Most art done specifically for reproduction, whether it’s illustration, cartoons or comics, is drawn or painted at a different size than the printed piece, usually a bit larger. In the case of American comic books, it’s ordinarily about 1 1/2 times the printed size, but for newspaper strips it’s often 2 x the printed size (“2 up”) or larger.
It’s difficult to get a feeling for this, or for the actual appearance of original comics art, unless you see the originals. Short of becoming a collector, or looking through the original art for sale at comics conventions, you can sometimes get to see original comics art posted on the web.
A rare opportunity has come up, though, to see scans of some originals of Milton Caniff’s great Steve Canyon strips, as opposed to the print versions as they appeared in preproduction. (See my recent post on Milton Caniff and the opportunity of seeing the reprinted strips posted online.)
John Ellis, who is working with Caniff’s family on a DVD release of the live action Steve Canyon TV show from the 50’s, came across an undiscovered treasure trove of originals in the family’s collection and, with their permission, has made scans of them available through the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive Project (A-Haa! for short).
These strips were drawn quite large (bear in mind that newspaper strips used to be printed much larger than the postage-stamp sized blotches they’ve been reduced to today by newspaper editors determined to drive away readers), and the posted scans, though not life-sized, are large enough to get a feeling for what the original art looks like, complete with smudges, water splotches, rips and repairs.
The wonderful thing is that you can see bits of Caniff’s pencil line, corrections, and even the variations in the density of the blacks, giving you a peek at his creative process (it was all evened out by the photographic process for reproduction, in which shooting in high-contrast made the dark grays black and the light pencil lines disappear).
Even better, you can see close up, in a way impossible in the small reproductions found in printed comic strip collections, the marvelous quality of his fluid and precise brush lines. Though most comics artists use pens as their primary tool for drawing in ink, many use a sable watercolor brush with a fine point (often a #2 or #3 round) as their drawing tool, in addition to using them to fill in area of black.
The use of a brush, even more than the most flexible pen, allows comics artists and cartoonists to achieve a remarkable variation in line width within a single stroke. Variation in line is one of the characteristics that can give good comics drawing some of its liveliness and visual interest. Caniff was a master of the brush and ink drawing method and it lent itself exceptionally well to his beautiful use of chiaroscuro.
Click on the smaller images in the ASIFA blog post to see the strips close up in all their rough and tumble glory.
Link via Boing Boing