The Prince Valiant Page – Gary Gianni

Gary Gianni - Prince Valiant comic strip
You will often hear the phrase “big shoes to fill” applied to the task of filling a role formerly held by someone whose accomplishments were significant and difficult to achieve.

Illustrator and comics artist Gary Gianni put on some big shoes when he stepped into the role of illustrator for Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant newspaper comic strip.

Hal Foster (who will certainly be the subject of a future lines and colors post) was one of the three or four greatest newspaper comics artists in the history of the medium; and, to my mind, should be on the list of all time best pen and ink artists.

Gianni took over the illustration chores on the strip from John Cullen Murphy, who was Foster’s assistant, and had taken the reins on the strip when Foster retired in 1970.

Gianni’s previous work included illustrations for versions of classics like Moby Dick and Kidnapped, and he created graphic novel versions of Tales of O. Henry and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. He also worked for mainstream American comic book companies on titles like Indiana Jones and The Shrine Of The Sea Devil, Batman: Black and White (for which his story won an Eisner Award in 1997) and The Monstermen Mysteries, which ran as a backup feature for Mike Mignola’s Hellboy.

The Prince Valiant Page is a new book from Flesk Publications (see my previous posts on Flesk Publications) that showcases Gianni’s work on the strip, and also offers a glimpse into his background.

The book is written by Gianni, and offers an insightful look into his working process, and his collaboration with Mark Schultz, a terrific artist himself, who handles the writing on the current strip.

Gianni talks about his admiration for Foster, as well as other great pen and ink artists like Joseph Clement Coll and Franklin Booth, an admiration that is evident in his refined ink drawing style.

In the process of describing how a modern Prince Valiant page is created, including the use of models and reference, we get to see a number of pages of Gianni’s pencil drawings before they were inked. These, though not meant as finished art, have a wonderful tonal quality that is very different from the final ink drawings.

I have to admit that I didn’t have a proper appreciation for Gianni’s work prior to seeing this volume; partly because I had not seen much of his other illustration and comics work except in scattered examples, and partly because of the terrible job that modern newspapers do of presenting their comics.

One of the things that newspapers do to render their comic strips ineffectual, particularly those few remaining adventure strips, is to print them too small to allow for any real visual excitement. The original Prince Valiant pages, like those of Little Nemo in Slumberland and many other comic strips in the early 20th Century, were sized to full newspaper pages. (See my post on Winsor McCay.)

As time went on, and the role of newspaper comics as one of the major forms of home entertainment was superseded by movies and then television, newspaper editors (or more likely, owners and accountants) continually reduced the size of newspaper comics. In an age where home video screens and computer monitors keep getting bigger and bigger, this is a trend that, if continued, will eventually result in microscopic panels; which will undoubtedly help in the efforts of newspapers to remove all entertaining content as their circulation drops.

Prince Valiant is now down to 1/5th of a page at most in the newspapers, but several of the Gianni & Schultz strips are printed in the book as fold-out pages, doubling the book’s 9×12″ (23x30cm) size; nice and big, though still far short of a full newspaper page. It’s enough to let Gianni’s work shine, and make you wish for a volume of the strips at this size.

There is a collection of the Gianni & Schultz strips, Prince Valiant: Far From Camelot due in the (presumably near) future, but the Amazon pre-publication listing doesn’t include that book’s dimensions.

You can see a recent Prince Valiant strip on the King Features site, but you apparently can’t see the current one, or search the archives, without getting a membership of some kind, in an effort to… well, I don’t know why; I guess as part of the continuing effort on the part of newspapers and syndicates to discourage reader interest.

In the meanwhile, we have this beautiful volume to appreciate Gianni’s work. The Prince Valiant Page can be ordered directly from Flesk Publications in either hardback or limited edition signed, slipcase hardback. The book includes a foreword by Hellboy’s Mike Mignola and an introduction by Robert Wagner, who played the character in the 1954 Cinemascope movie.

Flesk has done their usual superb job of showcasing the art, jamming the book cover-to-cover with wonderful examples and using the highest production values. It certainly makes you wish newspapers would treat their comics with half as much respect.

Gianni and Schultz continue their work on the Prince Valiant weekly strip, trying to give us a taste of the former glory of newspaper adventure strips within the restricted confines of their 1/5th of a page.

It’s a valiant effort.

Alfred J. Munnings

Alfred J. Munnings - horses and cows
Sir Alfred James Munnings is best known as an equestrian artist. His beautifully rendered images of race horses bring high prices at auction and are the subject of popular posters and reproductions.

