15 Facts About Roy Lichtenstein's Drowning Girl

 Sean Gallup // Getty Images
Sean Gallup // Getty Images

Arguably the most popular of American painter Roy Lichtenstein's works, Drowning Girl is an iconic landmark of pop art. But beneath its bold lines, clever circles, and rushing waves lies the story of a 40-something artist who finally found his calling by looking to kids stuff.

1. LICHTENSTEIN FOUND INSPIRATION IN COMIC BOOKS.

Though comic books had been overlooked by art critics, Lichtenstein, a Manhattan-born painter, relished in their bold lines, vibrant colors, and use of word bubbles to convey speech and thought. While the artist was also a sculptor and lithographer, he'd become best-known for his comic-influenced paintings, which elevated comics' low-brow aesthetic to high art.

2. HE EVEN MIMICKED THEIR PRINTING PROCESS'S LOOK.

At a glance, Drowning Girl might seem like she's printed like old-school comics. But Lichtenstein actually recreated this aesthetic with oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas. Brushing paint over stencils he'd perforated with a dot pattern, he mimicked the "tonal variations with patterns of colored circles that imitated the half-tone screens of Ben Day dots used in newspaper printing."

3. DROWNING GIRL IS A RIFF OFF A DC COMIC PANEL.

Lichtenstein lifted the imagery of the drowning girl and her thought bubble from the splash page of the 1962 comic Secret Hearts #83. There, a story called "Run for Love!" featured a full-page illustration with a drowning dark-haired girl in the foreground. In the background lies a small, capsized boat, and a befuddled blonde man holding on to it. For his 1963 homage, Lichtenstein cropped the image, bumped up the color, thickened the line work, and changed the thought bubble wording from "I don't care if I have a cramp! -- I'd rather sink -- than call Mal for help!" to "I don't care! I'd rather sink -- than call Brad for help!"

4. THE MAN'S NAME CHANGE WAS BECAUSE HIS DROWNING GIRL DESERVED BETTER.

"A very minor idea," Lichtenstein has said of the revision of Mal for Brad, "But it has to do with oversimplification and cliché." Or to simplify, he felt that his cartoon representation of frustrated American Womanhood demanded a boyfriend with "a heroic name." Mal just wouldn't cut it.

5. LICHTENSTEIN WAS A GROUNDBREAKER.

American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein stands in front of art
Wesley / Stringer // Getty Images

His peers Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns had already been bringing popular imagery into their work. But by dabbling in comic motifs as early as 1958, Lichtenstein was the first pop artist to dive into cartoons and comics, beating even Andy Warhol whose brush with comic-based pieces came in 1960.

6. BEFORE DROWNING GIRL, HE PAINTED MICKEY MOUSE AND POPEYE.

In her book Roy Lichtenstein, art historian Carolyn Lanchner pinpoints the summer of 1961 as when the painter moved away from Abstract Expressionism, which was popular at the time, and toward cartoon imagery, which was overlooked if not despised. The acclaimed artist recounted this stage in his evolution by saying, "The early (paintings) were of animated cartoons, Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse, and Popeye, but then I shifted into the style of cartoon books with a more serious content such as 'Armed Forces of War,' and 'Teen Romance.'" He continued, "I was very excited about and interested in the highly emotional content yet detached impersonal handling of love, hate, war, etc., in these cartoon images."

7. LICHTENSTEIN USED AN OPAQUE PROJECTOR TO COPY THE DETAILS OF THE COMICS.

This machine allows opaque objects—like a pencil sketch—to be projected onto a screen, or canvas. He once described the process thusly, "From a cartoon, photograph or whatever, I draw a small picture—the size that will fit into my opaque projector ... I don't draw a picture in order to reproduce it—I do it in order to recompose it ... I project the drawing onto the canvas and pencil it in and then I play around with the drawing until it satisfies me." This process allowed Lichtenstein to work out composition and minor details on large canvases, like Drowning Girl which measures in at 67 5⁄8 inches by  66 3⁄4 inches.

8. THESE LICHTENSTEIN PIECES ARE REGARDED AS PARODIES.

He also crafted works inspired by Cézanne, Mondrian, and Picasso, which were likewise dubbed "parodies" by art critics. But Lichtenstein rejected this description—he didn’t want viewers to think he was mocking the works of others. Instead, he insisted, "The things that I have apparently parodied I actually admire."

