The last time I saw him at C2E2 in Chicago he had to leave abruptly as he was called to do some courtroom sketches. To see him take off harkened back to newsmen of the 1940s racing off to catch a story. And that’s how I’ll remember him…
Back in the mid 1980s I tried out classes at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design for a semester. Currently at MCAD you can major in Comic Art, but back then comic art was not a thing. In fact it was generally frowned upon.
I was in a film class, and the assignment was to bring in something of interest to us and then talk about it while being filmed (something about getting comfortable in front of a camera I guess). I brought in the recently released Cycle of the Werewolf novella by Stephen King – with beautiful illustrations by the one and only Bernie Wrightson.
Wrightson’s magnum opus Frankenstein had been released just prior and he was (and still is) a god of illustration to me.
While I talked about my admiration for Wrightson’s work, fellow students off camera started talking within earshot. The gist of it was, a hack writer hired a hack comic book artist – and it’ll be an instant hit to the mindless masses – but it was far from ART.
Hearing this I started talking into the camera a little louder how great an artist Wrightson was and how he was not the “hack” some people thought.
This bias against comic book art was mirrored by the teachers in those years, and as the vibe at MCAD wasn’t right for me I left. Within a year I had found out about and enrolled at the Joe Kubert School, so a win-win for me. Suffice it to say most of my new classmates were big fans of Wrightson as well.
In my experience, animation and cartooning has always been looked down on by the fine arts community, or at best given a condescending pat on the back. To me, sequential art is the best way to tell a story – and the artists who excel in the field are Masters. With the rise in popularity of “graphic novels” here in the US there’s been more mainstream acceptance of sequential art, but for the rank and file in the arts community I don’t see that much has changed.
That said, I don’t care. I’ve been working in this field for over 30 years now and am surrounded by people that have the same love of cartooning/comics/anime/manga that I have. Ends up there’s no need to waste time banging heads with people who unfortunately are limited in their thinking of what constitutes Art.
And that’s my two cents.
That said… Here’s to Bernie Wrightson (1948-2017). A master of pen and ink who’s work still remains an inspiration to me. The gold standard to shoot for every time you pick up a Series 7 Winsor & Newton brush.
Here’s a quick video of Bernie Wrightson from 1987, with an intro by Harlan Ellison. Wrightson talks about his work on Swamp Thing and Frankenstein among other highlights – Enjoy!
Last but not least, a poignant tweet from Neil Gaiman from when Wrightson died…
Addendum: Bernie Wrightson’s work on Frankenstein has since toured Art museums across the country as part of the Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters exhibit. They are truly breathtaking to see in person.
To see so many different comic book artists on display in this show was just phenomenal. A shout out to Guillermo del Toro for providing a worthy showcase of these extraordinary masters of comic art – Vive la résistance!
A graduate of the Kubert School, Jim Keefe started his career as the head colorist in the King Features Syndicate comic art department, coloring such world-renowned strips as Blondie, Beetle Bailey and Hagar the Horrible.
From 1996-2003 he was the writer and artist of Flash Gordon for King Features Syndicate – currently available online at Comics Kingdom.
Teaching and speaking engagements include the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, Hofstra’s UCCE Youth Programs in Long Island, New York, the University of Minnesota – and most recently as an Adjunct Teacher at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
Keefe currently is the artist of the Sally Forth comic strip, written by Francesco Marciuliano. Sally Forth is syndicated worldwide by King Features and appears in nearly 700 newspapers.
Thomas Nast was an illustrator and cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly. In his 30 year career with the magazine (1857-1887) Nast drew approximately 2,250 cartoons.
From 1863 through 1886 he contributed 33 Christmas drawings to Harper’s Weekly. In those drawings he created and popularized the modern image of Santa Claus.
Nast is also widely credited for exposing the corruption of William M. Tweed who ran New York City’s Democratic political machine at Tammany Hall. When Nast died in 1902 the New York Times eulogized him as the Father of the American Political Cartoon.
The following video from Ric Burns’ epic documentary of New York spotlights how Thomas Nast’s pen took down Boss Tweed.
