by Arnie Fenner
An important aspect of being an illustrator, particularly within genre, is to be aware of what’s come before. Partly for insight as to how peers solved problems, partly as lessons for what not to do, partly as reference (for tropes and content, not for poses or solutions), partly for inspiration—but perhaps mostly to ensure that what each artist is bringing to a project is fresh and not a vague echo of what’s come before. There’s the old saying that there are no new ideas, just new interpretations.
So it’s good to keep abreast of not only what your peers are doing, but also what has been produced through the decades. Art should never be created in a vacuum; successful art never is.
I’m sure each of us have our favorite internet spots, those that always seem to deliver a wealth of…stuff. One of my favorites is “Mr. Door Tree’s” Golden Age Comic Book Stories blog. Don’t let the title fool you: much like the fanzines of my misspent youth, Mr. Tree’s (a pseudonym for…?) image interests are far ranging and eclectic (as is evidenced by some of the images posted here). Yes, there are plenty of comics-focused entries, but there are just as many devoted to pulps, illustrators of all stripe, film studio photography from the 1930s, pin-ups, and, yes, the fanzines from the 1960s and ’70s. I’m constantly running across a Meade Schaeffer or Harvey Dunn or N.C. Wyeth painting I didn’t know existed on his site, just as I’m reacquainted with long forgotten fanzine illos by some of the biggest names in comics. I never know what to expect—which makes visiting the blog fun—but I’m also able to learn more and more about what was created in years past…which in turn allows me to make better decisions as an art director and in some instances helps to jump-start the thought process for a new project. Knowledge of the past can not only influence, but can be a catalyst for something new and equally arresting. A tip of the hat to Mr. Tree!