Monday, December 23, 2013

The text, the type, the visual

[a] 1795. Self-portrait (detail).

Yesterday’s Papers. Today’s Views.
by Huib van Opstal

[9] graphic matters
Since we have started to duplicate written and visualised creations in print, many style elements have led to labels and descriptions. Thought up before or after serving.

‘Typography’ has become synonymous with lettering and printing. Our present word ‘printing’ for ‘making duplicate pictures’ dates from the late 1300s — as ‘prenting,’ ‘pryntyng’ and ‘printinge.’ It got its present spelling in the 1600s.

‘Typographical faultes, which perhaps have scaped vs’ is a quote from 1593 — about the typograpical errors that might have escaped us.

‘Typos,’ as such errors began to be called in the late 1800s, are still around today, on page as well as screen, and may outlive every other label discussed here.

[b] 1854. A porte-crayon and a sharpening knife (detail from stoneprint or ‘lithography’ handbook).
‘Graphite’ is a black form of crystalline carbon found in England in the 1500s, first named ‘plumbago.’ It got the graphite name when it proved to be perfect for fine writing and drawing work — especially in ‘black lead’ pencils.

Graphice, from the Dutch ‘graphisch,’ is the unusual main title English teacher-illustrator Henry Peacham (b.1578, the younger) chooses for a revised 1612 edition of his 1606 how-to book The Art of Drawing with the Pen, published in London. Such an unusual term, that he drops it the same year for The Gentleman’s Exercise. As a scholar and master of arts (‘Scholler’ and ‘Mr. of Artes’) the art of being a gentleman becomes his primary goal.

A decade later he spells graphice as ‘graphick,’ more like the French ‘graphique.’ Defining it in his enlarged manual The Compleat Gentleman (1622) as: ‘whatsoever is done with the Pen or Pencill (as writing faire, Drawing, Limning and Painting).’

[c] 1761. Porte-crayon in self-portrait by Johan Zoffany (detail).
Respelt ‘graphic’ it has grown into the common umbrella term for everything we cut, carve, rub, write, draw, paint, pen or pencil. A label taken from the Greek word gráphein (to write, scratch, engrave) and the prime source of many other labels.

‘Pencil’ originally was a tapered paint brush for fine work. It dates back to the 1100s. English took it from the French pincel, peincel or pinceau. In the 1500s it mysteriously got the meaning it still has: a slim cylindric tool with a graphite core to write and draw with. The pencil is the simplest basic tool to start your text, type or visual with.

[d] 1867. Title plate or ‘masthead’ of Il Fischietto (The Whistle), a satirical paper from Italy, founded in 1848. The huge tools of the mischievous jester are: a key that doubles as a whistle, a quill pen and a porte-crayon.

‘Porte-crayon’ (pencil or crayon holder) is the French name for a partially self-assembled drawing tool. The term began to seep into English in the 1700s via versions like portagraion, porto-crion and portcreyon. Avoiding the new prefab wood-encased pencils of the 1800s, many artists stayed long addicted to the personalised porte-crayon.

The earliest European models from the 1500s were made of wood or reed, like in Asia. The prime model in the 1800s is a metal tube with pincers and sliding rings on both ends in which to lock your pieces of chalk, black lead, crayon, charcoal, conté, pastel, wax, rubber or tortillon (twisted paper stumps or estompes for ‘smoothing’), even the shortest leftovers fit in it, some take square ones too. It’s available expensive or cheap (US models in ‘brass’ go for 9 to 13 cents a piece in the 1890s), it fits in any pocket and is often pictured itself — in portraiture and caricature — as a pointer, or as a bigger than life staff or weapon, like an arrow or a spear. One can take two different types of inset or colour. The pincers prevent it from rolling off the drawing board. And you can hold it with three or two fingers, even with one — while keeping your hands clean.

‘Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.’ (for gentleman) is how writer Irving Washington (b.1783) signs the tale of Rip Van Winkle and his henpecking wife, published in 1819 in New York, in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent.; No. I.

‘M. Pencil’ (for Monsieur Pencil, Mr Pencil) is how Swiss teacher-writer-stripmaker Rodolphe Töpffer (b.1799) titles his story starring a sketching artist causing calamities. Töpffer sketches it in 1831 and eventually publishes it in a comic strip as well as a written format, in 1840.

[e] 1871. On the very first Puck paper — the German-language Puck from St. Louis — Puck presents himself standing on the stump of a large tree, holding a glass of wine and a huge porte-crayon, his largest ever. Artist-author Keppler names his Puck after a mischievous little spirit, and draws him as a naked cherub in a shiny top hat and tails (and often with a shoulder strap or ribbon too, to lug his porte-crayon around). ‘Halfpage nameplate’ is the correct term Richard S. West gave to this type of title, in his 1988 book Satire on Stone; The Political Cartoons of Joseph Keppler — a biography of Keppler as well as a history of Puck, and more.

‘Punch’s Pencillings’ is how the weekly Punch paper in London captions its regular series of full-page satirical drawings (large woodcuts) in 1841-43, years before any ‘cartoon’ label is adopted. 

