Monday, October 29, 2007

Modern Graphic History Symposium

Washington University in St. Louis, where I work, is gearing up to launch the Modern Graphic History Library. The mission statment of the MGHL reads as follows:

The Modern Graphic History Library is a new collaborative effort of the Washington University Libraries’ Department of Special Collections and the College & Graduate School of Art, part of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.

The Modern Graphic History Library acquires and preserves distinguished works of modern illustration and pictorial graphic culture to promote sustained academic consideration of those materials. The collection includes artists’ working materials, sketches and finished artworks—from book, magazine, and advertising illustration to graphic novels, comics, poster design, pictorial information design, and animation.

The library is being launched through a series of public events on November 16 and 17, 2007. In several weeks, in other words. Please help spread the word to people with interests in the history of illustation, especially, since the symposium will address it directly.

Here are the details.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Highlights from the Modern Graphic History Library
5:30 – 7p Opening Reception, Ginkgo Reading Room & Grand
Staircase Lobby, John M. Olin Library. This exhibition will feature
selections from some of the many collections that are part of the
Modern Graphic History Library, and will run through January 13.
Call 314.935.8003 by November 13 to RSVP

Ephemeral Beauty: Al Parker and the American Women's Magazine, 1940-1960
7 – 10p Opening Reception, Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum.
This exhibition presented by the Kemper Art Museum will run through
January 28. For more information visit
or call 314.935.4523

Saturday, November 17, 2007
An Art of Aspiration: Periodical Illustration and American Visual Culture
9a – 4p Symposium, Steinberg Hall Auditorium

9a Coffee
9:30a Offset Aspirations: Image-Making for Periodicals, 1900-1960
D.B. Dowd, Professor of Visual Communications

10:30a Panel Discussion
Anxious Significance: the Culture of Illustration

12p Lunch

1:15p Mid-Century Magazines and Postwar Aspirations
Wayne Fields, Lynne Cooper Harvey Distinguished Professor
in English; Director, American Culture Studies Program

2:15p Panel Discussion
Periodical Illustration and the Study of American Culture

3:45p Wrap up discussion & final remarks

While the symposium is free, registration is required. Please email or call 314.935.7497 by November 13. All events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit

I will have more to say, including offering snippets from the inaugural catalogue publication, over which I (and others) have been sweating bullets the past several weeks!

Image: Sarah Phares and Scott Gericke, Modern Graphic History Catalogue image grid. Visual Communications Research Studio, Washington University, 2007.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Friday Salamagundi

My modest reflections on American Indians and visual culture are just that--modest. For a more thoroughgoing read of native issues, stereotyping, and contemporary visual culture created by and for Indians, check out Rob Schmidt's excellent blog, Newspaper Rock:Where Native America meets Pop Culture. The blog is named for a rock face in Utah, near the south entrance to Canyonlands National Park that has been covered with graffiti over hundreds of years. I photographed it last summer, but I can't seem to locate the images. Rats.

Instead, I've posted a wigs-meet-the-natives extravaganza, courtesy of Dean Cornwell. This mural, titled Treaty of Lancaster, may be found in the Detroit Athletic Club. Cornwell painted it in 1936. The mural commemorates the 1744 deal between the Iroquois and the British in which the former ceded land west of the Alleghenies, which helped set up the French and Indian War. Which bears on Detroit I'm not certain how, beyond the obvious fact that Deh-twah became Dee-troyte.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Artball Fall Classic

Okay, here it is: the Graphic Tales Fall Classic Artball Derby. Above find a lineup card with a choice of four clubs: the Illustrators, Cartoonists, Graphic Designers, and Photographers. The challenge is this--develop a lineup drawing on your knowledge of the history of one (or more) of these four disciplines. You need an everyday lineup, a four-man (or -person) starting rotation, a closer, a setup guy, and a middle reliever. American League rules: there's a DH. No National League snobbery.

You have to download the card, print it out, write on it, scan it, and email it back to me at

Entries due November 1, which is the scheduled date of World Series Game 7, should it go that far.

