Friday, 2 December 2011

It's just comics- part 11

continuing my informal look at ROMANCE comics

It took me a while to warm to the romances of the publisher Quality Comics, which is odd as I would now say that the better ones are among the best that ever were. You can find a large number to read at the Digital comics Museum and a timeline history of the company here. The thing that kept me cool about them was the veneer of slickness that is spread over all the stories, a barrier against my search for the thumbprints of individual artists and writers that is largely what motivates me to rake through the old stuff. I enjoy seeking out my artistic forebears and seeing how they lived and worked, and observing their movements in their striving to make a living in this cockeyed medium I have made my home. Those stories have for a long time been of more interest to me than the ones in the four-colour pages.

Diary Loves #5, May 1950

Quality launched 14 romance titles amounting to a total of 83 issues published between August 1949 and October 1950, at which point everything temporarily collapsed because of what Michelle Nolan, in her excellent Love on the Racks: a history of American Romance comics, calls the Love Glut. I don't have access to every single one of them, but I'll stick my neck out on a generalization and and say that in the 350 stories approximately that appeared therein, not a single one carried a writer or artist credit. This is odd, because the company showed credits in, for example, its Modern Comics in 1948 (to refer to one I've looked at recently), where it enjoys showing off ts range of very individualistic talents. This is even more the case a bit further back, in Police Comics #1 of 1941, in which all eleven stories have a signature, even if one or two of them are pseudonyms. However, by the time of the romance books there seems to be a policy at Quality of leaving out the signatures. (there was one artist in the seven year span of these books who signed his name, but let's ignore that anomaly for now)

I don't think an editorial entity sets out to manufacture a 'house style', but it is likely to have a picture in its head of the ideal work, which may look more or less like the best one of recent times or it might even look like one that doesn't exist yet, which would attribute to the editorial entity some artistic vision. Such an imaginary construct might consist of the best quality of each of the available talents. The idea is not new. In ancient times, Lucian imagined the perfect female statue made up of the best qualities of other known statues. The obvious problem with this is that the personalities of the various artists, their quirks and oddities and peculiar poise, the things I said I was looking for above, are carpeted over.

Before even getting to the part that involves the qualities of this or that artist, a house style can start with the simplest considerations; let's say a concept of graphic decorum that requires margins and gutters to have the manicured edges of a bowling lawn. This is Carmine Infantino, from the recently posted archive interview at the Comics Journal:
The following summer I got a job over at Quality Comics. That was the Ray, Black Condor, and that group. My job was to erase pages and white out any lines — Busy Arnold, the owner, didn’t like any little black lines sticking outside of panels. He had a fetish about it.
Quality's line-up of talent at different times included some of the top guys in the business whose work was always immediately recognisable to those interested in such things: Will Eisner, Jack Cole, Lou Fine, Reed Crandall, Paul Gustavson, and others including Bill Ward. Ward was an all-round artist who anonymously drew a lot of the action series Blackhawk when it became more than Crandall could handle:
"However, things worked out great. Reed Crandall was given (Blackhawk in) Military, changed now to Modern Comics, and I was given the Blackhawk book. Unfortunately, there was one difference for us: We were just to do penciling – inkers were to take over from there.
A few words about "inkers." I’ve always contended, perhaps unfairly, that an inker was an artist that couldn’t handle a strip on his own, that all he had to do was go over the pencil lines with a brush. I was very disappointed with the way my Blackhawks turned out. They weren’t nearly as good as the complete jobs I’d done before the war.
If it affected me, it affected Reed Crandall far more. Never again was he to create the classic Blackhawks that he did in 1941-42. His bold yet simple inking style was lost as the inkers butchered his penciling. He and I were destined to go on doing Blackhawk this way for 7 years."
(from an autobiographical account)
Ward was also top-notch in the humorous style. His strip Torchy, which started appearing in Modern comics in 1946, was a very striking piece of work. These were days when comics were funny and filled with characters like Berp the Twerp and Granny Gumshoe. Torchy was a blonde who was dumb in the way of blondes back then, but who always somehow came out on top in whatever situation she found herself in. Being stylistically outre seems to have been the goal in the humorous stuff of the late '40s.

