Saturday, July 15, 2017

B. Kliban Redux

I've written here + here) before about one of my all-time favorite cartoonists, B. Kliban, and the influence his work has had on my own work and career. I also frequently lecture about his drawings in my studio art courses, both as an example of superlative technique in pen & ink and also as a source of constant inspiration when it comes to comedic content. Kliban joins the pantheon of giants in the field (Schulz + Don Martin comprise the trinity), and is well worth studying - students, aficionados and practitioners of the craft.

Cold Bacon’s reprint of a good biographical piece on Kliban here, and also Judith Kamman Kliban’s “Meet The Master” short and some galleries on Pomegranate here. She briefly alludes to the importance of Playboy Magazine for Kliban:
In 1962, Playboy discovered Kliban, so to speak, when he responded to an ad for cartoonists. A long standing relationship began, and Playboy published his work for the next thirty years.
This legacy, along with that of founder Hugh Hefner, who championed the careers of many of the industry giants like Shel Silverstein, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Gahan Wilson and many more, has now been effectively tied off if not trashed with the outstandingly dumb decision with the new revamp to includes dumping one of the signature aspects of the publication: they have cancelled the cartoons. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Besides the exquisite craftsmanship, classic non-sequiturs and astonishing caricatures portraits, Kliban's panels encompass everything from the surreal to the sensual, and the feline to freaky. His introspective observations capture the everyday moments and events which are ordinarily overlooked but provide an unending wellspring of material from which to draw insightful, poignant and at times delightfully irreverent commentary.

Posted here are two contrasting self-portraits of the artist which illustrate the range and degree of  stylistic expression even the comparatively simplistic compositions can encompass. The balance between loose, expressive contour line contrasted against areas of richly textured marks in conjunction with solid blacks represents a perfect aesthetic marriage between image + text, between the caption and the picture.

A real big thank-you to Natalie "Tally" Nourigat (a Portland, Oregon cartoonist) - he reposted insightful correspondence (above) which ought to be required reading for not just aspiring cartoonists but also any artist. I certainly expose as many of my own students to this way of thinking, and emulate it as often as possible for my own personal MO.

Also there is the critical aspect of the creator himself, portrayed as dour and disheveled: paradoxically ill-humored in a humorous tableau - not so much as an unwilling participant in the scenario as an objective and passive prop by which the panel's inherent ludicrousness is filtered through or reflected upon.

As of late I've been availing myself of the resources sporadically available through postings of fans and aficionados alike on the Facebook group "The B. Kliban Appreciation Society."  The above image from a 1975 advertisement for NORML is one example of the comparatively rare commercialization and re-contextualization of his cartoons. Heads-up on poster Bruce Ojard who has been uploading some really amazing examples of Kliban's early works and images as of late, including this treasure from Playboy in 1983 with a bonus cat.

Also of note are the many other simply wonderful photographs that have been getting posted, including several from one of the folks behind the original Comic-Con and others similar events such as the Eisners and Friends of Lulu, Jackie Estrada. I'm running right out and ordering a copy of her latest book "Comic Book People."

Image Jackie Estrada

Yet another outstanding and rewarding find of the year for me has to be this 1978 interview with Stephen Banker that was recently uploaded to YouTube (link here). What a rare treat to finally be able to hear Kliban's own voice as a supplement to all the self-portraits... as it adds another dimension to the image constructed inside over all these years. Score!

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