The Pencil of Nature is the title chosen by William Henry Fox Talbot (b.1800) for his booklets with ‘photograms’ made without a camera on light-sensitised drawing paper, published in 1844-46 in England. While inventing it he saw his printing method as ‘photogenic drawing.’

[f] 1849. Cover design by Robert Cruikshank (uncredited, of course).
‘Timothy Crayon, Gypsographer’ is the fictional byline the notorious copyright pirate Wilson & Company in New York puts on its 1849 edition of a comic strip book titled The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck, a book it already published in a near-identical earlier edition in 1842. A reworked version under a self-concocted title — original source and author’s name are nowhere mentioned — of a work swiped from Rodolphe Töpffer: his Les Amours de Mr. Vieux Bois from 1827/1837. Töpffer sticks to stoneprint for most of his stories. But Wilson & Company uses only cheap woodprint and metal type and duplicates an earlier pirated 1841 UK edition of the Mr. Vieux Bois book (a little business venture of British publisher Tilt and Bogue and the artist-brothers George and Robert Cruikshank, after an earlier pirated 1839 French edition of the same book by Aubert & Cie in Paris). All these editions are in small ‘landscape’ (or ‘oblong’) paperback format. Each pirate probably fenced the stereotype printing plates to the next pirate. How to get another language in the stereotypes may have been solved by seperating the texts and the visuals and printing the books in two press runs.

The 1841 UK edition, already with the Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck title, has an illustrated cover by Robert Cruikshank (b.1789) which is captioned ‘Woone’s Gypsography.’ While the full 1849 US byline and subtitle reads: ‘Done with Drawings [by] Timothy Crayon, Gypsographer. 188 COMIC ETCHINGS ON ANTIMONY.’

[g] 1888. Puck, with huge porte-crayon: ‘He thinks I believe it!’
‘Gypsography’ is a satiricial term for stereotyping — at the time still done with papier-mâché moulds (taken from locked-chase forms of type and inset woodcuts) — an in-between step: molten metal poured into a mould resulted in a final printing plate with all the text, type and visuals in one. The whole process had nothing to do with engraving. Making a ‘stereo’ was a cheap copying process: the core business of every book pirate.

An instantly fooled English reviewer sees it as: ‘…a specimen of a new art, called “Gypsography,” the effect of which is somewhat between etching and wood-engraving, and possibly combines some of the advantages of both.’

Actually, all three of the odd phrases in this cover’s text — woone’s, gypsography and antimony — are satire. A lampoon written by the Cruikshank brothers, who as usual whipped up all the English wordplay themselves. ‘Woone’s’ is British Dorsetshire dialect for ‘one’s.’ ‘Woone’s gypsography’ may be read either as ‘one’s stereotyping’ or as ‘one’s copying.’ The ‘antimony’ refers to black sulfide of the 1800s that women use in the form of cosmetic ‘kohl’ for their eye makeup. ‘Obadiah’ refers to the name of the prophet who wrote the shortest Bible book; and ‘Oldbuck’ refers to a holdback — a withheld sum of money.

‘Porte Crayon,’ the French term for the pencil holder, but without the hyphen, is the penname American reportage artist David Hunter Strother (b.1816) chooses for the first series of his comical travelogues in Harper’s Monthly in 1853. Much later, he also turns it into a fictional character for his illustrated serial The Adventures of Porte Crayon and His Cousins (1871).

[h] 1871. ‘L’Éclipse et la Censure,’ porte-crayon in cover design for satirical weekly L’Éclipse (subtitle: ‘Ex-Journal La Lune’) by André Gill.
The Crayon is a 1855 New York ‘Journal Devoted to the Graphic Arts, and the literature related to them.’

‘Caran d’Ache’ (from the Russian karandásh for crayon) is how Russian born French soldier-artist Emmanuel Poiré (b.1858) begins to sign his caricatures, strips and other work around 1880. 

‘Serious and Comical, Engrav’d’ is how print maker William Hogarth (b.1697, London) describes the two large plates of visual proof added to his self-published treatise on art — The Analysis of Beauty (1753). On his 1752 subscription ticket the text is worded in full as ‘two explanatory Prints Serious and Comical, Engrav’d on large Copper Plates fit to frame for Furniture.’ As supplements in his book they’re mercilessly folded in eight.

‘Comic prints’ that make fun of eccentrics and ‘macaronies’ are published by Darly’s print shop in London, and also offered as a set in 1776 — while profiled by Mary Darly as ‘the most entertaining Work ever published in Europe’ — fully titled Comic Prints of Characters; Caricatures, Macaronies etc. (in which macaronies stands for British dandies in zany outfits).

‘Extensive graphic illustrations’ are promised by London publisher-satirist William Hone (b.1780) to potential subscribers of his History of Parody in 1820, to be filled with his notes, plus woodcuts by George Cruikshank and others. A project aborted.

‘Graphic satirist’ together with ‘graphic humour,’ ‘graphic wit’ and ‘graphic representations’ are phrasings used by English artist-writer Richard Dagley (b.1760/70) in his 1821 book Takings; or, the Life of a Collegian. A Poem. Illustrated by twenty-six etchings, from designs by R. Dagley. 

