Fun Things To Learn From Original Art

By | Thursday, January 28, 2010 1 comment
I think examining original comic art is fascinating. The comic stories themselves are great and enjoyable, but seeing the production process "in action" as it were provides the viewer with insights into the creative decision making process. To wit...

Heritage Auction Galleries is currently auctioning off page 1 from Whiz Comics #7 by C.C. Beck circa 1940. (For those of you playing along at home, this issue was reprinted in The Shazam! Archives volume 1.)

There are plenty of cool things to take note of here.

Probably the most obvious is the header graphics of Captain Marvel, Billy and the logo. Clearly, that part was pasted in placed over the original board. That's not very surprising, given that many of the Captain Marvel stories started exactly that same way. They would have made photostats of the artwork in question and pasted it directly on the art board. More noteworthy, though -- and you'll have to head over to Heritage's sight to really see this in the hi-res version -- is that the photostatted art isn't actually very clean. It has some roughness to the lines that suggest that the photostat was taken from either a printed copy instead of the original artwork and/or it was enlarged considerably. I had always assumed that faults that I had seen like that in reprints were from poor reproduction, but I hadn't realized that it was poor reproduction from 60+ years ago and didn't have anything to do with current technological issues.

Also of note in that same header area is a horizontal cut that runs through the original art board. There's no obvious reason for it, but it's exact placement does suggest a theory. The artwork above the cut, with the exception of Billy's dialogue balloon, are photostats. The photostats are pasted down on top of the cut, meaning they were added after the cut was made. The cut happens to horizontally align just about with the most amount of paste up running from left to right. So the scenario I think this suggests is: Beck drew up the whole page. There was a decision made (by either Beck or his editor) to change Billy's opening dialogue. Rather than trying to paint out the whole word balloon and letter over it, the top of the page that included that dialogue was entirely removed. A new top portion was attached, using the new photostats to help hold it place, and a new dialogue balloon was drawn in. The Grand Comics Database suggests that this was lettered by Bill Parker, but the lettering in that first panel looks different enough to me to suggest that someone else may have done that one balloon.

Now, why do I think the editor wanted to make a change to the dialogue? Check out the far left side of the page beginning next to Captain Marvel's boot. (I've uploaded at close-up to the right.) There's a hand-written note in red. It's mostly ripped off now, but some letters are still visible, including the last three letters of the first word: ...ECK! The first letter looks like it could be a B but I have to admit to it being very hard to tell for certain. Given the sparsity with which Beck himself left margin notes on his own artwork, I'm led to believe this came from someone else and was sent back to Beck. Although I can't make out each and every word, what I can make out coupled with the art touch-ups shown (more on that in a second) suggest that this is a direction to Beck that all of the scenes on THIS PAGE need to take place at niGHT. While that doesn't really speak to the header portion of the page, it does point to art corrections being sent back to Beck before the art was used in production.

Art corrections. Beck's artwork is generally fairly clean. Even on this one page, you can tell that he doesn't make many corrections as he inked a page. And most of the ones here tend to be ensuring the integrity of line strips of white: Billy's antenna, the ship railing, etc. What also seems to show up here (compared to other Beck pages) are some touch-ups along the edges of large black areas. The sides of the ship in panel two and the crates in panel three. Also the gutter above panel four seems to have rather a lot of spillover. Now I could possibly just be reading a little too much into things, but I get the impression that much of these large black areas were added after the original linework was put down. There just seems to be less precision given to these large swaths of black than anything else. Admittedly, that could easily just be a stylistic difference but, combined with what I think I'm seeing in that editor's note, it makes me consider this differently.

The one whited-out area that I don't have a complete answer for is in panel three. The area around Billy's hand clearly shows that a deep shadow was being cast by Billy onto the crate and partially removed board. Beck then evidently decided that didn't work very well and painted over it white. Exactly why he made that change, though, I couldn't hazard a guess at the moment.

Two more things of interest, but not particularly striking. 1) there are notations throughout the art in red pencil marking up some of the color specs. (Billy's shirt is Red and his backback is Yellow.) 2) The blue pencil mark at the bottom noting the final page size to the printer. 1940 was still early enough in comic book printing that apparently someone felt the need to expressly note the page size on the art itself, and not rely on anything that might've been written up in the order specifications.

Anyway, that's what I find fascinating about this page. Anything that anyone else sees?
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Captain Blog said...

That's a plausible theory about the art slice at the top. Of course, it could be something as simple as unworkable damage (ink or glue spill, etc.)
I love seeing these also. In fact, I have some Romita Spiderman art at one of my blogs if you are interested.
They are not posted as large but are quite readable.
-The Captain-