master of overstatement

An illustrator we don’t get much exposure to anymore: John Osborn. He was not just an illuminator of other people’s texts, but mainly, most importantly, a social critic of penetrating qualities given the social context, mainly Cold War era, he was living in. Osborn was first an artist, and secondly a satirist. If ever a society needed satirists after WWII, who are also artists, his did, and like every good satirist, Osborn bit the hand that needed him. He fit the type of the serious man with an unresting sense of the ridiculous. A pleasant and enthusiastic person who could put his pencil on the commonly unpleasant truths about American society.

---THE DECLINE OF THE AMERICAN MALE by the Editors of Look, Random House, 1958 ---Read More:

Osborn had that talent for transmuting a general observation into a specific truth.He studies painting in Rome, then taught at the Hotchkiss School, then back to Paris to study with Despiau and Othon Friesz. During the war, he created a character named Dilbert , a pilot who made every mistake in the sky and who became as famous in naval air circles as Admiral Nimitz. His first book after discharge, War is No Damn Good! , established him as one of the most furious satirists of his time, striking out at human waste and indignity and at all kinds of simpering self-satisfaction.

…..( see link at end): Years ago, I had a conversation with cartoonist Eddie Fitzgerald and he theorized (quite eloquently, I might add) that the content of Osborn’s work was overshadowed by the sublime beauty of his line. I wouldn’t go quite that far, but the point is well taken—Osborn’s line is that of a master draftsman’s; we’d be more accustomed to seeing such elegant work hanging in an art museum than reprinted in instructional booklets for aviators. Osborn, said art historian Russell Lynes, “has never been one to observe too closely the distinction between cartooning and pure painting.”…

---Cartoon mascots are typically friendly and inviting. Not Osborn's Tiger Paws. They were designed to appeal to those looking for the cool, the aggressive, the powerful. No cartoonist of the day could have been a more perfect choice to design such a character than Robert Osborn.---Read More:

…The real thrill, however, is seeing how Osborn applies that line to the art of cartooning. He doesn’t hesitate to twist and distort forms, caricature expressions, anthropomorphize airplanes, and gag up an idea. And he does it all using a naturally funny and inventive drawing style which evolved to even greater heights in the years following his Navy cartoons. Read More:

---"The Matador of Death (Low and Inside)--- Read More:

Ultimately, Osborn was an artist who cared passionately about the private individual: dignity, sense of adventure, capacity for heroism and fear. Osborn saw American society, this pulse of empire, crushing, emasculating, and seducing the individual with false blandishments of wealth and security, an express train of destruction roaring down the tracks of progress to crush those fighting the good fight.


---Steven Heller:Rather than teach sailors and pilots survival techniques under battle conditions, his book War is No Damn Good sought to metaphorically save lives by condemning all armed conflict and especially the nuclear kind. While serving his country in the South Pacific Osborn had seen many horrors and supported the ends. But after viewing photographs from Hiroshima and its atomic aftermath he realized the means were not beyond reproach and as an artist he could not squelch his indignation. Thus emerged the first protest icon of the nuclear age. His drawing of a smirking skull face imposed on a mushroom cloud transformed this atomic marvel into a symbol of death. Although it was a simple graphic statement, it was the most poignant of the precious few anti-nuclear images produced after World War II. Read more:

from his obituary:In 1938, while tutoring students in Austria, he was taken to a Hitler rally, an experience that was burned into his memory. He said, “I was sickened and convinced that before us was a demon,” and he decided to go to war “if that was the only way to rid the world of his evil.” At the outbreak of World War II, he enlisted in the Navy with the hope of becoming an aviator. He was assigned to an information unit under the command of the photographer Edward Steichen and learned the art of speed drawing for training manuals. As a Navy officer, he created a cartoon character named Dilbert, a blunderer who violated

es of military safety. During the war he made 40,000 drawings for Navy training manuals.

In 1946, he achieved his first public recognition for “War Is No Damn Good!”; it was said to be the first antiwar book of the nuclear age. He went on to draw for Harper’s, Fortune, Life and Look, and became a regular contributor to The New Republic. Read More:

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One Response to master of overstatement

  1. Nicolette Osborn says:

    Just wanted to clarify that the works above were completed by my paternal grandfather named Robert Osborn, not John Osborn

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