[i] 1876. After an English-language edition of the St. Louis Puck has failed too, Puck is reborn a third time as the German-language New-York Puck (subtitle: ‘Illustrirtes HUMORISTISCHES-WOCHENBLATT!’), with a page-height of 36 cm (14.2 inch). On the launching cover Joseph Keppler (b.1838) pictures his fellow artists, and the trademark figures from earlier European humorous and satirical papers, all active at the time and all widely read in New York too — Punch, Kladderadatsch, Kikeriki, Fliegende Blätter, Figaro, Chivari. Keppler copyrights his Puck title and logo this very year.

In the top title he gives Puck a flogging whip and a huge porte-crayon, and makes him sit on a shooting star blazing over New York’s skyline with the Brooklyn Bridge under construction in the background.

‘Graphic humorist’ is how American artist-publisher David Claypoole Johnston labels himself in 1829, in his Scraps for the year 1830. The first album of a series — following a format set by George Cruikshank in England — under the imprint ‘Designed, Etched, & Published, by D.C. Johnston’ (b.1799). A lot of it in strip format, with plenty talk balloons. After album two he stops the etching and begins to draw on stone.

‘GALLERY OF COMICALITIES’ is a title that first appears in a small type header in an upper corner of the Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle front page of 9 September 1827, above a reprinted Cruikshank illustration. (Taken from his latest book, titled Illustrations of Time, a series of small etchings of comical scenes he calls ‘scraps’ since 1821. Clusters of five or more drawings a page that radiate storylike sensations.)

Although reused with George Cruikshank’s consent, his etching is redone as woodcut, is treated like an ordinary comic cut, is given a different text — a dialogue caption — and is given a different meaning. All this the doing of a good friend, Bell’s editor Vincent Dowling. An enraged Cruikshank is laughingly told that the ‘Comicalities’ are just ‘old friends with new faces’ and sees them reappear week in, week out, in the same spot in similar fashion for the rest of 1827.

Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle (subtitle: ‘Combining, with the NEWS of the WEEK, a Rich Repository of FASHION, WIT, and HUMOUR, and the Interesting Incidents of HIGH and LOW Life’ — with the final line later shortened to: ‘…the Interesting Incidents of REAL LIFE’).

In the preface of his third self-published book, Scraps and Sketches, by George Cruikshank. To be continued occasionally (1828) the author vents his anger:
‘In justice to myself I must here notice the unwarrantable conduct of the Proprietor of  “Bell’s Life in London,” who has taken the liberty of using my name in connexion with that Paper, and, without my permission, has lately spread his advertisements to that effect in every direction.’
[j] 1828. Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, promotional issue with fully illustrated front-page.
Bell’s Comicalities are funny visuals intended to raise the paper’s circulation and so to outclass rivalling weekly Pierce Egan’s Life in London and Sporting Guide; and with success, Pierce Egan’s is soon gobbled up by Bell’s. Next, a large number of Comicalities is reprinted in the 1827 Christmas number. And more swipes from Cruikshank works follow — again without notification — until in early ’28 Bell’s gives in and continues with similar comic cuts and captions by other artists like Leech, Meadows and Seymour.

Its regular issues at the time are 8 pages, with a page-height of 39 cm (15.4 inch). (Iron presses finally allow such larger print sizes.) In 1828 a four-page promotional Bell’s issue with a poster-like front-page full of large rich illustrations flanked by columns of Comicalities invites new readers to buy it — ‘price only seven pence.’ The Comicalities are further promoted ‘As material for the Scrap-Book and Portfolio, and amusement in every public and private house in Great Britain.’

[k] 1744-45. Porte-crayon in self-portrait by James Jefferys (detail).
Page-high columns with decked Comicalities resemble full-blooded comic strips, some already divided into scenes, some already appearing in thematically titled series. And other papers take notice, of course. First The Observer of 21 July 1828 pirates 28 Comicalities from Bell’s. Then The Englishman 820 pirates a page with 34 Comicalities from Bell’s 457 of 2 January 1831 (within a week) under the title The Englishman’s Comic Annual. Bell’s then starts telling the public what it pays for its woodcuts: four whole pages — half an issue — of Bell’s 467 of 13 March 1831, loaded with Comicalities, 54 woodblocks in all, ‘cost the proprietors two hundred and seventy guineas.’

[l] 1831. The Gallery of 140 Comicalities, extra-large front-page.
Another brand new title in 1831, THE GALLERY OF 140 COMICALITIES (subtitle: ‘Which has appeared from time to time, in that most Popular Sporting Sunday Paper, “Bell’s Life in London”’), is issued on 24 June, ‘printed and published by George Goodger’ for Bell’s. An impressive four-page paper, printed on one sheet, with a grand page-height of 63 cm (25 inch) and a total of 140 blocks. Its tight-packed design resembles the many sheets of Dutch ‘mannekens papier’little-men-on-paper — often comical, on single woodcut sheets from earlier times. At the same time its design foreshadows illustrated joke pages, strip pages and comic supplements of later times. The reader is told it has ‘cost the Proprietors Seven Hundred and Thirty-five Pounds designing and engraving.’ Eight more similar issues will be published under the same imprint in 1831-39 as The Gallery of Comicalities (Part I to VIII). Issues ‘Sold to the Trade at Two Shillings for Twelve,’ with ‘Placards for Windows’ provided, and distributed via ‘every Bookseller, Stationer, and News-Agent in the Kingdom.’ Bell’s ‘Office is open from Six in the morning till Nine at Night’ and each issue is sold to the public for threepence a copy. The publicity slogan is: ‘One Hundred and Forty hearty Laughs for Threepence!’

