Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Youth Reclamation Project

Last summer, my parents finally sold their house, the house I spent my entire childhood in, which they had owned for nearly 40 years. In the process of moving, my dad uncovered a forgotten box of old knick knacks from my childhood buried in some dark, musty corner of the basement. Not bothering to even sort through it, he promptly shipped the entire box to me.

Though I was excited at first, it mostly contained a random mix of unwanted mementos, worthless trinkets and other items that I promptly discarded (I mean, it's interesting to see my old Cub Scouts shirt again, but do I need to save it?)

But at the bottom of the box, I discovered nine issues of Cricket - The Magazine for Children, which is apparently still going strong. My memory of this magazine is fuzzy, but I do remember reading them with my dad. All of these issues were from 1981, which means I was only seven years old, but what astonished me, looking back at them as an adult, was the quality of the illustration work.

I don't have any interest in re-reading all of the old articles and stories (though maybe when my son is older, I might), but I thought it would be fun to share some of the best illustrations from each issue.

Unlike most of the issues, in this one, the front and back cover combine with spot drawings in the book to tell a quasi-narrative. The charming drawings were done in pen and ink and colored with crayon by Lydia Dabcovich.

Most of the issues also featured either spot illustrations or short comic strips by the inimitable Quentin Blake. I remember loving Blake's loose, sketched ink drawings even as a kid, though what I remember from back then was his illustration work for a variety of Roald Dahl's children's' books.

Arnold Lobel, of Frog and Toad fame, did a series of spot illustrations for Jean Van Leeuwen's story, "Snowsuits." He's still little, but my son already loves Frog and Toad.

Reminiscent of T. Ott's work, Leonard Everett Fisher contributed this excellent scratchboard drawing to accompany William Graves' story, "The Greatest Snowball Fight in History." According to his Wikipedia entry, Fisher has illustrated 260 children books and even designed eight postage stamps! Also, notice the two insects with short captions in the upper right corner - this is a trademark of Cricket magazine. These bugs appear throughout the magazines, sharing quick facts or vocabulary help.

Marcus Hamilton's stunning graphite pencil drawings accompanied "A Gathering of Days" by Joan W. Blos. Hamilton is best known to comics fans for his work on Hank Ketcham's Dennis the Menace newspaper strip in the '90s and early '00s.

This one-page scene by British artist, Glenys Ambrus, epitomizes the kind of picture-based activities that each issue had. I loved these as a kid, too.

Dick Gackenbach is an excellent illustrator I've only come to know recently through his children's books, like the Hattie Rabbit series and Harry and the Terrible Whatzit. I picked up a copy of both books at a neighborhood book fair and my son loves them. Here, he provides some spot nice illustrations for Marjorie Allen's "One, Two, Three Ah-choo!" about a boy and his pet snail.

Finally, George Armstrong (not to be confused with Gen. George Armstrong Custer of "Custer's Last Stand") did this EC-inspired alien drawing for the story, "The New Hampshire Kidnapping." It may not be too clear in the scan, but Armstrong offsets the central figure (with his head in his hands) by using a faded wash technique, dropping the black outlines, while the aliens appear to be drawn in traditional ink. I couldn't find much information about Armstrong online.

There's a whole bunch of other good stuff, too, but this gives you an idea of the caliber of artists Cricket attracted.

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