Friday, June 25, 2010

Happy Warren Kremer Day!

A lot of great cartoonists out there have influenced me, but one of the most important was the late great, Warren Kremer. Today, June, 26th is the anniversary of  his birth. For those of you out of the loop, Warren was THE artist at Harvey Comics. He set the standard there, and what a standard it was! He was a master of character design, layout and storytelling. He was also incredibly prolific. While it's  true that artists like Jack Kirby, Dan DeCarlo and Carl Barks are revered for the thousands of comic pages they produced over the course of their careers, Warren's output surely equally matched or surpassed theirs. My good pal, Sid Jacobson, who was Warren's friend  and editor for many years, told me that at his peak Warren could pencil  an astounding eight pages a day! As fast as he was, his quality never suffered. I've never seen a page drawn by him where he ever gave less than 100%. There aren't many artists you can say that about, myself included.

I was exposed to Warren's work at a very early age, and its impact on my own work was substantial (not that I will ever hold a candle to him!). Even though it was years until I learned his name (Harvey artists never signed their work, perhaps one reason Warren's name is still unknown to most), I always knew his work, and would page through issues of the comics on the stands until I found copies of the books with the "good" artist in them (Actually, Ernie Colon's work was great too, but more on him another day. Ernie won't mind, he is one of Warren's biggest admirers.).

Warren concentrated most of his career on the Harvey children's line, but he was equally adept at drawing "realistic" stories, as you can see here.

It's a shame that he never received the recognition he so richly deserved. Indeed, even a lot of die-hard comic fans don't know his name. His work is rarely collected, and when it is, he is lumped in collections anonymously with the rest of the Harvey cartoonists (not that any of them were slouches!). He still has never gotten a posthumous Eisner or Kirby award, even though many lesser lights in the comic industry have gotten them. Perhaps it's because Harvey Comics are dismissed by most fans as "kiddie" comics. A ridiculous attitude for people to have that consider superhero comics "serious literature" and bemoan how the general public dismisses them as "just for kids". How is Superman less absurd than Casper the Friendly Ghost?!

A stroke in 1989 cut Warren's career short and he never drew a comic book story again. He died in 2003.

Sadly, I never got a chance to meet Mr. Kremer in person, but I did get a chance to speak to him on the phone a couple of times before his death. He seemed surprised that anyone was interested in his work, but he was very gracious in answering all my geeky questions. One of the treasures in my "collection" of comic-related stuff is a Stumbo the Giant page Warren drew, that my pal Gary surprised me with a few years back. It is gorgeous! I really wanted to post it here for you all to see, but the massive page wouldn't fit on my dinky scanner. Sorry. If you're ever in the neighborhood, drop by and I'll show it to you. I hope Warren's bio from the NCS  directory and my silly pic will do.

Someday, perhaps, some enlightened soul with deep pockets and deeper resources will publish a collection of Warren's work. Until then, I'll have to make do with my dog-eared collection of old Harveys. I can live with that.

Happy Birthday Warren, wherever you are. Say "hello" to Casper for me!

UPDATE: Warren's friend and former editor, Sid Jacobson, read today's post and had this  to say: "For so many reasons the Harveys were selfish, but for not allowing anyone but their chosen friends to include their names on their work was a travesty. And for Warren, the worst. What you said is so true.  The people at Marvel recognized his enormous talent immediately, and worshipped him and popularized him from the beginning. I can't tell you how many times I pleaded with Alfred (Harvey) to let people sign their names, it would  make them a more popular and profitable commodity.

No, we were like Disney, he told me.

The signed pages were, if memory serves me right, only Lee Elias, Simon & Kirby, Bob Powell, Al Avison and Howie Post, ONCE!

Happy Warren Kremer Day to you!"

Thanks to Sid, for writing that and letting me post it. Hearing that the Harveys kept their artists anonymous deliberately,  and not out of ignorance, rankles me. It must have been really frustrating for Warren and all the other artists in Harvey's stable.

"Like Disney", indeed!

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Blogger SNeelyArt said...

Yes, in comics, working on the "kids line" or "Johnny DC" stuff is like working out on Deep Space Nine. No one cares. Haha. It's sad but true. Even editors get pissed off when they get assigned to run the stuff. Except for Editor Mike Siglain who loved doing it. He knew what it was and how much more important the stuff was in reality.

I can tell you some DC stories of getting snubbed from the higher ups since the work some of us do is not considered 'real' work.

As for the credits, and how they work...absolutely! I've had this happen to me in some cases. I have always fought to get my name on the work if I can. Some licensing when it's just character art, you can't of course. I was asked to join 'The Disney Storybook Artists' many years ago, which is a group of artists under Disney who do a bunch of work for them and remain nameless. I decided a long time ago to keep my identity and not work for them so I remained an independent contractor. Having my name affiliated with some of these big characters is worth more to me in some cases than getting work from them on a constant basis.

That's where they get you: you join the matrix and you get consistant amounts of work to do, but no credit. OR you remain independent and not get as much since they like to keep it "in-house".

Which would you like? The red pill or the blue one?

I took the red.

June 27, 2010 at 11:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for posting this!

i've been a huge fan of kremer's work (and his mentor, steve muffatti) for many years.


June 28, 2010 at 7:12 AM  
Blogger Bill White said...

eeteed- I like SM's work too, but I actually think Warren improved on the "Harvey Look" that SM established.

Scott- I have always favored the paycheck over credit myself. This might be one of the keys to my current status as a complete non-entity.

June 28, 2010 at 1:31 PM  
Blogger Gary Fields said...

Hey Willie,
Nice scribbles as always. Liked yer post about Warren. Too bad he wasn't doing his thing now. Everyone would know his name, he'd be getting a top dollar page rate and would most likely have his own stuff out there in the market. His own stuff that he actually owned!!

July 9, 2010 at 2:44 PM  

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