The general concept of this game was introduced yesterday in this space. Of course you could play this game with chefs, TV correspondents, or composers--it depends on a body of specialized knowledge and a geeky enthusiasm for applying it in a new context.

Expert judges will review the entries and post the best examples.

Chief Wahoo Exacts Karmic Penalty; Sox in 7

Lose the Chief Wahoo logo immediately. The World Series will be off-limits until the Chief has moved on to the underground economy, where he belongs, if anywhere. That (and poor pitching from the no. 1 and 2 starters) cost Cleveland the series.

Image: Chief Wahoo figure with neon tracing, once mounted atop Municipal Stadium, Cleveland. Stadium razed in 1996. Sign moved to the Western Reserve History Society in the University Circle district, on Cleveland's East Side. Contextualizing narrative presented on placard next to display. Figure approximately 15 feet tall.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Artball Napkins

About a dozen years ago, after a long unpleasant day at work, I repaired with my colleague Ron Leax to a neighborhood bar to unwind. As it happened, The Terminator was on the tube, which seemed just right somehow, and we alternated our attention between Ahhnuld and a spontaneously generated parlor game which required the assembly of a baseball team with figures from art history. The whole process unwound over several hours, and it was hilariously satisfying. I saved the napkins and stuck them in a file marked Artball. My foray into the informal realm of web-based publishing has provided just the reason (and the format) to dig them out.

[As an aside, analogic thinking provides one of the most satisfying aspects of teaching in a studio model, because one is constantly faced with new material that must be unpacked and retranslated into a digestible form for the student. It's a blast. It's also a valuable form of knowledge. You can know something by analogy that you might not get another way.]

The analogy required in this case involves grasping the requirements of a position--e.g., a first baseman or a closer--and applying it to a knowledge base in an unrelated field: a roster of artists across time and place. Of the lineups Ron and I assembled, I am especially fond of several line up choices:

Henry Moore as a first baseman. Who is he, if not the Boog Powell of modernist sculpture? Steady, solid average, lots of power, not so versatile. Slow.

Bernini in center. Sculptor, architect, master of dramatic handling and showmanship, a bit of a hot dog, fleet of foot. Fabulous choice.

Velasquez at short and Raphael at second. Excellent keystone combination: athleticism, brains, finesse.

Duchamp as a closer: who knows what he'll throw?

Back soon with a Fall Classic Artball contest.

Robert Weaver ALCS Game 7 Special

For those who live in the Venn Diagram almond shape that represents the overlap of Set B [the set of all baseball fans] and Set G [the set of graphic history aficionados] I offer two Robert Weaver images in the minutes before the first pitch of Game 7. The first is an outrageously great drawing of Mickey Mantle tossed off with charcoal while doing research on assignment for Sports Illustrated in 1962; the second is tearsheet from the visual essay as it appeared in print.

I'll post more of these fantastic sketchbook drawings sometime down the road; they and a great deal more Weaver material are in the Washington University collections, which were donated by the Weaver family, for which we all should be forever grateful. The sketchbook is an absolute knockout. It was given by Robert's brother Fritz. I will never forget the day that he showed it to Jeff Pike and me in his apartment in New York. It was (and is) a revelation of sharp-eyed reportage, as the drawing of Mantle suggests. The SI feature appeared in the March 5, 1962 issue, and was titled "Spring Training: Fresh Starts, New Hopes."

Stay tuned after the game...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Indian Summer Roundup: Wahoo Meets Herbie

The blogging has gone a little slack in recent weeks, mostly because I am working on a big project that I will be eager to share very soon--some good news from the popular visual culture front.

In the meantime, here are a few thoughts following up the Graphic Tales Chief Wahoo seminar of the last ten days, ably improved and extended by our first-rate GT commenters. To review, the discussion began here and resumed here.

