Graphic Tales Reconsidered

I launched this blog in a time of personal uncertainty, ten years ago last week.

During the prior ten years I had written and drawn a newspaper serial that became an online animation property in the era of "internet content companies." We suffered the Internet collapse of 2000-01, and I shifted to creating corporate design projects to pay off the cartoons. Several years later I stepped away, only to gear back up to lead major exhibition design projects for a university research outfit. One health crisis later, I was looking at a professional life that didn't seem to make much sense for me. I shuttered my shop, an episode described contemporaneously in a post written from the Utah desert on my birthday in 2008. 

I would fumble my way forward in the studio for some time. I knew that I was lost, but onsite drawing had begun to exert its pull, and I sensed that I would end up somewhere, anyway. 

Meanwhile, something else was brewing. I had long been frustrated by the analytical weakness and undeveloped vocabulary that attended the field of illustration (narrowly) and "commercial" drawing (broadly). I had some writing on the topic, but not seriously. Blogging had become "a thing" by then, and I was attracted to the idea of writing for an audience.

I decided to hang up my shingle as a critic. Graphic Tales was born. Of course "hang a shingle" suggests a trade of some sort. My entrepreneurship was cultural, not financial, but the practice has been profitable in its way.

My first post, on July 6, 2007, was negligible. Not until July 30 did I pipe up again, to announce my goals. 

I intend to frame some thoughts about modern graphic culture that I hope will help to clarify terminology, establish commonalities, sharpen distinctions, and otherwise bring some analytical rigor to a subject that suffers from 1) an excess of enthusiasm and 2) longstanding aesthetic dismissal. 

Plainly 1) is the greater danger to the field. If we can think, speak and write clearly about images in a functional context we can dispense with some of the old hierarchies.

[NOTE: still true. Uncritical enthusiasm has been deadly for illustration.]

....Expect some editorial flag-planting [I continued] in the next 60 days or so, as well as intermittent posts about studio projects and idle visual pleasures.

I will have announcements before long about what has come of all this a decade on, and how. Super-capable intern Jee Eun Kim and I––prodded in part by social media & SEO expert Angela Park––decided to invest the time to reformat my site into a friendlier format for readers. We've re-conceived it as a magazine. 

My studio work is still visible here, to be sure, but much if not most of my traffic has come from Graphic Tales (and more recently Illustration History) readers, rather than prospective buyers of illustration. My Instagram feed will get some new love, since that platform better addresses the needs of art directors and visual "shoppers."  

A great deal more to come. For today, it's enough to say that I am pleased to have rebuilt to specifications better suited to the needs of the readers. I look forward to refreshing the material from a decade back. Now that I have finished a longer form writing (news pending), I envision returning to somewhat more regular verbal sketching in this space. That has been the primary utility of the form, for me personally: exploring raw ideas on the way to something more cooked. I am grateful to readers of GT, who along the way have confirmed that folks in this field really do hunger for an analytically sound nomenclature and rigorous thinking about popular pictures. 


Stuart Davis, Eggbeater No. 4, 1928. I have written about the relationship between modernism and the commercial tradition, manifested particularly in advertising and graphic design, but also in illustration and cartooning. Stuart Davis occupies a special position in that discussion. 

D.B. Dowd, Jazz Drummer, 2015. Brush drawing in ink. This guy played drums for the Lonnie Smith Quartet, who played in St. Louis that summer. He's here because I never really stop thinking about drawing. I wonder ceaselessly: what is the relationship between description and abstraction? I love this question. 

Doug DowdComment