Thursday, January 7, 2010

John Holmstrom - Cartoonist Survey #40

Underground cartoonist and writer John Holmstrom, started his career as an assistant for Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman in 1974. In January of 1975 John created PUNK magazine and in 1976 it was published. Filled with comics and articles on punk rock, the magazine helped bring to the forefront such bands as The Sex Pistols, Blondie and The Ramones. John did the artwork on the back cover for the Ramones album, Rocket to Russia and then drew the front cover of their Road to Ruin. In the 80's his character Bosko, "America's Least Favorite Cartoon Character", appeared in many well known magazines such as Heavy Metal and High Times.

In 1987 he started working for High Times full time as a cartoonist with the very popular Hep Cat strip and eventually worked his way up to President of the company. He left High Times in 2000 and now he continues to create work for independent books and punk rock bands. Head over to John's blog for some great reading. While there I found out that John shares the love I have for the old TV show, "Combat!"

What is your favorite pen to use?
My current favorite is the Faber-Castell PITT artist pen, which comes in a few different widths.

Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
First I sketch in pencil, then I finish the sketch with a marker pen, then I put another sheet of paper over that, trace the outline with a light artist pencil (4H), then go over that with an HB artist pencil (which I always heard was Jack Kirby's favorite), then I fill in with the pens.

Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?

If you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?

What type of paper do you use?
Usually Strathmore Bristol, 1-ply.

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
Anything unusually and unnecessarily complicated, like crowd scenes, or backgrounds that require a lot of research. Often, clients want the whole world in a 6-inch square that emphasizes everyone in the drawing. These are the most unpleasant situations. Less is more.

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
I buy from the small art supply stores in my neighborhood, New York Central and Utrecht.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
No rituals, but it does take me a while to get focused enough to sit down and draw. Sketching or doodling I can do anytime. Doing a job requires a lot of concentration.
Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
I play oldies, from the 1950s through to the 1970s: rock 'n' roll, acid rock, garage rock, punk rock, surf, glam rock, etc.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
Our family loved the Sunday Funnies (as they were called back then) so much that my sisters and I would have physical fights over who got to read the comics section first. This was back in the 1950s and early 1960s, America's Golden Age. I especially enjoyed strips like Dick Tracy, Blondie, Bringing Up Father, Nancy, Lil' Abner, Pogo, Ripley's Believe It Or Not, There Oughta Be a Law, Steve Canyon and Little Iodine. I would read other strips when we visited relatives and I got to read Alley Oop, Miss Peach, Price Valiant, B.C., Snuffy Smith and others. That was like discovering the New World. I would also read the single panel gags in The New Yorker and any other magazine I could get my hands on. I think LOOK ran them as well. Weird to think how so many people were able to make money on stuff like that back in the day...

I remember reading a book about early newspaper strips that I borrowed from the library in 6th grade. Suddenly I learned about The Yellow Kid, The Gumps, Thimble Theater, Krazy Kat, Little Nemo, Polly and Her Pals, Felix the Cat, and the history of Mutt And Jeff as well as so many others. I wanted to steal that book so much that I just about memorized it. When book reprints of stuff like Krazy Kat, Little Nemo and "Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend" came out in the 1970s I bought everything I could. Of course I was amazed when I saw Gertie the Dinosaur for the first time, and impressed by other early animations by Windsor McKay, Pat Sullivan and others.

We also watched Saturday morning cartoons religiously, which had the same impact on my love of comics as printed cartoons. We especially liked Warner Brothers Looney Tunes and the Fleischer Brothers' Popeye cartoons, but we watched everything, like those ever-present Harveytoons with Casper the Friendly Ghost. (Where have you gone, Milton the Monster?)

My sister introduced me to MAD magazine in 1961, the "upside-down" year. This warped my mind completely, as Don Martin taught me how to draw feet.

After that the biggest thing for me was those 1960s Marvel comic books: Steve Ditko's Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four and Thor, Don Heck's Iron Man, every Marvel artist's take on The Incredible Hulk, etc. I even read stuff like Kid Colt Outlaw, Two Gun Kid, Sgt. Fury and Millie the Model. I was very influenced by Art Simek and Sam Rosen, their letterers. By this time I wanted to work for Marvel when I grew up and figured that if I couldn't break in as an artist I could always be a letterer.

I even read Archie comics and some DC stuff, as well as ACG Group's Herbie, Forbidden Worlds, and Adventures Into The Unknown and Wally Wood's Tower comic books (THUNDER Agents, etc.).

Jim Warren's Famous Monsters, Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella were also among my favorites--those were amazing comic books. I still remember seeing Creepy #1 at the newsstand and being blown away by the great artwork as soon as I opened it. And then, of course, there were the Warren photo comics, such as The Horror of Party Beach, which was a big influence on PUNK magazine's Mutant Monster Beach Party.