For the record: I haven't previously noted the obvious fact that the Cleveland Indians are not the only major sports franchise to be named after the people who were here first. In baseball, naturally there are the Atlanta Braves, previously of Milwaukee (1953-1965) and Boston (1912-1952). [The last time the Clevelanders won the World Series, in 1948, it was an all-native contest between the Indians and Braves, repeated with the opposite result in 1995.] The NFL includes the Redskins and the Seahawks, the latter notable for being an Northwest Indian artifact, rather than an actual person. The artifact thing has promise--the Fabulous Thunderbirds? Hockey has the Blackhawks, and college football is awash in Indians--the Seminoles and Illini coming to mind quickly. I am sure I am leaving a few out--I invite corrections and addenda.

My old friend Todd Peterson, a very talented artist, baseball historian and deep romantic, offers some reading: "for a balanced and insightful view of the whole Wahoo controversy, I would recommend The American Indian Integration of Baseball, by Jeffrey P. Powers-Beck, published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2004. Todd is working on book about a Negro league team from St. Paul.

If I can get my mitts on one of Todd's beautiful screenprints in a jpeg form, I will post here.

UPDATE: See print below.

Rob Dunlavey will be in a good mood this morning, as Josh Beckett dominated the Tribe last night. Rob, a highly regarded illustrator, reports from the front line of the Natick, Massachuestts mascot wars. The Redmen are under siege, as described here in a Boston Globe article. Below, Rosita Andrews, also known as Chief Caring Hands, offers the perspective of the Praying Indians, the tribe native to Natick, as reported by The Metro West Framingham News. Caring Hands offered up the possibility of changing from the Redmen, which was thought offensive, to the Red Hawk Men, which was not. I foresee a new Marvel Comics title set in New England.

Let us pause to note that the estimable M. Dunlavey has singlehandedly brought the focus of our attention and the American League Championship Series back to Massachusetts. Briefly, I hope.

Brian of Shelf Life clothing (based in Cleveland, no less) provides a paleface antidote to Chief Wahoo: a 100% cotton, 110% ironic, Cleveland Caucasians tee shirt. Very stylish. I'm gonna get me one.

Along with the above mentioned Todd Peterson, I lived in Lincoln, Nebraska from 1986 to 1989, which bears on this discussion in two ways. As a graduate student in printmaking--which now strikes me as a borderline ludicrous disciplinary choice, but who knew then that digital technology would render printmaking and photography antiquarian activities, though in truth, the former had long dwelled in Amish country--the printmakers and photographers would race to Bill's Saloon (alas, since razed) on Fridays following critiques for pitchers of beer and hours of longboard. Longboard refers to a tabletop shuffleboard game played in bars; you slide metal disks called "quaits," lidded by red or blue plastic to distinguish teams, along a narrow hardwood table. At any rate, the longboard in Bill's was ruled by the team of Percy and John, whom we aspired to beat. John was a bespectacled accountant, pleasant enough, nondescript; Percy was a big Omaha Indian who threw a quait with terrifying velocity. And Percy wore a Chief Wahoo shirt on most Fridays. Go figure. These images live varied lives.

The second reason I mention Lincoln has do to with a second mascot, who comes as close to the idea of Team Caucasian as you can get: Herbie Husker. He varies between a blonde and a brunette, but in either case as shown here, the total effect is sort of like watching Astro Boy in Oklahoma! It's unsettling. There's a bright golden haze on the robot... You spend three years looking at Herbie and you begin to appreciate the fact that Chief Wahoo, racist though he be, is darn well-designed. Forced to make a choice, I'm with Percy.

Images: Exhibition case, Milwaukee Braves, 1953-1965, Wisconsin Historical Society, 2003; Todd Peterson, The Aviary, 2005 [?] screenprint; Eric Wells, news photograph, The MetroWest Daily News, Framingham, Massachusetts, January 9, 2007; Political Map, State of Nebraska, The New International Encyclopedia, Dodd Mead and Company, New York, 1908; Herbie Husker, University of Nebraska Mascot; Osamu Tezuka, still from Astro Boy title sequence, Tezuka Productions, 1962.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Animation Screening Tonight

For anyone in the St. Louis area: I am screening some animation tonight in Steinberg Auditorium on the campus of Washington University from 7:00 to 9:00 (which is an adjustment from the previously announced 7:30 to 9:30). Art historically speaking, the session will address animation, cinema and modernist aesthetics. From a studio practice point of view, the emphasis will be on screen-delivered narrative structures and storyboarding.

