Sundays In The Funnies With Bud

Regular and irregular readers of my Ink-Slingers blog will know that Bud Blake is one of my favorite cartoonists.  To recap: I grew up reading Tiger in the Home News newspaper in central New Jersey.  The strip resonated with me, more for the gags than the drawing when I was a young ‘un.  But as I’ve studied the strip over the past few decades, I’ve come to see Bud as a visual magician, making the difficult look easy and effortless.  I was thrilled to be able to meet with Bud twice at his home in Maine, eventually writing up his final interview, which appeared in issue #13 of Hogan’s Alley magazine.

I had been warned that Bud was a curmudgeonly type, but the person I found was both warm and generous.  He insisted on taking me and my young son out to dinner, further insisting that we stay overnight in his guestroom.  I had a wonderful time chatting with Bud and looking through many terrific originals. 

While I love all of Bud’s work on Tiger, it is his Sunday pages that most strike a chord with me.  Even when working with a quarter page format, the canvas was large enough for Bud to wield his magic in both his compositions and line work.  Take these panels from a March 1, 1984 Sunday page, for instance:

The first two panels have nearly identical compositions.  They are both quite static, with a low horizon line set right around the handle of the wagon.  This is something Dick Moores would do in Gasoline Alley.  It places the viewer lower in the scene, allowing for a greater expansiveness of the upper space.  These are quiet scenes, as we see Punkinhead go into the store, stepping out with a paper bag.

In panels three and four, we see all hell break loose, as Punkinhead leaves the scene at full gallop, with that wonderful view of the bottom of the wagon, as the bag is nearly airborne.  Bud does a wonderfully subtle thing in panel three.  He allows the diagonal of the curb to help set the space, leading the viewer’s eye from the foreground to the middle-ground.  In panel four, Bud switches the scene, having Punkinhead running towards us on a diagonal.  Diagonals help to create the illusion of the 3D space and Bud uses that compositional device brilliantly. 

In panel five, Bud switches back to a viewpoint similar to the one we saw in panel three.  There are a few noticeable differences.  He has raised the horizon line, closer to the center of the image, which allows us a view of this wonderful sidewalk.  Bud has also incorporated elements that Punkinhead runs through.  The fallen garbage can, the fencepost, telephone pole and corner of the building all add great character to this panel.  Panel six gives us the only profile view of Punkinhead, which allows for the angle of that wonderful wagon to stand out.  And let’s take a moment to bask in the glory of a Bud Blake tree.  Bud drew wonderful trees.  Different than the masterful trees found in Walt Kelly’s Pogo, but Bud’s trees have a graphic animated feel of their own.

The only text in the strip is found in the last panel, and it is text that helps deliver the gag.  Once again, Bud uses clutter beautifully, showing the obstacle course of stuff that Punkinhead has to navigate through.  How the bag of eggs has managed to remain in the wagon is one of life’s great unsolved mysteries.

One final thing to note about the Sunday page above is how beautifully Bud spots his blacks.  Besides his wonderful compositions, Bud uses dark black shapes in every panel to help draw the viewers’ eyes from one panel to the next.

We played a lot of ping-pong in a neighbor’s garage growing up, so the next Tiger Sunday page, from April 16, 1995, really sings to me.  The whole top tier, comprised of four panels, are a masterclass in composition:

A fairly straight-on shot, with Tiger roughly in the middle of the picture plane, announcing his serve.

Panel two is where the action begins.  Tiger steps right to the corner of the ping-pong table, ready to back-hand a return.  Bud’s approach with body language is wonderful here, as is the use of the angle of the ping-pong table, allowing for more depth than in the first panel.  Also notice Stripe throughout.  His open mouth gives a sense of chasing the ping-pong ball. 

No table in this view.  Just a wonderful shot of an airborne Tiger as he returns another ball.  Having Stripe at the bottom and Tiger’s paddle going off the top above really gives height to the composition.

Bud switches to an overhead view in this panel, as Tiger scores a point.  Pushing the composition into the upper right corner opens up the space of the entire panel.

Bud moves the horizon line down a bit in this panel, slightly below the ping-pong table.  This side view allows us the follow the trail of the ball as Tiger wins the game from Punkinhead.  Once again, the ball eludes Stripe.

We’re at pretty much the same camera angle, though Bud has widened the view, creating one scene with the two panels.  You can see the slight warping of the ping-pong table, as well as the basement stairs, a pipe, etc.  With Punkinhead onto Hugo’s shoulders, it gives the sense of a lower basement ceiling.  The drawing is quite lovely.  Bud used that contour line that carries a lot of varied weight.  And as mentioned with the top example, his spotting of blacks is wonderful.