‘The largest and cheapest weekly newspaper.’ In April 1831, on pages of 74 cm high (29 inch), a new paper is launched in Philadelphia, The Saturday Courier. Presented as the ‘…largest and cheapest weekly newspaper, in the United States, (…) published every Saturday, by Woodward & Spragg, Price $2 per annum, payable half yearly in advance. / This popular journal is printed on an extra size imperial sheet, of the largest dimensions. It contains twenty-eight columns of reading matter, each column being equal to eight pages of a duodecimo book.…’ One page of it — under the largest headline ‘THE SATURDAY COURIER – EXTRA’ — is composed of small-sized wood cuts and captions only. Rather long captions, in general.

[m] 1837. Mammoth-sized newspaper (poster detail).
‘Annuals’ or ‘Almanacks’ (especially those with next year’s calendar prominently featured), yearly published books, are a centuries old tradition. In England in the 1820s, illustrated ‘christmas annuals’ published well in time to catch the December gift-book trade, are surprise bestsellers, and soon on every publisher’s list. Many of the early ones are designed extra-small to fit in your pocket or in your hat.

The Comic Annual is a success title from 1830 onward, written and produced by Thomas Hood (b.1799), the son of a London bookseller-publisher. From early on he does his own writing and illustrating, masters wood engraving, and works in journalism. The Comic Annual is his name for a pricey series of small-page books, set in large type, ‘bound in boards’ and specifically developed for the Christmas season and a lower middle class family audience. Filled with topical subjects: a mix of short stories, rhyme and poetry on the odd, comical, religious and the macabre, with some droll illustrations added. (Mostly of obese little people.) Hood bills himself as sole author — on the title page as ‘Thomas Hood, Esq.’ — and strives to write and draw most of it himself. All entries are left unsigned. In some twelve years he manages to do eleven of them, to great success. The first issued is The Comic Annual for 1830 (174pp.) and sells for 12 shillings. (In a page-long text it’s jokily dedicated to family friend ‘Sir Francis Freeling, Bart.’ — for Baronet — a book collector and postal administrator, after whom Hood also names his second daughter that year.) When his final Comic Annual appears, for the year 1842 (326pp.), public interest has already shifted to other, monthly or weekly formats in larger sizes.

[n] 1770-75. Porte-crayon in self-portrait by Angelica Kauffmann (detail).
Special care is taken to promote it from the start. Late 1829, excerpts of the first Comic Annual are leaked to the trade press — one rave-reviewer gasping: ‘…the humour of a multitude of wood-cuts defies our critical powers to paint in language…’ While Thomas Hood himself is the first to point out the graphic quality of his self-made boxwood cuts, ‘…In my illustrations, as usual, preferring wood to copper or steel, I have taken to box as the medium to make hits…’

For his 1832 Comic Annual edition, in a press run of over 6000 copies, Hood gets as much as 55 percent of the earnings. An edition for which window cards and circulars are sent to book sellers in advance, 36.000 handbills are distributed, 65 copies of the book are given away, 6 copies are bound in a special artist’s edition as ‘half-binding in morocco with gilt edging,’ and one copy is done up extra-special to be proudly presented to the King of England.

The Graphic and Historical Illustrator (subtitle: ‘An Original Miscellany of Literary, Antiquarian, and Topographical Information; Embellished with One Hundred and Fifty Wood-cuts’) is how topographer and archaeologist Edward Wedlake Brayley (b.1773) in London titles his illustrated writings, published in a single hardbound volume in early 1834. Brayley intensely believes that ‘Graphic Illustration has a charm for almost every one’ and strives to give readers a ‘relish for investigating and inquiring into the subjects thus introduced to them.’

[o] 1838. Illustrator George Cruikshank illustrates the month of March with ‘St Patrick’s Day at Seven Dials.’

Comic Almanack is the name eternally profit-seeking artist George Cruikshank picks for a series of small-page books, published in 1835-53, all filled with topical texts and illustrations about the coming year. Beginning with The Comic Almanack for 1835. With Twelve Illustrations of the Months, by Geo. Cruikshank.

ILLUSTRATED NEWS. An exciting new sensation for readers in 1842 is the extra-large designed format of The Illustrated London News (subtitle: ‘An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper’), with a page-height of 39.5 cm (15.5 inch; larger than LIFE magazine of 1936). A project of thirty years young London entrepreneur Herbert Ingram (b.1811) and his second father, Nathaniel Cooke. Costly at sixpence, but great value with sixteen pages per issue and 30 larger illustrations — albeit done in stiff mechanical woodblock style at the start.

Comic News (subtitle: ‘A Droll Dispatch and Weekly Messenger of Fun’) is the title of a new English newspaper-like illustrated weekly, started in May 1847.

