Saturday 17 March 2007

"'Look,' Browne said, 'St Patrick's day is coming up. You're taking a pill that is turning your urine blue..."

It's St Patrick's, the day of the year when it is customary to needlessly turn everything green, like the Chicago River in this fine photo taken on this day two years ago (courtesy Wikipedia.)
I find myself reminded of the great cartoonist Stan Drake, only because in Comics Between the Panels (by Duin and Richardson, Dark Horse, 1998) which is perhaps my favorite history of comics because it is entirely anecdotal and unpretentious, there is this anecdote:
"In the late 1940s. Stan Drake strained his prostate while digging post holes and putting fences around his house. Worried about a discharge, Drake checked with his doctor, who gave him some pills to take care of the problem. But the good doctor warned Drake that his urine would run blue for the next week.
'Pure blue,' Drake said. 'For about a week I'm pissing blue.'
When wordof this phenomenon got aropund the office at Johnstone and Cushing, Dik Browne dropped by to see Drake with a small brainstorm.
'Look,' Browne said, 'St Patrick's day is coming up. You're taking a pill that is turning your urine blue. But if you don't take it one day, the color will be weakened. And since you normally piss yellow, and Wednesday is St. Patrick's Day...'
Say no more. Drake said. 'So, on Tuesday, I didn't take a pill. And Wednesday morning I let a little squirt come out and, Jesus Christ, it was green. At noon, Dik had gone down the hall and invited everone on the 14th floor of Johnstone and Cushing into the men's room. So, I took it out and peed this brilliant green piss on St. Patrick's Day.'

I'm almost as fond of Drake as I am of Leonard Starr, whom I discussed here a couple of months back. Drake started the Juliet Jones daily strip in 1953, with Eliot caplin writing. It was fast paced, with snappy dialogue. Even though he used polaroid photos for reference for most of the figures, he had a way of exaggerating the histrionics just so, showing the graphic wit of a true cartoonist:

Anther quality I love about his work is his very acute sense of place:

And the way situations could be expressed very succintly in a single panel:

The above samples are from the first year of the strip, taken from the first of the three archive volumes published in the late '80s by Arcadia of Greenfield WI, whom I know nothing about. Enthusiasts chasing further can find up to ten volumes in Spanish, though of fewer pages each which makes it all overlappy.

Drake had a lighter touch in his work of the '60s here's a gallery of original dailies for sale, but you can enlarge and read.

I think this is a site belonging to Drake's son. It has some good photos of the artist.

Prof Mendez wrote a splendid essay on Drake, but it's not up at his site, although his opening page has a gorgeous colour example of Juliet Jones which can be enlarged to screen size.

There's another technique I mentioned in my piece on Starr that is beloved of this school of strip art and that's the 'talking building'. This fell out of vogue a long time ago, presumably because my generation are so po faced serious and found it too cartoony and unreal. I don't understand any of that and I love to look at it. It's a way of changing scene without a bridging caption and it makes more sense than 'meanwhile back at the ranch' which belongs to an older world that moved so much slower. It makes for variety during a conversation, and also adds to that constant sense of place that I referred to above.
It also added a great deal to an overall homogeneity among artists working in the 'photoreal style' (as Prof Mendez has dubbed it), which I like. I've always been more interested in the similarities between artists than in the differences. Thus this little situation appeals to me no end. The first panel is by Drake, from the 1970 sunday page in which Juliet Jones marries Owen Cantrell. It's the opening panel and presumably Drake has used a photo of new York buildings from his clip file of magazine and newspaper cuttings. Coincidentally, Al Williamson, another master of the photoreal style who had to wait until 1967 to get his own daily strip, Secret Agent Corrigan, had already used this same photo for reference in a short story in 1964 in the first issue of Creepy magazine (the story about the cartoonist's assistant, Baldo Smudge).
Anyway, compare the two. Stylistically they are interchangeable.

(In Williamson's own copy I imagine he has long ago filled in the annoying gap between the building and the edge of the balloon at the extreme right. If he's online he's probably even now applying ink to his computer screen.)



Blogger Christopher Moonlight said...

Turning everything green (including piss) is an esthetic choice. Are not all esthetic choices also moral choices? (for the artist who leaves his wife and child to make art, still believes he is doing it for the greater good.) If so, are morals pointless? Are they only obstacles to our pursuit of art. Then again, what is art without esthetics? If one cannot exist without the other, does that make art pointless, too? This canna be!!! For ideas come from art (or does art come from ideas?) and ideas are the origin of everything mankind has made for it's self. In which case we must conclude that we are all pointless, which I canna except, because I'm too good looking to be. Ah, train of thought, tong in cheek. I crack me up sometimes. Well, I'm off to me kip. Enjoy the day.

17 March 2007 at 02:37:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That cartoony touch that Stan Drake brought to photorealism came to the fore later in his career as artist on Blondie. His transition from Julliet Jones to that strip made me go Whaaaaaa? but his art fit that as well. Occasional touches of Drake's reality-based style came through, particularly in scene-setting shots during carpool drives and bit-character faces that were presumably recognizable cameos of friends.

