Showing posts with label Mickey Mouse Weekly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mickey Mouse Weekly. Show all posts

Monday 17 July 2017

CENTENARY ARTICLE: Part Two: 1950s - 1960s by David Jackson

FRANK BELLAMY - design and technique
Part Two: 1950s-1960s

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

Boy's Own Paper April 1952 pp.40-41

Probably everyone reading this has a good idea what the Frank Bellamy 'look' looks like. Yet up to the mid 1950s nobody knew this - not even Frank Bellamy.

Drawing - fine art - is considered a difficult enough and praiseworthy talent in its own right - as a sort of human-camera translating the scene before the artist into line and or tone or colour. But, for the illustrator and comics artist there is an added difficulty - there is no such scene to draw from!
It is a task which makes doing a jig-saw without a box lid look like child's play.
Or, put another way, it would be a daunting task for anybody to take a blank sheet of CS10 board and make an exact copy of any illustration, let alone comic page or strip, by Frank Bellamy - even if they were allowed to use tracing paper, never mind 'by eye'...
Frank Bellamy of course had only a script and a blank sheet of paper to start with!
With pen and ink, just controlling the tools and materials is a 'high-wire' performance and always on the edge of a blot, a drip, run, or a slip or skid of the pen, rule or brush.
As Frank said himself in Fantasy Advertiser (Vol.3 No.50):
FB: "So again, no easy way. In fact, I consider line drawing to be the most difficult form of drawing, because it is so positive. You can get away with murder with a pencil, but with a pen it isn't quite so easy."

Despite recognizable touches - seen in retrospect - overall his design and style at the mid point of the twentieth century was still to form. It was a work in progress - FB himself not then knowing what unique and distinctive originality he was developing towards; with his signature technique of pen and ink line-and-key-black with transparent waterproof ink colour washes still in his future...Two early, probably on-spec, portfolio sample try-outs (which were rescued by Alan Davis and are among early FB work on his own website) are mock-up book illustrations with what would be the printed text of a published novel represented by ruled lines, and featuring hand-drawn decorative title lettering: Treasure Island (despite FB's subsequent comments quoted below) and Colorado by William MacLeod Raine (a novel first published in 1928 and since reviewed on the web: "This book out-Westerns Westerns!").

The art materials FB was using at this time included opaque colour, on one occasion for his signature on a dark red ground. For whatever reason (and a job is a job) between 1950 and 1954, the International Artists agency found or assigned freelance romance story commissions from women's interest Home Notes magazine and other similar work, which were not at all Frank's preferred subject - as much due to the relatively static nature of the scenes to be illustrated as the romantic content of the stories.

Home Notes 27 July 1951
 As with the portfolio sample pieces, in these illustrations the treatment of graphic design elements, such as large title lettering and patterns within the scenes, required the sort of exacting drawing-instrument control which many an artist would rather avoid, but are the first component parts to be rendered with complete precision.
The figurework looks to have been drawn freehand and probably posed by Nancy and Frank.
Theoretically it may be possible to photograph posed scenes and trace-off or project these for the finished rendering, but meeting set deadlines of the day may not allow time for this.

FA: "When drawing characters or machines, do you prefer to draw from life or from photographs?"
FB: "The only time I'd use a photograph would be for convenience sake..."
FA: "...You can't get an elephant into the studio."
In theory, the advantages of a photograph is in its accuracy. Its limitations then being that the camera can only photograph what exists to be photographed. As a source of information, found reference of any three dimensional scene is reduced to two dimensions so that the true relationship between objects may not be correctly seen or understood, or outright misleading to the viewer (the family snapshot showing a lamppost apparently attached to the head of a relative being only an extreme and well understood example).
Such difficulties need to be overcome by the artist.Still today, tracing from photographs, and it's computerised equivalent, is a subject in dispute. It is a very nuanced issue and, as with anything else about art, it is easier in some way to go wrong despite it being possible to know how to get it exactly right.

