Wednesday, 30 June 2010

The Spawn of Herge Part 2 - Tintin and the Pirates!!!

In yesterday's posting reviewing the work of the (imo) U.K.'s premier "ligne claire" artist Garen Ewing I did of course make reference to the great grand daddy of all such stories Tintin and work of his creator Herge. And I did rather perversely include a Tintin page which was not entirely the work of Herge. The page in question was the opening page of "Tintin and Alph-Art" which was to be the twenty fourth book in the series, which Herge eventually commenced work on in 1978, the book was still imcomplete when Herge died some five years later.

The 1980's was a period when a whole generation of young graphic artists were experimenting with variations on the "ligne claire" style and some of the artists Jooste Swarte and Ted Benoit in particular, seemed to achieve an incredible fidelity to Herge's linear style. Benoit also adopted much of Herge's storytelling flair in the adventures of L.A. detective, Ray Banana with "Berceuse Electrique" and "Citie Lumiere" as fine examples of his craft.

Many of the artists involved in the "ligne claire" movement contributed their own distinct homages to Herge  and these were collected together in a special tribute publication at the time of Herge's death in 1983. But the homages went way beyond just a page or two and with varying degrees of obsessive dedication to the cause, attempts were made to produce Tintin books that never were.

One of the most obvious launch pads for such projects was the incomplete, "Tintin and Alph-Art" which Herge had started after considering other ideas such as a story entitled "Tintin and A Day at an Airport", which involved the murder of General Tapioca by the villainous Ernst Muller as it's springboard. The book which was evidently slowed in it's production by Herge's increasing infirmity and perhaps relative lack of enthusiasm for the project was at the time of his death, 20 pages short of completion with 150 pages of alternative sketches and dialogue varying from nearly fully penciled to barely vestigial. The pages were eventually collected together and the book was first published by Casterman in 1986.

But pages from this incomplete opus were evidently in circulation before then as another edition of this book appeared in the same year and this time it was complete!!!

What had happened was that a young (very young - he was only 17 at the time) French Canadian named Yves Rodier had not only worked up all of Herge's drawings into finished line-work but he had also speculated as to what the resolution of this story might have been in much the manner that various authors have attempted to resolve Dicken's unfinished "Edwin Drood".

Now Rodier's book was evidently a breach of copyright but in general terms it was evident that he was doing it more as a homage rather than as a money making venture and sources close to the Herge estate regarded the project with at least a degree of indulgence. These sources included veteran artist and key player in the Herge Studio Bob De Moor (who as readers of earlier postings will recall was the man who pretty nearly entirely redrew "Black Island" in 1966.

In 1991 De Moor approached Herge's widow Fanny Remi, who was initially at least receptive to the idea that perhaps Rodier and De Moor should collaborate on producing a definitive and wrinkle free version of "Alph-Art" for publication by Casterman who were enthusiastically supportive of the enterprise. However Fanny herself was by this stage in love with Nick Rodwell,an enterprising young man who had launched a shop in London's Covent garden selling Tintin merchandise a few years earlier.

By the time the now Mrs Rodwell came to review the proposal she had evidently changed her mind and in accord with her late husband's wishes that no one should carry on the Tintin character, she declined giving the project her go-ahead.

Since then Editions Moulinsart which was founded by Mr Rodwell,  have done an excellent job in exploiting Herge's legacy with an adroit mix of commercial enterprise coupled with extreme good taste, but at the same time have been extremely litigious regarding any transgressions or infringements of the Tintin legacy. Which means that this posting might only appear for a short while, and also means that links for Rodier's "Alph-Art" which is now available in Bengali as well as a host of other languages, come and go with remarkable frequency.

So enjoy these Rodier homages while you may - fascinating stuff. I'm also including another example by someone else based in Canada for an unpublished and never to be (although a few pages do exist) edition of a never was Tintin "Le Projet  O-Light". Could Ed and Yves be one and the same???

Find out in the next ...







Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The Spawn of Herge U.K. Style - Garen Ewing and the Fabulous "Rainbow Orchid"

I can remember when as a lad I was captivated by Tintin. In fact this seduction preceded even my long lasting love affair with U.S. comics. The catalyst for this captivation was somewhat unlikely, but in the sixties on U.K. TV there was an animated series of adaptations of Tintin. This wasn't the animations that we are now much more familiar with, no these were truly dreadful affairs which involved a lot of re-writing, so that they could be chopped up into five minute segments and televised on a daily basis.