Thomas Nast drawings were printed using wood engravings. Here’s a short video of artisan Chris Wormell showing how it’s done.
For more on Thomas Nast I recommend the following links.
John Prentice (1920-1999) was born on October 17 in Whitney, Texas. From 1940-1946 he served in the Navy. Having survived the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he went on to serve on two destroyers through eight major military campaigns.
Having briefly attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, he moved to New York in 1947 where he worked on everything from comic books to magazine covers. Following Alex Raymond’s death in 1956 Prentice was chosen to carry on the strip and did so for 43 years.
His work on Kirby was awarded the National Cartoonists Society’s silver plaque for best story strip three times and Rip Kirby is an honorary member of the honor legion of the New York City police department.
Rip Kirby celebrates his fiftieth anniversary as a syndicated comic strip in 1996, due in no small part to the excellent work done by John Prentice, who has done the strip for forty years.
John Prentice’s work remains on a level above many other story strips. The point-of-view angles move constantly; characters make eye contact with the reader; the Raymond technique of the establishing landscape continues; and creative and unique crosshatching is used.
Rip Kirby is a mature story strip with a bright future. Many hope that King Features will realize this and give Rip Kirby the promotional and sales push it seems to have lacked from the syndicate for many years.
Back in 1999 when John Prentice passed away I contacted some of his colleagues in the industry. They were kind enough to share the following reminiscences.
An immense talent. A consummate craftsman with a rock-solid work ethic. A man generous with his talents, gracious to his fans and a devout family man. John’s wonderful sense of humor was capable of taking twists and turns before hitting you on the funny-bone. Being with John was knowing you were at the best party in town… and knowing John was one of life’s little perks.
Dick Hodgins Hagar – Henry
I first heard of John on the occasion of Alex Raymond’s untimely death in an automobile accident. The question on everyone’s lips was, “Who is capable of carrying on Rip Kirby?” George Raymond, Alex’s younger brother (and my assistant at the time) told me that John Prentice had been selected as Alex’s successor. The rest is history.
John had a wonderful sense of humor and was always a very gracious and generous person. Everyone liked and admired him and his work. He liked to tell stories of his naval career and always had an appreciative audience. In his later years he was fortunate to marry Antonia who proved to be an excellent helpmate. We will all miss John.
John Cullen Murphy Prince Valiant – Big Ben Bolt
I first met John in January of 1960. He was looking for an assistant to go down to Mexico with him to help him out on “Rip Kirby”. I learned a lot from John Prentice. It was great working with him. It was fun. We were good friends – I’ll miss him.
Al Williamson Star Wars – Secret Agent Corrigan
John Prentice was a close and admired friend. One of the foremost black and white illustrators in the United States. He was an extremely brave man. How else can you describe a young sailor who in the middle of all the strafing and bombing at Pearl Harbor commandeered an admiral’s tender and went out into the harbor looking for a gun to fire at the attacking Japanese? From then on he was on a destroyer involved in almost every big Pacific island battle.
He approached his “Rip Kirby” strip like an illustrator. After reading a new sequence script, he researched every detail. Using his vast personal morgue, he checked costume, architecture, geography, everything. It slowed him down, but oh, it was beautiful… and it made him one of the top adventure strip cartoonists. John was a sincere, decent man. We all loved him.
Gill Fox Side Glances – Golden Age Comics
I’ve known John Prentice for 45 years. We’ve shared a studio. I assisted him for years since he started “Rip Kirby”. We’ve been close friends all those years. I enjoyed John’s good sense of humor and knowing him was to know someone who was always kind, honest, fair and always a true gentleman.
Frank Bolle Heart of Juliet Jones – Winnie Winkle
After John Prentice died the decision was made by King Features to discontinue the Rip Kirby comic strip. Here is the final week of Rip Kirby dailies ghosted by Frank Bolle that wrapped up the last storyline.
Examples of John Prentice’s work on Rip Kirby.
To see more of John Prentice’s exceptional work on Rip Kirby, check out Rip Kirby Volumes 5-11 from IDW Publishing – Highly recommended!