Beetle Bailey creator’s son displays comics in Wilton art show
WILTON — Art exhibitions don’t typically include cartoons, but “The Art of Firing Circuits Studios” exhibition which opened last week at Wilton Library, includes samples from two venerable strips that have their roots here — Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois.
Brian Walker, of Wilton, son of the late cartoonist Mort Walker, is a member of the Norwalk-based studio and one of 11 artists exhibiting more than 70 works of art that included paintings, photographs, and multi-media pieces.
Admitting he was the “odd duck” among the artists, Walker described himself as “primarily a writer who draws my ideas.” He is part of the creative team that produces the comic strips, Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois.
Walker primarily works on the “gags” for the strips and produces about 100 a month. He works well into the future and right now is working on summer ideas for Hi and Lois.
“I’m sending them camping,” he said at the opening reception last Friday.
The gags are done as a storyboard, roughly drawn in pencil. For the Beetle Bailey strip, started by his father some 70 years ago, Brian and his brothers write the gags and his brother Neal does a refined pencil drawing and his brother Greg does the finished strip in ink. One exhibit shows the stages of this process for the Hi and Lois strip.
On display there is also a hand-colored Beetle Bailey Sunday page from 1962 by Mort Walker and a Hi and Lois Sunday page from 1965 by Mort Walker and Dik Browne.
For Hi and Lois, Chance Browne, also of Wilton and son of the strip’s co-creator Dik Browne, did the pencil and ink drawings until 2012, after which artist Eric Reaves began to produce them digitally.
However they are produced, both strips continue to be popular, appearing in newspapers around the world, translated into numerous languages, and appearing on electronic formats.
Walker attributes their relevance to their universal themes.
“Beetle Bailey is a parable of a guy in the army, who’d rather take a nap” than work, Walker said. “Hi and Lois is a family strip. Everybody has a family.”
The strips have changed superficially over the years to reflect changes in society such as kids having cell phones and surfing the internet. But they don’t reference popular TV or politics.
Although Walker said he didn’t aspire to become a cartoonist specifically, they have been a part of his life in a number of ways. Growing up in the 60s he said he had a strip in his high school paper and he also did cartoons for his college paper.
When he graduated college in 1974, he helped found the Museum of Cartoon Art, where he worked from 1974 to 1992. He has written, edited or contributed to 45 books on cartoon art, including the definitive history, “The Comics — The Complete Collection,” as well as numerous exhibition catalogs and magazine articles. He is the founder and chairman of the Connecticut chapter of the National Cartoonists Society.
Also participating in the exhibition is Wilton photographer Nancy C. Woodward, who has been focusing her attention on trees since 2012.
Her work has a sharp, graphic quality to it that results from not radically changing the original photo except for color.
Of one photo, “Two Stories,” she said the subject matter was “two of the homeliest trees you’ve ever seen.” She took the photo at the end of the fall, when there were just a few leaves left, “but the bones of the trees were interesting. It was just a question of color.”
Woodward’s preference is to mix blues, yellows and browns, sometimes with a result that looks like gold. For that photo, she made the sky a solid blue-gray.
“I play with the sky a lot,” she said.
Woodward’s darkroom is a digital one — on her computer — where she creates different color palettes and works with the gradients.
“It’s very meditative,” she said.
For some of her images, she prints them on a tissue-type paper called abaca.
“They use it to wrap wedding dresses,” she said.
Woodward puts the paper through her large fine-art printer and then on dry mat paper. The tissue softens the palette, she said, and lends an interesting texture.
Woodward does all her digital darkroom work at the Firing Circuits Studio where she values the company of her fellow artists for a critique or simply having someone to talk to when taking a break.
Also participating in the exhibition are are Cecilia Fradet, Valerie Rovins, Mark Schiff and Marc Zaref of Norwalk; Mari Gyorgyey of Stamford; Cate Leach of Darien; and Westporters Lydia Larson, Emily Hamilton Laux, and Claudia Mengel.
The exhibition runs through Feb. 27. Most of the works are available for purchase with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the library. Wilton Library is at 137 Old Ridgefield Road. The Wilton Bulletin is the media sponsor for the exhibition. For information and directions, visit www.wiltonlibrary.org or call 203-762-6334.