9. DROWNING GIRL HAS HIGHBROW INSPIRATIONS AS WELL.

Hokusai's famous print, The Great Wave off Kanazawa, inspired Lichtenstein
Katsushika Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The pastiche-loving pop artist confessed that his use of blacks and blues to create the waves and the curls of the girl's hair was influenced by Japanese printmaker Hokusai's world-famous wood-block print The Great Wave off Kanagawa. "In the Drowning Girl the water is not only Art Nouveau," Lichtenstein explained, "But it can also be seen as Hokusai. I don't do it just because it is another reference. Cartooning itself sometimes resembles other periods in art—perhaps unknowingly ... They do things like the little Hokusai waves in the Drowning Girl. But the original wasn't very clear in this regard—why should it be? I saw it and then pushed it a little further until it was a reference that most people will get ... it is a way of crystallizing the style by exaggeration."

10. BRAD WAS A RECURRING CHARACTER.

While that cad Brad doesn't make into the frame of Drowning Girl, the mentioned boyfriend can be found in Lichtenstein's 1962 painting Masterpiece. There, a blonde woman says through speech bubble, "Why, Brad darling, this painting is a masterpiece! My, soon you'll have all of New York clamoring for your work!" But between the scenes something bitter must have befallen this mysterious beau. In 1963's I Know How You Must Feel, Brad ...”, he's out of frame, leaving a brooding blonde girl thinking, "I know how you must feel, Brad…"

11. CROPPING AND TWEAKING COMIC PANELS MAKES THEM UNIQUELY LICHTENSTEIN'S.

The provocative painter became known for focusing in on expressions of comic panels, and revamping their thought bubbles to play to a new context. In a recent re-assessment of Drowning Girl, Expressionist artist Vian Shamounki Borchert felt Lichtenstein's cropping suggests a woman drowning in her own tears over that dreadful Brad. Meanwhile, art critic Kelly Rand saw the hurt heroine as being "in a suspended state of distress," pointing out that the lack of any context leads the viewer to ask what’s happening. Had the boat and the heroine's lamentable beau been left in the frame, the meaning of the image would have shifted to a far more literal sense of peril.

12. APPROPRIATION FROM COMICS MADE DROWNING GIRL.

Drowning Girl had a coveted spot in some of Lichtenstein's early '60s art shows, and over the years has become one of his most adored creations. But even as his comic-inspired pieces made him famous in his 40s, a debate raged over whether this comic appropriation or parody was art at all. In 1963, New York Times critic Brian O'Doherty infamously declared Lichtenstein "one of the worst artists in America," bristling that the painter won praise as he "briskly went about making a sow's ear out of a sow's ear." Then in 1964, Life magazine covered the brewing art scene kerfuffle with the hurtful headline “Is He the Worst Artist in the U.S.?

13. THE TIDE TURNED FOR DROWNING GIRL.

Critics may have initially huffed, but over the decades, no one could deny that Lichtenstein's comic-influenced works had a lasting allure. Art collectors paid out enormous amounts to claim them as their own. Drowning Girl was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in 1971, and has been a proud part of their permanent collection ever since. Lichtenstein won redemption in 1986, when Life re-evaluated his works, declaring him "always the most thoughtful of the pop artists ... [who] had the most to say. Those cartoon blowups may have disturbed the critics, but collectors, tired of the solemnity of abstract expressionism, were ready for some comic relief. Why couldn't the funny pages be fine art?'' Ultimately, this daring artist's re-interpretation challenged art critics and broader audiences to examine their own biases. As his work grew in popularity, so did the art community's respect for comics and cartoons. Lichtenstein—who lived until 1997 and the ripe age of 73—had the chance to see the sea change he'd begun in the world's understanding of art.

14. WOMEN IN PERIL BECAME A THEME FOR THE PAINTER.

 A guest views 'Crying Girl' by artist Roy Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein's Crying Girl
Ben Pruchnie // Getty Images

Now heralded as a "masterpiece of melodrama," Drowning Girl is by far the most famous of these. Other titles from this unofficial series include Crying Girl (1963), Crying Girl (1964), Hopeless, In the Car, and Oh, Jeff...I Love You, Too...But.... Each painting hints at a story, which the viewer is urged to imagine. It's believed this invitation to collaboration is a major part of what has made Lichtenstein's comic art, and particularly Drowning Girl, remain a popular attraction to museum visitors, even decades later.