[p] 1884. Puck shows a drawing he made with his porte-crayon: ‘…the work of reform shall go on forever’ (centerfold detail).

Graphically illustrated. Late 1863 a new weekly paper with a revived old name, The New Newgate Calendar (subtitle: ‘containing the Remarkable Lives and Trials of  Notorious Criminals Past and Present’), is published in London. Filled with shocking woodcuts and textual accounts of notorious crimes and criminals, page one is captioned: ‘Sixteen large quarto pages, graphically illustrated, one penny weekly.’

The Graphic (s.1869, subtitle: ‘An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper’), published in London by William Luson Thomas (b.1830), solely uses the best authors and artists available — ‘whatever their method’ is. An ultra-motivated Thomas looks for the best in all fields: artists in design, in sculptured media, in notebooks, on stage, on canvas, and on the drawn, written and printed page. And he has his paper illustrated extensively. The Graphic soon comes to stand for the highest production values and the best picturejournalism, most of it striving for true-life realism, and a lot of it in fine strip format. Visual reportage approaching lively near-photographic ‘photorealist’ styles, and all art for it still done via woodblocks.

‘Comic books’ is a name used in 1874 for softbound Shilling Books — advertised as ‘The Biggest Comic Books on Record’ — with reprinted comical drawings and texts from JUDY a successful London weekly (s.1867, subtitle: ‘or the London Serio-Comic Journal’ – the birthplace of comic character Ally Sloper), creations of journalist-stripmaker Charles Henry Ross (b.1835) and his wife Marie Duval (b.1847).

‘Graphic humor’ decides the title of a survey by William Murrell (b.1889), titled in full A History of American Graphic Humor; Volume I (1747 - 1865), published in 1933, followed by one more volume in 1938. Murrell clearly loves the taste of ‘graphic’ and in his 1933 volume puts it in dozens of descriptions like — graphic art … graphic power… graphic satire… graphic attacks… graphic reporting…

[q] 1888. Puck with porte-crayon. ‘Doesn’t it hurt him?’ (centerfold detail).
‘A new delight’… a ‘work of art,’ is how feisty American critic Gilbert Seldes (b.1893) words his affection for ‘Krazy Kat’ and other modern strips of the early 20th century, in his The Seven Lively Arts (1924), a straight-talking, book-length attack on Bogus Art and comics-art-scorning art critics — 

‘…KRAZY KAT, the daily comic strip of George Herriman is, to me, the most amusing and fantastic and satisfactory work of art produced in America to-day. With those who hold that a comic strip cannot be a work of art I shall not traffic…’
(Still amusing – fantastic – satisfactory in the mid-1960s, when the first Krazy Kat strips by George Herriman (b.1880) reach a Dutch-reading public. Samples of it are shown and commented upon in periodicals like Robbedoes (a Belgian youth weekly in Dutch, distributed in the Netherlands too), Barbarber (subtitle: ‘Tijdschrift voor teksten,’ magazine for texts; a Dutch literary monthly), Hitweek (a Dutch alternative pop weekly), and in The Penguin Book of Comics (subtitle: ‘A slight history devised by George Perry and Alan Aldridge,’ a shoddy, but real welcome book in 1967) — all for sale in the small Dutch town of Dordrecht. As an art student in 1970 I draw my first Krazy Kats on Kodatrace: exact panel blow-ups of an old Herriman daily strip, for a tiled-image silkscreen print, spread over three sheets of paper, measuring meters wide and printed in blue ink.)

[r] 1892. ‘Columbus Puck’ arrives in America amidst four men armed with huge porte-crayons (centerfold detail); as drawn by Joseph Keppler.

‘Pictorial humorist’ becomes the preferred phrase of Fougasse (b.1887), signature of Londoner Cyril K. Bird, extraordinary line stylist in cartoons and strips, who from 1916 works for the satirical paper Punch, serving as artist, art editor, editor, and eventually historian. Bird barely survives WWI: as a second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers he’s nearly killed in Gallipoli, hit by an enemy shell, and shipped home as a casualty in 1915 — which finally makes him decide to become a full-time pictorial artist-humorist. His apt nom de crayon ‘Fougasse’ — French for a primitive self-made land mine — can definitely be read as: ‘Here’s my drawing … step on it and get a blast!’

‘Art’ and ‘strip’ fuse into a new label in 1964 thanks to a five-part reportage ‘La Bande dessinée est-elle un art?’ (Strips, are they art?) by Frenchman Claude Beylie (b.1932), in which he starts to label the strip form ‘le neuvième art’ — The Ninth Art. A jocose label, not to be taken too seriously, but influential in the 60s. Just before Christmas 1964 it begins to be used in Belgium for a series of concise comic strip profiles, simultaneously published in both near identical editions of the Belgian youth weekly Spirou or Robbedoes — as ‘9th Art, Museum of the Strip.’

Compiled by a Flemish, Dutch speaking duo, author-artist Morris (b.1923, creator of the Lucky Luke strip) and author-editor Pierre Vankeer, it is published in 1964 to 1967 under two different titles: as ‘9e Kunst, Museum van het Beeldverhaal’ (in the Dutch-language version Robbedoes — the one I devoured as a boy), and as ‘9e Art, Musée de la Bande dessinée’ (in the French-language version Spirou — the one I see the first piles of in Theo Kemp’s home in the late 60s). Educational series seen and read by millions, from the Netherlands to bilingual Belgium – België – Belgique, to France to Switzerland. Almost unobtrusively, in 86 historic comic strip profiles Morris and Vankeer show a public of all ages its strip roots in the 60s.

