Friday, August 21, 2009

Foreign Favorites: Air Hawk and the Flying Doctors

After years of drawing comics for various Australian publishers, John Dixon finally achieved his goal in creating Air Hawk and the Flying Doctors which debuted on June 14, 1959 in the Sydney Sunday Herald. Four years later Dixon was granted a daily in May 1963, which the artist quickly focused all his attention on, crafting the amazing stories he both wrote and illustrated. Jim Hawk was a tall blond World War ll fighter ace who flew an air charter service based out of Alice Springs, servicing central Australian. As part of his duties he also assisted the Royal Flying Doctor Service in making emergency "house calls" over the thousands of square miles of the Australian outback. Dr. Hal Wayne was Jim's close friend who inadvertently got mixed up in Hawk's adventures, as well as the lovely Sister Janet Grant, a nurse to round out the cast. Dixon's strong strips had plenty of action, drama, and suspense, showcasing his extreme attention to detail in every storyline and illustration.

The aircraft, people, wildlife, and landscapes, especially in describing the world's oldest inhabitants, the Aborigines, were all displayed with equal care and authenticity by the keen eye of this creator. Dixon, a good pilot in his own right, made this feature the ultimate aviation strip, a realistically drawn adventure for readers to experience the far-off exotic locals of Australia. Inspired by the "big three" of comic art, Alex Raymond, Hal Foster, and Milt Caniff, Dixon leaned more to the "Caniff School" in his drafting, but was also equally impressed with contemporary artist Stanley Pitt's expressive figure work. John was also blessed to be an exceptional script writer, who could easily handle any facet of producing a high quality strip. With the assistance of his wife, Eleanor, who acted as his part-time secretary, Dixon enjoyed a wonderful studio perched high on a hillside of their home at Bugan Head Beach. This delightful view was enjoyed by many, as John was a great booster of Australian talent, giving a helping hand to any who asked. Mike Tabrett took over the Sunday once Dixon got the rights for a daily, and was also assisted by comic veteran Hart Amos under John's helpful guidance. These two talented artists, who also shared a love for authentic storytelling, helped further promote the strip until it eventually appeared in Hong Kong, South Africa, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Holland, Turkey, New Zealand, Germany, France, Sweden, Argentina, and the only American appearance in the historic Menomonee Falls Gazette.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

National Cartoonist Society Profile: Ernie Bushmiller

Here is the brief bio of Ernie Bushmiller, creator of a popular humor strip about a cute little girl named Nancy and her street wise pal, Sluggo, whose many adventures lasted for decades in the funny papers... I was born in the Bronx, New York City. Started out as a copy boy on the famous New York World. My first strip was called Fritzi Ritz. Have been drawing "Nancy" for United Features since 1940 --- Years ago I also worked as a comedy writer for comedian Harold Lloyd -- I usually like to work at night -- no hobbies yet -- I'm just too lazy -- I would like to try to play tennis if it could be done sitting down --I live with my beautiful wife Abby in Stamford, Connecticut -- I just read the above and find myself very uninteresting.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Those Comic Inkers, Inking Out a Living

I've always enjoyed any artist who was fortunate enough to be able to pencil and ink their own material. Lots of comic book artists come to mind, but creators like Doug Wildey, Frank Thorne, Dan Spiegle, Joe Kubert, Butch Guice, Pat Boyette, Russ Heath, Tom Sutton, Jim Aparo, Alex Toth, must top my list. But I'm equally fascinated by a gifted comic inker over a favorite penciller that can complement the artist’s vision and not overtake it with their own style. Often these embellishers are just great artist's in their own right. But a new interest of mine is when I find a book with a penciller/inker combination that is really odd and the often strange results they produce. But first let me mention a few of my favorite inkers in the field.

Most fans agree that Joe Sinnott is one of the top inkers of all time, with his colossal work over Jack Kirby’s pencils on the Fantastic Four being the highlight of his career at Marvel Comics. I’ve heard others say his work was still as vibrant and strong in the nineties as it was in the sixties before he retired from the industry a few years ago, but I never owned a page of his work until recently. I just found a Mighty Thor page at the end of his career penciled by Ron Frenz (doing his best Kirby homage) that Sinnott finished, and was amazed to see what all the hype was about. Sinnott had lost none of his skills, inking just as solid and precise as he did in his earlier days with Marvel!