17 March 2007 at 12:09:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Leigh Walton said...

When Frank Cho was doing the Liberty Meadows strip, he'd periodically claim his editors had nixed a storyline and he'd run "a heartwarming tale from one of America's most beloved cartoonists," i.e. a savage Family Circus parody. And he'd sign them "Baldo Smudge."

Oddly enough, I can find no reference to this on the web. Hang on:

17 March 2007 at 16:20:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

that story was always a well known joke among comics people. here are a couple of refs

Personally I thought it was ruined by the stupid horror-comic ending where the shambling bodies of the murdered artist inker and letterer come out of the river to wreak their revenge, finishing the weeks strips using Baldo's blood.
God i hate all that tasteless crap. Give me soap opera any day.
I only kept the loose pages of the Williamson story for the anecdote about the taling building panel.
Williamson and Goodwin had both been working as assistants for newspaper strip artists. Williamson for Prentice on Rip kirby and Goodwin for Leonard Starr on Mary Perkins.

When I mentioned Smudge in the post I had a bad feeling we might get sidetracked.
my pal Bissette loved that story to pieces.

17 March 2007 at 16:40:00 GMT-5  
Blogger James Robert Smith said...

Ah, Chicago's green river for St. Patty's Day. There's something really creepy about that.

Chicago spawned one of my favorite writers: Wayne Sallee. Whose every blog entry is a work of prose poetry. (Lately, he's been recounting for all how he was run down by a car in 1989 and how this trauma affected his other health problems).

17 March 2007 at 17:39:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Kelly Kilmer said...

Actually, I don't know what's creepier-Chicago river bein' green OR the weirdos that dye and eat green food (food that usually isn't green) on Saint Patrick's Day. Green milkshakes-UGH.
I'm off to end the day with The Quiet Man and then to bed with Portrait of the Artist...

17 March 2007 at 22:56:00 GMT-5  
Blogger James Robert Smith said...


18 March 2007 at 11:25:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Jack Ruttan said...

Maybe the "brightness" of the balloon obscures part of the building nearest it.

At least that's what I think when inking stuff like that, and not liking to bring the blacks right up to the edge of another object. (that's an oddball technical sentence which maybe only makes sense to me, but I'll let it stand.)

18 March 2007 at 17:48:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Stuart Immonen said...

If I'm not mistaken, that's the Standard Oil Building in the middle of the Williamson/ Drake panels:

Two things stand out for me: one, that they both interpreted the architecture inaccurately (but similarly inaccurately), and two, that the original photo would have registered as being graphically striking enough to include in both artists' reference morgues (and likely many others' besides).

Those heavy black bookend frames are gorgeous, and in a storytelling sense, very useful.

Well spotted, Eddie.

18 March 2007 at 21:46:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

thanks for the info, Stuart.
great to hear from you.

it later occurred to me that , while Drake would not be looking downwards at a horror mag to swipe a background, it's not outside the realm of possibility that he was using an assistant for backgrounds who had no hesitation about lifting from Creepy .

that's justt an alt possibility to the one that they both clipped the same photo.

18 March 2007 at 21:53:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neal Adams maintains that the Baldo Smudge story is based on a real life cartoonist, but he won't say who.

19 March 2007 at 00:36:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Thanks to Mark Evanier too.
I've been going back studying the lettering on there. Well blow me down. Ben Oda! we're into subtleties when leterers start getting recognized.

Hi to everbody else on here.
Joyce's or Heller's

Jh wrote Portrait of the Artist as an OLD man... a favourite of mine


19 March 2007 at 00:57:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Steve Lieber said...

Archie Goodwin confirmed for me that the Baldo Smudge story was indeed based on a real situation. He also told me the name of the cartoonist Baldo was based on. I, of course, didn't bother to write it down, and now I've forgotten, but he was a minor figure who- unsurprisingly - didn't have much of a career.

At my studio, it's become traditional for the first assignment for a new intern to be re-inking (over bluelines) the splash page of that story.

-Steve Lieber

22 March 2007 at 03:27:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

putting two and two together i for a long time figure it had to be a guy named Don Sherwood whe drew a patriotic miltary type strip in the early sixties titled 'Dan Flagg' (the ones I've seen always looked to me like Alden McWilliams' work)... Sherwood came out of nowhere, with no comic BOOK credits that i know of. anyway i googled his name and Smudge's together and came up with
"What makes this story particularly interesting is a claim by George Evans that it is based on a true event. According to Evans (from an interview in The Comics Journal #177)…

“That was based on the guy who “drew” Dan Flagg, Don Sherwood. The first parts were art swipes from Alex Raymond’s RIP Kirby, and as the schedule hit him, producing strips seven days a week plus the story, he began to hire other people to do it. These included Al Williamson, myself and Wally Wood. He hired a whole slew of people and it turned out, as we talked to each other, that that’s what was happening. He was buying the story, buying the art and everything else, but his name was signed large and clear on all these strips. The guy was a real pain in the ass.

Sherwood later drew the Flintstones for eight years, so maybe he was just out of his depth with the heroic thing. (to be charitable)


22 March 2007 at 06:09:00 GMT-5  

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