Monday, December 26, 2011

Noel Sickles and Milton Caniff--2

The Great Postum Face-Off

In my last post I presented a Noel Sickles Postum ad. I mentioned having once seen an alternate version. I am grateful to Fortunato Latella for turning up a copy of that version. (In case you don't know, Fortunato curates an excellent comics blog which is always worth reading.)

Fortunato's ad is in third-page format, while mine is a half page. I had misremembered that the art in each version was completely different. In fact some panels were the same. The two make an interesting comparison.
Panel 1 of the third page is a completely different drawing from panel 1 of the half. Note that in the third page the girl sits on the passenger's side of her car. In the half page the car points the other way and she sits (more logically) behind the wheel. The dialogue in the third page panel is shorter, which is a good thing because the panel is only half as wide.The second panel of the third page telescopes into a single frame what takes the half page three panels to tell. The half boasts a lot more great artwork, but the third-page version takes the prize for economical storytelling.The next panels are the same in both formats. However the third page's panels have more art. We see more of Mr Coffee Nerves' vest and the hero's coat in the first panel. There also seems to be more "air" at the top. The next panel shows more of the house in the third than in the half, and we see all of Mr. CN's left arm, which is cropped in the half page.

The dialogue has been tweaked between versions. Some changes are so small I wonder why they bothered: "What does he advise" in the third is "What did he advise" in the half, while "If you give up flying" becomes "If you give up trying." The hero's dialogue is considerably simpler in the third page. Mr. CN's lines are the same in both versions.
The last two story panels are the same in both formats. Again they show more art in the third than in the half. In the award scene we see an extra aviator on the left side and an extra spectator on the right. The officer's dialogue differs slightly between versions. The girl's dialogue is the same, but her balloon is lettered anew in each version to fit the different panel sizes. The hero's final balloon has also been relettered between versions. In the half page the hero's picture is larger relative to the copy, pushing the final paragraph into a narrower column.

When I first saw this ad I assumed that the half-page version was the original. But comparing the versions I believe the third-page came first. I'm pretty sure panels from the third were cropped to fit the half-page layout. It makes more sense than extending the edges of smaller panels for the third.

Why would the agency draw three new panels and add extra dialogue to convert a third page to a half? Why not? It occurred to me that my assumption that the half-page was the "real" one was based on the syndicate procedure of using expendable panels to convert half page Sundays into thirds. But when this ad was produced in 1940, that process wasn't yet standard procedure. Probably after the agency finished the third page the client asked for a half-page version. The agency reformatted existing panels and added extra art and text to fill the space.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Noel Sickles and Milton Caniff

A Postum Posting
This is the only tearsheet I own from the "Paul Arthur" Mr. Coffee Nerves adventures. A fine one it is! Caniff has said that "Bud" Sickles handled all the art on the CN strips except Mr. Nerves himself. That is borne out by this half-page, which features a sort of Scorchy Smith gone to the Dark Side. What love and enthusiasm Sickles put into drawing those planes and cars!Reading these old ads one wonders if 1930s women were really as materialistic as all that. Don't bother calling me until you get those wings, loser! (Nitpicker's afterthought: doesn't it look as if the balloon in panel 8 was re-lettered? A Comics Code change?)

Interestingly, in a library magazine archive I discovered a versiion of this strip (printed in black and white) with the same script but entirely different art. Still by Sickles, but a complete re-draw. Unfortunately I didn't have a portable scanner in those days. If anyone has the alternate version I'd love to see it again. Were there other similar variants?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

George Wunder, Artist

In Glorious WunderColor!

All my comics-reading life I've had a love-hate relationship with George Wunder. His was a nearly impossible assignment: to take over an iconic American comic strip from its superstar creator almost at the apex of its popularity, and make it his own. There were many reasons why Wunder's Terry never reached the heights of Caniff's. Some of them, like the fading interest in heroic adventure strips ,weren't Wunder's fault. Others, like his clunky stories and increasingly-idiosyncratic way of drawing people, were. Taken together, I still feel GW has gotten a raw deal from comics historians. He put a lot of skill and effort into Terry. Especially during its first decade, Wunder's Terry was a visual feast of elaborate chiaroscuro inking and ambitiously-detailed backgrounds. And there was something else, the subject of this post: beautiful Sunday page coloring.

When George Wunder took over Terry, the palette available to Sunday page colorists was still broad. Wunder made the most of it. He had a knack for making unusual color choices--greens, purples, pale yellows--which when laid over his film-noir artwork created stunning pages unlike anyone else's. The three samples I show here date from mid-1949.
Interestingly, Wunder's color schemes would have looked garish printed on quality paper. The softening and yellowing effect of newsprint contributed mightily to the beauty of the pages.