But at the time I was hooked on animation and I obviously at least sub-consciously felt that perhaps, if I could up my game with my French studies I'd stand a better chance blagging a job with the Tele Hachette and Belvision Studios than I would with the studio in Southern California, located on Hyperion Avenue aka The Mouse Factory aka Walt Disney Studios.

But despite the terrible animation of the sixties Tintin, I was I'll admit more than a little impressed with the atmosphere that was injected into these episodes. Silhouettes and dark shadows added a nicely 'noire' atmosphere to the goings on of the rubbery troupe and the stentorian voice with it's "quaintly" Franklin Delano  Roosevelt accent launching each episode with the memorable; "HUUUUURRRRRRRGAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYY'S ADVENTURRRRRRRRRRRRRRSSSSSS
ensured that your attention didn't wander. Not that it had much time to wander, for before you knew where you were the stentorian voice of late President Franklin Delano Roosevelt would be blasting in your ears again;



I was intrigued to find the source of these stories and did dimly remember seeing some of the books from time to time in our local W.H. Smiths. So I eventually located and bought a couple of them and was instantly hooked to the extent that I even attempted to produce my own version based around a comic strip version of Sherlock Holmes, it barely staggered past the first page and looked truly awful in comparison with the real deal but I was nevertheless inspired.

Evidently a similar Damoscean conversion to the wonders of Herge and "La Ligne Claire", befell the young Garen Ewing but unlike my own artistic odyssey Garen stuck with the vision and managed to not only refine his work, so that he convincingly absorbed the "ligne claire" style without becoming a slave to it but also and this is equally impressive, managed to develop his writing skills so that he could write and draw his own adventures, which his recently published "Rainbow Orchid - The Adventures of Julius Chancer" so impressively demonstrates.

Along with the appearance of many of the strips from The DFC in album format Garen Ewing's "Rainbow Orchid" represents a rare moment in UK publishing when the much vaunted comics revolution is made a reality through the vision and determination of the creators involved.

No one has shown more vision and determination in this regard than Mr Ewing. The gestation of "The Rainbow Orchid" is a long one and is documented by Garen in his long running "Rainbow Orchid" blog, which is a real internet delight, here you can get sneak previews from "RO" as well as snippets on the history of this remarkable project, interviews with Garen and even film of Garen' s working procedure. There really is nothing quite like it that I've yet uncovered out there in cyberville and the site itself is beautifully designed - it is the ultimate backup resource for "Rainbow Orchid" fans as well as being a fantastic ongoing promotional tool for the series.

In an era when we are told that "the graphic novel" has come of age, the evidence for this paraded through through the broadsheets being a succession of brilliant but inevitably angst ridden explorations of hitherto taboo subjects often involving harrowing journeys of self exploration, it is therefore really good to see that there are still comic creators out there who are determined to provide broadly based entertainment for as wide an audience as Herge's works have commanded for over half a century.

The Rainbow Orchid is in every respect just such a book, the premise is satisfyingly simple yet compelling, involving a race to secure a rare and beautiful orchid with the young research assistant Julius Chancer cast as the lynchpin of the proceedings. The books are much in the manner of Herge's Tintin and also Edgar P. Jacobs "Blake and Mortimer" adventures. Meticulously researched by Ewing, the cast of characters are beautifully delineated as is the time frame that they occupy which is the post war world of the nineteen twenties, where international travel was still the province of the very wealthy, but achievable within a sufficiently short time frame to allow The Rainbow Orchid Adventure to transpose itself across a variety of settings with dynamism and conviction, it's wonders to unfold.

I will resist the urge to tell you more as I don't want in any way to undermine the pleasure that you will derive through getting acquainted with Julius Chancer, Lily Lawrence and the delectable Evelyn Crow, suffice it to say you won't be disappointed and like me you will find yourself wanting more from Mr. Ewing who as I type this is working on the final part of this exceptional trilogy.

Meanwhile Volume 1 of "The Rainbow Orchid" is available from Amazon OR from the artist direct (with an added bonus!), meanwhile the second volume in this remarkable series is due to be published on the 5th of July

Monday, 28 June 2010

Fleshing Out The Fantasy - The Background Art of "Pinocchio"

In yesterday's post I dwelt on the truly astonishing work that Gustav Tenggren created for two Disney masterpieces; "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and "Pinocchio". For "Pinocchio" which had an astonishing variety of scene changes and locales, Tenggren created dozens and dozens of paintings and drawings all invested with a Northern European sensibility that would have been hard to accomplish had the task been allocated to the locally sourced talents that were working at the studio.

