Let’s Hear it For Dick Sprang!

(…not exactly a Re-Run Saturday, but definitely an older creation.)

I was quite surprised the first time I encountered the melodramatic Boy Scout version Batman from the 1950’s. The creative collision came about late in 1964 in an 88 page Giant full of older stories that were quite a bit different from the tightly written, masterfully penciled New Age Batman and Curt Swan World’s Finest stories that had first drawn my attention. I didn’t quite know how to deal with story elements such as:

  • Bat-Mite
  • Ace the Bat-Hound
  • A Batwoman and Batgirl with clutch purses and masks resembling our school librarian’s glasses
  • Whirly-Bats
  • A Batmobile resembling an inverted goldfish bowl on wheels.

Camp elements just got “campier” with the 1966 Batman TV series and I found myself slowly easing over into the Marvel and Charlton circles until some of the Dark Avenger flavor started to return with superstar penciller Neal Adams.

Years later I find myself not quite so critical – as I get older and the world gets more and more chaotic I find myself more accepting of the pure escapism found in those Bat-titles from fifty or sixty years ago. I like the idea of a world where an middle-aged of debatable athletic ability can don a set of mauve leotards and instantly become a vigilante hero. As my protesting knees and back plot to  confine me to a sitting position I become more and more accepting of a world where no one ever gets hurt very badly during fights and the good guys always win.

I also look back at the creators with more respect. Contractually the name of series creator Bob Kane figured prominently on all the covers, but I soon figured out that the best work came from associate Dick Sprang. Sprang’s “perfect storm’ of creativity combined strong design skills, wicked caricature and a compelling sense of narrative that put him head and shoulders about all the other members of Kane’s artistic stable. I particularly enjoyed the facial expressions he drew and literally triggered a “charley horse” in my cheek when trying to match the gloat of one of his penciled villains.

Below are two figures taken from my 2012 sketchbook, figures drawn after the manner of Dick Sprang a gesture of creative respect. I came up with the basic concept while getting stuck at a red-light (my best ideas seem to always happen at traffic lights or bathtubs) and somehow came up with a plot thread about time-travel back to the Napoleonic era.

SprangBatSoldiers

… one step further along

As I wrote last winter I’ve never been happy with the Batgirl cut-paper sculpt that I put together five or six years ago so it should be no surprise that I am up to my elbows making a new version, based on the original sketch. As I was taking pictures my Beautiful Saxon Princess suggested that I make a video presentation about my technique…and I think it’s a good idea. I’m in the “baby-steps” stage of planning right now,  still researching video production and funding options like Patreon but it may be that this is the direction my teaching career will take now that I am no longer in the classroom.

…but for now I will share a snap of the work in progress, which starts with a drawing that I cut up to use for templates when making the individual parts.
CPSProcess1

Jadex: Newest Member of the Herculoids

JadexHerculoids

Relax!

No need to dig out the old Hanna-Barbera VHS tapes – there is no “Jadex” among the Herculoids, at least anywhere outside of the Deitrick household. My Star Pupil and I spent last Saturday morning doing what Saturdays were made for: watching cartoons. We spent a lot of time with the old H/B action shows like “Herculoids”, “Jonny Quest” and “Space Ghost” and once I was able to muzzle the internal critic complaining about the absence of all three Laws of Thermodynamics we had a good time

We were at most seven minutes into our session when it became evident the team needed an extra member bearing a strong resemblance to my Star Pupil.

A Shameless Plug…

Sculptors are the bikers of the art world :  brash, strong-willed and you’ll rarely find one that will concede anything to another artist…which makes this post a bit  unusual. I recently commissioned a custom action figure from Jay Sabich at 37 Custom Toys and I have to tell you he does Grade-A work and I would be hard pressed to match it.

