Practitioners 54: Paul Cemmick

The trouble with Paul Cemmick is it’s too easy to overstate his talent. It’s not that it’s not present – in fact the scale of it is incredible – but it wouldn’t be English to express too enthusiastically just how exciting and impressive a full page of Cemmick’s work truly is. And that wouldn’t suit Cemmick. His is the stuff of England. Lunacy and silliness so inherent in his linework that it’s hard to explain. The physicality of any character in a Cemmick page is height, width, facial features and stupidness. His basis as an incredible caricaturist blends perfectly – communicating precisely everything you know about every character the moment you take a look at it – whether it’s the small, strident figure of girl-ahead-of-her-time Maid Marian, leader of a band of rebels, the handsome, lanky and innately cowardly gangle of Robin of Kensington or the Face of Bo in a recent Doctor Who poster – it’s always a massive joy to behold.

Paul Cemmick is a cartoonist and caricaturist whose designs and work have been seen in many different media, most prominently animation, (British) comics and book covers. According to the website ChildrensIllustrators.com, Mr Cemmick “started drawing cartoons as a child by copying Popeye, Tom and Jerry and Yogi Bear from his gran’s TV.”

He is a jobbing artist – certainly not working on the scale of Coipel or Quitely, nor as famous as Bisley or (Jeff) Smith however this is because he is happily entrenched inside the British industry – by choice one would guess – with a distinctly English artistic style his work is rarely seen outside of the British Isles. This has led to working on the most english of titles – something he’s clearly enthusiastic about – including the Funday Times children’s supplement of the Sunday Times and more prominently, in the 90s the work of classic comic book art that was the set of eight Maid Marian and Her Merry Men comic adaptations of the popular Children’s BBC series.

Providing the artwork for the closing credits of the popular kid’s show, which ran between 1989 and 1993 – the adaptation to comic book, adapted by the lead writer, creator and star Tony Robinson (better known as Blackadder’s Baldrick) it wasn’t long before an adaptation was in the offing. Hard to imagine the final title sequence was finished before saw the wisdom of using Cemmick for the series of books. Seemingly blending the cartoon work of Jim Patterson of the Beano, anarchic Looney Tunes physicality and perfectly observed caricature of the existing cast the books were a ball thanks to Cemmick.

Doctor Who Poster (2011) - part of Cemmick's continued work with the BBC.

Robinson’s ideas were meticulously realised but no one was concentrating on that. Whether it was the gormless expressions of King John’s Guards Gary and Graeme as the dialogue was revealed or the deliberate miniaturisation of Tony Robinson’s Sheriff in relation to every other character, Cemmick added quirks, gimmicks, character ticks and details that were never present in the original while still putting across the personalities of each one of the distinctive cast.

It’s impossible to sail through a Cemmick page – his attention to detail and his joy in leaving prizes to those willing to take a longer, closer look pushed the value of the books well above what they might have been with a less enthused artist. In 2006-2007 he produced four all-new mini-comics which were included in the each of the four series DVD releases from Eureka Entertainment.

Mr Cemmick’s best-known cover artwork adorns several of the later covers of Tom Holt’s comic-fantasy novels, published by Orbit Books in the UK. Mr Cemmick was the third regular Holt cover-artist, following in the footsteps of Josh Kirby and Steve Lee. Mr Holt explained the transition from Lee to Cemmick being due to “some sort of falling-out between and the Orbit people” after his novel “Open Sesame.”

Cemmick’s cartoons and caricatures appear regularly in the UK Sci-Fi magazine SFX, and publications including “Take a Break” magazine. He co-created “N.U.T.S. Investigations” with Spitting Image and 2DTV alumnus Giles Pilbrow for The Sunday Times, and has produced full comicstrip artwork for several BBC magazines, including “Girl Talk” and “It’s Hot”. These official BBC comicstrips include adaptations of EastEnders, adventures of the Blue Peter pets, and most recently (as an interesting semi-follow-up to his work on MM&HMM), the latest BBC One version of Robin Hood (2006) in ‘Robin Hood Adventures’ issue 1 (BBC Magazines, 10–23 October 2007). Cemmick is currently producing 2 comic strips in the weekly BBC publication Match of the Day. As well as a double page comic strip in a new magazine based on the massively successful TV show Top Gear. The mag is called Top Gear Turbo.

In television, he has worked on anarchic rubber faced satire series Spitting Image as well as the afore-mentioned Maid Marian and Her Merry Men. He was also one of the designers and three main artists on the ITV television series 2DTV (2001), working on that programme for all of its five series’. He recently designed the logo for the revamped ITV animated series Emu (2007) starring Emu, Rod Hull’s famous sidekick – minus Rod Hull himself.

Impossible to ignore, Cemmick’s work is illustrative and only finds his way into the Practitioners list for his work on the Maid Marian Books – although his new work remains incredibly high in standard nothing has quite matched that work for sheer exuberance – understandably securing hgim such a long tenure with the BBC.

