I Didn’t Even Know this Guy Existed

Over at Jordan Crane’s What Things Do, they’ve been running a ton of old art by Abner Dean, a mid-20th Century illustrator. (I’m assuming it’s in the public domain or they have permission, it’s clearly not in print anymore).

Pretty crazy stuff, but definitely worth a look—and worth a buy if you can find a used copy of the original.

Here’s the big page. Long load times and probably NSFW, but a real mindbender.

It reminded me of William Steig’s brilliant About People. Also recommended and similarly obscure now, despite its author’s popular kids’ books.

Great imaginations get forgotten far too often.

Anyone know of other largely forgotten artists whose works you loved?

Discussion (40)¬

  1. Lisa Shapter says:

    Wilbur Daniel Steele, a forgotten author who once won the O. Henry Prize.

  2. Scotty says:

    I know he’s still alive and his work is still being published…but Al Jaffee has been an unsung hero of mine for years. The work he did on the fold-ins on the back of Mad…absolutely mind-blowing.

  3. J. McComsey says:

    Jorge Zaffino. Passed way too early. The Work he did is Phenomenal.

  4. Dick Guindon, hands down. I loved his spare yet descriptive drawing style, his wry, extremely dry humor (some of it dated because he was very topical during the 80’s) sly non-sequiturs, lumpenproles for whom little goes right, and endless references to carp which somehow never got old.

    I have just one of his collections from the 80’s – “The World According To Carp”. One of my favorites: Two men are in line buying auto parts:

    “What’re you up to”

    “Restoring a car”

    “What year?”


  5. If Scotty votes for Al Jaffee, then I’ll vote for:
    Jack Davis – Mad artist and creator of the famous Spalding Streetball ad with Rick Barry and Dr. J. Best single page comic ever?

  6. Jose says:

    I’ve always dug Winsor McCay.

  7. Andrew Wahl says:

    Editorial cartoonist Ron Cobb and comic-book artist John Workman (who is also comic-book letterer John Workman, but his ’70s artwork was AMAZING).


    • Scott says:

      Cobb’s work can be seen in the human-based tech designs for the movie Alien. Definitely a great imagination, too seldom recognized.

  8. My grandmother gave me a copy of Steig’s “About People”, with the express instructions to study each page carefully until I had it figured out. And that it was probably best to put it down every once in a while and come back to it later. I’ve only ever felt like I’ve comprehended 3 or so completely. What a fantastic work!

    Also, I still have my childhood copy of “No Dessert Until You’ve Finished Your Mashed Potatoes” by William O’Brian. Amazingly clever ink-wash illustrations about children and their world views, mostly skewed towards the feeling of confusion kids have trying to understand adults. It taught me things.

    Seems very rare now though, this is all I can find on the book: http://openlibrary.org/books/OL5940782M/No_dessert_until_you've_finished_your_mashed_potatoes.

  9. simons says:

    I won’t name one artist in particular but http://ajourneyroundmyskull.blogspot.com/ has an amazing collection of old illustrated work. Definetly worth a look.

  10. Seann says:

    Dude, Abner Dean IS my favorite unknown artist. Howd you know??? I found 2 books by him in the Strand in NY. Love him to death. Hes not jokey; hes contemplative, and he doesnt use a hard metaphor, so I think thats why it didnt catch on. But its beautiful.

  11. wooow!!! man abner dean is fantastic, that is -just- my kind of illustration/comic work, fantastic =) very free very full of life, loose and beautiful =’D

    an illustraitor i consider truely lost and underrated, is ‘Sherrifs’, a caracaturist who is american, but most famous for his work in british magazines such as Punch from the 3o’s to the 70’s? 9i think)

    i first found his work last year in a magazine from 1941 9!!) with these illustrations- i absolutley fall in love with the way he makes his characters look very natural, it’s spontanious but the body language is spot on =’D his stuff rmeinds very much of will eisner’s art, too~ here is the image!! http://img693.imageshack.us/img693/591/dscn7667.jpg i hope you like =)

  12. Brett Harder says:

    Wow that stuff is awesome! In an interview Jim Woodring mentioned a book called “As I See” by Boris Artzybasheff, describing it as a major influence on his work. I recently found it buried away in my library and was completely blown away.

  13. Neufel says:

    I don’t believe he is known is America as everybody forgot him in Europe : Charlie Schlingo.
    His work looked naive but adult (NSFW adult), and was even called dumb (he wasn’t really praised for his work)
    But his creation of words (neologism, Onomatopoeia) and the use of nonsense in a “old school” type of art made him one of the best comic artists in my opinion : Bringing a childish type creation in an adult world.
    Few years ago, some friends of him (novel writer Jean Teulé and comic artist Florence Cestac) made a comic of his life : “I’d like to kill myself but I don’t have the time” (Je voudrais me suicider mais j’ai pas le temps”
    You can see some of Schlingo comics here : http://dwr.free.fr/Charlie%20Schlingo/Godasses.jpg
    And see a website here : http://www.smartcucumber.com/06_charlie/charlie.htm

  14. If I can be allowed one more nomination, I just rememberd: Chon Day, whose “Brother Sebastian” series was as dryly humorous as it was witty. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chon_Day

  15. Really an interesting piece. But also typical of its era: it’s remarkable to look back on work from 40s and 50s and realize how much humor/satire was written exclusively for a male audience. Were women not thought capable of laughter? Was satire unbecoming of a lady? I suspect the latter, especially since satire back then was often termed “Sick Humor,” as if it were a symptom of mental illness.

    • Those cartoons were pitched toward “polite society” which was, at the time, pretty much white-male owned and run. Kind of reminds me of the feeling I get whenever I pull “When Worlds Collide” off the shelf for a re-reading; “How very quaint” I think to myself. WWC was writen in the 30s, and was even more white-male oriented than these cartoons were.

  16. Gluyas Williams. His first name alone lets you know that he’s not a new guy, and I don’t think he’s had anything in print for decades.

  17. Somfunambulist says:

    Paul Coker Jr.

  18. Evil Potato says:

    Mark Marek-I love my copy of “Hercules among the North Americans”

  19. Bruce Townley says:

    Crockett Johnson. Particularly his “Barnaby” strips. Simply beautiful stuff my dad turned me on to several years ago. Of course, cartoonists tend to already know about his work.

  20. California Dave says:

    Two completely opposite ends of the spectrum – Antonio Prohias and Dave Stevens.

  21. Felipo5 says:

    Something about the name Abner…
    This is great. I’m not sure why, but his work reminds me of the work of Jules Feiffer.
    Wonderful stuff!

  22. Tim says:

    Don’t know about forgotten, but I always loved Mike Parobeck’s work. He died way too early.

  23. Teri says:

    Walter Crane is a Victorian illustrator currently out of print but funnily enough is being reprinted October (I think).

  24. ScottE says:

    Favorite forgotten artist? Has to be Franz Sedlacek.

    There’s finally a wiki entry for him. Huh.


  25. I feel like Bill Peet has slipped through the cracks for a lot of my generation. We were a bit too young to have read his books when they were coming out, but now that I’ve rediscovered them, they are some of my favorites. His autobiography is basically a graphic novel (drawings on every page, text on every page). Incredible drawings and a fascinating career.

  26. Peet says:

    Carla Speed McNeil, I love her stuff and she’s so personable. I feel she’s completely undervalued. Her book Finder was amazing and the work she’s done on Whiteout and with Warren Ellis has also been amazing (but atleast 7 years ago).

    Not to mention if you buy anything from her website she encloses it with a handwritten note, and a page of roughs from her books.

  27. Cousin Vinny says:

    My favorite forgotten comic book artist? Russ Manning. Does he count? 🙂 He did work in newspapers and worked in the Gold Key line of comics, not Marvel or DC.

  28. Will Curwin says:

    I don’t know if these count but in no real order.

    (1) Saul Steinberg (2) Graham Ingels (3) Henry Darger (4) Daniel Johnston (5) Jose Mojia Marins (6) Basil Wolverton

  29. Mike Cagle says:

    This is a fun question! Some really interesting nominations. I like a lot of the people who have been mentioned, and will look into the ones I haven’t heard of. I think Feiffer may have mentioned Abner Dean in his recent memoir. Here are a few others that jump to mind: Miguel Covarrubias, once a famous caricaturist turned archaeologist. Virgil Finley. Nell Brinkley — she was a big celebrity in her time. How about Lily Renée Phillips, recently profiled in Newsweek? I had never heard of her until I saw that story. Jim Flora — pretty unknown before the recent spate of books came out. Boris Artzybasheff, for sure! He did a lot of covers for Time magazine, some of them very weird.

  30. Mike Cagle says:

    How about Bill Holman (Smokey Stover cartoonist)? How about pinup painter Zoe Mozert? Album cover artist Roger Dean? There are so many talented and once famous, well-known artists who are little-known now.

  31. Mike Cagle says:

    In adventure comic strips, Noel Sickles. In comic books, Mort Meskin. Okay, I’ll stop now!

  32. Scott McD. says:

    I just discovered this comic and thought you’d like it – interesting use of animation in a comic concept. It’s a quite effective take on many people’s typical weekend.


  33. andrei says:

    j. carlos