Not the first choice for today's posting, not the second choice either but the more I looked at Matias Alonso's color album covers on yesterday's blog, the more I thought about the early years of Dick Sprang's long and glorious tenure on Batman. There are definite similarities and a definite homage to Burne Hogarth, with an almost frenetic and mannered dynamism to the artwork with strong use of deep solid blacks and detailed penmanship adding to the swirl of brush lines and edgy over the topness.
Whereas in the case of the other pre-eminent Batman artist of the 1940's Jerry Robinson there is a loose and predominantly painterly feel to the brush work emanating from the influence of Noel Sickles, with Sprang as with Alonso the similarities to Hogarth are very evident.
By the time Sprang secured his Batman gig, even though he was just in his mid twenties, he'd been working in the field for about ten years and had a lot of drawing to deadline experience under his belt. Everything from drawing furniture for catalogues to drawing pulp illustrations for Street and Smith. When Batman editor Whitney Ellsworth saw Sprang's samples he immediately started giving him as many Batman scripts to work on as possible. The year was 1941 and Ellsworth was mindful of the fact that his golden boy Bob Kane might be called up at any moment. Whatever else happened there mustn't be any cessation of the assembly line production of Batman stories and so Ellsworth set about building up an inventory of Sprang artworked Batman scripts.
By the time the first of these appeared in 1943, Sprang had created so many stories that entire issues could be published containing four stories of Sprang artwork and for style anoraks it's fascinating to see which ones were the earliest ones, which ones had assists from Sprang's then studio amigos, Norman Fallon and Ed Kressey and which ones were lettered by Sprang and which by his wife. Sprang although not averse to plundering the occasional Jerry Robinson pose was stylistically and anatomically at complete variance to Robinson, whereas Robinson's Batman did appear anatomically correct, Sprang threw Bridgman and naturalism out the window and dispensed with a waistline altogether, in Sprang's Batman the chest erupts from the utility belt, figures don't run, they leap and everything seems to inhabit a high octane adrenalin charged world.
You can see why Alonso got me thinking about Sprang...
The reproductions are all taken from the DC Archives series, the latest of which Dark Knight Archives Volume 6 is just stunning in terms of repro. Pity some of the earlier ones are so iffy, it would be nice to see all the stories presented with this much care and fidelity to the original line and color work.
All images © DC Comics 2010