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Year of the Artist, Day 126: Dylan Meconis, Part 3 – Wire Mothers: Harry Harlow and the Science of Love

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Dylan Meconis, and the comic is Wire Mothers: Harry Harlow and the Science of Love, which was published by G. T. Labs and is cover dated July 2007. Enjoy!

Jim Ottaviani has made a cottage industry out of writing comic books about scientists, and this is one of them. It’s about Harry Harlow, who did rather disturbing experiments on monkeys to prove that infants need their mother’s love and affection. Yes, there was a trend in the middle decades of the 20th century among psychologists that mothers shouldn’t treat their children with affection. It’s SCIENCE!

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Meconis is drawing in the same style as she did on Click, but she seems to use a bit more subtle hatching to add some more texture to the pages. Not too much, but a little, which is why I decided to show this after Click, as Wire Mothers seems to have a bit more to it. She uses rough hatching on the walls of the cages to show the terrible condition they’re in, and obviously she lines the monkeys a bit to show their fur. The spot blacks in Panel 4 make the monkeys look sadder, while the ones in Panel 5 create shadows on the faces of Clara and Harry, which adds some nice nuances to their features. Meconis is getting better at using blacks to shade, rather than the grays she used earlier in her career. It adds a bit of solidity to her work here.

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Harry and Clara go to the 1933 World’s Fair, and Meconis uses cross-hatching very effectively to shade them as they stroll around the grounds. In Panel 3, we once again see how good she is at non-verbal communication – she smudges Harry’s cheek to show his embarrassment at seeing the naked model, while Clara grins broadly at his discomfort. She also shows us the distress of the mother in Panel 4 who’s looking at the bib exhorting mothers not to kiss their babies. She’s clutching her baby while the vendor looks on in mild disapproval. It’s a very nice way to show what Harlow was fighting against when he started his experiments – the mother, obviously, doesn’t want to stop holding her baby, but SCIENCE! tells her she must.

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As I noted above, Meconis had begun using blacks to shade her characters, giving her work a bit more solidity, and we see that here quite well. In Panel 1, she uses blacks and heavy hatching to darken Harry as he walks toward the building, but that’s in the gloaming of a winter evening. When he gets inside the shed and accidentally locks himself in, Meconis goes more to black chunks. Once again, she’s “just” using lines for the lighter folds in his clothing and shadows on his face, but she’s so precise the effect is of shading, and then the hatching bleeds into the black enfolding Harry, placing him even farther into darkness. Meconis was becoming more “realistic” in her figure work throughout this period, but she’s still a cartoonist, so Harry’s wider-than-normal eyes in Panel 3 don’t look bizarre – they simply show his surprise more clearly, which is why it’s not a bad thing to be a bit cartoony in comics art. It helps in situations like this.

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Harlow did experiments with “mothers” made of wire and “mothers” made of cloth and found that the monkeys preferred the softer cloth mothers (I mean, who could have guessed that?!?!?), and here we see a monkey that received “love” from a cloth mother “defending” it from a scary little robot. Meconis doesn’t often use motion lines in her work, but when she does, it’s pretty effective. She does a good job showing understanding dawning on the monkey’s face in Panel 2 when he pulls the arm off of the robot, and an even better job with the defiance on the monkey’s face when he realizes that he can fight back against the evil robot. She uses motion lines to show the monkey pulling the arm off and then throwing it back at the robot, and she uses those radiating waves of anger in Panel 3 to show how quickly the monkey goes from being scared to aggressive. Meconis lettered this book, too, and as we saw that she’s a good letterer, the monkey’s screams in Panel 3 are nicely done, with Meconis using ragged edges to indicate the screeching nature of the monkey’s voice. She draws the monkey as realistically as possible – I’m sure her Internet searches were full of monkey images! – but even so, in Panel 5 she makes his eyes just a bit bigger as he returns to his “mother.” Eyes, after all, as the window to the soul, so making them bigger makes the characters more sympathetic to the reader. Meconis knows what she’s doing!

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This is Peggy, Harry’s second wife, and I wanted to show her because, once again, Meconis uses very thin lines to shade her quite well. She uses thin lines in Peggy’s hair to add strands, and on her face, we get the thin lines as shading, which again is fairly impressive. Meconis has used and would use shades in the past and future, but even when Peggy moves her head and the shadows of her glasses line her cheeks, Meconis uses very short strokes to show the discoloration. Meconis has obviously studied the way people move, because these two panels are pretty neat. Peggy tilts her head downward to light her cigarette, and a strand of her hair escapes her bun, her eyes close, and she moves her lips to hold the cigarette in her mouth. It’s a nice way to show movement in small, subtle ways.

Meconis had already started Family Man on-line around this time, but I’m going to show it tomorrow from dates that are, as far as I know, from later in her career than these comics. So we’ll see what’s what tomorrow! Of course, you can always buzz through the archives if you feel up to it!

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