BBC Children's Hour Annual [1952] Page 80

1952: The illustrations for the Children's Hour story "I'm proud of my father" are strong b/w inkwork, in a 1940's style of the era depicted, and in design terms with speed line hatching tones.
The March and April Boy's Own Paper credit: SCRAPERBOARD ILLUSTRATION BY BELLAMY. Other editions featuring various genre illustrations in other media and techniques continued into the following year.

Boy's Own Paper September 1953

Frank Bellamy carried out a number of commissions for Odhams Press - with more East African themed subjects (including a cover featuring a rhino) for Boy's Own Paper. At one time, presumably in the early days, being unsatisfied with a work in progress, Frank had said to his son, David, 'I wish I could draw horses!'
To which my sentiment on hearing this decades later was: 'I wish I could draw horses like he couldn't draw horses!'
FB could have traced from a photograph but what he could have meant was, he'd wanted to understand - internalise - what horses looked like - so well as to not need to.
Of course, until the invention of the camera nobody could see how horses were actually galloping at full speed.If it appears that FB was taking the long and difficult route rather than the obvious easy short-cut, the comparison is one of ends and means; it is the difference between someone copying, by sight, writing which they themselves are unable to read, as opposed to someone who has learned how to read and able to write whatever is required, off-the-cuff, without copying. The aim is authorship. Fluency. Consistency. And the articulated solid-geometry which was a distinguishing characteristic of his ability and work.
Comprehensive knowledge is needed in creating scenes which never existed in real life to make all the assembled component parts of a constructed image both fit the dynamic 'flow' of the overall design and be at the appropriate angle, perspective, lighting, etc, in terms of realism.

In comic strips, more so than in other forms of representational art and illustration, the artist is required to take responsibility for conveying to the reader some of the information which in other literary formats would be described in the text. And so drawn details in the art which are there to carry the story must be sufficiently realistic to be 'readable' and clearly decipherable as opposed to merely decorative or impressionistic. Even a 'still frame' photo from an action sequence from a movie - in which, when shown in a cinema, everything looks perfectly realistic, whole and solid - can be reduced to indecipherable blurs in the elements which were moving fastest . Comic strip frames, in their classic form, generally combine both storytelling detail and action in the same shot.

From Eagle Vol 3 No 11

The first FB work in a strip-art form was in fact a series of advertisements, 'Commando Gibbs v Dragon Decay' printed in Eagle Vol.3. Despite being no easy task to spot the Frank Bellamy 'look' - had we not known that it was -this prefigured some sort of turning-point towards action adventure picture-strip art. Onward and upward incremental developments arrived in weekly instalments from here on in!

FA: "And when did you actually get started drawing comic strips?"
FB: "Very shortly after I started doing freelance work through International Artists. Apparently they wanted to see me up at Mickey Mouse Weekly. Up until that interview, I had only done one strip, an advertisement for Gibbs toothpaste which appeared in Eagle. They offered me a weekly comic-strip for Mickey Mouse, "Monty Carstairs". So, realising I couldn't draw for Mickey Mouse Weekly and do a staff job at Norfolk Studios, in 1953 I left the studio and became a full-time freelance artist. And I've been drawing strips ever since."
FB's breakthrough as a freelance b/w pen and ink continuity picture-strip artist was a detective series for Odhams Press - taking over from Kenneth Brookes - Monty Carstairs in a "Great New Holiday Mystery-Adventure" 'The Secret of the Sands' in Mickey Mouse Weekly 25th July 1953.

Mickey Mouse Weekly 25 July 1953

A reproduction of FB's first comics page was one of the examples illustrating the interview in Fantasy Advertiser. Not mentioned in that context, Frank's son David had posed for the drawn-from-life figures of the young boy in the story. This page is signed FRANK A. BELLAMY, (as is his last page in the series, but in some issues his surname only) but if this first page had been unsigned, the style is more that of the established form than immediately recognizable as being his. Even the word-balloon shapes are wholly untypical, even though lettered by FB. The banks of panels, in rows one above another, is the standard format for all the strips in the issue and all the b/w adventure strips art and some subject matter is stylistically near-indistinguishable one from another.