(The same year their series ends, in 1967, the strip form gets its crowning exhibition in Paris — realised by six French aficionados: Messrs. Couperie, Destefanis, François, Horn, Moliterni and Gassiot-Talabot — in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, an annex of the Louvre. An exhibit titled Bande Dessinée et Figuration Narrative, comic strip and narrative fashion, with a 256-page b/w catalogue.)

[s] 1861. Title cut of German humorous paper Kikeriki! (subtitle: ‘Humoristisches Volksblatt’). The cock crowing kikeriki — cock-a-doodle-doois armed with a sharpening knife and a porte-crayon.

‘Graphic art of the comic book’ is a 1965 jacket line thought up by E.L. Doctorow (b.1931), while editor of The Dial Press in New York, for The Great Comic Book Heroes, a book he asks humorist-cartoonist Jules Feiffer (b.1929) to write. The result is Feiffer’s personal memoir of the American comic books he enjoyed in his youth in the 1930s-40s — including the ones ‘badly drawn.’ Lustfully recalling postwar ‘cheapie’ production houses of the 40s, places filled with hopefuls dreaming of the strip format as ‘a new art form’ at a time when (according to Feiffer, who as ‘a snotty kid, a Jewish wiseguy from the Bronx’ in the 50s wrote scripts for Will Eisner’s The Spirit) comic books were ‘junk,’ ‘schlock,’ ‘cheap’ and ‘kid’s booze’ — ‘a junk that knew its place was underground…’

In his text he mainly uses the misfit name ‘comic book.’ The word ‘strip’ he reserves for the earlier 20th century American newspaper strips, especially the classic ones he was, and still is, deeply in love with. (The term ‘graphic novel’ used since the mid-1960s he hates.)

When Feiffer’s comic book memoir reaches England in 1967 in a new Penguin Press edition, The Times Literary Supplement reviews it in revolutionary fashion, under the loudest possible headline — in sound rhyme — ‘WHAM ! BLAM ! SHAZAM !’

[t] 1933-2008. Dutch painter THEO KEMP (aka Tajoka) from Dordrecht, early promotor of international comics art.
‘Working in the style of the comic book’ is how Robert Doty, curator of the Whitney Museum of Modern Art in New York, in 1969 squarely presents the work of young stripmakers S. Clay Wilson, Spain Rodriguez and Robert Crumb in his Human Concern/Personal Torment; The Grotesque in American Art exhibition. And not a word about strip or no strip, nor high, nor low. Neither are words like ‘art’ or ‘artwork’ used. Strip is equal to every other of the 187 ‘works’ in his 1969 show. A bigger view is taken which includes any style of work or medium, from Thomas Nast to Diane Arbus, from George Tooker to Edward Kienholz. (Nearly all works shown are in the form of originals. The strips catalogued as ‘Ink on paper. Lent by the artist.’ And a printed work by Thomas Nast, the ‘JEWELS AMONG SWINE’ front page of Harper’s Weekly, 13 June 1874, catalogued as ‘Wood-engraving.’) In 1969 — as freshman graphic design student — my Dordrecht teacher Theo Kemp (1933-2008, painter, print maker and early promotor of international comics art), elated, shows me Doty’s catalogue. A bigger view that I shared then and share now.

‘Graphic’ has become a favorite word for any visual impression, created by any means — much more than just the ‘graphic arts’ (in Dutch named ‘grafiek,’ after the Greek graphikos). Impossible to pin down, graphic is still the decisive word in terms like ‘graphic art,’ ‘graphic portrait,’ ‘graphic language’ or ‘graphic designer’ — terms that all go back centuries. Dictionaries describe graphic as sharp, clear-cut, well-defined, unequivocal, lifelike, explicit. The type of label to fall in love with.

[u] 1882. Albert Robida cover design, with Mademoiselle La Caricature raising his huge porte-crayon.

Design’ is a similar label but sounding very different. To design means to plan, draw or style your work, with special care for form and function. Words, images, spaces, test models or finished objects can visualise design in any disciplined or undisciplined way. But after the wildly varied 1800s, around the turn of the century, ‘graphic design’ of the early 20th century seems to steer away to set new restrictions of its own.

‘Graphic designer’ is how an English editor dubbed etcher-caricaturist James Gillray (1756-1815) as early as 1817.

‘Designed and Illustrated by Louise Perrett,’ is a large byline on the title page of her RECIPES; My Friends’ and My Own (1900), lettered as large as the book’s title. Perrett provides the lettering, design and illustration for it, and the overall concept of a high-quality scrapbook — users can fill the book with their own culinary notes or scraps: nearly all tinted pages are left blank.

(Her book is a modern American female offspring of the self pasting Scrap Book concept writer Mark Twain patented in 1873, ‘Not to make money out of it, but to economise the profanity of this country. (…) One of the most refined and cultivated young ladies in Hartford (the daughter of a clergyman) told me herself, with grateful tears standing in her eyes, that since she began using my Scrap Book she has not sworn a single oath.’)

