Saturday 29 July 2017

CENTENARY ARTICLE: Part Three: 1950s - 1960s continued by David Jackson

FRANK BELLAMY - design and technique
Part Three: 1950s-1960s continued

By David Jackson
[Part One] [Part Two] [Part Three] [Part Four] [Part Five]

1958 reprint of Clifford Makin / Frank Bellamy strip biography

The opportunity to develop distinctive layout design innovations did not present itself until Frank Bellamy moved to Eagle to draw the back-page "The Happy Warrior" strip biography of Sir Winston Churchill in line and wash full colour. [I have to mention it appeared on the day Sputnik 1 was launched - 4 October 1957 ~Norman]

FB: "Apparently, someone on EAGLE had the idea of running a comic-strip biography of a still-living personality. They'd done biblical characters and such in the past, but never a living person. So they commissioned me from Swift, to draw the strip. And a real punishing job it was too."
FA: "Looking back over your EAGLE work, it seems you started experimenting with a few new techniques while drawing the Churchill strip."
FB: "With some adventure strips, it's often you see stunt colour effects of the lighting - for instance, a purple shadow on one side of the face - but I was nervous about treating Churchill in that way. Until one day I got a letter saying I could go to town on it and do whatever I wanted. So, I started out splitting frames with zigzags, and putting an oval frame into the middle of the page and from then on I experimented more and more. That's why it looks rather subdued at the beginning, but in the end it goes into a strip technique. But I never got to fully develop experimenting until later strips like "Fraser of Africa" and "Heros the Spartan"."

The publishers' formulaic set appearance of level banks of frames of the earlier b/w stories was gradually developed into bespoke designs allowing adjustments to be made for frame shape and importance and giving balance to the whole.
The extra dimension provided by full colour was made use of literally. Backgrounds of certain frames on the second page are early examples of creating a sense of depth perspective by means of black ink in-fill and linework for the foreground elements only.

The published pages of the series are credited but not signed, though in the frame which illustrates the WWII 'phoney' war with a figure of a relaxing soldier, the blades of grass read 'FB'.

The outline figures against the union flag background to Churchill's "Finest Hour" speech include portraits of the Bellamy family:

Eagle 11 April 1958

  • Frank himself (in a flying jacket) 
  • His mother Grace, above and right of him
  • Possibly his sister Eva slightly further right in a cap
  • His father Horace George Bellamy to the left
  • Nancy Bellamy in profile in a mop cap at left
  • Their son David is the boy in school uniform and cap. 

In the last frame of Eagle Vol.9 No.24 (numbered as p45 in the 1958 book collection, David's uncle, who was in the 8th Army, is giving the thumbs-up).

Eagle Vol.9 No.24

"The Happy Warrior" concluded with a fine full page linear portrait graphic of Sir Winston Churchill in Eagle Vol.9 No.36. Whether the subsequent film Young Winston would have been made (either, at all, or in the way that it was) were it not for FB's picture strip biography for Eagle - effectively a 'storyboard' for the movie - is an open question!
In comics - rather than hiring an entire film crew, extras, cast and stars, costumes, and building sets, props and going on location - a 'shooting script' was given instead to Frank Bellamy.

Eagle 22 November 1958

The next strip was biblical: "The Shepherd King" - the story of David, again for the Eagle back page. The title portrait frame at top left, which continued to be revised as the character matured, was first replaced between No.41 and No.42 as FB recognised the potential of his depiction of David in the lower central frame of No.41 and the frame is further developed to use as the recurring portrait-frame for the next several issues.

Eagle 25 April 1959

"The Travels of Marco Polo". Drawn by FB from Vol.10 No.16 until No.23 and taken over by Peter Jackson - who many years later wrote a few paragraphs about this: "Meeting Frank Bellamy".

"As I had never met Frank Bellamy, but only admired him from afar, this seemed as good a time as any to make his acquaintance. And since I was taking over from him I would now learn all the secrets of his technique. [...] He was quite willing to talk about his technique but there were not, as I might have guessed, any 'secrets'. Just sheer brilliance of draughtsmanship and years of hard work. The technique was there for all to see. He told me what it was that created those magical tonal values out of countless dots. Patience. Infinite patience."
From the Fantasy Advertiser interview:

FA: "One of your own personal touches, which makes your work so easily recognisable is your 'dot stipple' technique of shading..".
FB: "Funnily enough, the Radio Times people called on me and asked me to use that old technique in my artwork for them."
FA: "What made you start stippling your art?
FB: "It started when I wanted to break down an area of black into grey. I couldn't water the black into grey as it wouldn't reproduce - the printer can't water his ink. It had to be positive black or white, no in-betweens. So the only way to do it was to create an illusion of grey which I did with small black dots. And then, to supplement that I'd use the three colours together. Had they been 100% pure, they would give a white, but being impure they give a phoney grey."