In his early career, however, he was a plein air painter, whose subjects were as varied as the English countryside, and whose artistic sensibilities were informed by Constable, John Sell Cotman, and in particular the animal paintings of George Stubbs. He was also, evidentially, influenced by Impressionism, as his paintings are remarkably loose, filled with free brushstrokes, and a marvelous mixture of refined passages and great chunks and blobs of paint.

In 1892, at the age of 14 he apprenticed with a lithography firm, and at night attended the Norwich School of Art (you can see his painting of a class here). At the end of his apprenticeship he was offered a job with the firm, but turned it down to seek his career as a painter.

Tragically, he lost sight in his right eye as the result of an accident shortly after, but was undeterred in his pursuit of painting. The story goes that he had to stab at the canvas for a while, judging the distance to the surface by feel until he got the range.

Had I only see Munnings’ work in reproduction, I doubt that I would have paid him much attention, as images of fox hunting and horse racing are not high on my list of favorite subjects for paintings (Degas notwithstanding); but I had the opportunity today to see an exhibit of his work at the Brandywine River Museum, and came away very much impressed with Munnings as a painter.

Though he was a vocal opponent of Modernism, claiming that Piccasso, Matisse, Cezanne and their associates had ruined art; he was evidently favorably impressed by the freedom of the Impressionist painters and perhaps their American counterparts, as his own work was delightfully “modern” in that respect. Like the American Impressionists, however, he kept the firm underpinnings of academic art beneath his free brushwork.

Munnings was, in fact, a member of the Royal Academy, and for a time late in his career, served as its president.

Hi was probably one of the finest painters of horses and other animals.

In small reproductions, you would get the impression that he was painting tightly, with lots of blending, and occasionally his horses or figures are more smoothly rendered than the backgrounds he sets them in; but those backgrounds, and his landscape paintings, are full of exuberant paint handling and wonderful textures.

There are a number of books on Munnings, including an autobiography.

I’ve assembled some links below, though most reproductions are too small to really get a feel for the close-up quality of his paintings.

The exhibit at the Brandywine River Museum, which is in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia and even closer to Wilmington, Delaware (see my post on Andrew Wyeth), has been assembled from local collections in the area. The Brandywine Valley has history of equestrian events and organizations, one of which, the Radnor Hunt Races, has been associated with the museum for 30 years.

Many of the paintings are on loan from private collections, and not normally on view to the public. The show is strong with his early paintings, landscapes and figurative work.

Alfred J. Munnings from Regional Collections is on view at the Brandywine River Museum until September 1, 2008.

I plan to see it again.

Addendum Katherine Tyrrell was kind enough to let us know that those in the UK can visit the Sir Alfred Munnings Museum in Dedham Vale in the heart of Constable country on the borders of Essex and Suffolk; and that there is a web site for the museum.

She also points out that Munnings was for a short while a member of the Newlyn School in Cornwall (see my post on Stanhope Forbes) and also had a studio at Lamorna.

Susan Rudat

Susan Rudat
Susan Rudat is a freelance graphic designer and illustrator based in Texas.

On both her blog and her Flickr gallery she often posts drawings and sketches done in Molekine sketchbooks.

Some of her drawings have a nicely graphic quality, as if designed to be woodcuts, with bold areas of black and carefully designed patterns of line weights and textures.

Others are more sketchlike and gestural, and some are in color. Many of them have a curvilinear flow and an almost art nouveau feeling.

The large images on her Flickr gallery are just about exactly the size of an actual Moleskein notebook (at least at the resolution of my screen), a nice touch.

She also posts her Moleskine drawings on DiviantART and on ‘skine.art, which featured an interview with her.

In the Flickr stream for her color drawings, you’ll find some of her experiments with “pop-up” Moleskine drawings (image above, bottom). These are in ink with color in gouache, though I don’t know how she is arranging the pop-up elements above the page.

[Link via BoingBoing and ‘skine.art]

COLOURlovers

COLOURlovers
COLOURlovers is a community site devited to the exchange of colors and information about color and color trends.

Aimed primarily at designers, the heart of the site is the posting of various color palettes created by members.

Of more interest to artists, however, is the COLOURlovers Color + Design Blog, which I mentioned in my post on The History of the Color Wheel.