[v] 1867. Il Fischietto, Italian satirical paper founded in 1848. Pictured is a heraldry spoof with paper hats, a key, a quill pen and a porte-crayon (detail).

‘Graphic designer’ is how trade journal The Inland Printer / American Lithographer in the year 1903 begins to label the modern printing designer. A label adopted decades later by W.A. Dwiggins in the 1920s, while he switches from commercial design jobs to book design. In Dwiggins’ phrase it made him ‘go for newness.’

William Addison Dwiggins (1880-1956), is an American designer-educator who delights in mixing the traditional with the modern. On the whole, most of what he does is revived 1800s or earlier. He presents himself as Will, Bill, D, WD, WAD or wad, or — more exotically and with the flair of a standup comedian — as Mwano Masassi or Dr Hermann Püterschein (a phonetic ‘make the pewter shine’).

[w] 1877. Reborn for the fourth and final time — as the New York English-language Puck — the launching cover by Joseph Keppler shows an unusually polite Puck greeting makers of other New York papers, carrying his smallest porte-crayon ever.

‘A STIR IN THE ROOST. “What! Another Chicken?”’ — Inhabitants of New York’s journalism barnyard include the following. In the upper left corner at the back: 1/ unknown. Back row, standing from left to right: 2/ Whitelaw Reid, Tribune, 3/ Benjamin Wood, Daily News, 4/ George Jones, Times, 5/ James Gordon Bennett, Jr., Herald, and 6/ Charles Dana, Sun. Puck coming out of his 13, North Williams Street egg, Puck. Roosting on the right: 8/ Boer, Budget of Fun editor, 9/ J.J., Jolly Joker editor, and 10/ William Cullen Bryant, Evening Post. Up front: 11/ Frank Leslie with his family of publications [four chickens], 12/ unknown New York Daily Graphic editor, and 13/ Thomas Nast, Harper’s Weekly artist. after an annotation by Richard Samuel West in his formidable 1988 Satire on Stone

Using a finely ‘pointed, flexibel steel pen,’ he likes to add old-style calligraphic letterings, bands of repeated stencil patterns and little illustrations to his work. When his own printery in 1903-04 ends in failure he switches to more commercial design work. In 1917-18 he briefly acts as director of Harvard University Press, an experience so hilariously disgusting it makes him write a satirical pamphlet, titled: Extracts from An Investigation into the Physical Properties of Books as they are at present published (in 1919 co-published with his cousin Laurence B. Siegfried as if published by their fictional ‘Society of Calligraphers,’ thought up for the occasion). In this 50-cent pamphlet he states that American books of the 1910s are badly made, devoid of any quality standard — printed on card-board or even worse: on ‘egg-box stock’ — and definitely not planned and not designed.

It makes the firm of ‘Alfred A. Knopf, Publisher, New York’ find him. From 1923 on, W.A. Dwiggins designs hundreds of fine hardback books — nearly all for Knopf — and in-between authors some criticism, sci-fi-like tales and puppet-plays himself. As author, his most extensive personal book is Layout in Advertising (1928/1948), a manual in words and pictures for professional advertising designers.

His own White Elephant Press imprint — set up for little booklets he personally prints on his old-style hand-proofing press, solo — inspires the joke that the sustenance of such a rare pet animal will ruin him. Another outlet for his humour is his puppet-play. For many years, in the able hands of his alter ego Dr Püterschein, his marionettes — self-carved caricatures in wood (kin to Daumier’s caricature busts in clay from the 1830s) — are brought to life in self-built playhouses near his studio.

[x] 1833. Porte-crayons as piercing arrows. Work on lithographic stone by Honoré Daumier, published as hand-coloured print (detail).

All his wood chiseling makes him realize that round forms can be suggested in chunky woodcut style too, even in designs for print. In his printing alphabets or ‘typefaces’ for instance. He then baptizes mixing the angular and the curvy the ‘M-Formula,’ a label rarely heard of again.

A similar forgotten term is his ‘Eye shock.’ It points to one of three key elements he wants to draw attention to in his longlist of typefaces, his choice of types used for headlines in the 1930s and 40s. Since 1929 he designs typefaces himself for the Mergenthaler Linotype Corporation, a leading brand of hot-metal typesetting machines that promotes its product by ordering new modern or modernised type designs. Decades of fine-tuning the whimsies and shock values of his designs for new type make him invent the phrase ‘E = Eye shock’ to get a better grip on the product. Too much whimsy or shock value in a typeface is distracting and bad for legibility, but too little may send a reader to sleep. In 1948 his first ‘E = Eye shock’ ratings see print in the second, revised edition of his book Layout in Advertising, in a type chart deftly captioned ‘DISPLAY or PUBLICITY FACES; For headings, catch lines and other emphatic statements.’ A chart to rate the prominence of printed headlines set in different typefaces designed by different designers.

