*Bill Watterson The Cheapening of the Comics
Elwood H. Smith– George Herriman’s Krazy Kat has been very much an influence on my work. Herriman died in 1944 and I was born in 1941. I’m not certain, but I seem to have vague memories of observing Krazy Kat while crawling across the pages of the Sunday Comic Pages of the Detroit Free Press. Hearst wisely decided to let the strip die when Herriman died. Anyhow, I rediscovered Krazy Kat when I began digging into my early influences and applying them to my own work in the late ’70s. Finding my own style, my personal voice, was a slow process and I was nearly 36 by the time I began developing my current style, drawing upon the work of Elzie Segar (Popeye), Billy DeBeck (Barney Google) and Herriman. I’m a slow, but steady learner.
I don’t consciously attempt to send a message of any kind to my audience. I don’t show extreme violence and my characters are not vicious. They tend to me more like me, I suppose–worried and nervous, expecting an anvil to fall from the skies at any moment.
I don’t follow comics that much, so I don’t know if they’ve been cheapened. From what I see out there, the humor is not great and the art seems to be less stellar than that of past masters like Walt Kelly (Pogo) and more recent artists like Bill Waterson (Calvin & Hobbes). I’ve been more interested in the output of various animators and, of course, contemporary illustrators. I do like Dilbert. Very funny stuff and Scott Adam’s art style is good enough to tell the story. He wisely doesn’t overreach, trying to draw real perspective, etc., keeping it nice and simple.
Sandbox World– There are many book publishers out there bringing back in lavish bound new editions of the old strips back to live or the rights to them have become very cheap. (Popeye, Krazy Kat, Walt and Skeezix, Dick Tracy, and new ones coming out each month) Do you think kids will ever appreciate these classic comics that you grew up with?
E.H.S.- I hope so. If younger cartoonists and illustrators are exposed to those old masters, I’m pretty sure they’ll come to appreciate their art and their crazy, original inventions.
Sandbox World– Are there any new illustrators/cartoonists that caught your eye?
E.H.S.- Oh, yeah, I am very excited and inspired by newer illustrators, like Gary Taxali & Mark Matcho and amazing cartoonists like Chris Ware. Sorry to name only three of the many younger (and older) talents out there. And I’m very excited about animators like Gianluigi Toccafondo, Chris Hinton and David O’Reilly who are, in my opinion, real innovators. Of course I love more mainstream animators like Brad Bird’s "The Incredibles" and the stop-motion gems like "Wallace & Gromit" from Nick Park.
Sandbox World- Not many illustrators such as yourself from your generation are using the latest in computer programs to express your art and music in different forms. Are there any programs out there that you wish you had more time to learn or which one really frustrates you. Ever consider using Painter instead of real watercolor?
E.H.S.- I am continually frustrated that I don’t have enough time to devote to learning all the great new software out there. I wish I could be at least three people. I am learning Apple’s Motion 2, which is not easy, but fairly intuitive (like all the Apple stuff), but I’d love to learn to use Final Effects, which I have, but can’t seem to get into. GarageBand is wonderful & so is iMovie. I’ve had Final Cut Pro for some months now and I still haven’t begun to learn it. My wife and rep, Maggie Pickard and I really like the Lynda.com tutorials–her QuickTime movies have helped us learn much of what we know. I do use Painter but, again, I don’t have the time to devote to really learning it. I’ve mostly used it to paint over short movie frames for my animation projects. As far as watercolor (and pen and ink) goes, I am so comfortable with traditional tools, that I favor them, especially when a deadline looms.
I’d love to learn more about Flash, but I tend to use Toon Boom Studio because I know it better and I love the rotating light table feature, which is unique to TBS. It helps me draw with my Wacom tablet/stylus in a more natural way. Still, I do wish I had more hours in each day to spend on learning new electronic tools.
Sandbox World- Robert Crumb, Dan Piraro, and yourself are musicians as well as cartoonists, of all the cartoonists you know which one has had a balanced career in both and which cartoonist do you know is a closet musician that we do not know of?
E.H.S.- Hmmm. Well, Crumb’s "Cheap Suit Serenaders" cut about 3 superb albums and he is one of the most famous cartoonists of all time, so I’d guess he’d be a good first choice for having a balanced music and art career. That is, if you can call Bob "balanced". Did you see the movie "Crumb"?
