I’ve discovered that when you write a blog like this, you stand a chance of running into the Broken Record Syndrome (BRS), as not everyone written about can be the best ink-slinger. Still, I’m writing about my favorite ink-slingers in comic art history, so whether they are the best or near best is beside the point. They are simply tops in my book, which brings me to George Clark.
George Rife Clark (1902-1978 ) started cartooning professionally at the ripe old age of 16, and within five years became a staff artist for the Cleveland Press. In 1928, Clark created the single-panel feature Side Glances for the NEA Syndicate in Cleveland. He continued working on the panel for 11 years, until William Galbraith Crawford (more on Crawford, AKA Galbraith, at a later date) took over in 1939. NEA was a notoriously cheap syndicate to work for, so Clark signed a more lucrative contract with the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate. The Neighbors, Clark’s new feature, first appeared on April 24, 1939.
George Clark was a master of the brush and litho crayon. Formerly the bailiwick of political cartoonists, the brush and litho crayon allowed cartoonists the ability to lay shading into their drawings in a quicker fashion, as opposed to the tedious technique employed with the Benday shading tape. The litho crayon also allowed for greater mark-making ability, which Clark used liberally. He had a fluid and loose drawing style, in which his flowing ink brush lines were supported beautifully by the litho crayon shadows.
Clark was also one of the best figure artists to ever grace the funny pages. His figures were lushly drawn and moved with ease, supported by a solid knowledge of life drawing. Most importantly, they conveyed attitude. Lichty conveyed figural attitude with his Bigfooted expressiveness, while Clark conveyed a figural attitude with more of a nuanced, lyrical expressiveness. The lines simply flowed like a river, with a slight bend here, an arch there, and small movements, taken in context, that made perfect sense. Take the woman’s legs in the image above, for example. Her right leg (on our left), makes little anatomical sense all by itself, but in context of her movements – the slight lean-forward and foreshortened left leg – that odd foot makes all the sense in the world.
In terms of gags, Clark rarely went for the knee-slapping guffaw, but worked towards a subtle approach derived from observation. That’s quite true of the full image above, from April 9, 1941. The caption reads, “We’d better get our bank’s advice on these bonds. Never pays to take chances when we’re planning for our future.” This couple may not have all that much of a future if they continue playing dodge-the-cars while crossing through traffic.
When you collect artwork, you can’t help but notice stylistic changes and approaches over the career of an artist. George Clark started out quite good in the late 1920s, but really hit his stride in the late 1930s, continuing that stride through the early 1950s. It was during that 12-to-15 year stretch that Clark was hitting it on all cylinders, from his wonderful figure work, to his layouts and brush work. From what I’ve read, Clark had a drinking problem which affected his work later in his career, and you can see things begin to get sloppier later in the 1950s until he retired from The Neighbors in the 1970s. The work became sparser, but with less specificity. Less was no longer more. My focus on Clark’s work is the late 30s through the late 40s, and when you see the detail from the 1944 panel below, you’ll understand why.
Those kids! The seated boy, with the jutting cheek, tousled hair, and wonderful checked bathrobe, is simply terrific. And his sister, with that lean towards the downstairs, the brief expression on her face, and those marvelous shadows, all set off by those shadowy lines behind her…simply masterful.
The kids are the main players in this panel, but Clark was able to convey so much with so few means in his prime. Check out his drawing of the parents and the space around the them. The birds-eye view perspective appears effortless, as does his two-point perspective approach.
And now you can see a truly masterful approach to space. The kids anchor the composition of the drawing, especially as they’re set off with darker tones, but the way in which Clark uses the stairs to gracefully sweep our view downstairs is quite wonderful. With 11 lines, he moves the space in an easy fashion, gradually shifting his litho crayon tones in the process. This Christmas-themed panel is from December 19, 1944, with the girl stating, “They don’t show much imagination. Same old hiding place every Christmas!”
Until next time, take care.