Here’s another thread in my ever-growing collection of connections between comics and information design: the ubiquitous stick figure used for modern infographics actually has his origins in the early 20th century woodcut. Here is the beginning of Eric Lewallen‘s wonderful talk, “A History of the Stick Figure“:
Our stick figure’s past actually begins with statistics, and for that we jump back to around 1920 in post-war Vienna and the work of social scientist Otto Neurath. Now, at this time, much of Europe is still reeling from the aftermath of World War I. There’s a growing interest in constructed universal languages: many people feel that through a common language we could better understand each other and avoid conflict. Neurath believed it was words that led to these misunderstandings in the first place. His interest in hieroglyphics led him to develop a system to help people understand social and economic facts with a minimum of words. To help him develop his system he collaborated with Gerd Arntz, a Vienna artist well known for his black and white woodcuts. Arntz worked in a simple style that could be easily understood by ordinary people, so Neurath molded this style into stick figures that became the building blocks of his pictured statistics.
[Arntz] wanted to strip art of bourgeois preciousness. In order to efface all evidence of his individual hand, he invented a stylized vocabulary of symbolic forms. His predilection for the flat, black and white tonalities of woodblock further served to obliterate the artist’s personal touch. Nevertheless, his incisive visual analyses of German society, corruption and political factionalism can hardly be considered impersonal; even in stark black and white, Arntz’s work reveals the artist’s political predilections and idiosyncratic viewpoint….[He] decided to concentrate on woodcut and linoleum cut because he was attracted to stark contrasts of black and white and because these mediums reminded him of certain family photographs that he had repeatedly perused during the war.”
Here I’ve cut and pasted the best images of Arntz’s work that I could find on the cybertubes (not a whole lot to be found, a Google search is your best bet):
And some of his infographic work (done with Neurath):
If anyone knows more about Arntz’s work or where one get get a decent book on him, please leave the info in the comments!