Thursday, May 25, 2017


Ludekens used himself as a model for this illustration.

Years ago when I was at a San Diego Comiccon I was leafing through the bin of some dealers box of miscellaneous illustration when in this box of very average pictures I came across this masterful work of two lions and a row of zebras behind them. One glance at the signature and I knew I had a find: Fred Ludekens. Of course I was familiar with the name from the Famous Artists course, but this was the first original of his I had ever seen. I bought it immediately and to this day it hangs on my wall. I can never get over the bold and broad brushwork on the lions, contrasted with the incredibly delicate lines used on the graphic arrangement on the zebras in the background.

Fred Ludekens had already taught me a lot through the Farmous Artist course. His demonstration on how he creates a picture in line was, along with Harry Borgman's demonstration, the most helpful and informative simplification of the process that I've ever found. As much as possible I try to incorporate it my working style and it rarely lets me down.

And next to the great Bob Kuhn, Ludekens was the master of drawing animals. He wasn't creating his pictures from photo reference but from his own firsthand experience. And like Sickles and Toth and so many of the great ones, the simplicity of his work belies the underlying knowledge of anatomy and composition.

Fred Ludekens (1900-1982) was born in Huoneme and was a third generation Californian. He grew up in Victoria, British Columbia, and during those years made several trips to Alaska.
His only art training was a night class under Otis Shepard at the University of California Extension.
Ludekens worked for the Foster and Kleiser outdoor advertising agency in San Francisco, then free-lanced for a time, and later became art director for the San Francisco office, of Lord and Thomas. This gave him an insight into advertising art from the business point of view which helped him eventually to become one of the best advertising illustrators in the country.
A commission to illustrate a book about his boyhood country, Ghost Town, led The Saturday Evening Post to assign him a Western serial story. The success of these pictures thus launched his second career as an editorial illustrator, and he pursued both, later adding another top position as a co-creative director of Foote, Cone and Belding.  He also, with Albert Dorne, founded the Famous Artists School in Westport, Connecticut and was Chairman of the Board of Directors prior to his death.
(From, The Illustrator in America by Walt and Roger Reed)

Next Week: More Ludeken's illustration and a fascinating interview with him from American Artist.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Remembering Bernie Wrightson

(Bernie and Voz)

When I broke into comics in the mid 1970’s there was an astonishing number of new talent that arrived in the business as comics were suddenly feeling a resurgence. One of these was Bernie Wrightson, who I had been aware of from comic fandom, which introduced me to this world, and was also the gestation pool a large segment of the newcomers. 

From the first work I saw of his in fandom, it was pretty clear that Bernie was certainly cut above most of us, and when his first stories started to appear in print, there was the realization that that gap might be even wider. What he was doing was pretty special.

I first met Bernie on one of my trips to NYC when I was schlepping my portfolio around to the publishers looking for steady work. When I came into the city one of my old friends from Detroit, Al Milgrom,  graciously always lets me crash at his apartment which he shared with Walt Simonson. One night they dragged me over to visit Howard Chaykin’s studio, and while we were there, we dropped down a floor to also say hello to Bernie who also lived in the building. 

He was working on a series of Edgar Allen Poe oil paintings. Bernie had already achieved a level of fame as one of the premier artists working in pen and ink with his Swamp Thing book, and now he was trying a different medium. He was curious about our take on the work. Needless to say it was stunning. Whatever respect I had for his talent before, now I was truly impressed. 

What I came away with from that first meeting was not only just how good Bernie was, but also how well he treated you. There was a definite pecking order in comics from how the editors reacted to  you on down, and even among your peers. But there didn’t seem to be any of that with Bernie. He always treated me and my work as if we were equals. That was something I truly liked and respected him for.
(Bernie, Batton Lash, Don Glut, Bill Stout)

I saw a bit of Bernie now and then in those early years, either when I was in NYC, or at conventions. I do remember once being the designated driver with a van when Bernie, Walt, Al and myself drove upstate to visit Jeff Jones. Seems I was the only one who knew how to drive a stick shift…and it was my first experience driving in NYC traffic. However, in the mid 80’s I moved to LA with my wife Annie, and saw very little of the comic book crowd as I started working in animation and advertising and film. 

There was a show in Pasadena that I attended to meet a potential buyer of some artwork, who ended up blowing me off. At the time, the same was pretty important so I was pretty bummed;however I did run into my good friend Trevor Goring who suggested I bring in a portfolio to the Chronicles of Narnia movie and I ended up working on those for the next five years.

And as I was leaving that show, suddenly down the cooridor I hear someone yelling out my name, and there comes Bernie and grabs me and gives me a big hug like I was a long lost friend. Once we reconnected, we got together several times for dinner and I got to meet his wife Liz, and his two sons. They were always great gatherings with interesting conversation. Usually it was at our house in Tujunga, or at a monthly gathering of artists I used to host at an Italian restaurant in Burbank. It was good times. There was another space when he suddenly wasn’t around, and I discovered he had moved out of LA.

(Above Bernie and Bill Stout. Below Bernie, Mike Kaluta, Barry Smith and Jeff Jones)

Working in the commercial art business gives you a fairly nomadic life. You meet folks and work closely with them for a shorter or longer times and you’re best friends. Then the job changes and you never see them again. It is always tough to stay in contact with your friends and acquaintances as distance and jobs drag you in different directions. With Bernie you also had the reality of dealing with a celebrity. The last time I saw him was at a convention in Anaheim where we were having an interesting conversation and catching up a bit. A group of fans descend on him  and and I was suddenly standing on the sidelines. It wasn't Bernie who pushed me there, but you understood that there were restraints on his time and availability. 

What always impressed me when I saw Bernie and his family, was just how much two boys loved and respected him, and how devoted he was to them. Someone had told me once that Bernie didn’t have a great relationship with his own father, but there certainly was a bond among all the members of his own family. There was great affection between him and his wife Liz. Most fans will think of him as a world class artist, but for me I always remember him as world class dad and husband. It was an honor and a pleasure knowing him and his family.