Modern Comics #63, July 1947

Torchy is elongated like a Barby doll and looks like she's going to be made of the same stiff plastic, but somehow Ward gets in little observational details that make his female figures very appealing. Torchy was to get her own comic book:
"Then disaster struck, the greatest disappointment of my career. I had finished the cover and the lead story for issue No. 1 when George Brenner phoned and told me they were taking me off Torchy! Romance comics had come on the scene at the same time and they were instantly best sellers. None of the other artists, due to the fact they had had no experience doing women, could handle it – it had to be me. They planned on a bunch of books, and I was to do the covers and lead stories. It meant lots more money for me, but I was furious!
I phoned Busy and pleaded with him that Torchy was my baby. I just wouldn’t turn her over to another artist. We ended up with a compromise. If I could find the time, he would let me do as many of the covers as I could manage, plus the same with the lead stories.
Thus, since Ward was already drawing a female character he was made the mainstay of the Quality romance comics, doing the covers and lead stories in all the books at first. This is the first page of the first story (the scan looks like it's been tweaked to bring out the colour contrasts):

Heart Throbs #1, Aug 1949

As I said in an earlier post, they got the idea of doing romance comics from the romance pulps, but it took a while to figure out what a romance story was supposed to look like when it was in a comic, and even who the readers were supposed to be. By the time of this later example, also by Ward, you can see that they were getting a clearer idea about it.

Campus Loves #2, Feb 1950

Within a couple of years Ward, ironically, was being used as an inker on the romances, bringing the work of diparate pencillers closer together. At least that seems to be the case. Nobody seems to know for sure. The panel at the top of this post is from a story posited to be inked by Ward over Sid Greene (?) pencils. Question marks appear after all such guesses. A house style has been successfully created. You can figure out how it happens. The editor could combine his best penciller, penciller A1 with inker A1, but the company, having put itself in the position of having to deliver an implausibly large number of comic books, reasons that it would be something of a waste to have the best people going over the top of each other. It would make more sense to have Penciller A1 combined with Inker A2, and inker A1 working over penciller A2. Inker A2, after working over the excellent pencils of penciller A1 for six months, it's now felt that he may have picked up enough of A1 's stylistic tricks to reproduce them hismself. Let's move inker A2 up to pencilling, and have inker B3 go over him. After a couple of years of this kind of thinking, you can imagine that all the personal qualities would have been evened out. But what if your people are so good that even inker B3 would be top at any other company? Imagine the overall level of slickness that could be achieved. This is Quality Comics at its organisational peak at the end of 1950.

If I had to describe the Quality style at that time, I would say that its hallmarks are, to begin with, the lettering, mechanical Leroy lettering for a short time, with the nice touch of lower case in the captions (I mentioned this earlier in connection with a different publisher. I suspect it may have started at Quality);

Hollywood Secrets #5, Jul 1950

The colouring is distinctive too. I wonder if this is due to a particular printer used by Quality. Red often sits nicely on the page without looking gaudy, and the paper itself often appears to have a cool greyness about it. If you look again at the panel at top, there are two shades of red with a cool green between them, which strike me as a tasteful Quality effect. And I see the same agreeableness in this Lady Luck page form 1945, from a handful of Klaus Nordling stories posted by Ger Apeldoorn last week.

There was also a fetish among the Quality artists for elaborately rendered hair, which you can see in the glossy blonde hair of the standing figure of Torchy in the second illo above, and in the following, for which I have notated a recurring inker named 'tidy hair inker'. (these are two particularly exaggerated examples to make my point)

Campus Loves #4, Jun 1950

Hollywood Secrets #6, Sept 1950

In fact, when they draw for other publishers they take the hair with them, it seems. This is Fred Guardineer drawing for Eastern Color. His credits at Quality are usually given as ending in 1944, but i wonder if he's not 'tidy hair inker', assigned at one time or another to cover just about every penciller in the stable during 1949/50.

Movie Love #4, Aug 1950, (Eastern Color)

Romance comics are still inadequately catalogued. I can open up file after file at the Grand Comics Database and it's all just story title and then question marks for all the creative people. Some 26 artists names have been posited for half of the stories in that first year of Quality romance. After that it gets harder still. Jim Vadeboncoeur has done a lot of work recently to put some names in place and Ger Appeldoorn is to be applauded for identifying a number of stories attributable to a young Gene Colan. There's one 1953 story for which three experts have each attributed a different penciller, which in my experience usually indicates a new artist swiping figures from a number of places to construct his story.
Next up I'll examine a single story that I think is rather good.

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Anonymous Michael said...

Thanks again for this series, Eddie. Like Sim's glamour puss your interest in these artists is also illuminating an area of comics that I wouldn't normally consider worth viewing. And the business decisions that dictated editorial decisions are fascinating to read about.

3 December 2011 at 09:27:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Pepo Pérez said...

Same here, Eddie

4 December 2011 at 17:17:00 GMT-5  
Blogger TEBEOBIEN said...

JESÚS MARÍA Y JOSÉ, that's good girl art. i love torchy!

5 December 2011 at 12:09:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Charles Hatfield said...

Tidy hair inker = proto-Charles Burns!

6 December 2011 at 14:04:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

Charles, yes, I thought so too.

7 December 2011 at 01:11:00 GMT-5  

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