Most importantly from one person’s perspective, Cemmick is probably the most influential artist in my personal history. While others such as Jim Patterson, Geoff Senior, Liam Sharp, Adam Kubert, Simon Bisley and Frank Quitely have informed me and developed my interests away from where they started (Masters of the Universe), Cemmick revolutionised my thinking and made me really understand the liberties that could be taken with an empty page. Cartoonishness, characterisation, layout, panel filling, use of colours and humour in such an apparent anarchy that belies the actual work that has been sunk into it. The natural line work, the placement of a finger and a foot to add greater humour to proceeding makes the page look as though it could never be any other way. Paul Cemmick is both a world class artist and – I suspect – a great British secret. But without his influence, I and many other artists of the same age might not understand the true shape of funny on a page. Bridging that gap perfectly between the simple, straightforward comic pages of the Beano, Dandy, Buster and Whizzer and Chips and more adult fare like 2000AD, Oink and Viz. But more than that – he captured the timeless, spotless and universal moments better than the television series loaded with exactly the same material and made the themes last 20 years – and well beyond.

Typically answering a question you didn't need answered - here's Nicolas Cage in a much better casting - Paul Cemmick (2011)

Personal thanks to Paul Cemmick for inspiring me to always look for the silly in any page – and in the serious – just look at a blank page and understand that between the words on the page and the final page there is a perpetual gap that artists get to fill and make their own.

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Practitioners 38: Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith was born in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania in 1960 and grew up in Columbus, Ohio, where he now lives.

The Valley (Bone, Jeff Smith, 1992)

Smith learned about cartooning from comic strips, comic books and animated television shows. He has cited Charles M Schulz’s Peanuts as a very early influence on his understanding of comics, some of the style of which are highly visible in Smith’s tome Bone, now a classic of the medium. He has also named Walt Kelly’s Pogo, which he discovered at the age of nine, as his biggest influence in writing comics. Smith began to create comics with the ‘Bone’ characters as early as 1970, at about the age of 10.

Smith graduated in 1978 from Thomas Worthington High School in Worthington, Ohio, where he was a classmate of Jim Kammerud; later on in 1986, Smith and Kammerud would co-found Charcater Builders, an animation studio in Columbus where Smith worked until 1992. After high school. Smith attended the Ohio Stae University where he created a comic strip called ‘Thorn’ for the Campus Newspaper ‘ The Lantern’ which included some of the characters from the Bone series.

In 1991, Smith created his company, simply entitled, Cartoon Books, in order to publish his comic book series Bone. Smith published 55 issues of Bone between 1991 and 2004, blending influences from Walt Kelly, Carl Barks and J.R.R. Tolkien. The black and white tale of Bone, Phoney Bone and Fone Bone into the mysterious valley populated by the Great Dragon, talking mammals,a beautiful young girl named Thorn, her grandmother and a horde of carnivorous fur balls named Rat Creatures, among others proved popular in individual format of 55 issues and 9 volumes were collected to present them. However, its the Bone saga in its entirety that reveals the depth and clarity of vision (as well as the lunacy and oddity) of Smith’s vision. Broad mythical themes play to Warner Bros cartoon physics (the snow falls out of the sky in a blanket in one go instead of as snowflakes and old ladies can outrun cows) in a story of immense scope and no shortage of silliness. Smith dotes on his characters, allowing each one to breathe and develop independently of all others, blending disparate characteristics and even dialogue styles to forma complete, populated and diverse world filled with giant, flat insects, giant mountain based wild cats and mysterious warrior cults (no, seriously).

The artwork begins with luxurious pencil and ink work and develops into fine line and detailed vistas and events, Smith’s style visibly developing over a very personal project.

Two additional volumes, Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails and Rose, collect a number of Bone prequels created by Smith, working with collaborators.

Following from Bone, Smith has developed Captain Marvel series for DC; SHAZAM! The Monster Society of Evil, published in four prestige format issues in 2007 and later collected into a hardcover. In 2008 he released RASL ‘ a stark Sci-fi series about a dimension-jumping art thief with personal problems.’ In 2008, a six issue preview was shown at the San Diego Comic-con, origianlly intended to be released in an oversized format. Onlookers and advisors were unanimous in their warnings about selling an oversized book so Smith, seemingly happy to oblige and accept advice reduced it back down as a black and white, normal sized comic book. However, the first trade paperback ‘The Drift’ is out in the original oversized format.

If anyone had any doubt as to the importance of Bone, Smith’s art featured in a pair of Museum shows during 2008. ‘Jeff Smith: Bone and Beyond,’ at the Wexner Centre of Arts and Jeff Smith: Before Bone’ at the Cartoon Research Library of the Ohio State University. That’s right. The Cartoon Research Library of Ohio. It’s real. In 2009, Smith was featured in The Cartoonist, a documentary film on his life and work.

In a new 32-page graphic novel released in 2009, specifically released through the children’s book line launched by Art Spiegleman and New Yorker Art Editor Francoise Mouly, for very young ’emerging readers’ called Little Mouse Gets Ready, Smith noted that it featured another character Smith created in his childhood, ‘a little grey mouse with a little red vest.’

Bone alone won 10 Eisner Awards and ten Harvey Awards. In 1995 and 1996 he won the National Cartoonists Society’ss award for Comic Books. Smith’s 1332 page single-volume paperback was named one of Time magazine’s list of Top Ten Graphic Novels of All Time.

To get any clear idea of comic book history you have no choice but to pick up Bone. It is simultaneously a quiet delight and a seminal work and belongs firmly in the annuls of comic book history as a timeless piece of visual literature and BLAT! sound effects.