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Posted By Art Baxter

portrait

 Virginia Lee Burton -  August 30, 1909 - October 15, 1968

One of the reasons I started this blog was to highlight some of the artists who influenced me at a young age and are perhaps not so well known. Virginia Lee Burton is not a name you hear much anymore but she wrote and drew a number of notable children's books in the first half of the twentieth century. MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL is perhaps the most famous. Another is the Caldecott Medal winning THE LITTLE HOUSE from 1942.

cover

I got my copy of THE LITTLE HOUSE as part of a WEEKLY READER BOOK CLUB three book package in the early 1960s. The books were hardbacks and probably cost a buck apiece or less. A great price to get books in the hands of kids cheap and get books into homes that probably didn't have many. The books were often of an older vintage and had made their money. It was cool because the books were shipped to your home. This strategy of getting people to buy books worked at least on my sister and me because we've been book buyers ever since.

So, I got my copy of THE LITTLE HOUSE by Virginia Lee Burton. The book is incredibly sophisticated in it's simplicity. It's the story of a small cottage on a hill in the country surrounded by farmland. We see the house in day and night and in the four seasons. The house is always depicted in the same place on the page; slightly below the center. Soon we start to see signs of early twentieth century progress. A new road is put in and cars appear. Then the farms are replaced by tract housing, then tenements and an elevated train. The house becomes abandoned, boarded up  and is ultimately surrounded by high-rises. One day, a woman and her family see the house. The woman grew up in the house when she was a young girl. She wants to live in the house again with her family so she has it lifted and moved by truck back out to the country. The story is based on Burton's own experiences.

little_house-endpapers

The story of the Little House in the books's endpapers. R. Crumb's famous A SHORT HISTORY OF AMERICA resembles it.  Ironically, today is also Crumb's birthday (August 30, 1943).


 
Posted By Art Baxter

As a kid, I liked to look at the detailed landscapes that surrounded the house. There were always lots of little people running around going about their business. There was a front yard in the foreground and the background seemed to go on for miles. Before the coming of "progress," the landscape had a certain kind of woven harmonious order. The colors soft and tastefully easy on the eyes. As the city approaches the colors get brown then dingy gray and the landscape becomes coldly rigid. I used to like to look at the pictures for a long time and experience the feelings they invoked.

little_house-before

The Little House before.

As an adult, designer and illustrator I began to appreciate Burton's economy and sophistication in the actual storytelling. The house remains in the same location for most of the book. As time moves forward, the landscape changes. The house also has some facial expressions. The curtained windows are eyes, the door is the nose and the front steps are the mouth. Early on the mouse seems happy and contented on a blanket of green grass. When the house is in the city, the grass is brown, the windows are broken and the steps aren't upturned into a smile. Soon the house is boarded up. The book is about time, entropy and rebirth.

little_house-after

The Little House after.

Burton's art is in the style of the American gothic. There are cues from Albert Pinkham Ryder, Thomas Hart Benton, the modernism of the Ashcan School, artists of the WPA, and the naive style of painters like Grandma Moses. Her art is a designed cartoon realism. She can be carefree but isn't afraid to face the dark. The timeline of the story suggests the optimism of the progress of the early twentieth century evolving into the depression. But hope was never lost as the house gets a new lease on life at the end.

THE LITTLE HOUSE is still in print and easy to find. Check out this fine book for Virginia Lee Burton's 99th birthday!

Note: Click on Little House detail(s) to view the entire image.

THE LITTLE HOUSE is © 1942 by Virginia Lee Demetrios


 
Posted By Art Baxter
molly.gus-8.27

It's NEW COMICS Wednesday. A new comic strip or page by me will appear every Wednesday at least for the next month or so. Here we have the third MOLLY & GUS strip.

Click here to read it.


 
Posted By Art Baxter
henry-35

This HENRY cartoon was drawn by his creator Carl Anderson between 1932 and 1934 for the SATURDAY EVENING POST. Look for a new HENRY cartoon every Monday.

Find out more about HENRY here.


 
Posted By Art Baxter

molly.gus-8.20

I'm starting a new weekly feature: NEW COMICS Wednesday. A new comic strip or page by me will appear every Wednesday at least for the next month or so. Here we have the second MOLLY & GUS strip.

Click here to read it.


 
Posted By Art Baxter

molly.gus-8.19

Finally, some new content!

This was nothing but a HENRY Tribute blog for over a month.

Click here to read this new MOLLY & GUS comic.

WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS? Deptment:
I wanted to do a strip for the Philadelphia CITY PAPER "Comics Issue" but I was dry for ideas. I had drawn doodle sketches of a white dog with an eyepatch and a large breasted gap tooth girl in my sketchbook about the same time I read a rant by my PHILLY COMIX JAM pal, Ian Harker, concerning "9-11" over at the COMICS JOURNAL MESSAGEBOARD.

molly.gus-8.19-sketch

This are character sketches ripped out pretty quickly. Just doodles.

I wanted to do something I had never done before to stretch myself. Talking animals can get away with more crap than humans and the girl would attract attention. I still had "spectacular boobage" on the brain from the previous Monday night's discussion of "spectacular boobage" at the PHILLY COMIX JAM meeting. I had never worked with either type of character before nor anything as overtly political. So I rewrote Ian's rant, mixed everything together and added a punch line directly lifted from a Steve Ditko MR. A comic. The names "Molly" and "Gus" came out of thin air and seemed to suit them. The former has soft consonants and the latter hard. The sketch book drawings and final art were drawn with the same tools: fountain pens and a brush pen. With one idea down I got five more ideas for strips. My brain juices were flowing again.

molly.gus-8.19-pencils

Here are the pencils for the first panel with the original Harker rant.

Look for another one tomorrow on NEW COMIC WEDNESDAY!


 
Posted By Art Baxter

henry-34

This HENRY cartoon was drawn by his creator Carl Anderson between 1932 and 1934 for the SATURDAY EVENING POST. Look for a new HENRY cartoon every Monday.

Find out more about HENRY here.


 
Posted By Art Baxter

henry-33

This HENRY cartoon was drawn by his creator Carl Anderson between 1932 and 1934 for the SATURDAY EVENING POST. Look for a new HENRY cartoon every Monday.

Find out more about HENRY here.


 
Posted By Art Baxter

henry-32

This HENRY cartoon was drawn by his creator Carl Anderson between 1932 and 1934 for the SATURDAY EVENING POST. Look for a new HENRY cartoon every Monday.

Find out more about HENRY here.


 

 

 
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