15. LICHTENSTEIN BECAME CELEBRATED AS NOT JUST A PAINTER, BUT A STORYTELLER.

In 2012, Washington's National Gallery of Art helped put together a rousing Lichtenstein retrospective which did not shy away from his comic-inspired art, but rather relished in it. More specifically, a conversation emerged about the carefully selected images Lichtenstein plucked from comics. National Gallery curator Harry Cooper told NPR the artist "really looked hard for these comics that had a kind of crux of the story in them," then applied his unique perspective to them to open them up to an audience who might never touch a comic book, but could nonetheless be enchanted with their stories. With that, he helped elevate pop art to a place where it could not be ignored or written off as a "just a gimmick, just a joke." Though Lichtenstein experimented in many forms of art and style over his long career, it was his embracing of comics in works like Drowning Girl that secured his legacy as a painter, a pop art pioneer, and a visual storyteller in his own right.

This Outdoor Lantern Will Keep Mosquitoes Away—No Bug Spray Necessary

Thermacell, Amazon
Thermacell, Amazon

With summer comes outdoor activities, and with those activities come mosquito bites. If you're one of the unlucky people who seem to attract the insects, you may be tempted to lock yourself inside for the rest of the season. But you don't have to choose between comfort and having a cocktail on the porch, because this lamp from Thermacell ($25) keeps outdoor spaces mosquito-free without the mess of bug spray.

The device looks like an ordinary lantern you would display on a patio, but it works like bug repellent. When it's turned on, a fuel cartridge in the center provides the heat needed to activate a repellent mat on top of the lamp. Once activated, the repellent in the mat creates a 15-by-15-foot bubble of protection that repels any mosquitos nearby, making it a great option for camping trips, days by the pool, and backyard barbecues.

Mosquito repellent lantern.

Unlike some other mosquito repellents, this lantern is clean, safe, and scent-free. It also provides light like a real lamp, so you can keep pests away without ruining your backyard's ambience.

The Thermacell mosquito repellent lantern is now available on Amazon. If you've already suffered your first mosquito bites of the summer, here's some insight into why that itch can be so excruciating.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

18 Cool Facts About Beavis and Butt-head

MTV
MTV

On March 8, 1993, Beavis and Butt-head made its debut on MTV—to the delight of young viewers, and the annoyance of their parents. While some people considered it the end of the civilized world, TIME Magazine critic Kurt Andersen lauded its irreverence, writing that it “may be the bravest show ever run on national television.”

From its original 200-episode run to the books (yes, plural), movie, and soundtrack it inspired—plus its brief return in 2011—Beavis and Butt-head has not lost any of its original charm. With the recent announcement that the series is coming back for two new seasons on Comedy Central, here are some things you might not have known about Mike Judge's animated headbangers.

1. Beavis and Butt-head got their start on Liquid Television.

Mike Judge went from teaching himself animation and playing bass for Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets to having one of his cartoons played on MTV’s animation showcase program Liquid Television in one year’s time. Cartoon short Milton, the origin of the character from his live-action cult classic Office Space, appeared in a 1991 episode. In 1992, Beavis and Butt-head made their loud, violent first impression in his short Frog Baseball. MTV then paid Judge for the rights to the two characters and ordered 65 four-minute cartoons.

2. MTV pulled Beavis and Butt-head from the air shortly after it premiered.

Shortly after greenlighting Beavis and Butt-head, MTV had to halt production. Not because of any controversy, but because Judge and his animation staff couldn’t keep up with the demand for new material, forcing MTV to stop airing the show entirely two weeks after it premiered. It made its return more than six weeks later on May 17th with “Scientific Stuff” and “Good Credit.”

3. Mike Judge improvised most of the dialogue during the music videos.


Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Judge voiced virtually all of the characters on the show and was one of just a handful of people who made up the writing staff. He opted to add to his workload by winging it when it came to Beavis and Butt-head's taste-making opinions on music. Time was saved on the animation for the music video commentaries by having an editor take footage from earlier episodes and sync it up with new mouth positions.

4. Beavis and Butt-head were named after kids that lived in Mike Judge's neighborhood.

Bobby Beavis was “kind of an athletic kid” that lived three blocks from Judge while he was in college, and not similar to the character with the Metallica shirt christened with his surname. There was also a 12-year-old who called himself “Iron Butt” (because he claimed to never get injured from a kick to the posterior) who had a friend called “Butt-head.”

5. All references to fire were permanently removed from Beavis and Butt-head after the show was blamed for a child's death.

In October 1993, a 5-year-old boy set fire to his Ohio home, which killed his 2-year-old sister. Their mother claimed Beavis’s fire-making and blatant spoken love of arson were responsible. MTV’s quick response was to only air the show after 10:30 p.m. and to wipe all fire references from all of the previous episodes—only fans who taped the offending episodes on their VCRs have proof that the word was ever uttered. “Fire” was banned for the rest of the series’ original run, but it was allowed again in 2011.