The figure depicts Rogue from the X-men wearing the red & black uniform she wore in the pages of X-TREME X-MEN, a look that I prefer to her regular green/yellow aerobics instructor look. TOYBIZ released a figure in that uniform in 2006 but unfortunately they gave her that anorexic look that was so popular for female figures of that era,

(…or as my daughter said at the time “I just pretend they’ve been very, very sick)

This figure has also been done in the whimsical style  of the old Justice League: International figure line which in turn was based on the animated series of the same name. It’s also been done very, very well and you’d be hard put to distinguish it from a factory figure. The sculpting is crisp, and the surface finish is understated and uniform.  I usually keep my figures stored away but this young lady has a place of honor on my desk.

If you’re interested you can contact Jay at 37 CustomToys on most social media platforms or you can email him directly at capmarvelfan@yahoo. Please check his work out and do business with him if you can. He’s a little guy competing with the corporations and he deserves the support.

roguexsefigure

New Look Batman

New Look Batman

Things were looking pretty grim for the Caped Crusader in the fall of 1963. The familiar Caped Boy Scout image that had seen him through the Superhero purge of the Fifties1  had started working against him driving  sales so low that all of the Bat-titles were facing cancellation. Fortunately Batman was given a last-minute reprieve in the form of new editor Julius Schwartz – the same fellow who had successfully relaunched the Flash and Green Lantern into Silver Age versions.

Julie made some changes – after learning that a simple bat shape was too generic for a trademark he added yellow oval to make it a more complete  – and more marketable – logo. Most importantly he instituted a “New Look” for the bat-books by bringing on board  comics superstar Carmine Infantino as the penciller for Detective Comics starting with issue 327 “Mystery of the Menacing Mask”. ‘

There were other changes and improvements:

  • Bat-themes associates (Bat-mite/Batwoman, Ace the Bat-Hound) were shown the door.
  • Costumed super-criminals were conspicuously close to a year ”
  • Aunt Harriet replaced Alfred the Butler
  • The bubble-top Bat-Cadillac was replaced with a convertible sports car model
  • The Bat-signal was replaced by a telephone hotline similar to the one connecting the White House with the Kremlin in real-life.

….but the biggest change was in the stories themselves. Instead of Gotham City serving as the crossroads for every itinerant alien in a saucer or stories featuring bat-uniforms constantly changing colors, shapes or themes Detective Comics now featured (wait for it!) DETECTIVE STORIES! Plot-drived who-dunnits that challenged your intellect and bore up under repeated readings, all of which pulled me into the superhero comics world in major way.

At approximately eighteen months in duration the New Look was a very short phase and was sadly replaced by a camp version reflecting the ABC Batman series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Oddly enough the television show was based on the 1950’s “goofy” Batman image that Schwartz had worked so hard to purge. At we got through eighteen months of a more realistic version and who knows – would Neal Adams have gotten permission for his darker more realistic version of Batman in 1970 if the New Look had never happened? Who knows?

This sketchbook image happened yesterday after I spent an hour or so reading a hardbound collection of Carmine Infantino’s New Look pencils. I have so many favorites when it comes to Batman artists: Dick Sprang, Neal Adams, Marshall Rogers….but in the end Mr. Infantino is my favorite.


1: See upcoming post: “Seduction of the Stupid”

Unrequited

I’ve lost count/track of all the reboots in DC Comics during  the last couple of years, reboots that have been mildly disappointing  in that a character I am following will either disappear or change beyond recognition. Such was the case with the disappearance of the Stephanie Brown version of Batgirl dating from earlier in this decade. Not wanting to see the character completely disappear I decided to create an image of her for my  studio  – and since I like more light-hearted books like Amanda Conner’s work on Power Girl  I came up with the composition pictured below.

2013-01-01 Unrequited.jpg          Sketchbook Batgirl S. Brown.jpg

The failed romance between Batgirl and Bat-mite depicted in Unrequited is something that would fit in the aforementioned books but as I was comparing the finished art is on the left with the preliminary sketch to the right I realized that this was another case where I liked the sketch much, much more that the finished art.

There is something magic in a sketch – a promise of good things to come, a promise that is not always kept. Fortunately with my cut-paper work a do-over is relatively painless …and Unrequited is definitely headed for a do-over.