Years ago I read somewhere that Wunder's wife had colored his Sundays. This is quite possible, of course. I just haven't seen any other reference to her contribution. I did see a couple of illustrations Wunder did after retiring from Terry. I think they were for a book about military uniforms. He drew them comics-style in ink, then colored them with watercolosr. The color schemes were identical to those of the Terry Sundays. And being painted on bright white board they looked really garish. Which reminds me of something that happened to me because of my love of WunderColor--a story I'll tell some other time.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Albert Dorne, Illustrator

When Art Was His Oyster

Here is the earliest signed artwork I've found by legendary illustrator Albert Dorne. It appeared in Good Housekeeping magazine in December, 1926.

Dorne, you'll remember, was born in the New York City slums and began working to support his family when still a kid. His Wikipedia entry gives a sketch of his career arc from office boy to prestigious illustrator to founder of the Famous Artists School.

We all gotta start somewhere...Dorne would have been twenty years old when he drew this ad pushing the health benefits of oysters. It's competent, certainly, but looking at it one wouldn't have suspected the heights the artist would attain. The hands--later one of Dorne's specialties--are a bit clunky. Missing overall is the spirited mixture of realistic drawing and cartoon exaggeration that filled Dorne's illustrations with action and character.

One funny thing: he already had his signature down!I always felt that Dorne, who drew many continuity-style ads, would had been a heck of a comics artist. He just would have earned a few million dollars less during his career.

P.S.: I'd be interested to hear if anyone is planning to stuff their holiday turkey with oysters this year.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Stuff I've Done--8

The Need for

In 1986 I was hired by an L.A. ad agency to draw four comic strips advertising an indy action film called Jake Speed. The movie was a one-man show. Wayne Crawford, not-well-known for a handful of small films like Valley Girl, Barracuda, and Night of the Comet, produced, wrote, directed and starred.

The movie was sort of Romancing the Stone in reverse. A woman seeking her kidnapped sister is aided by a man who seems to be the real-life incarnation of Jake Speed, hero of a series of paperback books. There follow lots of one-liners, high-speed chases, and explosions.

The agency came up with a month-long teaser campaign. They wrote a mini-adventure, supposedly a prequel to the movie, in the form of four daily-size comic strips. One strip would appear each week during the month preceding the film's release. On the fifth week the strip's position on the page would be filled by the regular movie ad.

I don't know what went wrong--the strips were delivered to the agency on schedule--but the first one didn't appear in the Times until two weeks before Jake Speed opened. The remaining three were run in a block the following week. Then the movie opened and, 100 minutes later, disappeared. Here are the four strips. [In the movie "Reno Melon" was the author of the Jake Speed paperbacks.] I've never seen the movie. Reviews of the time savaged it. I remember one writer noted that Wayne Crawford had "all the charisma of a can of tuna." Many remarked that the body-count was unusually high even for such a genre film. On the other hand, IMDB offers nearly two dozen reviews praising Jake Speed as an unjustly-ignored minor classic. One thing I do know: the "production values" on the strips were much higher than those of the low-budget feature...a sad truth as old as the first comic adaptation of a motion picture.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Comics Code Changes

A Code Wind Bloweth
The new issue of Roy Thomas' ever-fascinating magazine Alter Ego has a lengthy article about the effects of the Comics Code on American comics. Way back when Jim Vadeboncoeur and I used to hang out and scour old comics, we frequently encountered early Code-approved stories which had obviously been extensively retouched, often with bizarre results.

The advent of the Code threw the comics industry into a tizzy. Over a period of about a year and a half, comics appeared carrying stories written and drawn before Code censorship went into effect. Publishers were forced to overhaul them to meet Code demands. Weapons disappeared from hands, balloons were clumsily relettered or even blanked out, and endings were changed in sometimes ridiculous ways.

I urge you to check AE for the full story. It goes beyond the changeover period to document the Code's evolution and eventual demise. However for my money the best period was the Great Changeover. And my all-time favorite Code change craziness (not covered in the Alter Ego article) was "Face to Face" in Charlton's This Is Suspense #24.

Charlton took over This Is Suspense from Fawcett, reprinting stories from the pre-Code Fawcett run. The first and last stories in #24 are Fawcett stories with a redrawn and re-lettered panels. "Face to Face," though, may have been a Charlton original. It was drawn by Dick Giordano, who I believe didn't work for Fawcett. At any rate, the story encapsulates the craziness of the Code Changeover in one classic page.

