Wednesday, September 30, 2009

English Comic Strips

Oh, não! It's the Bionic Englishwoman!
A friend with a lifetime's collection of odd stuff enjoys feeding me things he can't imagine anyone wanting. Last week it was MULHER BIÔNICA, which is to say, The Bionic Woman in Portugese. This roughly 8"x10" 36 page full-color booklet was published in Brazil by Ebal (Editoria Brasil-America) and bears a 1979 copyright.

This interesting comic reprints two stories from Look-In, an English comic paper from the 1970s which specialized in TV show tie-in strips. A little Googling revealed that Look-In began running Bionic Woman in 1976. The Ebal booklet's artwork is by two well-known British illustrators with credits on both sides of the Atlantic. The first, "The Bionic Woman vs. the Black Dragons," was drawn by John Bolton:

Bolton's work, showing influences from Frank Bellamy, is very nice, with many interesting color effects. While there's a lot of movement in his panels, Bolton often pulls the camera back during action scenes, robbing them of immediacy.

The second story, "The Martians," is drawn by the prolific John M. Burns. His comic-book approach is more dynamic than Bolton's. Action scenes jump from the page. Burns does insert giant character heads into too many pages, though this being a TV tie-in I suppose that's forgivable.

My biggest gripe with Burns (other than his customary sloughing off of backgrounds) is that his bizarre color choices render some panels nearly unreadable. I've seen other work by Burns with equally chaotic color schemes, so I presume that color just isn't his bag.

In my opinion most English comic-paper stories suffer from shallow, diagrammatic scripts. The comic paper format is largely to blame. Most papers ran major full-color features on the front and back pages of each weekly issue. This limited story development within a given episode. Frequently a false climax was built into the bottom row of the first page to carry readers to the continuation on the back cover. Another climax concluded that page, to encourage the kids to buy the next issue.

These factors, combined with space taken up by big heads and "poster" scenes, encouraged rudimentary stories. The greater page-counts given features in comics magazines like 2000 AD were a big step forward.

Another thing that strikes me about comic-paper features is their slapdash panel arrangements. We haven't seen layouts like this in the USA since the Golden Age: overlaps, tilted panels, odd shapes with starburst and lighting-bolt borders. No doubt this was intended to make the paper as exciting as possible on the newsstand. Printed one after the other in a book like this, the loud layouts quickly tire the brain.


Anonymous said...

This makes me nostalgic for the fascile brush inking of 70's European comics, of which Burns was a fine practitioner. Gimenez, Charlier, Fenzo were others.

I'm with you on the layouts, though. When do diagonal panel borders ever really enhance, except with a forced exuberance that would better be applied to the imagery itself? Creates eye traps, distraction, destroys any sense of spatial depth. Glad it went out of style.

As a related thought, I'll be happy when the overused shakycam style fades from film and TV. Enough already.

Paul Chadwick

Anonymous said...

I meant Mézières, not Charlier, who of course was writer of Lt. Blueberry.

Oops, they all sound the same to my befogged mind.


Smurfswacker said...

Hi, Paul!

It's no surprise to anyone that I love the of the side effects of the switch to 11x17" originals (which wasn't necessarily a bad idea) was the movement from brush inking to pens and markers. Inking with a brush seems to require more "elbow room."

However the Filipino cartoonists inked delicately on 11x17 and smaller pages using enormous Chinese brushes. So I'm probably over-generalizing.

Anonymous said...

Searching for obscure information on Robert Ayton, British illustrator 1915-1985, Eagle (Jack O'Lantern, etc), Ladybird, University of Oxford Press, plus pre and post WW2 ads for Rolls Royce, Sperry Instruments, Handley Page Bombers, Castrol Motor Oil, probably worked for Dorland.

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