I'll post the program in the next day or two. But we'll catch an experimental film by Charles Sheeler (yes, he of the Ford plant and grain elevators), the pink elephant scene from Dumbo, and a Saul Bass title sequence, among other things. I will also screen my own Scenes from Starkdale, Ohio. Come one, come all.

Image: Animation still, The Telltale Heart, United Productions of America, 1953. With totally creepy narration by James Mason.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Wahoo, Yellowpony and Graphic Indians

Last week’s reflection on Chief Wahoo—born on the comics pages, resettled in Cleveland as a baseball team mascot—has caused me to think a little more about depictions of Indians in graphic media in the same period, especially the 30s through the 50s. I neither wish nor pretend to be encyclopedic here, only to add a few sources and thoughts about mid-century images.

Aside from the ghastly Wahoo, the most direct connection between Indians, comics, and baseball can be found in the fictional person of Chief Yellowpony, a steadfast fellow in Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy strip. Yellowpony was modeled after a Pawnee Indian named Yellowhorse who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1921-22 but washed out of baseball due to alcoholism.

Above, Yellowpony goes on the road with Dick Tracy. They drive around Oklahoma looking for the bad guys. Strictly an all-guy thing. “Woman’s place is in wigwam, not in posse chasing gunman,” announces Yellowpony, having earlier been advised by Mr. Tracy to send the wife on her way, to keep her out of danger. (Detail panel 2.)

The Rainbow Dictionary was illustrated by Joseph Low. It seems to have been his first commercial book project, in 1947. This dictionary for children provides textual definitions to many words for children plus a great many small illustrations and a few big ones.

Among the latter category, count the perfectly domesticated illustration for the entry “Indians” below. The book merits sustained reflection, which I promise to give it, but for now, ponder the genre scene of Plains Indian life--buffalo, tipis--and the lullabye lyric about each little Indian sleepy-head.

The seeming innocence of the image collides with the seeming innocence of the copy: "I like to pretend I am an Indian." I am very fond of Low's work in this book, but there is something creepy about that mock-innocence. Seems damning in a different way than the cartoon images do. Sure, the latter are obnoxious. But the pretending seems worse--a fantasy of replacement, the reduction of a tragedy to a costumed activity. Admittedly, I may be over-interpreting, but I don't know how you get around the discomfort.

The image of the sleeping child caused me to think of an animated short from Disney in 1956 called A Cowboy Needs a Horse, about a slumbering kid in an modernist suburban home. As the boy floats above his bed, the title Western song is sung and he begins to dream of life on the range, including a dramatic encounter with hostile Apaches (or the like.) The Indians are from the Chief Wahoo Meets Mr. Magoo school of cartooning. Lots of war-whooping on the audio track.

The Indian chief at the top of this post has modernist attributes, on the order of a UPA cartoon. The warriors in this sequence share some of those characteristics, but the failure to differentiate between the characters (you know, they all look the same) works against an advanced interpretation. This is pretty standard big-nose Injun stuff.

The harmlessness of the dream insulates us from worrying about the boy as he rides through a hail of arrows. He fires his pistols (foundational equipment, according to the lyric of the song) at the Indians, who "die" by grabbing their chests in the manner of backyard actors. There is a sense of play at work, of knowingness, but the Indians are different, more expendable. For comparison's sake, at the end of the cartoon the boy does battle with an outlaw who is more threatening than the Indians, but caucasian. The boy only shoots near the villain's feet to send him running.

