Saturday, March 30, 2013

Alberto Giolitti's Gunsmoke

The Guns of Alberto
Many years ago, another fan, whose identity I've regrettably long since forgotten, sent me Xerox copies of a number of Alberto Giolitti originals. Here are scans of some nice work for Dell and Gold Key.

These two panels came from the inside front cover of an issue of Dell's Have Gun, Will Travel. Dell often presented illustrated synopses of an issue's stories on the IFC. They commissioned new art for these summaries rather than re-using story panels.

The panels showcase Giolitti's control of composition. Both panels are complex, yet they're clear and readable. Check out the distribution of blacks in the second panel. Giolitti plays with the light source in places, but the overall effect is dramatic and believable.

The rest of the scans came from  Gunsmoke #1, the first issue under the Gold Key banner. This art seems to have been drawn more quickly than Have Gun. Despite this, Giolitti's drawings are solid and he doesn't skimp on backgrounds. Numerous sources mention that Giovanni Ticci assisted on Giolitti's later work. Judging by art which has documented Ticci input (King Kong, for example), he may have worked on this issue. Comparing this to Ticci's solo Italian work, I'm pretty sure the figures are all Giolitti.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Ray Bailey assists Caniff

Bailey Rocks!
Anyone who's followed this blog knows I admire the work of Ray Bailey, a Caniff-school artist who worked both in comic books and newspaper strips.

Bailey started developing his personal style on a contemporary Western strip, Vesta West, in 1942. In 1945 he launched an aviation-themed adventure strip, Bruce Gentry. In 1951 he drew Tom Corbett, Space Cadet for a couple of years. After that he went into comic books. He did some of his best work for Dell, including TV tie-in's, movie adaptations, and several issues of Steve Canyon. After Dell spun off from Western Printing to become a separate company, Bailey continued with Western's  Gold Key line doing stories in weird titles like Boris Karloff. His last comic work seems to have been for Tower (Undersea Agent) circa 1967.

Biographies always say Bailey assisted Milton Caniff on Terry and the Pirates. I've wondered just what he did and when. Bailey's personal style looked so much like Caniff's that spotting his assistant work is a tough job. But while leafing through a pile of 1945 Terry Sundays, I found what I believe are Bailey backgrounds.

It's all in the Rocks. Nobody inked rocks exactly like Bailey, and he put them in every strip he drew. Bailey rocks were based on Caniff's rocks from his Sickles stage, the mid- to late-1930s. But Caniff rocks were Caniff rocks and Bailey rocks were Bailey's.

This rockin'-out Sunday is dated 3 June 1945.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Caniff at Work Video

The Man at Work
I strongly recommend you visit Mike Lynch's always-worthwhile blog for the link to an intriguing video from the early 1950s showing Milton Caniff in his studio. The material was retrieved by one Jeff Quitney from the Prelinger Archives, a treasure trove of rare films.

Obviously this is raw footage for a short subject about Caniff. It's no documentary. Caniff's 1940s Terry work is mushed together with then-current Steve Canyon drawings. The story is told in the cornball style of humor segments from old newsreels. Caniff calls upon his acting chops for hammy scenes at the drawing board and a truly weird sequence in which he imagines he sees the real-life Flip Corkin reflected in a table top. Most of the drawing Caniff does is inking pinups of  Steve Canyon babes (though at one point he's shown adding extra strokes to an already-finished daily). One corny but amusing bit has Caniff measuring a woman's décolleté with a ruler marked to show acceptable amounts of plunge.

At one point the camera pans Caniff's reference sketches of Chinese subjects. Stylistically they look like they came from the Terry years. They're far and away the best art in the film.

If you're a Caniff fan, don't miss this fascinating video.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Frank Langford, Jack and Jill

 He She, Ho Hum
Today we see examples of a long-running but poorly-documented British daily strip, "Jack and Jill."  According to Lambiek it ran in the Herald and Sun tabloids, but I've been unable to determine just when. These strips were printed in translation in an Italian comic collection called Eureka Drink, dated 1975. Eureka was one of many 1970s Italian magazines reprinting both old and new comic strips from around the world. While Italian fan publishers were positively anal about providing publication dates for strips they reprinted, periodicals like Eureka almost never did. In fact they seldom gave much information about the features beyond the creators' names.