Mickey Mouse Weekly also commissioned Frank to draw the colour centrespread natural history feature 'Walt Disney's true life adventures: Living Desert'. [see here and here ~Norman]
Other spot illustrations of wildlife and action adventure subjects were commissioned by Lilliput and Everybody's.In terms of the comic-strip, this year was to be the signal change. Frank breaks the banks of panels format in Mickey Mouse Weekly with a larger central frame in the 13th March issue. All the square and cornered word-balloon shapes go and by the end of April the word-balloon graphics are distinctively his own style.

Mickey Mouse Weekly 13 March 1954

FA: "And after these two strips for Odhams Press, you started work for Swift, which was published by Hulton Press..."
FB: I'd always had a feeling I'd like to get in on the Eagle/Swift/Girl group of comics..."
FA: "These papers were in competition with each other for artists and writers at the time, weren't they?"
FB: "Oh, yes. So, when it became a convenient moment to drop from Odhams, as the Hulton Press people had been making enquiries about me, I moved straight on to Swift, in 1954." 

Swift, as a companion junior title to Eagle, featured picture stories with both type-set text commentary below line and wash art, and caps-and-lower-case lettered word-balloons, intended for the younger reader. The house style standard format of the title as a whole was again banks of panels in rows one above another for all the picture stories in the issue and again the b/w adventure strips in both art and some subject matter are stylistically similar one to another.

Swift 2 October 1954
 Frank also illustrated several text stories for Swift. "The Fleet Family" in 'The Island of Secrets' one page b/w picture strip ran from Vol.1 No.22, 14th August - the opening episode being a stylistically seamless transition from the concluding pages of "Monty Carstairs".

Swift 9 October 1954

"The Swiss Family Robinson" one page b/w picture strip followed from Vol.1 No.30, 9th October.
Progress was one of accumulating sophistication. The episodes are uncredited and unsigned. But the distinctive style is recognizably Bellamy. Frames are small scale, ten or eleven each episode; with detail rendered in coherent graphic precision, albeit within a limiting editorial layout and genre.

FB: "I wasn't too happy on Swiss Family Robinson."
FA: "Why was that?
FB: "I think it was because it wasn't a very elastic script and the fantasy in it wasn't my type of fantasy. Everything was laid down for me and I had no way to improvise."
FA: "So, mainly you didn't like the Robinson set because it was such a famous story in the first place?"
FB: "Exactly. Can you imagine a more difficult task than having to illustrate a famous story? Imagine drawing Treasure Island. Everybody has preconceived ideas of what Long John Silver looks like, so the artist would have no scope whatsoever, and his rendition would be completely different to most people's mental picture of Long John. I've heard it said that one of the worst books to illustrate is, in fact Treasure Island."

Eagle 4 October 1957
Coincidentally, the second frame of "The Happy Warrior" illustrates a young Winston Churchill reading Treasure Island and visualizing a very identifiable Long John Silver.

Men Only was a small pocket sized publication (later better known when it turned to the 'glamour' market and published by Paul Raymond!) gave Frank work in three issues, black and white illustrations

Outspan magazine commissioned several issues of cover and/or interior text story illustrations ranging from drama, science fiction and wildlife adventure (several, including the 'Timeliner' artwork - prefiguring Apollo 11 moon landing and art - in the October issue, are reproduced in Notes to the Checklist) .

FB: "I also did a lot of story illustrations for Outspan - most of which was set in South Africa and all of those being big game illustrations. I was sticking my neck out a bit, but I've always been interested in big game. I can honestly say I've always been interested in Africa, and still am. So, as I said, you can see I was never cut out to do love strips for the IPC girl's paper. I'd have a go, but I prefer something with a bit of meat and guts."

"The Exiting Adventures of Paul English" was a one page b/w picture strip in Swift was taken over by FB from Vol.2 No.15 to No.30.