That being said, it was the task of many of these younger men and women to interpret the work of the concept artists and in the case of the layout and background artists ensure that the intent of an artist such as Tenggren was adhered to whilst ensuring that the backgrounds accommodated camera moves and the characters themselves.

The samples that I'm going to show you today are all the work of a young man who was a native of Southern California and like Tenggren had joined the studio in 1935 on the recommendation of another Disney artist who just happened to be a member of the same local watercolor club that the young Claude Coats was active in.  Coats had served his apprenticeship well commencing work on Mickey Mouse shorts and then embarking on work for Disney's first feature, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs".

The background work that Coats supplied for "Snow White" was all watercolor based but when "Pinocchio" went into production the decision was taken to move to gouache, which although a water based medium did have the advantage of greater opacity and a generally bolder and more dynamic tonality then is typical of watercolors.

It was Coates work on "Pinocchio that really did mark him out as a Disney superstar of background painting.

And here's why ...

Claude Coats' son Alan has a website devoted to the work of his father - well worth a visit.

And here to round off the post are some more breathtaking examples of Coat's artistry from thre 1950's features," Cinderella", "Alice in Wonderland" and "Peter Pan".

Sunday, 27 June 2010

The Strange Odyssey of Gustav Tenggren

In 1935, Walt Disney with his brother Roy and their wives undertook a tour of Europe, the workaholic Disney had suffered  a nervous collapse and had finally acceded to something he'd long resisted, hence the holiday.

But it wasn't 100% a holiday as he was also keen to immerse himself in the world of European Folk Tales, as the projected feature that would ensure a lasting legacy, was already in production. Amongst the artists already working up concepts, character designs and scripting what would eventually become Disney's cinematic tour de force; "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", was a European emigre Albert Hurter. Hurter who was somewhat older than the youthful contingent of twenty somethings working out of the small Disney Studio in sunny Burbank California was an ideas man pre-eminent. Hurter it was whose assimilation of European culture and inventive ideas had proved such a dynamic springboard for many of the drawings that were already fleshing out the vision that Disney carried in his head.

But Disney wanted more and as he and his family meandered through Europe he bought books, picture books as in yesterday's posting with artwork by Arthur  Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Kay Nielson, John Bauer to name but a few. Many of the artist's whose work graced the books that were to be added to the studio reference library excited Disney's attention to the extent that approaches were made. Arthur Rackham was definitely canvassed but sadly the artist was by then too sick and succumbing to the cancer that would eventually kill him, but his vision of darkly unsettling folk fantasy was just what Disney was seeking for his film. John Bauer too would have been a perfect choice but Bauer whose illustrations for the "Bland Tomtar och Troll" annual, had made him a household name in his native Sweden some twenty years earlier was also unavailable having died with his wife and child in a freak steamship disaster in 1918.

Whether or not Disney encountered any of the "Bland Tomtar och Troll" annuals illustrated by Bauer's successor is uncertain, but had he done so Gustav Tenggren would have been next on his list of star illustrators to approach. As it happened Disney didn't need to exert himself at all in this respect for at about the same time that Disney was soaking up the best of European illustration, Gustav Tenggren was presenting himself to Disney talent scouts at their newly launched New York offices.

By this stage of his career Tenggren had been living in the U.S. for 15 years, having moved there in 1920 with his first wife Anna. Tenggren who was as driven a self promoter as he was a talented artist had managed to pick up work to the extent that the success that he had enjoyed in his native Sweden was easily eclipsed by the commissions he rapidly secured on his arrival in New York.

But as the Great Depression really started to bite, so the work began to tail off and Tenggren whose weaknesses for both drink and women, had already injected some real domestic upset into his life, resulting in his divorce from Anna who was not about to play second fiddle to Tenggren's new squeeze Mollie Froberg (another Swedish emigre) began to struggle to find a style which satisfied him aesthetically whilst being contemporary enough to please the ever fickle world of commercial art.

Much to Tenggren's pleasure trendy illustration was the last thing that the youthful Disney studio sought. They just loved all of Tenggren's old fashioned illustrations which were a seductive mix of Rackham, Bauer, Harry Clarke and other greats from the "Golden Age" of picture books.