I’ve been in touch recently with the very talented illustrator, Mike Moran (he’s on the Drawger blog) and I just found out that he is an excellent songwriter. Back in my New York City days, I was in an all-artist band called "Ben Day & the Zipatones" with illustrator great, Lou Brooks, primo cartoonist, Mark Alan Stamaty, ex-National Lampoon art director Skip Johnston and designer, illustrator and cartoonist, Leslie Cabarga.
Sandbox World- Has the web helped you in your career? Do you think it has hindered many in your industry to some degree or made them better artists?
E.H.S.- I’m not sure the web has helped my career. It sure makes it easier for art directors, editors and designers to access my work. The business has changed in recent years for all illustrators, so it’s hard to gauge the impact the web has had. It makes research a whole lot easier, that’s for sure. No more trips to the library or rifling through my morgue for scrap. I love the web, but I can’t really answer either of our questions. There is still lots of bad art out there & plenty of great stuff, too. Like it’s always been, I’d say.
Sandbox World- If there was one book you had a yen to illustrate or commissioned job that got away that you wanted back, or regretted some?
E.H.S.- Nope. I have no regrets. Well, to be honest, I wish I’d socked away a ton of money so I could relax and focus solely on my moving picture and music projects. But, for a curmudgeon, I’m pretty happy with the way my life and career have unfolded.
Sandbox World- You just discovered Renaissance music, many well know musicians are returning to the roots of music contradicting their rock roots. Your growth as a musician and audiophile has that made you a better artist or do you find yourself drifting more to music than art itself?
E.H.S.- Actually, I discovered Renaissance music way back in the 60’s when my first wife brought back a 7-course lute from England. I wasn’t a particularly good lutenist, but it was a great experience playing simple John Dowland & Thomas Robinson tunes. To my mind, music is the most powerful art form. Instrumental music is completely abstract and, when I listen to a Mahler symphony, I am transported to a near-spiritual plane. I am in awe of musical sounds of all stripes. Most, not all, but I have a wide range of musical appreciation. I don’t think music has influenced my art or the other way around, but I am ever grateful to have all the arts available. Sounds and images are apples and oranges, both delicious and nutritious.
Sandbox World- Do you feel that you have reached your zenith as a artist, if not what is that one thing that you want to accomplish still?
E.H.S.- I hope I haven’t reached my zenith. I do hope I live long enough to make a handful of small, excellent motion pictures. With my music, of course! We have little choice on that matter. I feel like I’m at the beginning of the most creative period of my life. We’ll see.
Sandbox World- Since you are doing cartoons with Flash and Toon Boom Studio, is there an animator from the past that drives you? Is it a hard process, I myself just find it to be a long grind. Do you like the recent crop of CGI movies, personally I prefer the old 2D ones. It seems it’s always the same formula, big actors, toilet humor, and big bucks. What happened to story?
E.H.S. -As I said earlier, I’m still in the learning process when it comes to animation. When I began, I was trying to learn the basics of animation, that is working on getting a good "walk cycle" and a convincing "squash & stretch", but I’ve chosen to approach it differently now. I don’t intend to do traditional animation, so my intentions are to create "moving pictures", avoiding the term animation as much as possible. I’m merging live action, art and photo stills and animated stuff into some other thing. I’m not sure what the hell I’m doing, but I’m having fun and I feel like I’m tapping into real creative juice down there. That’s much more important to me at this stage of my life & career than becoming a true animator.
Like you, I tend to prefer 2D animation, but when I see really great stories and wonderful drawing like exists in "The Incredibles", I like 3D as much as anything. Still, I’ll take a work like Toccofondo’s "La Piccola Russia" over anything out there. Personal taste, of course.
Sandbox World- I would like to thank you for your recent kid books out there, you are putting many smiles on my son and daughter’s faces and made them aware there is more to poop and pee. Thank goodness I don’t have to read to them Dick and Jane. As you know soon you will be running out of bodily functions to do topics for books or they may be too bawdy in nature. Any plans for the next kids’ book?
E.H.S.- Thank you for letting me know how much you and your family enjoy my illustrations. Susan Goodman (the author of "The Truth About Poop") and I not only collaborated on that book and on "Gee Whiz", but we are about to begin another book for Viking. I’m not sure I can tell what it is at this point, but it won’t be about vomit or snot. I’ll let you know when it becomes a reality.
Sandbox World- Thank you for joing us at Sandbox World.
E.H.S.- My pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.