The set-up: crook Quentin Ajax set up his twin brother Paul to take the fall for a swindle they both worked on. Now Paul has escaped from--oops! sorry, been let out of--prison, seeking revenge. The twins argue and Paul socks Quentin:There follows the old head-hits-the-edge-of-the-table gimmick. The helpful Paul decides...hell, panels two and three speak for themselves.
I don't want to leave you hanging off that fire escape, so here's the rest of the story. Paul is elated to discover his twin was hiding a fistful of money. Unfortunately he also learns that a notorious hit man intends to shoot Quentin on sight. The gangster will surely mistake Paul for his target.Suddenly a mysterious someone comes to the door...then lets himself in.'s none other than--
I'll never know whether editor Al Fago intended the story to end this way (a less-peculiar "send an ending" feature had appeared in a different Fago Charlton comic), or whether the Code bounced the original ending and Fago threw up his hands rather than fix it. I suspect the latter is the case because the prize offer is not lettered in the same professional hand as the story. It looks more like the same guy who invented the fire escape.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Ferenc Pinter, Illustrator

Pinter, Painter

It's clear from looking at my blog that I tend to like "classical" style illustrators: lots of realistic rendering and detail. So it's a surprise even to me that I like the late Ferenc Pinter's super-minimalist, super-designy illustrations so much.

What moves me is the audacity of Pinter's postery compositions as well as his inventive color schemes. If he needed to model something realistically--a face, perhaps--he'd do it. The rest of the time he let shapes and pattern carry the story. The results were magical.Born in Liguria and trained in Hungary, Pinter (1931-2008) fled the Hungarian Revolution and settled in Milan. After a while doing advertising and poster art, he connected with Mondadori, the giant publishing house, for whom he worked more than three decades. Among his most renowned works were covers for a series of crime paperbacks and, especially, for Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret novels.I offer a smattering of his many covers. You'll find plenty more at his official website. Art dealer Claudia Salmin's Segni & Disegni seems to have had a connection with Pinter in his later years. They produced several prints by him, as well as offering some of his originals for sale. When you get to the site search "Pinter" and enjoy.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Things I Never Did--2

Raiders of the Lost Art
Back when I was drawing the Dallas and Star Trek newspaper strips, my syndicate (the Los Angeles Times Syndicate) also distributed the Star Wars strip. One day word passed down that Lucasfilm had suggested the Times Syndicate produce a strip based on their "other" movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Indiana Jones' 1930s-serial adventures were my favorite kind of story. Not bothering to consider the fact that I was already drawing two daily and Sunday strips, I put together this promotional piece and routed it to Lucasfilm. I drew it on a 15x20 inch piece of heavyweight Crescent board and colored it with markers and Dr. Martin's dyes (note that the flesh colors have faded with time).That was the end of the story. The syndicate passed on the strip. Later I was told they thought selling their existing continuity strips was trouble enough. Raiders was nowhere near as big a deal as Star Wars and they figured an Indiana Jones strip wouldn't stand a chance. Nevertheless a short while later they launched a strip based on the already-passe (and quite dead) Bruce Lee. Go figure.

A year or so later Lucasfilm returned the art without comment. Some time after that I heard that John Prentice had been angling to draw the Indy strip. Guess who would have got that assignment.

Several years later I drew another Indiana Jones piece just for the hell of it. Thus ended my relationship with Mr. Jones.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Everett Raymond Kinstler, artist

Master Strokes

In my scrap file, under "Pen and Ink," I found these two tear sheets of illustrations by master penman Everett Raymond Kinstler. The first is the inside front cover from an issue of Avon's Prison Break comic book.
The other is from some digest-size fantasy pulp...probably also published by Avon.Everyone knows that Kinstler left comics to become a renowned portrait painter. I'm sure the money was much better. Still it's a shame that when he started painting he stopped producing these incredible pen-and-ink drawings. The inside front covers of Avon comics were the ideal place for Kinstler to strut his stuff. Slick paper meant precise reproduction of his linework, while the montage format let him go wild with elaborately-rendered heads...
...and swirling action scenes.Looking closely at these drawings one is amazed by the apparent haste with which they were inked. The hook-shaped ends of Kinstler's strokes make them look like sketch strokes banged down at furious speed. Yet so precise is Kinstler's control that the drawings never look slapdash.Kinstler learned many of his licks from his friend and mentor, James Montgomery Flagg. To Flagg's classic turn-of-the-century penwork he added more elaborate rendering and a wild sense of drama. I offer this gallery of Kinstler IFC's from Avon comics for your enjoyment--and amazement.

ERK tackles child endangerment:
Kinstler ventures into horror-host country:
A bravura display of Kinstler's ability to build mood:A nice clinch with a dollop of history:And to wrap things up, the best drawing of Broderick Crawford ever (not a bad Barbara Hale, either).
Sidebar: Did you notice that several of these pages were lettered by Wallace Wood?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Things I Never Did--1

Not Becoming a Marvel Inker

Recently my excavation of the Eternal Garage turned up more nostalgic oddities.