Images: Indian Chief smoking “peace pipe” with boy, When a Cowboy Needs a Horse, Walt Disney Productions, 1956, directed by Bill Justice; Chester Gould, Dick Tracy comic book cover, n.d. Dell Publications; Joseph Low, cover illustration and entry for “Indians,” Rainbow Dictionary, World Publishing Company, Cleveland, 1947; animation stills depicting easily foiled Indian ambush from When a Cowboy Needs a Horse.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Cleveland Stereotypes

I struggle with the following reality: I seek to think and write seriously about visual culture, including ethnic representation, and I am a lifelong Cleveland Indians fan. On the positive side of things am pleased to report to those indifferent to playoff baseball that yesterday said Indians defeated the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series, in a reversal of historical realities. (As a matter of fact, long ago the Yankees swept the Indians, with a combination of deadly microbes, superior numbers, colonial imperatives, and dominant duplicitous bullpen.) In celebration of the anti-historical events of the evening just past, I post above an image of the great Bob Feller, who lead the Indians to their last World Series Title in 1948, a dozen years before my birth.

But there are Indians, and there are Indians.

Given the degree to which American Indians have been reduced in number and marginalized in the era following their near extermination, it’s hardly a surprise that majoritarian impulses, even when astonishingly crude, go largely unchallenged except in the rarefied precincts of universities. (See Dartmouth College and more recently the University of Illinois.) Hence, the mortifying figure of Chief Wahoo remains in use on the shores of Lake Erie, which nowadays is not exactly Gitche Gumee.

As a friend of mine, a Twins fan, once observed, “Why don’t you just call them the Cleveland Negroes?”

A good question indeed. If Chief Wahoo is not a Jim Crowization of a nearly vanished population, I don’t know what is. In truth, Wahoo got his start in comics.

A man of few syllables, poor noun-verb agreements, and an eschewer of indefinite articles, the Chief appeared as a sidekick in The Great Gusto, drawn by Elmer Woggon and written by Allen Saunders. The strip first appeared in 1936. Chief Wahoo gave his name to the strip for awhile, then played second fiddle to Steve Roper, an adventure hero. Wahoo dropped out of the strip in 1947, but caught on in ’46 as the Cleveland Indians’ mascot.

The baseball team had been founded as a charter member of the American League in 1901, but did not assume the nickname Indians until 1915. The first logos were not especially well-rendered, but they did emphasize an illustrative approach, as opposed to a cartoon-like one.

European conceptions of Indians have been marked by goofy stereotypes from Day One to the present, from noble savage to big-nosed cartoon war-whooper to today’s flute-accompanied Earth Gnostic. I have engaged the subject of Indians in some of my writing projects, most notably Visit Mohicanland (forthcoming), which contemplates a time-traveling Mad Anthony Wayne and Chief Little Turtle, the latter a Miami leader in the 1790s:
Mad Anthony Wayne has got his sword out. He’s listening closely from an awkward crouch. Wayne half expects somebody’s dog to come tearing around the recycled plastic outdoor play set and crash into the dogwoods, among which he’s stopped to get his bearings. But the beast never comes. After a minute he steps out of the trees and slips around an air conditioning unit into a sideyard. The turf slopes down to the street, giving a view of Heathermoss Glen Trail on its looping route through the new Mansard Woods subdivision. Wayne adjusts his hat, then drinks in the view of the street spread out before him. The quickest glance tells him: bad period for domestic architecture. Fortresses costumed like cottages line the street. Ponderous loads of brick bear down on cheap squat entryways with fake multi-pane windows. The proportions have been worked out by a badger. Wayne looks beyond the allotment to the commercial strip on Muskingum Avenue, and on to the purple curtain of leafless trees arrayed as a backdrop half a mile off.

He knows this terrain.

In 1793 Wayne leads a contingent of troops through these very hills, toward Fort Recovery further west. The Shawnee chief Blue Jacket knows he’s coming. By this time, Little Turtle has seen the writing on the wall, and forecast the end of the Confederacy. But Blue Jacket disagrees. He figures that killing off Wayne will put the scare back in the United States, and buy the Indians more time. So Blue Jacket and his warriors are hiding in among the folds of present-day Muskingum Plaza and Mansard Woods. They trick the scouts that Wayne sends on ahead, and are there waiting when the first detachments come through.