FA: "Do you use a Rapidograph for your stippling?"
FB: "No, just a straight pen."
FA: "What nibs do you use?"
FB: "My favourite nib is a Gillott 1950. I find it very good, not too flexible or too hard."
FA: "And your brush?"
FB: "Just an ordinary sable brush."
These are from the 1950s but are still produced

FA: "Do you use a soft or hard pencil for your layouts and what kind of pencil layout do you do - a rough or finished one?"
FB: "I always use an HB moderate hard pencil. I've been using an HB since EAGLE, because, while it was easy to remove the pencil marks, if I'd used a softer pencil, the board would have started to get dirty. And it is quite a crime to put dirty board under infra-red camera. My normal way of working would be to draw in pencil and then ink in the linework with a pen. Then I would fill in the large black areas with a brush, and finally, when everything's done, I'd fill in the colour. But all of the pencil must be rubbed out before the colour is added, or it will be trapped under the ink, which is transparent. When using pure tone, not contained by line, you draw the shape lightly in pencil until you get it right, and then rub it out until it has almost vanished, so you can just see it, and then direct brushwork on the top. So, with an HB pencil you get no dirt on the CS10 and no retouch bill from the engraver."
FA: "I believe CS10 can be a difficult kind of board for colour - what brand of ink do you use?"

FB: "Yes. Ink can be a difficult medium. But I prefer it to water colour. I use waterproof inks for colouring but with the water colour technique. It's very difficult and I think it should be printed on the bottle...USE CONFIDENTLY, because that's what is needed. You've got to take a deep breath and slap it on. The actual inks I use are the German 'Pelikan' inks, because I find them to be the best inks in the world. [...] I boiled them down to one red, one yellow and one blue, and obviously, the black. I use vermillion for the red, ultramarine for the blue and straight yellow."
FA: "You mixed from the three basic colours rather than taking a shade straight from a bottle?"
FB: "I'd never take a green straight from a bottle. I'd mix my own with blue and yellow which is exactly the way it's printed. This way it has a better chance of being printed looking the same as the original."
He never used distilled water (recommended in manufacturer's instructions) to thin the ink washes.
FA: "How do you get such a flat edge to your colour work? Do you mask it?"
FB: "I use a very simple mask - a piece of Sellotape:

FA: "Of course CS10 is excellent board for this - this tape can be removed easily without damaging the surface."
FB: Yes. I stick it down, wash over with colour, let it dry and then peel it off, leaving a nice sharp edge."
Colyer & Southey's CS10 Line Board
 He used a razor blade to cut the Sellotape mask to shape.
He always said the sky effect was the most difficult to handle (in the medium - waterproof inks); sometimes when the phone would ring he'd shout down, 'TELL THEM I CANNOT POSSIBLY ANSWER YET AS I'M RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SKY!'

Taken form the reprint book "The Happy Warrior" 1958 showing skies!

David Bellamy comments in Timeview on how his father preferred working with waterproof inks - carefully mixed in a palette of about sixty sections - despite their difficulties as a medium, particularly on CS10 line board, on which the inks tend to dry unevenly, yet he could wash in skies or flat areas of colour and produce an almost airbrushed effect.

FA: "That cover you did for me, for Eureka a few years ago, I noticed the black areas were really solid. Was that ordinary ink?"
FB: "With ink it's true that you don't get a solid black area on your first coat, so, as with colour inks, I go over it again and again, as much as seven or eight times, until it is solid. I never use an air-brush, it's another trick I dislike."

His 'line and wash' work comprises solid black lines, solid black areas and optical tones created by dot stipple, scribble and crosshatch etc, all of which relates to the black being the 'key line'; this is a 'work-around' to pre-empt the possibility of out-of-register colour of some printed copies - i.e. to make such copies at least readable even if not in perfect synchrony.
With black and white letterpress newspaper printing, in any square millimetre or less, there was either a white space (the paper) or a black mark (the ink) - no 'in-between' dilute grey.

