• Steven Heller

Drawing Classic Old West Myths

As a little boy growing up in the 1950s and early 60s, it was impossible not to be affected by Westerns. They dominated the popular culture. They were exciting… and also: those great hats. Joe Ciardiello was similarly inspired, so much so that he was moved to create a series of drawings into a book that takes me back and brings me forward. Here, he chaws a bit on the TV and movie west of yore and show some of the other characters who have inspired him found in his new book, “A Fistful of Drawings” (Fantagraphics).

The impetus was a desire to find a personal project that was free from the constraints of commercial assignments – one where I could just draw for myself without having to consider someone else’s needs. Plus, the idea of mixing history and pop culture is very appealing to me, as well as my love of Sergio Leone westerns. Also, I think reaching a certain age causes one to become more reflective and nostalgic about the past. Lastly, I recalled that many years earlier, my maternal grandfather (an Italian immigrant) told me that he saw a performance of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. That planted the seed for this project.

I thought of including Hop-a-long Cassidy; however, my earliest memories of TV cowboys were the Lone Ranger and Roy Rogers. Hoppy was slightly before my time; I was born in 1953.

The project had been kicking around in my head for about 15 years, but most of the drawings were done over a five year period around assignments. There were many false starts, but maybe only two finished drawings were left out. However, a number of planned ideas were abandoned, otherwise I’d be working on it for another five years.

Yes, Alan Cober was a huge influence in my early development. He’s one of the greatest illustrators of the last century. Artists like Cober and Robert Andrew Parker (who I also greatly admire) bridged the divide between fine art and illustration. Also, Jim Spanfeller, who was an instructor of mine at Parsons, was a great influence on me in terms of expressive drawing. And I must include Leonard Baskin, who is one of my all-time favorite artists.

How do you feel about pop culture today? 

Pop culture today is so all-encompassing it’s really hard to define. There are so many more options and outlets, it’s impossible to keep up with. However, I do feel that with all the pay and streaming services, we are in another Golden Age of TV (or whatever TV is nowadays). And most importantly, the Western is still alive in great series like Deadwood and Godless and wonderful filmmakers like the Coen Brothers.

Whether or not there’s a volume 2, I guess, will depend on how this book does… but I’ve got ideas.

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