Thursday, July 9, 2009

George Oleson, illustrator

George Olesen and his (Artistic) Music
(That title is an in-joke for other fans of 1920s American popular music.)

While indulging in my never-ending garage cleaning I found these tear-sheets from Ziff Davis' 1952 comic book The Hawk. These two stories showcase the work of George Olesen, whose name isn't well-known because he spent a great part of his career working anonymously. He penciled The Phantom Sunday pages (from 1961) and dailies (from 1978) for Sy Barry. Barry inked Olesen's pencils and signed the strips.

Olesen (born 1924) studied illustration at Pratt Institute after service in WWII. According to, in the year I was born (1949) he started in comic books, drawing Little Beaver. In the mid-50s he drew Ray Gotto's Ozark Ike Sundays for a while. He also did stories for Ziff-Davis' comic book line, which brings us back to these scans.

Oleson was a good, solid illustrator. He had a penchant for expressions and character faces, as we see in these Hawk stories. The Hawk himself was one of those countless roving cowpokes who tamed towns and tackled varmints. He happened to be a lawman, but he must have freelanced because he was never tied to a particular town like other badge-bearing Westerners. If The Hawk hadn't always worn the same clothes it might have been hard to recognize him. He boasted a wide range of artists with very different (and often very good) styles, including Carmine Infantino, Joe Kubert, and of course Olesen.

The first story is a six-pager..."Leverett's Last Stand!"

Back in the sadly-long-departed days when I hung out at Jim Vadeboncoeur's place and looked at comics, Jim never quite understood my desire to read everything as well as look at the pictures. That's what comes from liking to write as well as draw, I suppose. If you don't read this strip you'll miss a truly remarkable piece of work. The writer manages to work almost every B-movie/comic book western cliche into a single six-page story! There are: the Indian raid, the stagecoach attack, the sexy female bandit, the attempted seduction (and murder) of the hero, the jealous partner killing the female bandit when he thinks she really plans to betray him, the horseback pursuit, a nice fistfight and the return of the killer to Justice. Oh, hey, did I mention the cavalry rescue?

I fantasize that the writer was a newcomer, who quit comics after this, his first story. He realized he'd used up all his material on his first job.

The second story, "The Hawk in...a Big Hole in the Page," (sorry) runs eight pages. It tips off one of the big story "surprises" in the splash panel.

The highlight of this story is that wonderful toothy villain. Though he looks a bit bizarre, he comes to life with a full range of expressions, almost every one of which features his teeth. I'm not the only one who liked this guy. In the 1960s Dick Giordano brought him out of retirement to be the bad guy in an issue of Dell's Nukla.

One interesting thing about Olesen's artwork here is the "softness" of his horses. Not that they're badly drawn; they aren't. However their anatomy is very general, as if Olesen wasn't quite sure how horses fit together but got the big shapes right. Sort of like the guys who draw approximate cars because they really don't quite know all the little details that go into making a "real" looking car. I don't mean this as a put-down of Olesen. Obviously he figured horses out fine later. I mention it because it's interesting to see an already-skilled artist with room to grow.

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