Swift 8 October 1955

"King Arthur and his Knights", "Robin Hood and his Merry Men" and "Robin Hood and Maid Marian", b/w picture strips with two pages of five or six larger frames each, continued until Vol.4 No.33 ended the run in 1957; with the episodes from Vol.3 No.44 on signed FRANK BELLAMY

FA: "In those days, the strips you were on had libretto under each frame, so you must have had little continuity from frame to frame...almost acting purely as an illustrator."
FB: "I did try to get as much continuity in as possible. Whereas a lot of my later strips have been separate frames, all totally disconnected... 'Churchill' was an example of that."
FA: "When it came to continuity, a breakdown of action, did you find this very hard to do, or did it come naturally from the start?"
FB: "Well, I must confess, it seemed to come naturally to me because, over the years, even back to the Swift days, when it was a hard format of probably nine frames per page with text at the bottom of each nicely squared-up frame, I always wanted to enlarge upon that format. I didn't like the normal, acceptable form of comic strip work, frame after frame, bank after so many daily newspaper strips stuck together to make up a page."

TO BE CONTINUED... Part Two of the 1950s - a very productive period for Bellamy

I hope David won't mind me adding an advert - all the Swift strips have been reprinted and are available at Book Palace. I don't get commission but have been given copies for my contributions over the years! ~"Honest" Norman

Saturday 10 June 2017

CENTENARY ARTICLE: Frank Bellamy, Odhams Press and "Ghosts"

One ghost please’  - Bellamy’s ‘first colour strip work’

John Wigmans, from the Netherlands, wrote to me a while back about a specific part of Basil Reynolds' and (we think by extension) Frank Bellamy's work in Mickey Mouse Weekly in 1954. John says Basil Reynolds wrote an autobiography of sorts: 'Of Skit and Skat And This And That'. It was published for the first time as a series in 1982/84 in Denis Gifford's ACE newsletter Comic Cuts. The complete story was reprinted in two parts in The Comic Journal (incorporating A.C.E.) issue 28 (Autumn 1994) and issue 29 (Spring 1995). The third time Basil's memoirs were published, was in Walt's People Volume 15 (2014). If you follow the link to Amazon, their "Look Inside" feature allows you to search and read a substantial part of what John mentions.

So what's the relevance to this blog - besides the fact they both worked in Mickey Mouse Weekly? Well, get ready for a genuine ghost story, or rather, a post about a colourful ‘ghost’… 

Remember Bellamy's comment from the Skinn/Gibbons interview (1973) on the strips he did for Mickey Mouse Weekly: 
FB: […] not only did I draw "Monty Carstairs" in Mickey Mouse, I also got my first colour strip work, Walt Disney's "Living Desert" in the centrespread. [Emboldening mine ~Norman

Some years ago John and I wrote about Bellamy’s True Life Adventures - The Living Desert.  We determined which instalments in the series were his, once he had taken over from the original artist Basil Reynolds in June, 1954. 
And now we can shed some new light on Bellamy’s ‘first colour strip work’, thanks to Reynolds’ autobiography.

Basil Reynolds art from "Beaver Valley",
Mickey Mouse Weekly, Aug 22, 1953
Below is the original artwork with notes scribbled by the artist

