Wolvertoons: The Art of Basil Wolverton
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
It doesn't get much stranger than Basil Wolverton, once called the "producer of preposterous pictures of peculiar people." His caricatures have at once fascinated and repulsed people, but once you get past the superficial grossness of his faces, you will see a true master artist. This volume is 144 pages filled with "Wolvertoniana." It includes early artwork from MAD (before it was a magazine!) and rare, unpublished cartoons.
Bulging, veined eyeballs. Swollen red noses dripping with pus. Scabrous tongues hanging from mouths ringed with rotten yellow teeth. No one provides such a catalogue of the hilariously-gruesome better than American comics’ original master of the grotesque, Basil Wolverton. Wolverton broke in during the Golden Age on third-tier strips like Starhawk and Powerhouse Pepper. But his real talent lay in the delineation of horrifying portraits, including the famous “Lena the Hyena,” which won a nationwide contest for ugliest woman in creation.
Wolvertoons, a 1989 trade paperback collection from Fantagraphics, assembles the cream of this fetid crop with a delightful assortment of sketches, published pieces, promotional illustrations, strips and covers from Wolverton’s 40-year career, along with a lengthy interview with the artist. Wolverton’s (often extremely unflattering) celebrity portraits show a great eye for caricature; a few of his promo pieces for MAD comics in the 1950s will no doubt bring back fond memories for aging fan-adicts.
As distinctive and strange as Wolverton’s art is on its own, what makes him significant in the pantheon of comics history is his influence on the 1960s underground movement. The most obvious comparison is to Robert Crumb, who shares not only Wolverton’s sense of distorted anatomy, rounded forms and grotesque expressionism, but also his affinity for intricate crosshatching and fine detail. Wolverton’s technique for rendering shade and texture can also be seen in the work of iconic underground stylists from Gilbert Shelton to Denis Kitchen.
Wolverton’s traditional comic book work has been reprinted from time to time in specialty editions like Strange Tale of the Future and Spacehawk. Wolvertoons, however, is a great source for the hard-to-find material from Life and Look magazines, book illustrations, greeting cards, and other Wolverton miscellanea.
Basil Wolverton was an American cartoonist and illustrator, and "Producer of Preposterous Pictures of Peculiar People who Prowl this Perplexing Planet." His many publishers included Marvel Comics and Mad magazine. His drawings have elicited a wide range of reactions. Cartoonist Will Elder said he found Wolverton's technique "outrageously inventive, defying every conventional standard yet upholding a very unusual sense of humor. He was a refreshing original." But Jules Feiffer stated, "I don't like his work. I think it's ugly." He was posthumously inducted into the comic book industry's Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1991.