapport de Brodeck (Brodeck’s Report). This is the first of two volumes scheduled for publication. Again, I fell in love with the art (because I couldn’t read the text), but subsequently learned more about Philippe Claudel's award-winning book from which the comic was adapted.

This is an art book in every sense of the word! I bought the special edition, with the signed, limited edition book plate and slipcover. Artist Manu Larcenet, who I did not know before buying Brodeck, is a veteran of dozens of BD books. He has a unique and distinctive style of drawing, using a variety of techniques, that lends itself perfectly to the story. Here are a few examples from the front and back of the slipcover.

My third purchase is one of Giraud's (Moebius) many Blueberry books. I found this one for about a US dollar in the basement of a tiny comics shop down a Paris alley. It's older than the others, and the production values are not as high, but has anyone ever drawn comic landscapes as well as Giraud? Here's an example, from the inside cover of the book:

The fourth and final example is Holly Ann: La Chèvre Sans Cornes (the goat without horns), a dark and stylish tale set in New Orleans in the 1800's. This is one in a series of Holly Ann books.

 The cover (above) got me interested, but the inside contained the sort of beautiful cartooning that is so common in BD books (see below).

The cover (above) got me interested, but the inside contained the sort of beautiful cartooning that is so common in BD books (see below).

Ivan Thompson, Paris, France.

Witzend

I was not having much luck following Google Maps around Melbourne, Australia, looking for “comic book stores”. Either the store wasn’t where it was supposed to be, or it had closed and moved to a different location. Finally a man on the street told me “If you go to the next block, right after the restaurant there’s a store called Minotaur… and they have a whole lot of comics”.

Not only did they have a whole lot of comics, they had back issues of Spectrum, various Flesk books, EC and Warren collections, Artist’s Editions too big to carry, and lots of work by artists the average comic store doesn’t carry, such as Wally Wood, Frank Frazetta, Dave Stevens, Jim Steranko, Al Williamson, Berni Wrightson, Mark Schultz, etc. You know, the EC crowd and their direct descendants.

I spent half an hour just looking at one wall, finding a new treasure every few minutes. Unfortunately they were all shrink wrapped. And then I saw it: A slipcovered, two volume set containing every issue of Wally Wood’s Witzend. Boom! I was right back in junior high school, in Peter Kuper’s bedroom. I never owned a copy of Witzend, but my friend Peter did, and it was legendary! The art, the name, everything about it was just too cool. The boxed set was $165 Australian, and my suitcase was already full, but I bought it. Then I spent every free moment of a three-week trip devouring its contents.

 

Here’s what I learned:

In 1965 or 1966 Dan Adkins asked Wally Wood to contribute to a sci-fi art magazine he was publishing. Wally was burnt out on the commercial comics scene and loved the idea of a creator-owned publication. He decided to publish a book of his own art, and that of his friends and disciples – and that’s how, in 1966, Witzend got its start. And fast forwarding 50 years, it was after reading all 13 issues of Witzend that I decided to publish this web site. It has no theme – it’s a grab bag of many different things I’ve been working on for the past few years.

And it’s a testament to how things we see and hear in our youth get under our skin and we can never get them out.

Ivan Thompson, Auckland, New Zealand