Basil Reynolds art from "Beaver Valley", Mickey Mouse Weekly, 1953
(from the collection "Home for Ducks", Vienna, Austria)
If you look closely on the black and white original art, you'll see the phrase "One ghost please" in the upper right hand corner, written in (non-reproducible) blue pencil . In his autobiography, (which John kindly forwarded) Reynolds explains:
Similarly I had no part in the actual production of the Holiday and Christmas specials, apart from sundry contributions, such as “Skit and Skat.” I imagine that credit for the original idea must go to Silvey Clarke, then the Assistant Editor, aided and abetted by the studio production team, headed by Ibby and Phyllis Thorpe. There was always a tremendous amount of work for the studio to do, especially in the production of colour pages for the weekly.
All the Walt Disney and other syndicated strips used on the four-colour pages were supplied by King Features, in black and white form. These had to be cut, sized up to fit the spaces they were to occupy in the Weekly as well as being pasted onto card. Also, at this stage, the worst Americanisms were removed from the balloons and English words and expressions substituted.
These “originals” were then sent to the photographic studio to return as “ghosts,” which were simply black and white prints shot to size on bromide paper. These prints were then pasted onto card, then each strip was hand-coloured in the studio using Kodak transparent watercolour stamps. These were perforated sheets, coated with coloured dyes and were primarily for use in tinting photographic prints. They were sent over from the States or quite often brought over by Bill Levy on frequent trips to his homeland. (I still have some of these books—pre-War vintage and often use them when working on a colour job.) The mounted and coloured strips for each issue were sent off to the printing works with the rest of the artwork but they were NOT used as originals—they were only detailed colour guides for craftsmen at Odhams photogravure works to transform into the finished product. Of course, full-colour artwork originals such as covers were treated as such and reproduced in the normal way. This process of producing colour guides was still operative when I finally left the Weekly in the 1950s. [Emboldening mine and spelling correction mine ~Norman]
If you're wondering what these Kodak stamps looked like we are in luck. I can't remember where I grabbed this images, but here they are. The books were 6 inches long

 John continues:
On his original board Basil wrote lots of instructions for the Odhams' printing works at Watford. He, and I assume Frank [Bellamy] as well, once he had taken over, wrote 'One ghost please' on his original artwork.

Now the question remains if what was eventually printed on the centrespread of Mickey Mouse Weekly, was really Basil Reynolds' / Frank Bellamy's handiwork. Or is the colouring as published in the weekly indeed done by one of the craftsmen at Odhams photogravure works, as Reynolds described? Even so, BR/FB had to produce the 'detailed colour guides' (=ghosts) first; i.e. the "Living Desert" instalments are still FB's 'first colour strip work'.

Why else would Frank say that 'not only did I draw "Monty Carstairs" in Mickey Mouse, I also got my first colour strip work, Walt Disney's "Living Desert" in the centrespread.' And remember: "This process of producing color guides was still operative when I [BR] finally left the Weekly in the 1950s." Reynolds, the Studio Manager (=art editor) left in February 1956. Prior to that FB had already moved on to Swift in July 1954. But he had had to use this method of colouring while still working for MMW.
I asked David Slinn to comment as he was there at the time, more or less, and he replied:

Relevant to the comics’ chronology, the following résumés are perhaps in the wrong order. However, explaining the separate procedures, in the context of first-hand experience, makes allowance for any apparent changes implemented since Basil Reynolds’ time on Mickey Mouse Weekly.
[i] As was briefly mentioned, one of my earliest weekly tasks in the mid-1950s was the Ben Day tint colour-guide for Tiger’s cover feature, ‘Roy of the Rovers’. Joe Colquhoun provided black and white line, twice-up, cover artwork and a continuation page (actually the comic’s back-cover); once lettered and titled, the printer’s proof – i.e. reduced in size to that of the comic’s cover – on cartridge stock, was sent back by Tiger editorial.The cover was then appropriately coloured, using watercolours/coloured inks – together with a rough copy, noting team shirts/shorts/socks and other key continuity, retained for succeeding episodes. 
Very quickly, I discovered that if you simply painted flat colour, that’s what inevitably appeared in the printed comic; while, even fairly subtle gradations, introduced into a sky area or the grass of the football pitch, would be reproduced quite accurately.So, despite realizing that many of the other Amalgamated Press weeklies appeared quite content with the former treatment – with a keen eye, on a future up the road in Hulton House – I tended to put in a bit more than was probably expected. During a night-time, burning-torch lit search, involving Roy Race and his colleague Blackie Gray, even the fresh foot-prints and flickering shadows on the winter-snow, made it onto the nation’s bookstalls.
Later on, when I had established a freelance association with Eagle and the companion titles, I was also involved with Odhams’ Zip, where the editor John N. Low had initially encouraged me to submit scripts to a series, ‘The Brainy B’s’. This led to Joe and I then being assigned to draw a number of further episodes and, also, work together on some new strip proposals for the title. Zip’s art editor, was a chap called Sandy (his surname, if it was mentioned, failed to register*), and remember being intrigued to find him in the midst of colouring a centre-spread cutaway illustration. I quickly twigged this wasn’t the actual original illustration, but a full-size photoprint of Gordon Davies’ black and white, half-up finished artwork – or a “ghost”, very similar to those John Wigmans has helpfully drawn attention to and invited observations on. [* I fear, Sandy – whoever he was – other than extremely likeable, within the year had joined Norman Williams, Raymond Sheppard and, later, Alan Stranks, in equally tragic circumstances. Being relatively young and in a different world, so to speak, I found this slightly unsettling.]
What follows is intuitive speculation on my part: but maybe, Odhams’ photogravure colour separation procedures, required the “ghost” to be “…hand-coloured…” using a limited number of specified colours – even, restricted, perchance “…to one red, one blue, one yellow, and obviously, the black.” – FB decided to adopt.

