Friday, February 22, 2008

Russ Heath: An Unknown Sergeant

We are fortunate today to have a guest author for this posting, my good friend and original art collector, Don Mangus, talking about of one of his favorite war artists, Russ Heath. Thanks Don, for this fantastic contribution to my blog, and now -- right to the action! Russ Heath is first an "Unknown Sergeant" who then became a Five-Star General in the battle theater of comic book art. The tyro Heath hit the ground running. From his earliest works he rapidly developed a dazzling record of consistent and brilliant draftsmanship. Like so many "illustrational cartoonists" of his generation, Heath’s youthful goal was to become a top-flight magazine illustrator for the "slicks", magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, and so on.
Typically, as with other veterans of the Great Depression and W.W.II, he survived his own " trial under fire" by means of a hard-driven work ethic. Russ Heath received little formal art training, but like so many other comic books artists, he was accepted into the comic book work force during high school and toiled at his craft while on the job. And also like so many comic book artists, he was to remain "signed-up" in the comics field far longer than he had ever anticipated, as those original "slick" markets he had dreamed of starring in atrophied or vanished completely. He became a "Career Man"!

Heath excelled at the horror, romance, crime, western, and war genres. He was also quite adept and drawing the attractive female form. This talent was to serve him well. Russ Heath remarked that he had never cared for illustrating the long-underwear, union suit, super-hero titles, although he did indeed draw a few. While most enthusiasts remember him well for his grim and grisly Atlas war and horror covers, as well as his strikingly realistic DC war stories, Russ Heath also had a fruitful, long-term relationship with Harvey Kurtzman. He worked with Harvey on EC’s Mad, and Frontline Combat, and also on Playboy’s "Little Annie Fanny". In fact, it was working on the lucrative Little Annie Fanny account that afforded Russ the economic means to produce his incredible run on the Sgt. Rock feature for Our Army at War!

Pressure Point!: The Art of Sgt. Rock

Sgt. Rock, the ultimate American W.W.II topkick, was birthed and "booted" by Robert Kanigher. The Rock’s legend has been immortalized by the finest artists in the comic book field, talents such as Ross Andru, Jerry Grandenetti, Irv Novick, Doug Wildey, George Evans, Dan Spiegle, Sam Glanzman, Dick Ayers, and Lee Elias. However, the artist who "took the point" with Sgt. Rock was Joe Kubert. Kubert had his combat antenna tuned for the feature with his "emotional", searing and expressive line quality and his dramatic storytelling. Kubert’s art fused well with the war-torn Kanigher psychodramas. The two men thus became renowned as the fabulous K-K team in the 1960s.

Although he had already "earned his stripes" with superlative artwork on DC’s "Haunted Tank" feature (in G.I. Combat), Russ Heath was ultimately "volunteered" to meet the supreme challenge of assuming the art duties on Sgt. Rock as Joe Kubert "rotated out" Kanigher and Heath became the "High Command" of the DC war titles. Rather than being cowed or shell-shocked by this new tour of duty, Heath was galvanized and charged ahead boldly to create sublime vistas of vivid, dreamlike war tales. Heath honed the emotional edge of Kanigher’s sagas. His photorealistic drawing skills and mastery of reflected light combined seamlessly with a very cinematic approach to comics storytelling and "staging". Each issue seemed to be an epic comic book version of a Sam Fuller war film. Heath’s attention to detail was gripping, dramatic, and magical. Russ Heath put on an all-out blitz for quality, and only the high paying "Little Annie Fanny" feature allowed him to lavishly toil away with the time needed for such quality. When Heath produced the remarkable story, "Give and Take," for Warren’s Blazing Combat # 4 (6/66), scripted by Archie Godwin, he mustered his talents and showed he was ready for a new challenge. Kanigher’s all too human icon, Sgt. Rock, provided the venue. Heath’s run on Our Army at War ranks among the best comic book art and storytelling of all time! He had climbed in the funnybook ranks from a unknown Sergeant to a Five-Star General!

Battle Harvest: The Best Russ Heath Rocks!

While Heath had worked on the Sgt. Rock feature in 1961, 1962, 1966, 1967 and 1968, it was in 1969 that Heath began his most magical run. DC had changed from using "large" original art ( 12" X 18") to a smaller sized page (10" X 15"). This shift, while probably instituted as a money saving convenience, also seemed to have a nice "side effect". The artists composed their panel flow or page layouts as a dynamically designed whole, rather than as a straightforward series of independently composed panels. When Joe Kubert became editor in 1968, the DC war books began using a unique signature format of a double-page splash on page numbers two and three of each comic book, rather than the more traditional page one splash. Heath produced some eye-poppingly dramatic double-page splash scenes. He also remained faithful to the storylines and did not disrupt them simply to dazzle.

Here then is a roll call of what I salute as Heath’s ten best, Five-Star, Sgt. Rock battle tales. (The stories are written by Robert Kanigher unless otherwise noted. )

OAAW # 208 (6/69), "A Piece of Rag... A Hank of Hair," 13 pgs.
OAAW #212 (11/69), "The Quiet War," 14 pgs.
OAAW # 213 (12/69) , "A Letter for Bulldozer," 14 pgs,
OAAW # 219 (5/70), "Yesterday’s Hero," Kubert?, 13 pgs.
OAAW # 221 (7/70), " Hang-Up," Kubert?, 12 pgs.
OAAW # 226 (12/70). "Death Stop," Heath, 14 pgs.
OAAW # 235 (9/71), "Pressure Point," 12 pgs.
OAAW # 244 (4/72), "Easy’s First Tiger," Heath, 14 pgs.
OAAW # 256 (4/73), "School for Sergeants," 14 pgs.
OAAW # 257 (6/73), "The Castaway," 14 pgs.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

National Cartoonist Society Profile: Stan Drake

Continuing in my series of NCS members that are no longer with us is strip art sensation, Stan Drake, whose slick illustrative style inspired a host of artists including the work of Neal Adams. Studying at the Art Students League, Drake learned his mastery of figure-drawing from artist George Bridgman, before working his way into illustrating sports and detective magazines while also side-lining on comic books. After the war, the artist worked for the Perlowin advertising studios, before later teaming up with Elliot Caplin to create his signature strip, The Heart of Juliet Jones. He later created the strip Pop Idols, that highlighted current music celebrities biographies, before teaming up for the well received French trade paperback Kelly Green with Leonard Starr. This multi-talented artist, being able to draw either a lush soap opera strip or humorous gag feature landed Drakes his final strip taking over the artistic chores on one of America's favorite features, Blondie.