When you see the entire Sunday page, there is an animated cartoon feel about the action and movement, especially in the upper tier.

Finally, we have a bit of wonderfulness from August 5, 1990.  Bud’s later work, From the mid-1980s though the end of the strip in 2004, is my favorite period of Bud’s drawing.  I had a brief conversation online with a friend and fellow comic art collector, who also loves Bud Blake’s work.  He expressed a fondness for Bud’s earlier work, because of how much cleaner the line was.  I’m exactly the opposite.  I love the physicality of the later work, which is almost sculptural in nature.  Imagine if Alberto Giacometti and Jacques Lipschitz collaborated on a comic strip.  You might have something with the physicality of Bud’s later work on Tiger.  But let’s take a breakdown and look at this Sunday page:

The strip starts off innocently enough, with Punkinhead informing his brother that Hugo pushed him.  As in previous examples, you’ll note a compositional similarity between the panels.  Bud does zoom in a bit in the second panel, as the ever-curious Stripe look back at Punkinhead. 

Now the action begins!  Bud conveys a wonderful sense of figural attitude as Tiger exits stage left, only to enter from stage left in the fourth panel.  His whole attitude is confrontational, while Hugo nonchalantly replies.

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I love, love, love the scenes when Bud draws the characters fighting.  There is so much energy in the drawing, in terms of lines, shapes and contrasts.  All the action in the panel runs to the right, as Hugo’s ice cream cone flies from his hand.  That little bit of foliage helps to set the space, along with the slight edge of Tiger’s left shoe just slipping under the border line.  It’s hard to notice, but Hugo’s body is contorted at an odd angle, foot up in the air, as he’s about to go over. 

While not quite the same, there is a resemblance in action to E.C. Segar’s great fight sequence between Popeye and Bluto, which ran for a couple of weeks in Thimble Theatre in 1932.  Bud’s work is more angular in how he builds the shapes, while Segar went for a pure organic energy in the drawing.  This sequence in Thimble Theatre will bethe subject of its own blog post in the not-too-distant future.

The boys are all-in, as Hugo explains that Punkinhead asked for it.  The tangle of bodies, with appendages everywhere, is beautiful to behold.  And while Hugo’s explanation seems tinged with menace, as we find out in the final panel, Punkinhead is the real culprit.

Julian, Bud’s alter ego, walks along with book in hand, while Punkinhead innocently asks if he can push him.  We have more of the glorious fight scene at the far left, along with another one of Bud’s equally-glorious trees.  His use of black and white shapes in this panel allows Bud to pack so much information into a relatively small space.

And now the Fully Monty!  So many wonderful little compositions, full of action and contrast.  Bud knew how to make the comic strip his stage, using his characters as ink and paper actors.    

Until next time.

Rob Stolzer has been collecting original comic strip and cartoon artwork for over 40 years. He has written numerous articles for Hogan's Alley, the CFA-APA and other journals. Stolzer taught art at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point for 33 years, where he taught Art Seminar, Drawing, Figure Drawing, Graphic Narration, Illustration, and Painting courses.


  • Ger Apeldoorn

    The wordless action panels followed by a one-liner in the last panel that expolains it all, was one of the most frequently used tricks of Percy Crosby in Skippy. Nice to see a callback to that.

  • Mark N

    Thanks Rob for the masterful tour. I too have always loved Blake’s work ever since I was a little boy. There’s really nobody like him.

  • Tony Patti

    When I subscribed to comicskingdom I rediscovered Tiger and remembered how much I liked the art, and they have the later run of Tiger alongside “vintage” Tiger, so every day and can see the differences between the eras. You make a good case for his later, sketchier style, but it seems to be just a looser version of all the same techniques that always made him great.
    But lately I’ve become more and more amazed by his single greatest talent: his compositions. You describe them well, but the magic behind the mechanics is what I marvel at every time. Did Blake love japanese art? Did he ever mention where he got that stunning sense of lines contrasting with negative space? Or was it all just too deeply embedded in his style that he took it for granted?

    • Rob Stolzer

      Tony, Bud never mentioned Japanese artwork to me and had no examples hanging up in his house. I think his compositions came from working for years as an art director, plus his innate sense of working with contrasting shapes and forms. He was pretty brilliant at it.

    • shadejford

      I had a Charlton Tiger comic book and it was just as entertaining as the comic strip. Tiger’s characters shares some similarities with Gene Byrnes’ Reg’Lar Fellers and Marge’s Little Lulu gang. In Blake’s style, I’ve noticed some graphic similarities with the work of Paul Coker, Jr. It would’ve been nice to see a Rankin-Bass tv adaptation of Tiger with the character and production designs done by both Blake & Coker.

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