Tenggren and Mollie moved out of their New York apartment and set off for the land of sun and orange groves. The work that Tenggren subsequently created for both "Snow White" and it's lavish successor, "Pinocchio" was an inspirational tour de force. His artwork for "Snow White" was deemed so good that he was chosen by Disney as the poster artist for "Snow White", even though his dwarfs in particular show little resemblance to their celluloid incarnations.

There was however a degree of artistic hubris which was an essential part of what made Tenggren tick, and as his work on "Pinocchio" progressed this manifested itself in his signing much if not all of the work he did with a beautiful but somewhat ostentatious flourish. Which was in terms of the required anonymity of Disney studio work a definite no-no. Matters worsened when Tenggren's labor intensive concept paintings for Bambi were ditched in favor of the sublimely atmospheric paintings of Tyrus Wong.

The final cap on the Disney relationship was the apparently scandalous goings on that were rumored to have occurred on a picnic with Tenggren and the fifteen year old niece of animator Milt Kahl, whose irascible temperament was already the stuff of legend at the studio.

Tenggren left the studio shortly thereafter and in a bizarre footnote that speaks volumes about the vicissitudes of studio politics, Tenggren's name was left off the credits for "Pinocchio", the film which bore his imprint even more vividly than it's predecessor "Snow White" had done.

Tenggren's work in a weird way seemed to benefit from the experience and subsequent to his tenure with Disney he managed to re-launch himself as a very successful illustrator of children's books utilizing a much simpler and more contemporary style, the Disney connection having helped to highlight his artistry.

A strange odyssey indeed.

All images from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio  © The Walt Disney Company 2010

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Edmund Dulac and the Golden Age of the Picture Book

My introduction to the work of Edmund Dulac was via a friend of mine at art college who managed to acquire an original edition of his illustrated "Stories From Hans Christian Andersen". Published in 1911, it is one of the most desirable picture books from what has long been referred to as the "Golden Age of Illustration". This era was in retrospect a brief moment in time and in fact it's very brevity would have implications for the man whose work shone from the pages of this very handsome antiquarian book.

Edmund Dulac as his name would suggest was a Frenchman, who in 1904 at the age of twenty two moved to London and thereupon embarked on a very successful career as a book and magazine illustrator. His first commission being a series of 60 illustrations for an illustrated edition of the Bronte sisters work.

The timing of his arrival was prescient indeed for it neatly coincided with the move to offset litho printing which was a far more accurate and economic method of color reproduction than previous methods had proved.

There were of course one or two constraints, the first being that the paper required for this process had to be coated (i.e. non absorbent) for the inks to take correctly. This meant that the illustrations had to be printed on a different (and more expensive paper) than that which held the type. As a consequence the illustrated sections had to be "tipped in" before the book was then bound. The second consideration was that registration of the three colors plus black was still not an exact science and there often tended to be a bit of slippage when the artwork was finally printed.

That being said the results were often spectacular and printing houses would endeavor to bridge the technology gaps by applying supreme craftsmanship as a means of overcoming some of these short comings.

Dulac, like many of his contemporaries, Rackham and Charles Robinson to name a few, used a pen key line to help compensate for possible areas of print misalignment. His exposure to Japanese prints from an early age, his father being a salesman of textiles and fine art, had sensitized his awareness to the elegance of beautifully designed line work and his style positively blossomed as his work load increased.

His success was such that when war broke out he was able to devote himself to a series of charitable endeavors, where he literally worked for nothing, the money earned from the sale of these works going to a succession of good causes. Books such as "Princess Mary's Gift Book" and "Edmund Dulac's Book of the French Red Cross" were hugely successful in terms of publishing and all the money payable to Dulac went to the good causes they celebrated.

His work also underwent change as he moved away from the color palette that had so characterized his earlier work and moved to warmer hues and somewhat more stylized figurework.

By 1918 not only was the First World War over but Dulac's career as a picture book illustrator was also pretty much curtailed as was "The Golden Age of Illustration". He did however have other design skills that he could bring into play and although he was living from paycheck to paycheck he was not on skid row yet. His work in these latter years included stamp and currency design along with a rich variety of commissions for theater, portraiture, set design and packaging, as well as magazines on both sides of the Atlantic and the occasional publishing commission.

It was midway through such a job, Milton's "Comus" that in 1953, at the age of seventy he suffered a massive heart attack and died.

Here for your weekend delectation are some of those illustrations from "Stories From Hans Christian Andersen".