Born a Scorpio in New York in 1921 - raised in New Jersey. Career started at seventeen illustrating "pulp"magazines. Comic books in '39 and '40...nothing sensational. World War II for three and a half years then New York City advertising art. Turning point came in 1953 when King Features syndicate took on "Juliet." Our list was at five hundred worldwide. Former 1st Vice President of National Cartoonist Society, won NCS story strip category 1969 and 1970. Hobby: golf, presently taking Berlitz French.(tres difficile) Live in West Port, Connecticut past two years and have regularly illustrated golf instruction for Golf Digest magazine. Illustrated Bob Toski's new book "The Touch System for Better Golf." Invaluable help awards for my career must go to Gil Fox, Elliott Caplin, Bob Lubbers, Sylvan Byck and Tex Blaisdell, Secret shame: my lettering.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Some Super Sensational Seventies Strip Surprises!

I know strip collectors that purchase only certain examples that fit their "theme," such as their date of birth, or only night scenes, snow and rain panels, certain autos, and it looks like for the images selected here, you could also collect characters with sprained left arms if you so desired. But there are a lot of deals today on strip art, from those forgotten features that never found an audience. If you're lucky, you still might be able to get some seventies prices. The best pieces offered in the Comics Buyers Guide were by two dealers who joined together for one large collection. Cartoonist Representatives, Inc. of Long Branch, New Jersey, and Creative Services, in Costa Mesa, California had much of the greatest material of the time. They had discovered a huge collection of originals that had everything, adventure and story strips, gag panels, editorial cartoons, humor features, all the different genres were covered. Popular world renowned strips and totally unheard of lost gems were listed side by side, but don't take my word for it just look at some of these incredible prices!

Lets start off with a nice little daily like Ed Nofziger's amusing funny animal strip, Buenos Dias form 1965 offered for a mere $5, a favorite of mine since these cute little critters spoke in Spanish, with the English translation below. Or you could just get a wonderful 1957 Johnny Hazard action strip by Frank Robbins' for only fifteen bucks. Early Bob Montana Archie dailies ran $30, which was the same price for a Bob Lubbers' Tarzan, while his work on Long Sam or The Saint could be snapped up for $10 each. Alex Kotzky's Apartment 3-G dailies would also set you back a ten spot, but a Jack Kent King Aroo Sunday from 1953 would only be twice that small amount, still very cheep all around. And don't forget to pick up some Stan Lynde Rick O' Shay dailies for $15 dollars each, since in a few years they become much harder to find due to his studio fire that unfortunately destroyed most of the originals. Hindsight really is twenty-twenty.

A Fontaine Fox Toonerville Trolley piece from 1951 was $80, not a bad price at all, but I would take a Frank Godwin Rusty Riley Sunday for the same price any day over a single panel strip. Save up for something bigger and you might get an early Milton Caniff Terry and the Pirates daily from 1937 for $250, or perhaps another terrific daily from '46 with the infamous Dragon Lady for $150, or just pop for a Terry Sunday from 8-27-44 for $175. But don't forget the Steve Canyon dailies from the late sixties priced at forty dollars each from these dealers. Time for a real deal, how about a Frank Frazetta Johnny Comet Sunday from the mid forties for the whopping sum of $120, best thing I've seen so far. But you don't have to look very far to find the real "heavy hitters" including a 1940s George Herriman Krazy Kat Sunday for $500, or a zany 1937 daily for just $200! What about one of the greatest cartoonists ever, Harold Foster, on his signature strip Prince Valiant, a full Sunday from 5-6-56 was only $475, or pick up one from his talented successor, a John Cullen Murphy Val from 1973 for $120.

How about a wonderfully illustrated 1952 Cisco Kid daily by Argentinean artist Jose Luis Salinas for fifty bucks, or you could choose from three late sixties Al Williamson Secret Agent Corrigan dailies for $40 each. Chic Young Blondie strips were the same price, and an Al Capp Li'L Abner Sunday from 1938 would cost you $60! OK, here are the real big deals, you've all been waiting for. Anybody want an Alex Raymond Flash Gordon Sunday from 5-15-38 for $2900. Clearly the most expensive piece in the ad, but just a steal in today's strip art market. Jungle Jim Sundays were $325, and an absolutely gorgeous Rip Kirby could be yours for $90! A historic Windsor McCay Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend Sunday from 1907 was listed at $700. But the biggest deal by far would have to be the Charles Schultz Peanuts pieces, with a Sunday from 1955 for one hundred dollars. Dailies from the early fifties were shown @ $40 each, and some exceptional later sixties pieces for a mere $100 each. This solid 1951 Snoopy example below sold three years ago at auction for the grand sum of $40,250 for the 4 panel daily, that's $10,062.50 a panel! If you were lucky enough to buy this from these dealers,(if they had it for sale) it would have increased in value 1006% over the past thirty years. Too bad I was still reading my beloved comic strips, instead of collecting the original art for them.