Sunday, October 20, 2013


Our culture and the entertainment field in particular is dedicated to the adoration of youth. Young is good, old is bad. While I might agree with the first part of that statement, the fear of aging and all that it implies in our materialistic society really should be re-examined. When I look at Harry's work there is always such a freshness. The designs are impeccable, and this man has a sense of color that simply amazes me. He has never been one to be deterred by age.

When one of his FedEx deliveries turned up missing (and he was forced to redo a job by pulling an all nighter) his art director suggested (a polite way of saying demanded) that Harry get a computer and start turning in everything digitally. This was around the year 2000. Most artists of Harry's renown could have certainly pulled rank, but Harry simply embraced the medium. He bought the equipment and soon was excelling at his new tools.

One of the things that Harry did as a  practice exercise was start to create a series of mock comicbook covers for his own enjoyment. While he had always had a love of comics, most of his work in the field was done for Sick editor Joe Simon (usually signed with a nom de plume of "The Professor." ). In high school, Borgman's teacher had pushed him toward commercial and fine art, and after graduation, he had no trouble finding work in these fields. If you wanted to work in comics, it really was necessary to move to New York. And the pay wasn't that great. All in all, comics were one of those youthful enthusiasms that got postponed for Harry's brilliant career in commercial art.

But if you love comics, eventually you continue doing the work. Harry has literally turned out hundreds of his own covers over the past decade. Along with his marvelous sense of color and design they reveal a wonderful whimsical  wit. They never fail to amuse me. They also reiterate one of the maxims of our industry: Understanding the writing and storytelling process will make you a better artist; understanding the visual process will make you a better writer.

Borgman still continues to exhibit his sculture and painting in several galleries, and is currently working on a large sculpture for an installation in his town of Sawyer, Michigan. For all you youngsters out there, look at Harry's work and be very afraid. Illustrator Ken Riley once quipped, "It's easy to be a genius at 25. The trick is to still be one at 55."

Saturday, October 12, 2013


(Harry in his Sawyer,Michigan studio)

Whenever I'm feeling that I've gotten a little ancient and should be put out to pasture, I make sure I give one of my friends Leonard Starr, Bob McGinnis or Harry Borgman a call. All this gentlemen are on the high side of 80, yet they all remain active and involved in the creative process and are terrific conversationalists. Mostly, they remind me that life doesn't end when you start collecting social security.

I think I first became acquainted with Harry's work when I picked up his book Drawing for Reproduction. It's been a bible for me over the years, and I still think it's the best book I've ever seen on drawing in ink, and translating your rough drawings and ideas into finishes. He begins the book  with the basics of what tools are needed, gives a demonstration of what type of line each brand and type of pen nib will give you. He explains how to vary line and other techniques to use, as well as how to properly rule lines in ink. There were approaches to rendering and how to create grays and tones with a series of lines. There is one page titled "Simplifying Drawings" that should hang on ever artists desktop- it ranks up there with "Wally Woods 24 frames you can always use". But mostly, Harry demonstrated in the book that when you were using ink, you were still involved in the drawing process and it should have life and energy. It was such a refreshing change from the stiff and stylized approach I had learned for comics.

Needless to say I quickly picked up Drawing in Pencil and Art and Illustration Techniques. Maybe part of the appeal of these books for me was that they were written by a fellow left hander. And this guy also came from my hometown of Detroit, Michigan.

Born in 1928, Harry was a big fan of the comicstrip from his earliest days, his favorites being Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon,  and Caniff's Terry and the Pirates with the exotic Dragon Lady and the lovely Burma. His favorite artist was Lou Fine who worked for both Quality Comics and on Will Eisner's Spirit.

Borgman was very interested in aviation and was an avid model builder. He attended Denby High in Detroit, and had his first illustration printed in Open Road for Boys when he was still in high school. His work on the school newspaper introduced him to a printer's shop where started working on art related projects.

After graduation, he spent the next ten years working for various ad agencies in the Detroit area, and also with a rep who got him work in New York, including doing a number of paperback book covers. The auto industry was the major client base in Detroit, and Harry eventually wound up working on the Chevy account where one of his biggest fans was entertainer Dinah Shore.

(Harry's house and studio with his two supervisors.)
At the same time this dynamo was teaching full time at Detroit Arts and Crafts. In retrospect, I certainly wish I would have had the opportunity to take one of Harry's classes. It  would have been a major boost to my own slow torturous slog of trying to teach myself about the art and storytelling process. I also found someway to miss meeting him when we were both at the 1970 Detroit Triple Con. What an opportunity lost. However, I was lucky enough to discover his books and what an education they were.

The man was also a world traveller, often being sent on location for assignments: Egypt, Lebanon, Israel, Libya, Chile, and Brazil to name a few stops. He lived in Paris for close to ten year in the late 70's and early 80's, and then for several years in NYC. Now he resides in Sawyer, Michigan, where I have been lucky enough to visit him a couple of times. He continues to exhibit his both paintings and sculpture; in fact, one of his shows  was used recently as a set on an episode of The Good Wife.

(Myself and Harry mugging for a very, very short photographer.)

"It was pretty hectic at times; the deadlines can be pretty outrageous and they can take their toll. To do this kind of work one must be able to work well under extreme pressure. You must also take rather bland script and make them visually interesting." Harry Borgman

Next week, we talk with Harry about the mock comicbook covers he's been producing over the past few years.