Monday, March 26, 2012

National Cartoonist Society Profile: Alex Raymond

One of America's most influential comic strip and illustration artists, Alexander Gillespie Raymond is celebrated for his outstanding work on his Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim, Secret Agent X-9 and Rip Kirby for King Features Syndicate. Raymond is hailed by all as "an artist's artist," and his much-imitated, but seldom equaled style provided a legacy that would  inspire artists for generations to come. Here is his brief biography published by the NCS...He worked with Chic and Lyman Young for a while and then in 1934, the late Joe Connolly, president of King Features Syndicate, gave Raymond an idea for a Sunday page in color based on fantastic adventures similar to those of Jules Verne. This was Flash Gordon, the famed adventure feature. "I also did Jungle Jim as a top to the Gordon panel," Alex says, "and for about a year and a half I did Secret Agent X-9, but the strain grew too much and I dropped the later work." Comfortably settled as one of the nation's leading newspaper artists, Alex came to a crisis in his career: whether to remain a topflight cartoonist, or to go in for magazine illustration, for which he had shown a definite flair. He fiddled around with the latter medium, but after several years deliberation, made up his mind. "I decided honestly," he said, "that comic-art work is an art form in itself, it reflects the life and times more accurately and actually is more artistic than magazine illustration -- since it is entirely creative."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Society of Illustrators Profile: Charles Russell

Born in 1864 to an affluent family in Missouri, Charles Marion Russell, had ties to the old West as his great uncles were fur traders who excited the lad with stories of their many adventures. Never a good student, Russell quit school just shy of his 16th birthday and headed for the Montana Territory, soon making friends with cowboys, Indians,  trappers, and traders. During this time he travelled two years with a trapper on hunting expeditions making hundreds of sketches and soon became an expert an animal anatomy. His first job was wrangling at night, as Charles sketched during the day documenting his life as a cowboy and the events of ranch life in the 1890s. Often bartering a sketch to buy a meal or a round of drinks for his friends, Russell saw the Western frontier was quickly changing and decided to take up his paintbrush permanently.  Most adventurous of the Western painters with the use of color, the artist enjoyed the medium of watercolor and the many effects he could achieve. In 1896, Russell married and settled down as his pictures started appearing in the pages of Sports Afield, Field and Stream, and Outing. Soon his illustrations and painting were showcased in more mainstream magazine like McClure's, The Saturday Evening Post, Scribner's and Leslie's Weekly. Now creating for his own pleasure due to his financial success, Russell's paintings and bronzes were sought by collectors and museums alike and are still demanding high prices when offered to the public.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Buried Treasure: Tales of the Green Beret

With the success of Robin Moore's war novel, Tales of the Green Beret, in the mid-1960s, the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate decided to adapt the story as a comic strip about a member of the U.S. special forces serving in Vietnam. Originally offered to Neal Adams to draw, he suggested DC's foremost war artist, Joe Kubert, would be a better choice for the star-spangled feature. After a few try-out dailies, Moore's gritty story lines coupled with Kubert's equally piercing illustrations was a hit as the strip debuted in the early months of 1966. The story revolved around a tough talking cigar-chomping Lieutenant Ross and his special commando unit based in Vietnam. Not wanting to pull any punches, the creative team presented  the horrors of war in full force, burning villages, savage Vietcong guerrillas fire fights, and fleeing civilians were common place in this serious war strip. As the feature promoted the heroism of the American soldiers in Vietnam, the war at home was growing more unpopular with the U.S. public. In response to the change of the national mood, Kubert quit the strip in late 1967, and was replaced by John Celardo who continued on until its cancellation in 1969.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Marvel Spotlight: John Carter, Warlord of Mars

Written by Marv Wolfman and illustrated by Gil Kane, John Carter, Warlord of Mars debuted with Marvel Comics Group in 1977, based on the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. For a character who turns one hundred years old this year, John Carter unfortunately did not have much of a presence in the comics, with just a handful of issues from Dell Comics and DC before Marvel did its popular but short two year, thirty one issue run. Most of the series was set in a very narrow time frame based on the first novel, A Princess of Mars for the Marvel books. A classic story of science-fiction, Carter was a Virginian that served as a captain for the Confederacy during the Civil war who later struck it rich prospecting in Arizona. While hiding from a band of Apaches in a cave, Carter has a strange out of body experience that transports him as an astral projection to the planet Mars. Leaving his shell of a body behind, he is re-embodied once again to his present form, thought now much stronger and more agile due to the lesser gravity of the "red" planet. A true adventurer at heart, John Carter soon becomes the premiere warlord fighting weird alien creatures and Martians alike while winning the heart of the lovely Martian Princess, Dejah Thoris of Helium. Based closely on the original source material, Wolfman's excellent scripts and Kane's dynamic pictures captured the swashbuckling excitement of Burroughs first hero with all the alien beauty and savage action of the novels. Recently licenced to other comic companies and with a big budget Disney movie to be released soon, John Carter should inspire a whole new legion of fans for the next century.


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Esteban Maroto's...Five For Infinity

One of Esteban Maroto's earliest strip adventures, Five for Infinity (Cinco por Infinito) debuted in September of 1967 loosely based on Jean Hougron's book, The Sign of the Dog. Initially a group effort from four of the top artists from Spain's Selecciones Illustradas (Maroto, Torrents, Suso, and Usero), Maroto took over the entire book with the fifth issue to finish out its successful twenty six wild episodes. The story revolves around five earthlings who work for Infinito, the last survivor of an extinct alien race, who with the members help keep order and unity in the universe. Each of the team have a special ability they use in concert on their numerous escapades together. Beautiful physician Aline has advanced mental powers; Sirio possessed great agility and speed; Orion has Atlas like strength; Altar vast intelligence; and Hidra was added as a lovely extra addition by accident. The real beauty of the feature is to follow the evolution of Maroto's work over the course of the stories. The artist's meticulous delicate style often makes one view a page taken as a whole over individual panels. Excellent draftsmanship coupled with a mastery of the human figure fused perfectly in these perfectly balanced compositions. Whether printed originally in stark black and white, or later stories with the use of vivid color, each were equally beautiful in their own right for the dynamic adventures of Cinco por Infinito.