Thursday, June 30, 2011

Secret Origina!

The Truly Secret Origin of The Watcher!

Old school Marvel fans are well acquainted with THE WATCHER, that well-intentioned alien observer who can't seem to keep from meddling in the affairs of earthlings. Uatu, as he was later christened, first appeared in Fantastic Four #13 (April 1963), when the superhero team was on the moon, battling a ghostly Commie and his team of intelligent apes. [Even in those days it was a hard premise to swallow.]

How many of you know that Uatu wasn't the first big bald guy in a hospital gown to go by the name of Watcher and set humanity straight? In fact, three years earlier (May, 1960), the original Watcher, Codin by name, made his first and only appearance. As you'll see, this Watcher wasn't sworn to non-interference. On the contrary, the Watcher band was formed specifically to meddle in the affairs of everyone in the universe. Their mission was to prevent the discovery of the "Forbidden Formula," a liquid which, if mixed, would cause "the entire galaxy [to] EXPLODE!"

The stuff must have been easy to make, because Watchers headed off the deadly manufacture "eighty times a day" all over the galaxy. That's what I call job security.

Anyway, from issue 18 of Charlton's Mysteries of Unexplored Worlds here's the only adventure of the original Watcher, told in just five awkwardly written and indifferently drawn pages. I believe the penciller is Lou Morales. Obviously the inker is Vince Colletta.

By the way, I sincerely doubt Stan Lee was cribbing ideas from Charlton comics in 1960. This was surely another of those strange coincidences that happen from time to time in a high-volume industry like comics.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Swiping Then and Now--2

Swiping Revitalized--uh, I mean, Revisited.

On the heels of my last post I offer this advice. It is obviously not meant to be taken seriously (It pains me to have to say this, but nature knows no thinner skins than righteous Internetters.) Aimed at American comic artists, clearly. Not bad advice, though.

Handy Handbook for More Effective Comic Book Swiping

by S. R. Chasm
  1. Swipe from old stuff. The older the better. Most swipists crib the stuff they liked last week or last year. However fans' knowledge of artists seldom goes back more than a decade. Swipe Frank Miller, you're found out. Swipe Al Avison and only the scholars will catch you. Note: 2008 isn't "old."
  2. Swipe from alternate genres. Dan Adkins had a good idea: in his comics work he swiped from science-fiction magazine artists; in his s-f work he swiped from comics. At the time there was little crossover between readerships. Be careful, though...
  3. Don't swipe where everyone else looks. This changes with the culture. Today it's unwise to nab stuff from celebrity shots, porn (this used to be a safe source), movie stills less than 20-30 years old, and mainstream magazines or websites. Lift a photo from a gay porn mag and you'll be nailed in a heartbeat. You're less likely to be called if you swipe a photo from a farm implement trade newspaper.
  4. Utilize foreign sources. This is still a good idea, though given the reach of the Internet it's not as safe than it used to be. American fans remain ignorant of most foreign comics. Look how long it took Giffen's love of Jose Munoz to be acknowledged! There are plenty of foreign comics artists, especially from the 50s and 60s, who were great and are still unknown. Not many eyes will catch a swipe from Hans Kresse! Careful, though: Italian Bonelli comics used to be a great source of swipes, but today lots of those guys work for the US market. Gotcha!
  5. Learn to Draw Better. Just kidding.

Swiping Then and Now

Swiping: What Does It all Mean?
(and who cares?)

The Internet is the spot for pots calling kettles black, so who am I not to join in?
At right, a cover by Bill Black. Can't identify the original artist from the small pic. Maneely?

When I was a fanboy, denouncing swiping was all the rage. I eagerly joined the attack upon Dan Adkins (who it must be admitted raised the concept to a new high). Then a couple of years later when trying to land an art job--any art job--I included a swiped piece in my pathetic portfolio. One AD obviously smelled a rat. Was it because the swipe was the best piece in the book? At any rate he asked what I reference I used. Caught by surprise I babbled vague nonsense that would have been useful only to a politician. My red face gave me away anyhow. I suspect the AD let me go without further ado because he figured I'd learned my lesson.

This recent cover by David Mack was pulled after a Previews appearance when the swipe was outed

A couple more years passed. I found myself the pasteup artist (remember pasteup artists?) at Learning magazine. The art director was Mike Shenon, a talented designer. I loved Mike and learned volumes from him, but I'm telling no stories out of school to say he could show, er, fits of temper. I saw the Shenon temper explode one day when a young art school grad presented an illustration portfolio that I thought was terrific.Jim Starlin (r) does Esteban Maroto. I swiped this from somebody's site (appropriately enough). Don't remember who...if he kicks I'll remove it.