Friday, 25 June 2010

Be Bop Business (aka I Know It's Only Rock n' Roll Part 2)

There are some professions that you know just don't equate with financial security and anything to do with the arts is guaranteed to prove this maxim. My Scottish aunts always used to shake their heads in disbelief when upon enquiring on our post school progress realized that your's truly  was intent on a career in illustration. "Why doesn't he train for accountancy?", they would enquire of my mother who was in the unenviable position of having to try and justify this lunatic enterprise. "Accountancy is a good career, Peter ought to consider it - he'll get nowhere with his art. It's no way to make a living", they reproachfully opined.

It was in a weird way rather flattering that they would consider me eligible for a career in accountancy, as I was to all intents totally innumerate, if there is such a thing as numerical dyslexia, then I have been a long term sufferer. Anyway my aunt's words do come back to haunt me from time to time, partly because although I have enjoyed a degree of success as an illustrator, the periods of financial uncertainty that accompany this profession reveal just how perceptive my well intentioned aunt's comments were. And also because as the parents of two avowedly non conformist sons, I do find myself unwittingly cast in my mother's role as various members of the family enquire as to the doings of Jack and Tom, neither of whom have been anywhere near a university thus far. I have run past our youngest the thought that if the dear little cherub does decide on three years of academe he needs to get on with it PDQ as come 2012 it's all going to look horribly different, as the experiment to keep 50% of school leavers funding themselves through "uni"  as opposed to cluttering up job centers, is about to become dauntingly expensive.

But at the moment Tom is gigging in France with his band Dark Horses and playing Glastonbury on Sunday:

and his elder brother Jack who as a singer /songwriter has been pursuing the rock n roll vision from bedsit land in London's East End to apartment land in Brooklyn and as well as joining Ryan McGinley's psychedelic cave dwelling waifs, has finally managed to form a band of  focused and driven musicians going under the name of Soft Skin. They've now got serious management behind them and all looks cautiously a little more promising than was the case a year ago.

But the music business is every bit as fickle as the graphics industry, fashion, acting, writing, fine art, you name it, it can all turn on a sixpence.

In a way that's what makes it worth doing, I don't worry about unemployment as until the next commission come in, I am by definition unemployed. It's a state of affairs that is a constant and by it's inevitability it forces me to work out  new ways of attracting business, people in the creative professions are not complacent - the fear of financial meltdown acts as an imperative and stimulant in a way which is inconceivable for someone with twenty years working at a proper job.

Anyway totally self indulgent but here's a promo for Dark Horses followed by a couple of salutory videos of Jack's first band when they were all still wet behind the ears, playing local gigs down on the south coast.

The first film was taken at one of the premier biker pubs in their hometown, where the juke box would play AC/DC at stadium volume (during the  day time!). The venue was happiest hosting Led Zep tribute bands but one of the younger members of bar staff had got them a gig there, provided they could play a 90 minute set as a minimum requirement for their otherwise wasting floor space. With manic integrity they insisted that the bulk of their set would be self penned material with a few covers thrown in as a sop to the old geezers in leather and black.

By nine o' clock the bar was still unremittingly dead, even tumbleweeds and stray dogs were conspicuous by their absence, so as you can see here, off they went for better or worse.

Forty five minutes later and the bar was filling with people who'd seen them at previous gigs, trouble was that they'd played the first half of their set and forty five minutes later they'd played their gig. Wiser counsels would have advised them to repeat their first set but not wishing to compromise on their "hauteur" the departed tout de suit.

The second example although badly auspiced was a much more successful affair. The venue in question must remain nameless for reasons which will become apparent as this tale unfolds. The bar was one of those places that opens when all the other bars in town have shut, acting as a host to the nocturnal world of assorted riff raff, flaky bohos and people with nowhere else to go. This meant that artistes and we're talking here of poets, performance artists and people just too "out there" to ever make it onto "Britain's Got Talent" would hit the boards no earlier than ten o' clock at night. This video captures the band at the start of their second set by which time the bass player had pushed his amp up to a sufficient volume that ensured that not just the floorboards were vibrating but people in Calais were probably picking up the odd snippet as well.

The circuitry was such that the light above the performers heads would balefully spit sparks every so often, threatening to combust the hideous coke encrusted pink carpet that ran unapologetically throughout this dive. In the end it all proved too much and the guitarist's valve amp blew out, but in  a magical moment of inspiration the remaining musicians extemporized a reggae work out while the guitarist suffered repeated electric shocks as he endeavored to, in the end successfully, run his guitar through the mixing desk. By the end of the show people were literally dancing in the aisles.

It all seems a long time ago now...