Wednesday 31 August 2011

Achtung Commando - (And A Brief History of Repro for Commercial Printing)

Behold there is a new batch of Commandos due to go on sale tomorrow and for your dear old blogmeister a moment of true nostalgia as the latest of the first twelve issues gets it's third revival.

When in July 1961, I saw the distinctive Ken Barr cover in my weekly Victor Comic I just couldn't believe a comic could look that good. It was the drama of the scene and the British paratrooper falling into the cliff side nest of Nazi gunners with their helmets all aglow with the last rays of the setting sun in the beautifully executed reflections that added so much extra punch to Barr''s work.

When this now historic comic appeared fifty years ago it looked great, it was an example of the wonders of commercial printing. In those days the artist would send in their artwork usually on board and it would be photographed and the transparencies would be the source of the plates used to print his artwork using four runs (sometimes more) which would print a sequence of dots in 1). Cyan 2). Magenta 3). Yellow and 4). Black. By the time Commando number four was printed the whole process was pretty refined and misalignments creating out of register prints were the exception rather than the rule.

Here you can see the results:

Now then let's spin the hands of the clock forward three decades or so and as the pages from the calendar whip past our heads we are in 1992 and here is the same issue again reprinted and as DC Thomson (canny Scots that they are - "och aye wuirrrrrrr nay fools ye ken") have hung onto their original Barr artwork they can now present you with an even sharper example of the painting via digital scanning, which in 1992 means DRUM scanning.

Now drum scanning is good - very good in fact for catching every little nuance that a camera in 1961 would have hinted at rather than reproduced in minute detail.

But ... there is a price to be paid. To get the artwork scanned you have to ever so, ever so, evvverrrr so carefully pull the artwork off it's backing board. In the 1980's illustrators could buy artboard specifically for this purpose - it was called stripper board and you would pull up the corner and then gently roll the corner away from you using a cardboard tube to wrap the thing around. This is what seems to have happened with Barr's painting, only the board he created the picture on was not being as co-operative as the person tasked to perform this operation might have hoped and it looks like the operative placed with this delicate task might had substituted an object of much smaller radius to anchor the paper on as he rolled it off it's board.

Something like a biro perhaps???...

You can almost sense the rivulets of sweat coursing down the operative's brow as Ken Barr's 30 year old gouache started to flake away from the surface leaving this cover as mute testimony to  the travails of studio bodging:

Now then we spin the clock hands forward another twenty years and here is the same cover again, in even sharper detail courtesy of further advances in the art of digital scanning and looky looky!

Yup by the hands of some studio whizz kid tiddling around in Photoshop we have a minor restorative miracle.

Not sure about the Green on the Denison smock though...

I'll post more about these comics tomorrow, I've had an email from my dear old mate Malcolm who has gently nudged me in the direction of reducing the gap the blog postings have been prone to.

There are a variety of excuses I can offer you guys, but one of them when it is made a bit more public will I am sure gain your approval.

All images © DC Thomson 2011.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

James McConnell - The UK's Very Own Pulp Artist.

There are some artists where love of their subject matter is accompanied by an equally passionate love of it's iconography.

Such an artist was the Northumberland born James McConnell. Born in 1903 he was a near contemporary of such US artists as Norman Saunders and Hugh Ward and like both those artists he seemed most at home with rugged and doughty heroes in equally rugged landscape, where a man had only his wits, his hoss and his sixguns to keep himself alive.

McConnell who spent much of his early manhood working for a block maker, studied part time at London's St Martin's School of Art until at the age of thirty he was finally able to realize his ambition of becoming a full time commercial artist. Like his US contemporaries Saunders and Ward he would have found a perfect home with the publishers of pulp magazines, but although such outlets were not really viable (or even existent) in 1930's Britain, the burgeoning paperback market was soon to provide regular employment.

