Monday, February 22, 2021

The Library Voodoo Mansion

 This was another Voodoo Mansion story that I think I scripted myself...and it shows at times.  This one came out of  watching the misplaced paranoia of 9/11  and the rise of the American fundamentalists. and I couldn't help but give a couple of old friends from high school roles in the supporting cast. Enjoy.

Next week a new story from Vozcomix. Join us then.

Monday, February 8, 2021



In the 70’s there was a retrospective of the great newspaper strips that featured a figure or Flash Gordon drawn not by the creator,Alex Raymond, but by some guy named Austin Briggs. As a youthful idiot, I waas incensed by the outrage - who’s Austin Briggs.

Born in Humboldt,Minnesota in 1909 Briggs was raised in Detroit,Michigan where he studied art at City College. His first jobs were drawing figures of to enhance automobiles in advertisments; eventually he mohe studied art at City College. His first jobs were drawing figures of fashionable people to enhance automobiles in advertisements.

As this work went out of vogue, jobs were hard to find in the Depression, and Briggs turned to doing comic strips for a number of years (during which time he did the offensive Flash Gordon figure.) He was also moonlighting for Blue Book Magazine doing several illustrations a month from 1935-45. As Briggs recalled: “These were experimental years. I explored new compositional approaches, new techniques or variations of old techniques, and new manners of working with limited means.”

In the 40’s Briggs was developing as a great commercial success, but he felt something lacking in his work: his own individuality. When problem solving he always turned to others for for solutions, usually the current popular favorite. Feeling he was losing his ability to learn and observe from nature, he took a sabbatical to the Gaspe Peninsula in Canada for four months. Here he sketched and painted any and everything from nature. 

Briggs felt this trip was a “declaration of independence”  and his future work became more intrinsically his own. But for Briggs this trip was only one of a series of continual steps forward, because like all dedicated artists he refused to stand pat on his achievements and constantly searched for the means to improve himself. He started out a good draftsman with an understanding of the black and white medium and ended up one of the most brilliant painters and designers in all of illustration.

With his friends Robert Fawcett, Al Parker, Albert Dorne and several others Briggs was one of the founders of the Famous Illustrators School. His abilities as a storyteller and communicator also made him an excellent instructor. 

In 1969 he was inducted in the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame. His work, constantly in demand, appeared in the Post, TVGuide,Look,Cosmopolitan, and many other publications. He died in Paris in l973. 

And I wasn’t all wrong about that Flash Gordon drawing. Raymond’s work exuded sexuality and  romanticism. A realist and a naturalist, Briggs couldn’t compete when imitating Raymond. But when he became his own man, that was another story. Hanging in a place of honor in my house is an Austin Briggs drawing- I’ve yet to shell out for an Alex Raymond.

(Briggs uses neighbor Robert Fawcett as a model.)

A few words of wisdom for you who are adventuresome enough to enter the field of illustration from the late, great Austin Briggs's How I Make A Picture.

In many ways, making an illustration is a much more complex and demanding job than making a painting which is expected to have a purely aesthetic value. The aesthetic painter can choose a surface of any size, shape, or material that appeals to him, and work in any medium that he feels will best express his idea. The extent to which he follows the subject he has chosen as a point of departure is again a matter of personal choice. If he likes, he can indulge in a variety of technical tricks which are useful and interesting in a wall painting, but which would probably harm, rather than help, a painting done for purposes of reproduction. In short, the aesthetic painter concerns himself entirely with his own personal problems, without any consideration or restriction which is not of his own choosing.

The illustrator, on the other hand, must combine the knowledge and talents of a dramatist, stage designer, costume designer, director, stage manager, lighting expert, photographer, research man, advertising man, art director, salesman, diplomat, accountant - and painter! Every illustration he makes involves all these varied skills and talent. Unless he is accomplished in these fields, his technical abilities as an artist will be of little financial value to him. It is true that what he finally sells is a painting or a drawing - but the actual art work is only the final culmination of many different kinds of activities which are completely foreign to the purely aesthetic painter.

The illustrator must be a dramatist in order to sense which situation will have the most dramatic appeal for the widest number of people, and in order to present these situations with the greatest force and conviction. He must be a stage designer to create a setting for his characters which will underscore their personalities, create the proper mood, strengthen the action portrayed. As a costume designer he is responsible for every detail of dress, make-up, grooming, etc. In dealing with contemporary characters he must even "guess ahead" of current styles, so that his women will be dressed in the style of the moment when his picture appears in the magazines, months after it was painted.
(Briggs Self Portrait.)

Once he has settled on the scene and action he is to illustrate, created the setting, designed the costume, and assembled the props, he must serve as a director who can cast the roles involved and then direct the action so that it will be the most natural and convincing. As stage manager, he must see that all these different elements are related and assembled together at just the right time. He must be a lighting expert to make sure that he will have exactly the effect the drama involved requires. Whether the mood of the scene demands completely flat lighting without any visible source, or start contrasts of dark and light, or any variation of these - he must be certain that he has complete control of this highly important factor.

Still further removed from his job as a painter are the variety of other skills mentioned. He must be a photographic expert, to record the scene he has created. he must be a research man, so that he will know how to check the authenticity of every detail he includes in the picture. He must have a good understanding of advertising and be a practical psychologist, so that he will know what will make people who see his pictures react as he wishes them to, and so that he can understand why the representatives of magazines and agencies insist on things which seem picayune or highly annoying to the aesthetic artist.

Furthermore, he must have a good insight into the problems of the art director. His painting, after, all, will be considered not by itself as work of art, but as it will appear in relation  to the design of the magazine or page, the copy blocks associated with the it, the headlines and caption which will accompany it. In addition it must be carefully planned to meet the rigid technical requirements of the process by which it will be reproduced. For after all, the illustrator is not working on a painting which will be seen as he made it. His illustration will be seen - and have value - only in its reproduced form. If his painting reproduces badly, it is a bad illustration from that important point of view, no matter what its other good qualities may be.

Unless and until the illustrator is able to hire a representative, he must also serve as his own salesman, diplomat, and accountant. he must be able to make contacts with art directors and convince them that he can do the job they want done. Although his paintings will do most of his selling for him, such intangible factors as personality and appearance will certainly help or hinder his cause. Inevitably problems and differences of opinion will arise. If he has some ability as a diplomat, he will be able to explain his own point of view pleasantly and convincingly. If and when he does complete an assignment, he must make sure that he is properly paid for his work, and that the the government, local, state and national- receives its proper cut of the proceeds. This can be a career in itself.

And in addition to all these other things, he must also be an artist.   Austin Briggs