Among the items rescued from Frank's studio are pages of clipped printed frames kept as a record by the artist of how some particular effect had reproduced in print. Below a b/w frame from 'King Arthur' drawn for Swift, is the pencilled note: "THIS GREY TECHNIQUE CANNOT BE USED WITH INFR RED REPRO" [See Alan Davis' site for loads of great stuff ~Norman]

With 'line and wash' tonal originals for black and white halftone reproduction on glossier, magazine format, stock paper (such as the above - or the third page of the early "Thunderbirds") the solid black ink is overlaid with a tonal grey wash - over the same 'key line' solid black pen and brush work areas and dot stipple and line hatch technique, as if it were for full colour. In BBC TV's Edition, in 1973, presenter Barry Askew says:

BA: "Let's look at what did, in fact, change you. I mean, one of your classic periods was with EAGLE and there we have an example of Dan Dare. Now what kind of technique development did you put into Dan Dare?
FB: "The technique I used, you mean the materials?"
BA: "Yes."
FB: "The materials I use have been exactly the same in all my career as a strip artist; waterproof inks. In this case full colour waterproof inks."
BA: "What about the design techniques themselves, how were those developed?"
FB: "It was a development of mine. I was tired of seeing frame upon frame of little squared-off pictures and this was the old-fashioned idea. I wanted to bring out the page as a complete page, a spread as a complete spread, to make it a unit in its own right."

In reality Dan Dare proved to be more of a challenge in more ways than one, as outlined on this blog previously - primarily in terms of adaptation to the working conditions, the established page format, existing designs and the Dan Dare studio set-up with assistants rather than the science fiction genre as such.

FA: "On Dan Dare you were working with several other artists. How much of the strip did you actually draw?"
FB: It varied from week to week. Sometimes I'd draw half a dozen frames only, the following week I might draw both pages. But I'd always draw any frames that introduced new characters. It often depended where the awkward frames would appear. As senior artist in the studio, this was my problem. The eventual idea was that I would take over the whole strip and draw both pages by myself every week."
FA: "But you didn't want that?"
FB: "No, not really. Although, as a temporary measure, I'd have preferred to draw Dan Dare in that way, complete, as Keith Watson did later."
Eagle 14 November 1959 Vol.10:39
Vol.10 No.39: FB inside page demonstrates the above point.
Vol.11 No.9: FB produced both pages.

Eagle 30 April 1960 Vol:11:18 page 1

Eagle 30 April 1960 Vol:11:18 page2

Vol.11 No.18: inside page (page 2 above) single top left frame; FB introduces the new alien spacecraft as an 'on-screen schematic' with the rest of the page by the studio team.
The Dan Dare studio artists and FB collaborated on the front page of Vol.11 No.2 - the inside page is all Bellamy and signed - with the lower three frame sequence being by FB and the main frame by the team, might on first sight be taken to be a Bellamy page.

FB: "But the other artists were employed on a freelance basis to help me with fill-in frames and such. I never really have been happy working that way. If I look at Alex Raymond art, I like to see pure Alex Raymond, not inked by Fred Bloggs. It's okay if Fred Bloggs is helping out with some research or rubbing out the pencils, but I like the drawing to be a personal thing."

EAGLE Vol.11 No.4 front page illustrates the logic of this.
Eagle 23 January 1960 Vol:11:4 page 1

FA: "You had one restriction on Dan Dare, I believe ... You were drawing the originals printed size. Was this very difficult?"
FB: "Actually, I prefer never to have to draw a strip more than a quarter up..."
FA: "...Which is only fractionally bigger than the printed size. Why do you prefer this size?
FB: "I don't actually, I prefer never to have to draw a strip more than quarter up...
FA: But I would've thought you could get sharper lines and a tighter effect if the originals were drawn for reduction?
FB: "No. I don't want it to appear more detailed in print, just because it has been reduced a lot from the original drawing size. I'd rather present a finely drawn original in the first place, and therefore, once again, give the editor a piece of finished work ready for press, that he can look at almost exactly as it will appear in print."
 Some Dan Dare studio methods were alien to Frank Bellamy.
FB: "The Dan Dare team used to make roughs, but I always thought that if you make a highly detailed rough, you can't draw the same thing a second time, on your board, and capture as much atmosphere. There's always something lacking. There is no spontaneity or imagination in copying a rough on to board."
Keith Watson once related the following to me. One of the Hampson team was copying a rock formation from a reference photograph, FB was nonplussed and said to him, "Good God, if you can't draw a few rocks..!"

Eagle 24 October 1959 Vol.10:36 - NOTE the rocks!
 Many, possibly most, artists might have done the same. But though such a found reference would be 'realistic', it would not necessarily best meet the graphic dynamics, the 'flow', or shape required, on a particular frame or page - up to and including, depending on context, looking 'too photographic'.
What it pointed up was the difference between the long-term, comprehending, distilling and internalising, artistically, the essential structure of something, as opposed to short-term, short-cut copying what happens to be in a found reference source, which could be either ideal or not!
Interestingly, long before then, FB must have been somehow dissatisfied - possibly unconsciously but probably consciously - in the way he had been depicting rocky landscapes (though they would have appeared perfectly good enough to a reader) or gained new insight, and, over time had made refined incremental improvements in his way of rendering geology, so much so that, as his son David once rightly commented, as an aside, that the rocks look so rocky.