For this chart he takes an L for Legibility, a D for Design quality and an E for Eye shock — resulting in his LDE estimates for a range of 63 selected type designs on a decimal scale of 1 to 10. All in all a chart that effectively rates what viewers and readers might or might not see in type. But the ‘shock’ word and the complexity of the phrase — too close to eyesore — clash with his desire to picture matters seemingly effortlessly, and he shelves it.

[y] 1884. Another version of Puck’s nameplate or ‘masthead’ featuring a more modern, slimmer porte-crayon, designed and drawn on stone by Joseph Keppler.

The E = Eye shock ratings of William A. Dwiggins are inspired by Roger de Piles’ 1708 well-known, oft-quoted book Cours de peinture par principes avec un balance de peintres (in 1743 published in translation as The Principles of Painting … To which is Added, The Balance of Painters) a classic rating system in art that also made use of a decimal scale, a scale of 1 to 20.

BEAT POETRY. Style tags and labels are on the mind of every designer, author, artist, editor, publisher, seller, buyer, curator, collector, critic, adman, advertiser, marketeer, trendwatcher, teacher or consumer, and can act like falling dominoes. Dwiggins’ 1948 eye shocks for instance are spotted by a young employee of a New York ad agency in Manhattan, Allen Ginsberg (b.1926). Some years later, under the influence of dope, he transforms the eye shocks into ‘eyeball kicks’ in a long line of his rap-like poem Howl performed live at a 1955 Beat poetry reading.

[z] 1844-49. Detail of Punch cover by Richard Doyle.

‘Design composer’ is my present working name. A design brief may start with what text? what type? what visual? And a choice selection of key elements will then decide what to write, design and compose. A diet of text-only, a text-and-visual blend, or just some visual dish — any menu can be bliss.

When I started working as a graphic designer in the 1960s, modern ‘offset printing’ (the successor of stoneprint) began to take over regular printing — a great and liberating feast. Electronic screens had barely reached us. Instantly photocopying XEROX machines felt like wizardry then, but were hardly electronic, fusing powder images to paper by way of heat. Digital technology was only used for bank numbers and number crunching. Till late 1967 Dutch TV was even broadcast in black-and-white only. Still to come were personal computer and ‘desktop publishing,’ printing in a minute at your workplace what professional printers took days to do.

At the same time, in the 1960s, traces of the printing methods of the 1800s were still everywhere. And the trains of British Railways were still steam trains.

[aa] 1907. Salon des Humoristes poster design featuring a porte-crayon between a humorist’s teeth.

WOOD COMEBACK. Centuries earlier, woodprint went in decline in the 1700s. Rough old-style woodcut versus refined modern metal engraving was long deemed no contest. But it proved to be just a phase. Wood repro resurfaced and made a spectacular comeback in the 1800s as the century’s most used reproduction method for visuals — worldwide. Albeit with mixed results. Low in cost and technically simple, potentially it was a high-quality method, all-dependent on who designed it, who engraved it and who printed it. English artist-engraver Thomas Bewick (b.1753) fine-tuned it around 1790, blending the best of woodcut and metal engraving tools and methods into a new, more finely detailed technique, gradually leading to the general name change of ‘wood cut’ into ‘wood engraving.’

The opening decades of the 1800s showed a gradual change of look. Later in the century the results could be wonderful. Certain rich-toned woodcuts done in tonal values built up from tiny scratches in high numbers can still feel like magic. Look at them in close-up view, and details start to mushroom like fragmentation bombs.

[bb] 1797. Bewick woodcut (detail).
But magic aside: too many woodcut lines were wriggly, messy affairs. While every line, scratch or stipple on a woodblock’s surface is solely defined by the nonimage area cut out around it, thin lines may end up damaged or deformed. And certainly not as fluid or as clear as the penned or pencilled ones in original artwork. Great results notwithstanding, the whacky and absurd notion to use woodcut to reproduce fine line work, messed up way too much original art in the 1800s.

Wood repro, a more artificial method than those via metal or stone, is finally blasted out of existence in the 1890s by the ease and perfection of a new photography-based printing process.

Around the year 1900 wood repro became history, although stylistic traces of it lingered on ever since. Imitating woodcut styles for fun in later times has been done by countless artists. American illustrator John Held, Jr. (b.1889) drew woodcuts in pen and ink in the 1920s, Belgian illustrator Hergé (b.1907) did so in the 30s.

‘Eye shock 1800’ is my reminder to review the mass of detail in printing and publishing since the 1800s.

In 2013 most histories of design and printing are polluted by distortions. Check the no-go areas.

1) A vast mass of what’s been printed the past 700 years is gone.
2) A vast mass of what’s still there on paper, has never been looked at again.
3) A vast mass of sources — print or digital — is still unavailable.
4) A vast mass is dumped online in digital ruins from the start.

Huib van Opstal

[ to be continued ]

Click up next or preceding paragraphs here:

[1-8] Roughly, eye shock 1800

  [9] The text, the type, the visual

 [10] Cutting labels

[11] The Hogarth-Doyle Punch foundation

[cc] 1888. Puck with porte-crayon guarding Puck’s Library (cover detail).

1 comment:

  1. Huib, this is utterly fascinating. What a wonderful present you have presented the world with this in-depth scholarship. My hat (if I wore one) is off to you this morning with a resounding "huzzah!" for job well done!