Ink-Slingers Blog #4: George Lichty

If you look up the term “Ink Slinger” in the dictionary, you’ll find that it’s slang for a writer, one who slings newspaper ink around.  Instead, George Lichty’s picture should appear in the definition.  If there is anyone in the annals of comic strip history who could be deemed a bona fide slinger of ink, it is the man born as George Maurice Lichtenstein (1905-1983). 

George Lichty, like his contemporary Milt Gross, used the expressiveness found in pen/brush and ink to convey form, movement, and space in his work.  Lichty had a wild shorthand approach to drawing, in which he conveyed elements without having to render them.  Take this 1945 Grin and Bear It panel, for instance.  Check out the way that Lichty conveys the sense of space through the doorway.  You get the gigantic machinery and people instantly, all conveyed with his squiggly brush lines and litho crayon tone on Coquille paper.

Now, let’s get to Lichty’s figure work.  There was no one, I repeat, no one who drew figures like George Lichty.  He could approach the figure with an incredible slap-dash approach, while maintaining the weight and form of the figure.  Most importantly, Lichty was able to convey a figural attitude in his characters, with seeming ease:

So few lines, but so much character and expressiveness.  Just look at the way he’s handled those books in the background as well.  Expressive linear perspective in action! 

Put the two central characters together, and you see pretty much all you need to know about Lichty’s figures.  The subtlety of the hand-in-the-pocket with a slight bend of the back, versus the use of a fuller figure in the character on the right.  The touches of tone add any additional weight needed in a masterful fashion:

And then the full cartoon, from 12 December 1945.  The gag, of course, refers to the atomic experiments going on at the time.  And check out Lichty’s inscription: “Best for a Happy Atomic Age”!

Fast-forward 17 years, to a subject matter that was near and dear to Lichty’s heart: hoboes.  Lichty often used these characters as way to make social commentary on some relevant issue in the world.  This Grin and Bear It Panel is from 23 November 1962, just weeks removed from the Cuban Missile Crisis. 

To start, once again look at Lichty’s background:

Those aren’t real railroad tracks, but in Lichty’s world, they work perfectly well in one-point perspective, straight back to that rectangle that represents a boxcar.  Just look at how Lichty subtly alters his line weight as he brings the railroad ties back in space. 

And then, back to the figures.  Such figures!  Lichty always gave these hobo characters roundness, as if they’ve managed to lead a well-fed life.  The body language is perfect, as the character sits on his bed roll, leaning back against the wall.  This weird, misshapen hat sits beautifully atop his head, legs crossed; all done with a beautiful variation in thick and thin line work.

Did you notice those feet?  For those not as familiar with the terminology of comic strips, there is a genre known as Bigfoot cartooning.  Not cartoons of the mythical Bigfoot, but cartoons featuring characters with impossibly large feet.  They are usually a slap-stick sort of cartoon.  In George Lichty’s case, he’s both a Bigfoot cartoonist and an Abstract Foot cartoonist.  I mean, those feet are impossible, and yet somehow, some way, they work beautifully in a Lichty cartoon:

And the full cartoon panel, in all of its ink-slinging glory!

I will revisit George Lichty’s work in the future, as he is one of the true greats, but until then, thanks for tuning in.

Stephen Worth
- 7 July 2017 at 05:57pm

GREAT STUFF! I love Lichty!
Larry Neagle
- 19 July 2017 at 03:40am

I love Lichty's style. Sometimes what at first glance appears to be a smudge, in the right place works more effectively than another artist's series of carefully calibrated lines.
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