Here then are some samples from those early years of McConnell's career before a certain Fleet Street editor by name of Leonard Matthews spied his work and inundated him with as much work as he could handle for a new project which was to eventually become the famed children's weekly Look and Learn.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Louis Raemaekers - The Power to Shock

It's easy in this age of mass communications and on the spot film crews to overlook just how important illustration was as a means of imparting news of unfolding events at the start of the previous century. In the case of the Dutch artist Louis Raemaekers, his depiction of German military aggression during the First World War was so powerful and so brutal that when the Dutch government was presented with a de facto cease and desist order from Germany, Raemaekers and his family eventually had to settle in London. Dutch neutrality being no guarantee of his safety.

When one compares Raemaekers work with that of the Second World War cartoonist David Low, some twenty years later, one is immediately struck by the sheer savagery of Raemaker's art. Low in comparison seems quite benign.

To get anywhere near a Second World War equivalent of the visceral rage of Raemaekers' work one would need to look at the drawings made by Soviet cartoonists. The equivalence being that in both cases the artists had first hand experience of the horrors of war.

For more information on Louis Raemaekers check out the excellent biography of this great artist on John Adcock's essential Yesterday's Papers blog and once you've soaked up all the information, journey on through the electronic mists of cyberspace to the wonderful ASIFA Animation Blog where more of these incredible drawings are displayed.

Saturday 6 August 2011

Growing Old Disgracefully and One of the Coolest Bands Ever!!!

As readers of this blog are aware, from time to time I deviate from the world of comics and illustration
and venture into the potentially contentious zone of music. Each time I do I am aware that there is no greater divider of cultural morays than the world of rock and roll. I can well remember the week at Brighton Art College, when towards the end of an altogether very harmonious first year, someone thought with summer looming and final assessments for the year over, it would be really very chilled to have some music.

Enter - The Dansette Record Player.

Enter - Disc(h)ord.

Within a day the studio was polarised. Girls with platform soles (it was the early 1970's folks) tottered over to the infernal machine to pile up a stack of 45s  as in revolutions per minute - but not much of a revolution if all you end up with is Gilbert O'Sullivan or David Essex. Over in my corner the Northern contingent would shake their greasy tresses and call for "sum Sabbath" and "there's nowt like a blast of Hawkwind", whilst my mate Dave espying a Beach Boys album tucked under the bri-nylon wing of one the graphic designers, declared that there was no effing way he was going to tolerate listening to a bunch of namby pamby surfers.

So I try not to venture too  many opinions on rock - just occasionally as in from time to time.

Part of the problem is that I come from a generation that believes it's music was the best, partly this is a generational phenomena as in everybody believes that theirs was the best music and partly because the art form itself has stuck in a kind of time warp groove for the last fifty plus years. Big bands as in the Glenn Miller era were almost a blink of the eye in comparison.

So people of my generation cleave to their comfort blankets and if you want a reminder of how strong this urge is just look at magazines like Mojo when next you step into your newsagent.

In my opinion this is sadsville. I did have a subscription to Mojo magazine which I ran for several years until I got so bored with their dumbed down crop rotation system of:

Dylan, The Beatles, The Stones, Clapton, Queen, The Clash, Dylan, The Beatles, Zeppelin, that in a fit of hubris I sent the editor a letter to warn him if they didn't mend their ways and talk about happening music I would terminate my subscription. Something along the lines of "if I am in my fifties I don't need the constant reminders thank you". Needless to say no response, so I cancelled the subscription in a mood of self righteous ire. Mercifully before the next issue with a check list of 10 little known facts about Elvis Presley hit the streets.

Pity the poor journos who have to dish up this drivel, I could walk away they can't.

Not that I'm entirely down on old farts making a ruckus. As an example of the wonders of third age rock n' roll check out these madmen - aka The Special Branch, doing a cover of the immortal Dr Feelgood classic, "Going Back Home":

Wonderfully anarchic moment with the Tijuana Tin Sandwich!

But for the most part as with all artistic endeavors I like to face forward, so bands I'm listening to at the moment include this outfit:

Absolutely addictive stuff if your into psych drenched, feedback suffused, mesmeric music:

Another band that falls outside of the mainstream radar and ought to be checked out if they ever play a gig near you.

And in the meantime check out The Crocodiles MySpace for more of this exquisite stuff.