Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Adventure Comics and Illustration

When realistic adventure comic strips appeared in the newspapers, it was a big change from the line-dominated cartoon style that had prevailed until then.

One of the pioneers of adventure comics was Milton Caniff (1907-1988). Caniff used dramatic blacks, applied with a brush, providing an opportunity to sink some forms into silhouette, or present mysterious lighting effects. He took some of his inspiration from work he saw in book illustrations.

Milt Caniff's studio mate was Noel Sickles (1910-1982), who had drawn an adventure strip called Scorchy Smith. Sickles was always interested in dramatic, realistic storytelling. He showed Caniff "a set of illustrations by Harold Von Schmidt for Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop—employing lush black brushwork, defining objects by shadows as much as outlines—Sickles introduced ultra-realism and impressionistic linework to the comics." The quote is from America's Great Comic-Strip Artists, by Richard Marschall.

When Von Schmidt (1893-1982) undertook to illustrate the lavish 1929 edition of Cather's book, he took six months off his magazine illustration career and traveled to the American southwest to see the frontier settings of Cather's book. He produced over 60 black and white illustrations, using a brush and ink style where he grouped the cast shadows with the shadow side of the form to create mysterious shapes.

Von Schmidt was very proud of the book, and it influenced not only adventure comics but pulp illustration and European comics.

More examples of Von Schmidt's work at Jim V.'s Illustrators website
Death Comes for the Archbishop


jeff jordan said...

I got real inspired to work at brush and ink after I saw the film about Greg Ruth, The Drybrush Master. I know you watched it too, Jim. I'm wondering if you know whether the sumi ink Greg uses is waterproof. I've been using Liquitex acrylic ink, liking it a lot, but it seems like what everybody doing b&i is looking for is the blackest black.

Any suggestions?

Andrew said...

Jeff, as long as the ink contains shellac it'll be waterproof. Yasutomo makes a sumi ink that's waterproof, and I'm fairly certain there's one or two other brands that you can get that are similar as well.

I find it interesting that, at least to me, the aesthetic style of adventure comics carried on in European books while the American style for a time shifted away from it. Of course, now we're finding a lot of artists being inspired by European comic artists for their aesthetic. Funny how it's come back around.

jeff jordan said...

Thanks, Drew!

Speaking of European comic artists, Moebius still rules!

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

Caniff was a big influence on me during college, so its fascinating to learn of his roots as well.