Thursday, June 18, 2015

Art Collection: Magazine Drawings By College Student Mort Walker, 1947-8, Part One

(Click any for bigger. Above: ad drawing for Charlie's Café.)

I love seeing the early, pre-fame work of well-known cartoonists. It's fascinating to see them groping for a style. These drawings were executed by Mort Walker, later the creator of Beetle Bailey, Hi and Lois, Sam's Strip, and others, for his college magazine, the Missouri Showme, when he was a student at the University of Missouri in 1947-8.

(Ad drawing for Charlie's Café.)

As with the early work by Johnny Hart in my collection, here you can see Walker working in a classic, stereotypical "mid-century modern" cartooning style, and it's obvious that he's influenced more by magazine and commercial illustration than by comic strip artists. Compared to Johnny Hart's crude efforts, Walker has a real flair for the style, knowing just how to balance angularity with bulbousness. Clearly he was a natural-born cartoonist:

He's got a way to go, however. For instance, I find his failure to cut out the feet and bucket from his Zip-a-tone, above, to be almost inexcusable.

Another hallmark of student work is experimentation with technique and style. Above, he's used horizontal lines in an interesting way. Below, in both drawings, he's using white paint to achieve certain effects. On the left he's experimenting with a modernist faux-woodcut style in a drawing which reminds me very much of Wanda Gag's work.

Walker was familiar with modernism, and even did a spot-on Picasso parody (with a REALLY dirty "cherry" joke) for the cover of the magazine, a transgression which earned him a suspension as editor.

(Ad for Sampson's Grill.)

These drawings might not look much like Beetle Bailey, but their are some hallmarks of his style already present: the figures are lively and energetic, he has a tendency to give more emphasis to white or empty areas over blacks or shading, he composes carefully and with clarity, and he doesn't vary his line width much. These traits would serve him well when he started Beetle Bailey just a few years later in 1950.

You can read more about Mort Walker and the Missouri Showme at the link above, at Mort Walker's website,  at the Columbia Daily Tribune, and at UM's website.

More in a day or two!


choff said...

Thanks for posting these! I've been enjoying Walker's 1950s "Hi &Lois" strips on Comics Kingdom for a couple of years now. Absolutely beautiful artwork. The man was gifted.

Peteykins said...

Walker didn't draw Hi and Lois! He created the characters, and they were a "spin off" from Beetle Bailey, but the strip was drawn by Dik Browne.