I moved Los Angeles in late 1976 or early 1977. Mark Evanier, leader of a cadre of fanboys who hung out together at the San Diego Comic Con, had advised me that if I wanted to draw comics professionally, I had two choices: either move to New York where the majors were located, or to Los Angeles where Disney and the animation industry were based.

I wanted to move to New York, but the prospect of moving across the continent to America's biggest city scared me shitless. I chose LA. However I did make one foray into the Big Apple. I stayed for several days with an aunt living in New Jersey. I took a train into the city to show my portfolio at Marvel and DC. It was to be my only visit to New York.

The difference between the companies was amazing. DC's lobby was an awe-inspiring piece of corporate design, with vast glass doors, expensive carpets, a cold receptionist and a huge logo on the wall. This I remember, but I don't remember much else about the meeting, not even with whom I met. I got a cordial but quick brush-off: some nice stuff here, keep drawing, move to New York.

I don't remember the Marvel lobby at all. What I recall is a nondescript hallway lined with doors. I was ushered into the office/studio of John Romita, Marvel's art director. Romita received me warmly and gave thorough yet gentle critiques of my drawings. He pulled open a drawer crammed with xeroxes of Marvel artwork. He offered me some sample pages to ink . He chose some by Marvel's tightest pencillers: covers by Jack Kirby and Gil Kane, interior pages by George Perez and George Tuska. He suggested I ink a couple on overlays and he'd evaluate them.

I'd planned my trip poorly. I visited Marvel on the next to last day of my vacation. I had no drawing equipment with me. I'd have to mail the inked pages from LA. Therein lay the biggest problem. Not many years later, working by mail became common. However at the time the majors dealt only with local artists. If I wanted to crack Marvel, Romita said, I'd have to move to New York.I sent in four covers and two interior pages. A week later I called Marvel but didn't reach Romita. A week later I failed to get through again. So I gave up. Thus ended my career as a Marvel inker.

These are the only copies I have of those sample jobs. I don't have any of the original pencils. Photocopies were expensive and the copy shop a long ways off, so I often didn't xerox stuff. Stupid. Anyway, I post these not because they're particularly good--they aren't-- but because they represent a crossroads in my life.

What if I'd been brave enough to take on NYC? Not long afterward Marvel underwent a big expansion and hired lots of new kids, some not much better than I was. I might have broken in. Surrounded by kindred souls, I might have learned the craft I never learned. I might have studied at one of New York's great art schools. I might have connected with one of the era's great teachers: Giordano, Adams, Buscema. I might have had some sort of career with the Big Guys.

On the other hand, I was a small town kid already over my head in Los Angeles. My life was in constant turmoil thanks to my undiagnosed manic-depression. I was afraid to ask favors or blow my own horn. I was shy, lonely, disorganized, and broke. Who's to say I wouldn't have been one of the thousands that New York ate alive?

By choosing LA I found a disastrous romance. Its implosion drove me to take a workshop where I met the marvelous lady to whom I've been married for nearly 30 years. Our marriage brought two fantastic kids who make me swell with pride.

It's this paradox that makes time travel stories popular. You're tantalized by good things that might have happened had you decided differently. At the same time you realize the good things in your life are the culmination of the decisions you did make, good and bad. You can only live one life at a time. So you live that one and write comics about the rest.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Lou Fine, Artist

A Different Spirit
Recently the Digital Comic Museum posted a series of Spirit sections from 1945. It's a rare treat to see any Spirit sections in their original form. These are especially interesting because they represent the period when Will Eisner was in the service and The Spirit had been given over to other hands: notably, those of Lou Fine.

There's no question that the 1945 Spirit was not the "original" Spirit. Stories suffered the most as Eisner's carefully-structured scripts gave way to mundane, rather disjointed stories like this one. The art changed even more. Gone were Eisner's cartooniness and cinematic layouts (though some of the best of these lay in the future after Eisner returned from the Army). The new style was more like mainstream comic books. But though the style may have been different, it certainly wasn't bad art.

I believe this story is mostly Lou Fine's work. It offers a fascinating glimpse of the Golden Age great changing from his over-the-top superhero style to the handsomely-drawn conservative style he'd use for the rest of his career. The drawings of Soapy on page 4 could have come straight out of the ad comics he and Don Komisarow did for J. Walter Thompson in the 1950s. (Fans of Fine's ad art must check out this entry in Today's Inspiration about his collaborations with Komisarow.)

This might not be the famous "real" Spirit, but it's sure a bunch of nice drawings!