6. A senator referred to Beavis and Butt-head as "Buffcoat and Beaver."

Soon after the fatal fire accident, Senator Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, a Democrat from South Carolina, spoke at a Senate hearing as chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Hollings attempted to argue that TV broadcasters needed to be forced to clamp down on their offensive programming and used the most controversial show at the time as a specific example ... or at least he tried to.

7. Prison officials in Oklahoma banned Beavis and Butt-head.

There were also documented reports of South Dakota schools outlawing Beavis and Butt-head-related clothing.

8. Marlon Brando was a Beavis and Butt-head fan.

According to Mike Judge, Johnny Depp told him that Depp and Marlon Brando would imitate Beavis and Butt-head, with Depp as Beavis and Brando as Butt-head. This occurred when the two worked together during 1994’s Don Juan DeMarco.

9. Matt Groening was a fan of Beavis and Butt-head, too.

The creator of The Simpsons claimed that he liked the show because it took “the heat off Bart Simpson being responsible for the downfall of western civilization.”

10. David Letterman was the voice of the Mötley Crüe roadie who might be Butt-head's father in Beavis and Butt-head Do America.

David Letterman was credited as Earl Hofert, which is actually the name of Letterman's uncle. Letterman was a fan of the show and had the Highland teens on The Late Show in 1996 to promote their movie.

11. Beavis almost said something too clever once.

In 1993, Judge told The New York Times that one of the big challenges of the show was to keep the two in character and, therefore, dumb. An original line had Beavis telling his classmates that they had “Beavis envy” because he received a school pass. It was cut because it almost made the 14-year-old with the underbite too smart. In 2011, Judge admitted to “cheating” and probably making them smarter than they are during the music video commentaries.

12. Daria was created with Janeane Garofalo and Darlene Connor in mind.

The character of Daria was created after then-MTV president Judy McGrath expressed concern about the show’s lack of smart or female characters. Garofalo and Sara Gilbert’s Roseanne character were the models for Daria Morgendorffer. Morgendorffer was the maiden name of the show writer David Felton's mother, and was deemed perfect for the new character.

13. It's Butt-head's house that you're usually seeing.


MTV

While it isn’t officially canon, Judge responded to a reporter’s assumption that the two were always at Butt-head’s abode by saying he “always imagined” that to be the case.

14. Beavis and Butt-head were featured on the cover of Rolling Stone—three times.

Their first appearance in 1993 ended up being the best-selling issue of the magazine that year.

15. Beavis and Butt-head starred in their own live-action Thanksgiving special with Kurt Loder.

The night before their (first) series finale, “Beavis and Butt-head Are Dead," MTV put Beavis and Butt-head in charge of broadcasting the Thanksgiving Day Parade, then later put them at a dinner table with the veteran MTV News broadcaster. The one-hour special only aired on television once.

16. Beavis and Butt-head ended due to creative burnout.

Toward the end of the show's original run, Judge was running on empty. "I actually wanted to stop a little sooner," Judge told the Los Angeles Times in 1997. "We've done over 200 episodes [since 1993]. After the second season, I thought, 'How are we gonna do this anymore?' I was completely burnt out. I got a second wind in season three, and again in season five. But I don't know, you do it as fast as you can, get it on the air as fast as you can, and there's never a break. I felt, like, why not retire before it gets too stale or whatever?"

17. Kanye West wanted to be on Beavis and Butt-head.

In contrast to the more innocent 1990s, Judge and his team had to get authorization from all of the parties involved in a music video to have it appear on Beavis and Butt-head when it returned in 2011. Kanye West wanted to have one of his videos featured on the show, but another credited songwriter on the undisclosed track declined immortality.

18. Beavis and Butt-head is coming back for today's generation.

In July 2020, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Beavis and Butt-head is coming back for two all-new seasons, this time to Comedy Central. Mike Judge will oversee the series yet again, but this time it will be geared toward a "whole new Gen Z world."

"We are thrilled to be working with Mike Judge and the great team at 3 Arts again as we double down on adult animation at Comedy Central," Chris McCarthy, president of ViacomCBS' entertainment and youth group, said. "Beavis and Butt-Head were a defining voice of a generation, and we can’t wait to watch as they navigate the treacherous waters of a world light-years from their own."

This story has been updated for 2020.