There are a handful of (relatively) modern draughtsmen I consider true masters. Masters on the same level as Durer, Ingres or Rembrandt. For some reason their mastery is poo-pooh’d by the general public because instead of being shown in the homes of the wealthy or on the walls of a museum, these master’s works appeared in newspapers, magazines, books and the comics pages. Art churned out at often prodigious rates to entertain and enlighten the masses in the public forums available to all. I’m convinced that had Rembrandt lived today he would have been one of the “usual gang of idiots” drawing for Mad magazine. That is, if he could keep up.
Artists like Jack Davis, Mort Drucker, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Wally Wood and Will Eisner were all brilliant and are still gods to me. In that pantheon you need to add the name of the incredible sports cartoonist/illustrator, Willard Mullin.
Mullin hit the “big time” after stints at newspapers in L.A. and Texas when he landed a gig at the New York World Telegraph in 1936. Through the 40s, 50s, 60s and into the 70s Mullin covered the New York sports scene with aplomb. He was especially adept at breathing life into his images of baseball. He created the Brooklyn Dodger “Bum,” probably his most enduring character as well as Sharpie (the riverboat gambler that represented the St. Louis Cardinals) and a variety of Braves, Pirates, Cubs and Tigers.
Mullin had a loose and fluid style that was just so pleasing, his images were dynamic and full of life – motion – and humor. He lit up the newspaper page with pencil, charcoal and ink. There was NOBODY better in the biz.
As a hack doodler myself, I can just stare at his work and literally drool. The command, the confidence, the ability to just “let it flow” all the while keeping it clean and simple, PERFECT for the newspaper page. Immediate communication. Gawd, I envy the man.
He began as a sign letterer and as far as I can tell, even when he did program or magazine covers he hand-lettered the copy. Throughout his career he humbly thought of himself as a “card maker.”
On this program cover from the ’69 World Series, he even drew the MLB 100th Anniversary logo instead of dropping in the clip art. Very cool.
The thing I like the most is his elongated proportions for his people. It gives their forms a sense of movement. Animation. There’s life to them.
Caricatures? Yeah, he could do caricatures.
Even a self-portrait or two!
Look at those lines!!!
Well, I don’t think you can deny that Willard Mullin’s drawings embodied not just New York baseball, but baseball as a national treasure. Of course, when you talk about Dodgers vs. Giants, Mullin certainly holds a place in the rivalry’s lore.