"Jack and Jill" was a daily gag strip featuring a young married couple. Jack works in an office; Jill stays at home. In the strip's first week they discover "the Pill didn't work" and Jill is pregnant. The jokes are divided between his office and her pregnancy. Around strip #230 Jill has twins. That's all I know because that's where the Italian reprint ends.

"Jack and Jill" was written by Les Lilley, a giant of British comics. The Independent's 1998 obituary called Lilley "...a scriptwriter of literally thousands of strip cartoons and gags...[and] a man who spent many years of his life endeavoring to promote that Cinderella of the comic arts in the public consciousness." Alone and with others Lilley wrote not just for comics but also for TV. He started the Cartoonists' Club of Great Britain and became President of the Federation of European Cartoonists' Organizations. Among his countless projects, American fans may recognize "The Seekers," "Tiffany Jones," and "Scarth."

"Jack and Jill's" lovely drawings were by Frank Langford, a prolific English comics artist who didn't leave much of a biographical footprint. His best-known UK comics were TV-related strips like "Lady Penelope"  and "The Persuaders" and an s-f strip called "The Angry Planet." In the 1970s he drew several romance stories for DC Comics, probably the only time US fans ever saw his work. Langford drew a slew of advertising strips in the UK and apparently did movie posters as well. Langford appears to have died in 1998, the year of Les Lilley's passing.

In 2008 the Bear Alley blog hosted a long thread about Langford with input from the artist's niece, who provided much interesting information--including the fact that Langford was born Cyril Eidlestein but later changed his name.

Though Les Lilley was a fine writer, "Jack and Jill" was minor stuff with very lightweight gags. Frank Langford's artwork is definitely the strip's main draw.  Langford quickly developed a clean, figure-centered style. He seldom went in for elaborate backgrounds or dramatic effects, but that didn't hurt the strip. His men were handsome, his women beautiful, and his line elegant and assured.

Eureka Drink ran some 60 pages of "Jack and Jill." What follows are six typical pages. They've been re-translated from the Italian, of course, so heaven knows what the original dialogue was. At least you can get an idea what the story was about.

Friday, March 8, 2013

IDW Star Trek Strip Reprint

Thomas Warkentin's Star Trek Revisited

IDW have released the first of two books reprinting the Los Angeles Times' early-80s Star Trek newspaper strip. It's a classy production: a 272-page 8.5 x 11 hardback with dust jacket. Sunday pages are reproduced in color. This volume presents all the strips by Thomas Warkentin, the original writer/artist, and about half of the ones I illustrated. The second volume will finish my run and go on to the Shigetani, Myers, Colon, and Kulpa periods.

Re-reading Warkentin's stories I was reminded how very good they were. Thomas obeyed the Daily Strip Commandments--brisk stories and concise dialogue--yet he always delivered an extra bit of characterization and a clever plot twist.

His artwork was equally enjoyable. His likenesses of Spock, McCoy, Scotty and friends were just right. I especially liked his McCoy. Over time his Kirk evolved from looking like Shatner into a more generic hero, but it didn't harm things. I think the change was driven by limited reference material. Back then about the only source of useful reference was the series of comics-style Trek paperbacks using frame blowups from the TV shows. One quickly realized how often TV directors used identical setups for close-ups of major characters.

Thomas was a meticulous craftsman with a gift for drawing spacecraft and mechanical backgrounds.  This served him well on Star Trek. In a few words, the strip looked great. I heartily recommend this book--with the warning that it costs fifty bucks. The price isn't bad considering you get a quality package But it's still fifty bucks.

By the way, I don't get a piece of the sales, so my recommendation carries no ulterior motive. You get a lot of good reading for your dough. Buy the book if you can afford it.