Mike greeted the guy politely and flipped the first page. But on the second page his face darkened. On the third he pointed at the piece and cried, "This is a steal from Joe Bowler!" [The actual artist I no longer recall, but Bowler is from the right period.] Mike flipped a few more pages, getting angrier with each piece. "And this is Coby Whitmore! And Austin Briggs! What the fuck!?" In the 1960s, despite the hippies, "fuck" was an uncommon word in the office. But the quaking artist had unknowingly delivered the ultimate insult.

"THESE ARE ALL AL PARKER!!!" You see Mike was a passionate fan of Parker--and a good friend of Parker--and the guy who later helped mount retrospectives of Parker's life's work.

Mike slammed the portfolio shut and threw it back at the artist. "Get the hell out of here!" he stormed. "How dare you come in here..." and dissolved into an awful tirade. The artist didn't say a word. He retreated up the stairs as quickly as he could without actually running. Mike needed the rest of the day to calm down.
The real Al Parker. 1946 gouache illustration found at Sam Fox School

But this event wasn't the last word on the subject. In comic books, swiping was common and professionals generally didn't think much about it. As most of you know, Wallace Wood made a joke of it with his famous motto "Don't draw it if you can swipe it, don't swipe it if you can trace it..." etc.

Then there's the matter of drawing from "reference." Artists almost always draw more accurately from photographic (or live, if you can afford it) models. Even more so if he projects a photograph and traces it. Swiping, in a sense, is working from reference. Especially if you're not the best of draughtsmen. Your superhero drawing is better because you "referred" to a drawing by somebody who did it better.

Why do artists swipe? Common reasons seem to be (a) inability to draw the swiped subject; (b) fear that one couldn't draw the subject without swiping it; (c) real or perceived lack of time to do preparatory work for a particular drawing. Most of my swiping arose from (a) and (b). But I did plenty of (c), too. Drawing has always been difficult, especially superhero drawing. Faced with a deadline, an often-erased fight scene, and a stack of Gil Kane comics, the better and quicker result came with the swipe.

The third reason probably informed Wood's swiping. He obviously could draw anything he wanted to, but his studio was constantly cranking out a lot of stuff. "Fast" always trumps "original." But swiping can also become a habit. Before you even sketch out a job, you haul out your scrap. I remember one issue of Daredevil Wood drew in which DD, tied to a vertical post, escaped by shinnying up the post. He did this in a panel swiped from a 1934 Terry and the Pirates panel. Now really...did it actually take less time to fish out an obscure tearsheet to copy than it would have taken Wood simply to draw the scene? Me, maybe. But Wood?

Which brings me in a circle back to the thought that prompted this entry. I have run across some newspaper strip work by one Paul Pinson. In the early 1940s he was among the procession of artists who drew Dan Dunn. I don't think Pinson's work was very good (though it wasn't swiped!).
Googling for information on Pinson, I ran across a site with this interesting piece: an 1947 ad from the New York Art Director's Club Annual for Paul Pinson's humorous illustration.Problem is, here's an illustration by Keith Ward's work for Knopf's edition of Reynard the Fox, published just two years earlier.One of two words describes taking an ad in the Holy Book of American Illustration which exhibits a swipe of a recent--and critically acclaimed--drawing: "chutzpah" or "stupidity."

Here's an ad Pinson put in the Annual in 1952. Is it all his work?That's the ultimate downside of swiping, I guess. Once you are identified as a swipist, you could do the best original drawing of your life and everyone will wonder where you swiped it from.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Steve Ditko, comic artist

A Brush with the Ditko Brush

Here's a nice early Ditko strip from Charlton's Crime and Justice 18 (April-May 1954). I stumbled across it while researching the title at the Digital Comic Museum, an Internet blessing for comics fans. It's an episode from a series about two radio-car cops. This is the only entry in the series drawn by Ditko.

Most of Ditko's stylistic traits are in place. He's inking with a heavier brush than he used later, and I find the results delightful. Many people have mentioned Jerry Robinson's influence on Ditko. It's visible here, especially in the faces (both men shared a liking for big noses). I haven't seen it discussed much, but I believe early-middle-period Joe Kubert (about the time he was doing "Chuck Chandler" for Gleason) also influenced Ditko, especially in posing.

Ditko does a nifty turn with his brush in this strip. Check out the suggestions of architectural shadows in this detail:
Even in1954 Ditko's visual world was stuck in the early 1930s.

Back from the Dead Again

Where the hell have I been?

For the last ten weeks I've been taking a digital Environment Design class at Gnomon School of Visual Effects. I've been spending all my free time doing homework for the class. I've let both my blog and my DeviantArt accounts lapse. It's worth it if it means another step toward freedom from life as a bl**dy grocery clerk.

Today however I have a day off--thanks to the flu! So there will be a post today...