Saturday, October 19, 2013

Show Card Writers

Missing Occupations
Technology has a way of making once-important occupations fade away. Buggy-whip maker and paste-up artist come to mind. Here's a glimpse of a remarkable lost occupation: movie theater sign artist.

These pages come from a trade-published book for showcard writers, Martin's Complete Ideas, by a display-sign artist named H. C. Martin. It's a fascinating collection of practical advice and sample sign layouts which Martin urged card writers to add to their morgues for inspiration. Martin had apparently written a successful how-to book called 1000 Practical Layouts. He followed it up periodically by releasing these "Ideas" books, of which mine is the fourth volume. There's no copyright, but internal evidence suggests it came out around 1936-1937. The publisher was Dick Blick, Inc.--yes, the big art supply retailer, which back then was a specialty supply house for sign artists.

Along with two pages of superb lobby cards by Arthur DuVall and Herb Simpson (of Evanston, Illinois), Martin describes in detail the sort of work theatrical sign men were expected to handle. It's a huge list, running from coming-attraction banners and marquee signs to silk-screened cards for trolley cars and "you scratch my back" signs for local merchants to tie their products in with the movie.

Having seen so many printed posters and lobby cards for films of the period, I found myself wondering if the do-it-all sign artist Martin describes was dying out by the time his book saw print. Nevertheless, the latest movie on DuVall's cards came out in 1935. Martin's audience was assumed to be card writers in small- and medium-sized markets; perhaps the practice lingered on in the hinterlands. Note that the artist is also expected to make signs introducing vaudeville acts if the theater is "a combined house."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Gene Colan in Two Fisted Tales

Unseen Gene

I've looked around but no one seems to have mentioned this interesting anomaly from EC's Two Fisted Tales #39, dated October 1954. This was the fourth issue of "The New" TFT, edited by John Severin and written by his friend Colin Dawkins.

Severin drew a couple of early issues all by himself, though he soon took on other artists to spread the work load. Issue #39 was one of the all-Severin issues...or at least, Severin signed all the stories. But check out this Cold War wish-fulfillment story, "The Secret"--signed by Severin, but clearly pencilled by Gene Colan!

Colan had drawn a couple of war stories for Harvey Kurtzman, and I recall reading somewhere that Kurtzman didn't particularly like them. We can see from this story that Colan already had his drawing down solid. I think it took him a few more years to work out his inking style. Though Severin laid his personal style on heavily, he kept much of Colan's spirit.

For the evidence-hungry: Look at the character design of "Nick" and his posing and expressions on page 1. Panels 4 and 6 of page 2 are pure Colan, as is the group on page 3 panel 4. The real clincher is panel 4 of page 4. Colan is noted for re-using photo reference, and a decade and a half later he used this shot several times in comics like Iron Man. And on page 6, Genial Gene shines through again in the shots of Nick in panels 3, 4, and 7.

I wonder how this team-up came to be.

(I apologize sincerely for the messy edges. I scanned these from Russ Cochran's hardbound collection, and this is the best I could get without breaking the binding.)