In high school, I discovered underground comics and bought just about everything by Crumb, Shelton, and everyone else. Along the way I discovered artists like Spain, Rick Griffin, Bill Griffith, Art Spiegelman, Robert Williams, Vaughn Bode etc. I would travel 100 miles to New York City and buy all the comic books you couldn't find in Connecticut.

I have many other favorites but don't want to bore everyone to death.

What is or was your favorite comic strip?
In my adulthood I find that I most appreciate the late 1950s/early 1960s Atlas comics like Strange Tales, Journey Into Mystery, Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish. There's a great Website that displays the covers and some of the interior pages:

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
Like comic books and strips, I didn't have just one favorite, although I still have my copies of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, illustrated by Norman Rockwell.

The paperback book I treasured as a teenager is "Wonder Wart-Hog, Captain Crud, and other Super Stuff." This is the most amazing compilation of 1960s college humor/U.G.comix material ever. It was designed by Terry (Monty Python) Gilliam, features Gilbert Shelton's early Wonder Wart-Hog, an early Vaughn Bode comic, Frat Man by Joel (ABC News) Siegel, Harry Shearer and the amazing Hank Hinton. This book introduced me to underground comic books before they existed, and featured a story written by (Jovial) Bob Stine, who became my editor at Bananas magazine ten years later.
(editor's note: Bob Stine, or R. L. Stine went on to write the popular "Goosebumps" series of books.)

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
I went to the School of Visual Arts for two years. The first year was all painting, drawing and color classes, which gave me a lot of knowledge and discipline about human anatomy and how to draw. The second year I learned comics, cartoons and humor from Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman, who both helped me started as a professional later on.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
Definite curse. There is no longer an economic model for artists to get paid properly. I talk with a lot of other artists and we find it difficult to believe that the 1970s were a Golden Age for making money drawing comics. You know, I drew a one-page, monthly comic strip back then for a magazine and it paid my expenses. If you drew a record cover you could make enough to live on for half a year, and become famous to boot.

Did either of your parents draw?
My father was a professional commercial artist, who worked as a forger for The Great Escape at Stalag Luft 3 during World War Two. He published a small book after the war with his illustrations, which had a huge influence on me. My mother was a wannabe, always attempting different creative projects and pushing her kids to do art. But I rebelled against my parents by going into comics, which was disdained by both of them.

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
Harvey Kurtzman.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
I have a few hundred notebooks with sketches, but nothing as formal as an official sketchbook.

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
I taught a course in publishing fanzines at SVA in the early 1980s and it was sheer torture.

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?

Do you collect anything and if so what?
I have remnants of my childhood comic book collection, and once in a while I'll buy an old comic book if it's cheap enough. I collect Paranoia magazines and other odd print artifacts. Of course, I have a lot of John Holmstrom artwork and collectibles. I think I have the best collection in the world!

If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
I AM an animated character and I live in my own cartoon.

Are you a righty or lefty?

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
I've already worked as a writer, editor, art director, publisher, dishwasher, floor sweeper etc. Whatever I could make the most money at. That means, nowadays? Probably a dishwasher.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
Professional art table tucked away in a small corner of my bedroom with nowhere near enough space for everything.

Do you play any musical instruments?

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
The same advice I got in the 1970s but ignored: "Develop another skill to support your love of drawing." Back in the 1970s, the advice was "become a paste-up and mechanicals artist," which meant learning magazine layout and commercial art. Sometimes I wish I had learned it, but on the other hand, never learning it forced me to rely on my art, and today it is a totally useless skill. So I am not sure if that is good advice or not. Now I guess people need to learn all of these computer programs. But if you want to be a real artist? I think it would be better to avoid computers altogether. So, maybe I shouldn't be giving anyone advice.

If you want to be a great artist or writer? Do what my eight grade teacher told me to do: get on a tramp steamer. Experience life. Travel. Have many love affairs, and a lot of sex. Take risks. Climb a mountain. Go to Europe. Do something new, something no one else ever did before. Open your mind. Being an artist means a lot more than just drawing pictures.

I think that in this new millennium, there will be a greater distinction between fine artists and media artists, whereas in the 20th century, media artists (like magazine illustrators) will be recognized as true artists, and abstract art will become less relevant.

If you want to become an artist, you'll need to study art and art history intensely and try to figure out where the future is going, and how you can fit yourself in.

Who is your favorite artist?
Tie between Steve Ditko and Leonardo DaVinci.

Thank you for giving such in-depth answers John.

Editorial Cartoonist, Milt Priggee's answers are next.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My Dad was a forger at Stalag Luft 3 as well. He was in Hut 120 where most the forgers were. Please email me stalag.luft.3[AT]