Saturday, March 8, 2008

Frank Wing

First printed in 1910, Yesterdays [Frank Wing: 1873-1956] collects cartoons originally published in the Minneapolis Journal. Wing was an influence on a young Charles Schulz, who later studied with Wing and then joined him on the faculty of the Art Instruction School; the elder cartoonist encouraged Schulz to submit his work (Li’l Folks) to the Saint Paul Pioneer Press.

In Yesterdays, each single-panel cartoon is printed on the right-hand page and is preceded by a short paragraph of commentary on the left, in which a friendly and knowing narrator often speaks in a tone of gentle condescension and ironic understatement about the characters and their lapses. He identifies himself as a part of the community that he satirizes (referring to "our town"), and speaks in a refined English peppered with colloquialisms, while most of the characters -- many of whom have pretensions to urbanity -- converse in a kind of rustic dialect. It’s a familiar class/language formula in the tradition of Southwestern humor, but it works well here. Wing has a real talent for drawing lanky yokels with distinct facial expressions in a visual style familiar from late 19th-century magazine and book illustration. And the writing, too, is great; each paragragh of narration or word balloon has words or phrases that I have never read before. I think that part of the reason I enjoy stuff like this so much is the sense of surprise and newness that, ironically, new comics don't often give me.

Wing has a very stylish signature: note the bird he placed on it above, which seems to be reacting to Artemisia's singing in the same way that the dog is.

Here's one that Charles Schulz and Charlie Brown likely would have identified with: