David Cowles is a brilliant contemporary caricaturist and I’m thrilled that he has contributed his brilliance to Modern Arf with his portrait of Jack Kirby and Arf Museum with his wonderful caricture of R. F. Outcault. I was also thrilled to hear he just self published a must have book of his work and that I was able to get him to sit still for an Arf Gimme Five interview…
1. Did you start off drawing caricatures of your teachers?
Not too many of teachers. I mostly drew monsters, or my own versions of Mad magazine movie parodies. When I was 11, I did a knock off of The Godfather, strictly from my older brother telling me what happened in it, since I was too young to see it, and some reference photos from Time magazine. For a long time after that I thought Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman were the same person.
2. Who are your favorite caricaturists?
I think my all time favorite, and the biggest influence on me, is Miguel Covarrubias. I find his stuff from the 20s and 30s just amazing, and it was through him that I saw the influence of Myan and other primitive art influencing what became that golden age of caricature, much like African masks lead Picasso into Cubism. Hirschfeld and Garretto are other big influence, especially in terms of simplification. Mort Drucker was my god for a lot of my childhood, and I poured over his stuff in Mad, and in a book my dad got out ofthe library once on Humorous Illustration. Of the current guys, Risko was a huge influence. I first saw some of his early stuff in a book called Fame, and was awe struck. Again with it’s simplicity. It helped to shake me out of my early cross-hatching phase. Burke I loved. I think that Hanoc Piven is a freaking genius. And Terry Allen is somebody who doesn’t do caricature that often, but when he does, they’re amazing. A big influence on me in terms of color and shape.
3. Who’s the hardest person you ever had to caricature? Who’s the easiest?
The hardest might be Tom Hanks, in that I’m not sure that I’ve ever quite captured him. William Shatner I have trouble with as well. As for the easiest, it’s probably Prince, in that I can hit a likeness with him with so little. I could say that Jay leno is easy, because he’s all ready a bit of a caricature, but when I’ve drawn him, I always feel like I’m exaggerating his features so much, but then when I’m finished, it practically looks like I traced his photo.
David takes a shot at Tom Hanks.
Ol’ Lantern-jawed Leno gets the Cowles treatment.
David says, Prince is the easist to caricature. David makes his work LOOK easy, anyway.
The Jack Kirby one was a lot of fun for me. especially since he was another art god. When I was actually reading comics, back in the early 70s, I couldn’t quite get the stuff he was doing then. My comic reading buddies and I used to call him “square fingers” because there was no room for stylized art in comics for us at that point. Much like Picasso was out of my depth then. John Buscema was my hero at that point. But over the years, whenever I had an assignment that they wanted to look superhero-like, I would always fall back onto the Kirby tricks of the “shine squiqqle” and the forced perspective. Now, I’m a total fan. Although, for all my hero worship, I wasn’t really sure what he looked like, so I struggled with the likeness a bit, until we found the right photo reference. So it was appropriate, in terms of my past, to do him in the Picasso style. I love doing the Picasso knock-offs, but always forget how hard it is to achieve until I start painting.
R.F. Outcault I wasn’t as familiar with, outside of some stray Yellow Kid pages I’d seen reproduced over the years. Which sort of made it easier to do his portrait. I find having deep oinions one way of the other kind of hurts my style of caricature. Sometimes it works best to approach the faces as pure design. So, on this one I sort of went more in the Braque direction, with the bit of newspaper and lots of browns.
Jack Kirby as seen by Cowles starting off the chapter on The King inModern Arf.
The latest Arf book, Arf Museum, has this portrait of R. F. Outcault the creator of The Yellow Kid.
5. I’m excited to hear YOU have a book available, please tell us about it.
I’m excited as well. Over the past 23 years or so as an illustrator, people have asked me when I was going to put out a book of my stuff. My response was always “Why, do you know somebody in publishing?” But with all of the other changes the Internet has brought, I can finally put out a D.I.Y. collection of my stuff. Having decided to do it, though, it was a little tough to figure out what should go in it. I wanted enough to hit all the portraits I thought worked, but I wanted also to keep it manageable enough a size so I wouldn’t wear out my welcome half way through. I’m really happy with the collection that I ended up with, trying to group them into categories like musicians, comedians, etc., and trying for the most part to find some sort of relationship between the people on facing pages. It’s a pretty good sampling of my stuff from the years. Thanks for asking.
The Art of David Cowles
Click on the above title learn more and to order this incredible book.
— C. Yoe (in the funny papers)