My wife, Terri, and I were in California last week attending a workshop with Deepak Chopra in Carlsbad. She had some work to do in Los Angeles after the seminar and I was hoping to use a day to visit my old friend and mentor, Howard Brodie, with my son, Alex. My intuition was telling me this probably would be the last get together. As it happened, Howard passed away on the 12th, while we were still in Carlsbad. I was saddened, but also incredibly grateful for the friendship we shared since first meeting at the Hinckley Trial back in 1982. I have referred to Howard in my postings on my work for the USAF Art Program, marveling at his chops under severe combat situations and using his drawings as my benchmark. He will remain one of my benchmarks till my dying day.
We had visited Howard last year and I had written a tribute upon returning that I was intending to post on Drawger with some images of his work that Bruce, his son, was hoping to find time to send to me after he scanned them. I was only too aware of the task and responsibility Bruce had taking care of both his mom and dad who were both infirmed as well as the ranch they all lived on in San Miguel, California, and never thought of pressing the matter.
Back in 2001, when Howard was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Society of Illustrators, I was asked to provide the essay accompanying his induction. It was a true and humbling honor. Applying necessary changes in tense and tweaking some parts that didn't read so tight, I include here the piece written for the event.
" I once wrote that Howard Brodie was the ultimate journalist. I still believe that." Walter Cronkite made no qualifications in a foreward he contributed for the book, DRAWING FIRE: The Combat Artist at War (Portola Press, 1996), a collection of Howard's writings and artwork spanning the decades from WWII to Vietnam. Mr. Cronkite, along with many of the "Greatest Generation", first became aware of the powerful artistry of Brodie's work during WWII via the Army weekly, YANK magazine. To a high school student like myself growing up in the latter part of the 60's kicking around the idea of making ART a career, my first exposure to his drawings, the equivalent of a punch to the creative head, and dare I say, heart, was by way of the CBS Evening News hosted by my favorite anchorman, Uncle Walter. It was an amazing era of notorious trials, the crazy and dangerous days of Sirhan Sirhan, Manson, My Lai, the Chicago Seven, Watergate. And there on the TV screen, regularly accompanying the always reliable reporting from the court, were Howard's on-the-spot drawings. In sharp contrast, however, to the vast majority of fellow courtroom artists, who, with all due respect, were competent but homogenous, Brodie's visual virtuosity made these incredible quantum leaps in substance and impact bringing a truly pulsating life and palpable dimension and insight to the personalities and events. I would be willing to bet plenty that many people turned specifically to the CBS Evening News not only to follow the progress of the trials but for the sheer pleasure of marveling at the energy and expressive vibrancy of these remarkable drawings.
Howard Brodie was born in Oakland, California, in 1915. With pride he listed his educational pedigree at Polytechnic High School in San Francisco, "alma mater to many famous athletes and statesmen", and then at the California School of Fine Arts, the oldest art school in the West. After a short stint at the SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER, he found employment as a full-time sports illustrator with the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE.
It was World War II that brought Howard to national attention. He enlisted in the Army and signed on as a combat artist for YANK Magazine, part of the "special forces" of soldiers (there were more than a hundred working for the military at the time) drawing the war from the enlisted man's point of view and becoming one of YANK's best known artists. With sketchpad, sharp eye, keen memory, and rock solid drawing chops, he began with covering the combat horrors of Guadacanal. Running out of his own supplies Brodie happened upon Prismacolor wax pencils used by the Navy for mapping purposes, and utilizing these simple tools produced beautiful, strong, brilliant, and unforgettable images, a masterful blend of muscular spontaneity and compassionate insight. No less a literary giant than James Jones, himself stationed in the same war zone, writes in the book, WWII, that the drawings Brodie produced from Guadacanal were a hit everywhere. He went on to visually record many of the major campaigns of the war in the Pacific and Europe including the Battle of the Bulge where he was awarded the Bronze Star for "aiding the wounded and coolness under fire".
After the Second World War, Brodie became a courtroom artist and consequently an invaluable eyewitness to many famous trials, some already mentioned. Though he worked for The Associated Press, CBS News, LIFE and COLLIER's he remained close to the military and returned as a combat artist to Korea, French Indochina, and Vietnam. He was philosophically level headed about killing in the heat of combat, but was a passionate advocate against the death penalty. The one drawing the Army censored during World War II happened at the Battle of the Bulge where he was the eyewitness artist at the execution of German soldiers who had infiltrated Allied lines posing as Gis. The drawing he produced, on the spot, of the dead German soldier transcended classifications of “enemy/friend” and instead served as an indictment against premeditated killing of any kind.
Throughout his career Howard produced drawings of specific events that came to represent more than just what was in the image. His drawing of Bobby Seale, strapped and gagged to his chair during the trial of the Chicago Seven, visually captured the tumult and chaos of the 60's in America.
Along with the already noted drawing of the executed German soldier there is the famous 'Moving Up' where three Gis on the march come to represent soldiers throughout time, exhausted yet relentlessly driven and grimly determined, an almost dispassionate will to survive etched in their faces. Brodie's confidence in his ability was obvious and his drawing skills awesome so that even when his line quality was at its wildest, most urgent, and expressionistic, the gestures never lost the sense of structure of his subject. We know the story in the image remains most important.
The story. The great jazz master Lester Young once referred to certain saxophonists as "all belly, no brain". Technical prowess, no matter how impressive, without a sense of love and artistic spirit ultimately adds up to little. Brodie's interest and quenchless curiosity in whomever or whatever was his subject came from a great, expansive love, a spiritual world view, that looked at mankind and embraced its contradictions and ironies and found value in the most horrid of circumstances. He once told me during a lunch break at the Hinckley trial, “I love all mankind- doesn’t mean I like them all, there are a lot I don’t like- but I love everyone.” A profound witness to much of this mad past century Howard recorded in both words and images the best and worst of what he'd seen and experienced. He remained a great, generous spirit till the end despite suffering a debilitating stroke (not surprisingly while drawing troops on maneuvers in the Mojave Desert in 1999) that while severely limiting his ability to draw, never diminished his passion for truth and beauty. His work is in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, New Britain Museum of American Art, and the San Francisco Olympic Club. He was commissioned to draw on movie locations sketching the likes of Gregory Peck in PORK CHOP HILL, working with John Wayne in THE GREEN BERETS and Francis Ford Coppola in APOCALYPSE NOW. His visual knowledge of combat made him a go to person for film directors such as Terrence Malick on THE THIN RED LINE.
He was blessed with a long happy marriage to his artist-wife, Isabel, who survives him, and they were parents, both proud and close to, their son, Bruce, and daughter, Wendy, a well known chef. Few fathers could claim a son as devoted as Bruce and Howard’s final decade in large part was made immeasurably comfortable by Bruce’s tireless attention and love.
He was one of the heavy hitters at the San Francisco Academy of Art, but also held legendary intensive drawing seminars at his ranch in Central California until his stroke.
Brodie was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 2001. With Howard’s passing, we lose one of the last links to a golden period of illustration- where artists truly had serious drawing chops that would shame many of us. But it was his philosophy that transcended even his enormous abilities; “Love is the heart of Life and Art.”