Interview: Al Jaffee [unabridged]

By DAN MAZUR  |  November 18, 2010

The line creates the shading. The line itself would create the shading, and that was the rage and it was de rigueur, and I couldn't do it. But I watched how Chad did it and I found that he was using what was called the Japanese method. And the Japanese method is where you hold the brush vertically, and of course Japanese writing involves thick and thin. So you hold the brush vertically so you're really steadying on the palm of your hand. But mechanically, every time you raise it a little bit, it gets thin and when you press down a little bit it gets thick. So you could go like that, you're moving along, you're raising and lowering, it takes a little while to get used to it. Today of course I have to use a hard thing . . . I can't even — a pen point is difficult for me now, so I have to use markers. I can use a fountain pen and I can use a rapidograph but rapidograph doesn't have any fluctuation of the line. Fountain pen I can use and I can get some kind of character in the line. And I love lines with character.

But the George McManus line was completely clean. Absolutely, done with French curves.

And McManus was probably the most influential American cartoonist outside the US in the '20s and '30s, the whole French style, Herge and a lot of the Japanese too. But comic books — Very different. But McManus who I love . . . Jiggs and Maggie, Bringing Up Father. See my memory is stuff from the '20s and '30s, but I loved his stuff and I can draw like that because it was a steady line. I may not have enjoyed the stories in his strips because it sort of involved something I didn't understand, which is nouveau riche, and a husband and wife's battles — husbands trying to sneak out and get a beer and wives trying for upward mobility in society. So it's a cute idea, but to a 12 year old that doesn't mean a hell of a lot.

But what meant a lot was his sense of design. He had art-nouveau lamps before there were art-nouveau lamps — lampshades and curtains and pictures on walls and that caught my eye. And to some extent I've done things that way myself because if I had to hang a picture in the background of one of my assignments, even if the picture has nothing to do with the story that's going on, I just couldn't waste that space. I would either do something somewhat serious — a sketch of some sort because I just felt like drawing — or I would put in something zany or silly. I was also a great admirer of [Bill Holman's] Smokey Stover because he carried it a step further by having the pictures come to life, characters in the picture would reach out and swipe something off the table. That fourth wall didn't exist.

If you had a leak in the roof then there's water in the picture. Right, it would rise in the picture. Bill Holman. He was just the way he draws, personally, just a bit of a zany hoot. A very nice man, but constantly, not funny in the sense that what he said was classically funny or that was any deep humor in it, but it was funny the way he would communicate. He was pixie-ish.

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