The blog features articles on color, color trends and various potential sources of color inspiration. The latter can include images, and color palletes extracted from them, from such varied sources as plants, animals, buildings, clothing, flowers, rust, fireworks, paper, sailboats, crayons, cartoon characters, comic book costumes, anime, tattoos, graffiti, churches and temples, video games, bicycles, currency, furniture, crustaceans, insects, birds, chameleons, clouds, skies, vegetables and, presumably, the kitchen sink.

You can sort the blog posts by Articles, News, Trends, Interviews and Most Popular.

Of particular interest to me are the occasional articles they will do in which they extract simple color palettes from paintings by various artists. They’ve featured Surrealists like Yves Tanguy and Giorgio de Chirico (see my posts on Yves Tanguy and Giorgio de Chirico), modernists like Joseph Albers and Mark Rothko, old masters like Da Vinci and Impressionists like Armand Guillaumin and Claude Monet (see my post on Armand Guillaumin).

I find it particularly interesting to see the four or five dominant colors in a painting extracted and displayed as a simple palette.

Creativity in Action

Creativity in Action- In the Studio by Alfred Stevens
I enjoyed this short video essay by New York Times writer Roberta Smith, in which she muses about a painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York that she had passed often without really stopping to look.

After realizing that what she thought was a picture of women socializing was actually a studio visit with an artist, her model and another woman who is presumably a patron or friend of the artist, she got thinking about several other paintings in the museum which portray artists in the studio or at work.

Here are links to the Met’s pages for the works she mentions and shows in the essay:

In the Studio by Alfred Stevens (image above)

The American School by Matthew Pratt

Woman Seated at an Easel by Georges Braque

Chance Encounter at 3AM by Red Grooms

Self-Portrait With a Friend by Edward Vuillard is not in the Met’s collection, it was in a special exhibit Smith was on her way to view when the idea occurred to her. I haven’t been able to locate it with a quick search, but there are lots of Vuillard images here and resources here.

Though, of all of the paintings on view at the Met of artists working (or not), I’m surprised Smith didn’t include a painting that immediately springs to my mind when I think of artists engaged in drawing or painting, Young Woman Drawing, by Marie-Denise Villers, which I wrote about here.

[Link via Art Notes]

More Photoshop Tutorials

More Photoshop Tutorials, lighting effects, digital painting, Worth 1000 and Iran missile fakesI wrote back in February about a listing of 100 Photoshop Tutorials, many of which applied to digital painting.

Here are some more Photoshop tutorial resources I’ve come across. Though fewer of them are directly related to digital painting, they may be of interest to digital artists as well as those involved in design and photo manipulation.

The first is a listing of 50 Lighting Effects Photoshop Tutorials on The Photoshop Roadmap, in which various techniques and effects using blending modes, masking, compositing and filters are are outlined for lighting enhancement and special effects (first two images at left).

The next is Top 10 Photoshop Tutorial Websites, on Outlaw Design Blog, which is a list of lists; or more accurately a list of sites on which you will find extensive resources for Photoshop tutorials in many aspects of digital image creation and modification.

Another individual link is specific to digital painting. Though it is titled Learn How to Paint Digitally Albert Einstein, it isn’t actually a tutorial (it goes by too fast for that), but a potentially instructive time-lapse video of the progress of a digital painting of the famous theoretical physicist (left, bottom two images). Starting cleverly with cartoon-like sketch based on his famous formula for the relation of mass to energy, it progresses through various stages to a finished likeness. The little flashes are control panels being brought up and used, most likely to change blending modes on a layer. Unfortunately, they go by too quickly to be instructive, so you may have to fill in the blanks yourself (or see if you can stop the video on those frames). The video is posted on the 5min Life Videopedia.

Just for fun, throw in Worth 1000, which I wrote about in 2006, in which the venerable image editor is put to good use in the service of abject silliness. Though not tutorials, the image manipulation “Challenges” are a humorous tour through some of the compositing and touch up techniques possible in Photoshop. In my post at the time I complained about their terrible interface. They have since cleaned up their act with a new, much clearer and easy to navigate site design. Go to “Ended Advanced Photoshop Contests”.

Even the propaganda department of the only remaining member of the “Axis of Evil” (who thinks up these things?) is trying to close the “Photoshop Gap” these days. Iran is apparently in possession of Photoshop (a weapon of mass distortion?) and not afraid to use it; as evidenced by their enhancement of a photo they released, proclaiming the apparent success of a chest-thumping missile launch, with a cloned-in extra missile.

I just love this stuff!

[Some links via Digg]