Any page I've ever seen that embellisher Tom Palmer touched turned out to be golden in my book, with his lush illustrative approach whether it be Neal Adams pencils on there X-Men and Avengers collaborations or Gene Colan’s work on Marvel’s fantastic run of Tomb of Dracula. Palmer has to be up there on the top ten list of inkers in the comic profession. Dick Giordano’s slick inks over Irv Novick or Neal Adams Batman issues were some of my favorites from childhood, with his bold use of blacks and detailed pen strokes helped make the Caped Crusader one of the most popular of DC characters. I also fondly remember his Iron Fist issues over Larry Hama and his own pencils and inks on Wonder Woman, Human Target, and Elongated Man. I once had a Murphy Anderson Atom & Hawkman page with the Shadow Thief that was later in the run, so it was not twice-up, but even in the modern format size of 11 x 17 the detail and precision to the page was something to behold. When I think of the Silver Age of National Comics, Anderson has to be recognized as one of the best inkers, especially his seminal work on Superman with Curt Swan and my favorite, the excellent work with Carmine Infantino on Mystery in Space.

Frank Giacoia has done some spectacular work over the pencils of Gil Kane (Kane has stated Frank was one of his favorites, he’s “an extraordinarily powerful inker”), Jack Kirby, Gene Colan, and featured here a Sal Buscema Captain America page. Frank’s smooth, thick line really help firm up page the action, as Giacoia just knows how to embellish a story in a very strong, direct way, that's simple but yet well defined. I also enjoy the work of Klaus Janson, but he can be too strong an inker for many a penciller. I like his inks best on his own work, but who could deny the power he added to Frank Miller’s pencils on their historic Daredevil collaboration back in the eighties with his heavy thick brushstrokes. Janson’s dark, moody, shadowy pieces worked equally well on the Batman titles.

Another one of the newer inkers that have made a big impression on the comic market has to be the superlative work of Mark Farmer. His pages appears to be influenced by other impressive inkers from the seventies like Bob McLeod or Joe Rubenstein, who helped show him the way of boiling down the process to emphasize a clean, clear style to please the reader’s eye. Farmer is known for his work with Dale Keown on the Incredible Hulk, but I prefer anything he has done with Alan Davis, such as his Killraven mini-series, X-Men, or Excalibur issues.

Sometimes when I run across a comic with such a wild choice for the penciller and inker, I wonder what the editor was thinking when he matched them together. It’s probably just a matter of cost, availability, speed, location, or a million other factors that goes into putting out a monthly publication. It’s just when you see too different styles clash together that they really stand out, like when George Roussos inked DC romance comics drawn by Jay Scott Pike or John Rosenberger. All that delicate light touch from these slick ad men got muddied up with that thick bold line of Roussos.

And there were those handful of issues from Amazing Adventures starring the Black Widow and Inhumans inked by the detailed fine lines of Bill Everett. The first few books were illustrated by Gene Colan, which Everett’s inks worked very well on those pages. A few issues later “Dandy” Don Heck took over the book, and Bill’s embellishments started to clash with Heck’s take of the character. But by the time Mike Sekowsky took over the reigns for the last appearance, it was now a quirky miss-match since Everett tried to follow the pencils that were clearly going in a different direction from Bill’s clean efficient style. It can be hard at times to see superior artists inking less talented creators like Wally Wood’s inks over Bob Brown on Superboy, or Walt Simonson in Hercules Unbound, though they can help make the pages more valuable.

You can get some drastic results though when Vince Colletta inks Neal Adams pencils on the Brave and the Bold, or Dick Ayers finishes Steve Ditko on Sgt. Fury. Another couple of strange paring that cross my mind is Jerry Grandenetti’s work on that one issue of The Spectre inked by Murphy Anderson and John Tartaglione embellishments over Jim Steranko on an X-Men appearance. Sometimes these inking results can turn out to be horrible, some are just more unusual, and rarely, like in the case of Joe Kubert inks over Frank Thorne pencils in Tomahawk, the results can be fantastic. But whether the pieces turn out to be good, bad, or ugly, if it’s comic art, I will probably enjoy it all the same and want to collect it.