Eagle, Girl, Swift and Robin had been sold by Hulton Press to Odhams, publishing as Longacre Press, and Hulton's last issue of Eagle was Vol.11 No.1 dated 2nd January 1960.

Nevertheless, within the imposed limitations outlined above, experiments with page layout, innovative graphic design and dynamic panel breaks continued.

The original art from Eagle Vol:11:4

Such as the Vol.11 No.4 spectacular and vertiginous Dan Dare crash-dive cover sequence - the filmic contribution made by the altimeter numerals is in itself notable - culminating in a spectacular explosion (a Bellamy speciality).

The common British logo style through the Sixties

From its inception, Hulton's Eagle had carried the distinctive masthead (which no doubt seemed a good idea at the time) but was itself an invariable constriction, by its size and form and place on the front page, which meant, from a storytelling art and design consideration (let alone as possible collected volumes) the weekly loss of a quarter of the cover space. New owner Longacre Press lost no time in commissioning an updated new look for the Eagle masthead and front page, and particularly for Dan Dare. (Volume 11:12, 19 March 1960)

FB: "They asked me to redesign Dan Dare. The uniforms, space fleet, everything. This meant I had to make sketches of everything before I actually started drawing the strip, but I prefer to do that, anyway. I've always done so, on Fraser, Heros and so on. This let the editor know exactly what everything looked like from the start so he wouldn't get any surprises sprung on him in the middle of an instalment."
FA: "Did you have any qualms about re-vamping Frank Hampson's personal creation?"
FB: "Oh, yes. 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." 
Republication of the Fantasy Advertiser interview in Warrior 22 (September 1984), with some variations, included additional art and this extra Q&A:

"Why did you get the directive to revamp the costumes and ships?"
FB: "I think it was just the march of progress. They had tended to look old fashioned, and they wanted to keep ahead of what was happening in Cape Canaveral. At the beginning of Eagle, everything looked super-futuristic, but the actual real life events were catching up extremely fast. They also wanted a 'new look' to coincide with the facelift the cover was getting. I did lots of drawings of the space fleet which were exploded drawings, showing the cabin areas, undercart, rocket compartment and that, which I'd hoped was also help an author so he wouldn't make the common mistake of having someone stepping from one cabin to another, when they are supposed to be at opposite ends of the ship. I tried to keep a realistic approach. Later, there was an exhibition, I think it was at Charter House School, showing 'the birth of the comic strip', and they used my approach, with my art, preliminary sketches, the script, pencil and ink artwork. The interest was so great that members of the American Air Force would go down, thinking these diagrams of ships were for real."
- Laughter -

Eagle Vol.11 No.12, 19th March 1960, is the 'new look' issue for which FB also produced both Dan Dare pages.

Eagle Vol.11 No.12, 19th March 1960
 Many of his pages which followed in the series stylistically prefigure TV21(for example, EAGLE Vol.11 No.15 p2).
Eagle Vol.11 No.18 cover page (see above) includes some innovative FB stars and space nebula development of his 'dot stipple' technique. This effect is further developed on the front cover of No.21. Frank's stars are distinctive and unique and appear as a pragmatic and brilliant design solution to the 'problem' (as Frank might have seen it) that the most efficient way of creating stars in pen and ink is to lay-in flat areas of black and speckle with blobs of process white - which technically, from all he has said, Frank wouldn't want to do. Hence his starfield design (requiring a thought-through understanding of its micro-component elements to produce the specific effect) which removed the need for process white.
FB also started to develop line-hatch alternatives to stipple tonals during Dan Dare which would develop over time and would lead in the 1970s to FB referring (above) to the stippling method as an "old technique" (returning to it for art editor David Driver at Radio Times). The pen-work change includes Vol.11 Nos.20-22-23 and the slight patch of tentative linework hatched along the cheekbone of Dan Dare in No.26, heralded a technique development which might then have seemed insignificant. By whatever insight, FB saw reason to experiment with what would be possible with another method.

Coincidentally or not, Eagle Vol.11 No.26, 25th June 1960, page eight, also includes an unattributed and so far unattributable depiction of Gary Player in a Slazenger sports equipment advertisement rendered in dot stipple effect.

Eagle Vol.11 No.28 front cover is the final Frank Bellamy Dan Dare, published on 9th July 1960.

Eagle Vol.11 No.28, 9 July 1960
FA: "You drew Dan Dare for exactly a year. Why did you stop?"
FB: "I'd only wanted to draw it for a year."
FA: "Have there ever been any sets you've particularly disliked drawing?"
FB: "Well, once again, Dan Dare, because I felt cramped on it, as I've said."
 Many thanks to David for this series of overviews of Bellamy's career.  In the next episode we plunge into the 1960s

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