I think this time I am just going to scan up and work directly from  the Batgirl sketch…

 

Nightshade

Nightshade

Another page from my sketchbook: Nightshade, a back-up character from  Charlton Comic’s Captain Atom book. Sketchbooks are good place to experiment and my books  end up with a lot of drawings from unexpected POV’s,

It’s  always a challenge to update old characters – I mean how much do you change before they start to lose identity? Added to the challenge is the shallow depth of detail in most Silver Age heroes: comic work doesn’t pay very well now and paid even less fifty years ago. The emphasis was on speed so the fewer wrinkles, seams, belts, tools and such the better and it wasn’t unusual for pencillers to see their work gutted by inkers who omitted detail and resorted to heavy shadow area just to increase daily page rates.

In some ways superhero costuming has hit a baroque – almost Rococo level of excess detail. I think  Michael Keaton’s original bat-suit/armor as designed by Jim Ringo for 1989 version of  Batman had the ideal degree of detail.

Charlton’s Peacemaker

Peacemaker cover

Comics fans tend to divide the market into two monolithic superpowers – DC and Marvel – especially when talking about the Silver Age of the 1960s. However there was a  smaller third contender known as Charlton Comics that would weekly duke it out with the Big Two for space on those spinning comic racks. Charlton started out doing television and movie tie-in books but for a short time they had an Action Hero line that gave the big boys a run for their money.

…and the title Action Heroes was a deliberate move to distance the Charlton books from the rest of the market. Editor Dick Giordano had always favored the Batman-model for heroes – regular human beings righting wrongs and facing danger armed with just  hard work and imagination rather through the benefit of superhuman origins or equipment. During Giordano’s tenure  all the Charlton super-powered heroes were either changed into non-super versions (like Ted Kord’s Blue Beetle) or substantially reduced in power as was the case with Captain Atom.

DC bought out Charlton in the Eighties, so you can still find versions of Blue Beetle and The Question in print, but some of their comrades weren’t  so lucky as was the case with The Peacemaker. Billed as “The man who loved peace so much he was willing to fight for it” Peacemaker always struggled to find a home in DC and was finally  written out in a recent reboot event. His methods of operation didn’t translate well into contemporary books, but I also think he suffered aesthetically ; there was a logical explanation for his outsized helmet (it housed long range communications and sensor equipment) but I imagine his foes weren’t able to look for long at that particular piece of headgear without starting to snicker…and I personally  wonder about the effect a good stiff crosswind would have on that thing.

It’s  also hard to draw. I’ve tried my usual update-magic on Peacemaker’s entire outfit, but that helmet is proving to be troublesome….

Peacemaker sketch

2018-11-03 Tesla Strong

2018-11-03 Tesla

Tesla Strong, daughter of science-hero Tom Strong and a rugged science-hero in her own right. Tom Strong is a creation of Alan Moore/ Chris Sprouse and appeared in America’s Best Comics, part of DC’s Wildstorm imprint. The books ran through most of the 2000s and are among the best comics of the new millennium.

Additional references can be found at:

  •  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Strong
  •  https://www.amazon.com/Tom-Strong-Deluxe-Vol-1/dp/1401225365/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1543168999&sr=8-5&keywords=tom+strong+book+1

 

 

 

 

Working Drawings for Cut-Paper Sculpt

PhanGirldiagramEnjoying a motion picture at age 9  entailed a lot more than just sitting in the theater – as  soon as I got home I’d want to “play” the movie and  act out scenes as a way of prolonging the excitement. Reading my Legion of Superheroes books has punched some of the same buttons a movie does  but at 65 jumping off the deck while clad in Spandex just isn’t going to happen. At this stage of my life maintaining a link with the excitement entails some sort of creative work and this time around it will mean a cut-paper sculpt.

BoBoyDIagram

In addition to the actual construction of the figures themselves I use a lot of paper in preparatory work. I carefully draw each figure/component , then make a dozen copies of each drawing. Then I cut each drawing into pieces I will then use as  templates in  making individual parts…and those parts will then be  assembled into major figures.  The  drawings you see here  depict  Phantom Girl, Bouncing Boy and Ultra Boy;   I may be adding another figure (Shrinking Violet) to the composition later on if the design can accommodate her. 

UltBoyDIagram