Wayne looks across at the minivans and the car wash place and the Higgins Family Restaurant, squinting at the invisible gravesite. Underneath all that concrete and asphalt the ground remembers the blood that dampened it. But the people here are oblivious. Because a veneer of settlement has been troweled over what Wayne knows to be there—corpses, both Yankee and Indian. Under the salad bar, over by the tow truck, along the fronts of these massive, ugly houses, you can find the dessicated fruit of Blue Jacket’s ambush and Mad Anthony’s counter-assault. Wayne knows their names—at least the American ones—but the people in the happy sedans with stickers about honor students do not. They are clueless to the war. But they stay busy anyway. They’re improving their positions. Managing contacts. Transferring funds. That sort of thing. They navigate their various hollows, heathers, dales and glens, where the Sucke Brothers—so far, yet a rumor here—are coiled like snakes. (copyright 2007 D.B. Dowd).

The hook-nosed brown skinned Chief Wahoo appeared on the Indians’ uniform from 1946 to 1950. The even more egregious fire-engine red image, worthy of the worst of Sambo, appeared in 1951 and remained in use until 1972, then returned in 1980 and remains a fixture on Cleveland uniforms.

Meanwhile, I am left with the spiritual and material facts of my fandom. I began cheering for the Indians as a small child, when they invariably stunk. I recall Max Alvis, the chew-chomping third baseman through the mid 60s, and Sudden Sam McDowell, the hard-drinking lefthander who squandered much of his talent. We used to drive the 55 miles to Cleveland to watch doubleheaders (the best value, now extinct in MLB). I remember brutal days against the Yankees and also especially a doubleheader against the A’s of the mid-70s, in which the Indians got swept something like 13-1 and 7-0.

Plainly, the figure of Chief Wahoo ought to go the way of Amos and Andy. Not because he is an image of an American Indian per se, but specifically because he is a grotesque figure More on this presently, when I am fresher and better able to reflect in prose on the issues involved. Anyway, I will return to Indians and baseball, separately and together. When the League Championship Series are underway, look for an outstanding art and sport combo contest for the discriminating fan and graphic connoisseur.

Images: Jeff Suntala, Bob Feller; Chief Wahoo logotype, in use from 1951 to 1972, and again since 1980; Erwin Hess, cover art for Big Chief Wahoo and the Magic Lamp, a Better Little Book, Whitman Publishing, 1940; D.B. Dowd, "Spirit Animal Pheasant," reduction linocut from Visit Mohicanland, 2007; Chief Wahoo logotype, in use from 1946 to 1950; baseball cards, Max Alvis and Sam McDowell, 1964; scoreboard at cavernous Municipal Stadium on the Lakefront in Cleveland, opened in 1931, demolished in 1996.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Autumn in Stockbridge

I am traveling to Massachusetts tomorrow to present a talk at the Norman Rockwell Museum in connection with the exhibition Ephemeral Beauty: Al Parker and the American Women’s Magazine, 1940-1960. I’m looking forward to Northeastern foliage and fall temperatures. The folks at the Rockwell are terrific, too. Stephanie Plunkett, the chief curator, does great work and may well be the most gracious person alive.

For anyone in the area, my talk is at 5:00 on Saturday at the Museum.

The talk is titled Al Parker and Visual Modernism: How Illustration Shifted from Past to Present. The birth of illustration in America corresponded with a technological and distributive explosion, producing huge numbers of popular periodicals and images in the last third of the 19th century. Howard Pyle and the Brandywine School rode the wave of expanding technology and demand into the early 20th century. Perversely, the cultural orientation of this group was backward-looking, aimed at 19th century values and themes. It took a later generation of illustrators, led by Al Parker, to embrace modernity in style and spirit. A look at Parker, Modernism, and the logic of Now in a commercial culture.

Images: Al Parker, Ladies Home Journal cover, October 1948; "Search for Amelia," Ladies Home Journal interior illustration, March 1959.