Cover cartoon for the Saturday Evening Post of 15 September 1956

Thornton Robyn Utz was an American illustrator, cartographer and cartoonist. Today he is best remembered for his graphic work in The Saturday Evening Post during the 1940s and 1950s. Most of his cartoons featured romanticized scenes of suburban life in the United States, often involving transportation. His work is interesting for comics fans and historians too, because his gags are often told in three narrative sequences.

Thomas Robyn Utz was born in 1914 in Memphis, Tennessee as the son of a craftsman of German descent. Utz' father specialized in fixing horse carriages. When automobiles became more prominent he changed his job to fixing car upholsteries. Either way it gave young Utz a lifelong fascination for vehicles. The boy was about 12 years old when he made his first drawings. One of them was a comic strip which he shared with all other children in his neighbourhood. In high school Utz met Euclid Shook, a man who'd become his creative partner for the next following years. Even before graduation in 1933 they were already co-creating illustration work for advertisements and for boards to be exhibited at fairs and carnivals. Utz went to the Academy of Art in Chicago for a year, but couldn't continue because he didn't have enough money. But it didn't matter to him, as he already had a steady income from illustration anyway and the school didn't teach him anything new.

Utz was part of The Chicago Gang, a group of illustrators who worked in a minimalist style. In 1939 he created a biographical text comic about the life of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, of 'Peer Gynt' fame. The comic was written by Anne Healy Marks and appeared in Portuguese translation in the Brazilian magazine O Tico-Tico. It is unknown in which U.S. magazine this particular cartoon appeared previously?

Today Utz is best known for his graphic contributions to The Saturday Evening Post, which took off in 1944. He created many cartoons for them, 45 of which were used on the cover. Utz' style is somewhat comparable to Norman Rockwell. Just like him most of his illustrations depict everyday life in the American suburbs. Like most media from the 1940s and 1950s the imagery is happy, romanticized and carefree. But contrary to most of his colleagues Utz put a strong emphasis on his childhood love for vehicles. His characters are often driving a car, travelling by bus, streetcar or train or waiting for their transport to come along. Another thing that set him apart was the use of sequences on his magazine covers. Most cartoonists who used this comic strip format were usually relugated inside the issue's pages. Utz occasionally created one-panel cartoons too, but on the front page a remarkable amount of cartoons look like a page from a gag comic. They typically tell their joke in three sequential vertical images. Since all gags are communicated visually Utz could be categorized as a pantomime comics artist.

Apart from the Saturday Evening Post Utz also created advertising illustrations for multinationals like Ford, General Electric and Coca-Cola. Later in his career he founded a cartography company, but sold his business to spent the final years of his life as a portrait painter. Two of his most famous clients were U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Princess Grace of Monaco. Thornton Utz passed away in 1999 at the age of 85.

Cover gallery on saturdayeveningpost.com

Series and books by Thornton Robyn Utz in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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