Monday 12 October 2015

Frank Bellamy - Sight Unseen

As any blogger will tell you it's great to get guests to write something, and I've been very fortunate in having my good friend David Jackson write the following.....
DAILY MIRROR (3 Jul 1972)  "The Gospel according to St. George" pp4-5
Nixon and McGovern

Some of Frank Bellamy's unseen work was created for publication but, for one reason or another, as has been listed and discussed on this site and elsewhere, never saw the light of day in its original form.

Referring to the early days of Frank's career, Nancy Bellamy said in Speakeasy #100:
"...Mind you, if they didn't like it, they would sling it back at him and he would sometimes do a piece one, two or three times over again until it suited them.  Of course, his name wasn't known then."

Editorial edicts were part of the job.

The Fantasy Advertiser Vol.3 No.50 interview included a question about the editorial directive to revamp 'Dan Dare' partway into Bellamy's year on the feature. Frank said: "I didn't like doing that. But it was a directive from upstairs - that's what they wanted, and you can only give the client what he wants, so that was it."

Previously, in 1959, Frank's first Dan Dare page (Vol.10 No.28) had resulted in Don Harley, unenviably, being called-in editorially to re-work FB's first drawing of Dan into something more like the Hampson studio style.

Eagle Vol 10:28 29 August 1959

Alistair Crompton, in his book 'The Man Who Drew Tomorrow' (p123), refers to FB's first Dare page:

"When Bellamy left the meeting, his work was passed quickly to Don Harley who was asked to re-draw the frame to make the space colonel himself again."

In a long after the fact off-the-cuff remembrance Don Harley in a published interview recalled that he had been "ordered to re-draw all of FB's Dan Dare faces", but the printed page in question apparently shows the first Dan Dare face only - note, not even the rest of Dare's head - as stylistically anything other than by Frank Bellamy.

Close examination of the printed EAGLE page gives indications of what may likely have been done to the FB original in the way of a Don Harley paste-over.

Close-up of the famed first panel

In the first / main frame, the 'right-hand half, as you look at it, of Dare's head from the ink-black, in artists' terms, 'shadow accent' (which runs fairly centrally up the cheek line) - ie the area containing Dan's ear, side to the back of his head, and shadowed purple with yellow reflected upwards from the fittings of the spacesuit - all appear to be Bellamy's as he originally presented it.

To the left, as you look at it, of the vertical of the shadow accent is Don Harley's Dan Dare face - ie Dare's features, chin etc, up to the boundary where the shadow accent changes from the slightly less black (muted by the over-paint of flesh colour of the face), cut or painted or pasted up to what is left as the abrupt edge of absolute black as FB inked it. (The sharp division seems apparent even in print on close inspection).

Despite this being discussed on occasion over the decades, the eventual fate of the original board remains an unanswered question. And reason enough to raise it again here now. The original has not, as so far ascertained, ever resurfaced since - let alone restored to be seen once again in the original state which FB had intended.

Bellamy's subsequent feelings can only be imagined. In that alone, the miracle is that he was not then entirely de-motivated and that his Dan Dare was then as good as it is.

Nixon and McGovern - as published in the Daily Mirror 3 July 1972

Another Bellamy piece which was never in print in its original form, although an amended version was published, was the political cartoon drawn for THE DAILY MIRROR (3rd July 1972) at the time of the Nixon - McGovern US election.

There are certain similarities in the 'oriental style' dragon form with FB's 'Lord of The Dragons' one-off vignette. This appeared in the book 'Once Upon A Time'. [see below]

The double-page drawing depicts Richard Nixon as the 'dragon' at the point of 'St' George McGovern's lance. In the published version, a fairly restrained cartoon portrait of Nixon topped a decidedly reptilian dragon body.

As Frank's son David subsequently disclosed, the MIRROR felt the drawing in its original form - simply from its inspired realisation as commissioned, rather than out of any intentional political point of view - made Richard Nixon in dragon form look so bad in comparison to McGovern that it could be seen as less than even-handed. Hence the re-drawing of Nixon's head as a human portrait to mitigate this perceived imbalance. Political impartiality's gain was the Frank Bellamy fan's loss..!

Again the condition and whereabouts of the original work is uncertain. It is possible that the whole piece was completely redrawn but it may be more probable, as the original would be delivered to meet a newspaper deadline, that the replacement head was a paste-over. The saving grace in this instance being that it was at least re-drawn by Frank himself.

Nevertheless, having first given the job his best shot, he must have felt some degree of disappointment that the readers would never get to appreciate it. Added to which there is also the sense that anyone seeing only the printed version would assume that this was the artist's definitive rendering of the subject - that this was his 'best shot'.

It was again the printed version rather than the unseen original version which is reproduced with the definitive FB interview in Fantasy Advertiser Vol.3 No.50.

So what might the original unseen version have actually looked like?

The printed version does hold some clues...

Even without the information which surfaced years later that this was an amended re-work, the 'balance' and the 'use of space' of the published piece appeared not to have been used to maximum advantage, which was decidedly, and at the time seemingly inexplicably, un-Bellamy.

The head of Nixon and the un-utilised space to the right of it, never came across quite as a balanced total design as would have been expected in a Bellamy.

The explanation for that came when it became known that Nixon's caricature had been originally envisioned in the form of a dragon's head in keeping with and unified with the dragon body.

The depiction of the horse is telling. It is a very particular gesture movement from the animal - St George's charger is not just charging forward - it is reacting by rearing away to one side.

The lighting of the horse's neck to the left of the shadow accent is depicted with FB's characteristic 'scribble tonal' intentionally indicating reflected light.

This reflected light, together with the horse's reaction of rearing away from the vacant space between itself and the dragon, would tend to indicate that the Nixon dragon may have been originally looking back towards St George and spouting flames... Whatever the case, a reappearance of either work, as envisioned above or otherwise, would be a long-awaited welcome return to the fold..!

"Lord of the Dragons" from
Once Upon a Time
Contributed by David Jackson, artist on 'The Mummy' in Dez Skinn's Halls of Horror, House of Hammer; and Warrior where he illustrated among others 'Shandor, Demon Stalker' and a couple of painted covers. Other comics include early pop-biographies (Prince, 5 Star, Bob Geldof) for Look-In; and James Bond: Shattered Helix for Dark Horse. Science fiction paperback covers include James White's The Aliens Among Us, Ian Watson's God's World, Harlan Ellison's The Time of the Eye and illustrating Arthur C Clarke for Omni magazine.

1 comment:

Mike Nicoll said...

Yup - have to agree that your assessment as to the positioning of the dragon's head sounds spot on to me Norman (you should be working in forensics mate!)which suggests that the Nixon portrait would have originally been a side-on view perhaps which would have made him less instantly recognisable. We know that Frank was no slouch when it came to caricatures and for my money the McGovern face looks like it may have been redone also - it stands out against the rest of the image in the same way as Nixon's face does - no subtle shading or stipples, just a straight line drawing - so maybe both the original caricatures were considered less instantly recognisable to a uk audience than a straight line art representation would be. I wonder if the McGovern character had a knight's helmet on originally - knowing FB's attention to detail that wouldn't surprise me and btw doesn't that pose look familiar to you?
That said, FB obviously considered this and wrote the actual names on each figure to allow for it but maybe the editor went for a belt-and-braces approach. After all it's not exactly the first time FB had to re-draw a face, is it lol!
I wonder if John Allard might know about it.
Thax again mate!
Bill (even tho it comes up as Mike in the header because as explained I still can't get the system to accept my hotmail ID but it's likely my fault for being a computer dumb-ass as my kids say hah!!)