Thanks for these additions David

Original art laid against published art showing
size reduction for the published work
John then commented:

Right now I can shed some new (or additional) light on the 'ghost'-affair. As usual, the answer lies with Ebay where several original drawings by Basil R. from his "True Life Adventures" are being offered. I copied some scans and part of the description of "True Life Adventures - Olympic Elk (part 8 of 8)". This is from March 1954, close to FB's first colour strip work. As can be seen and read in the description, Basil's original drawing measures 41.4cm approx. x 25cm approx. This is board size, so the actual drawing is slightly smaller. Fortunately there is a ruler at the bottom of the images. On the original drawing someone (Basil?) wrote the reduction factor in blue pencil: 10 1/8 inch. I think this is the size for the ghost that Basil mentions: 'simply black and white prints shot to size on bromide paper'. The ruler on the scan with the published instalment gives 10" approx. (print size). Then this ghost had to be coloured [as outlined above ~Norman]
Now the questions are:
  • did FB draw his instalments of "The Living Desert" the same size as Basil? (I think he did...)
  • Would he have hand-coloured his artwork 'in the studio' or at home?
  • Is the colouring on the printed version in MMW by FB himself, or did some craftsman at Odhams use FB's hand-coloured ghost as a detailed colour guide (as Basil described the process)? This means that the printed version is one generation removed from FB's original colouring. 
Loving hearing from others,  I sent the draft of this article to David Jackson for his thoughts and he gave me some anecdotes on colouring:

One was Jim Steranko instructing the colourist, sorry, colorist that having spent endless time drawing countless Hydra figures in the background he didn't want just a wash of purple (say) over them - he wanted each figure colouring individually.  And the colorist said, "I quit!"   
The other one is a Tarzan annual where the artist/penciller/inker had drawn Tarzan at night with an ink black sky and tree branches silhouetted against a full moon.  But the colourist (not being one and the same as the artist) had completely failed to understand this and had coloured the full moon sky-blue, so that Tarzan now looks like he's crouched at the bottom of a well..!   
But to get to the point of this 'ghost' 'indication' colouring.  I had never paid enough attention to the Mickey Mouse colour pages to notice that it wasn't usual glossy colour - which we can see it isn't if attention is paid to it.  I've never heard the term 'ghost' in connection with four colour 'indication' colouring and would have never associated mechanical colour with anything other than cheap newsprint stock - an anathema to photogravure!  I'd never have imagined shelling out on photogravure only to get ostensibly flat limited colour.  I'd never thought of photogravure and colour separation in the same procedure / sentence.   I actually prefer cheap paper stock old style mechanical flat colour production of American comics to the new ghastly 'digital-airbrush color' that there is these days!   It optically conflicts with the actual artist's or artists' (penciller-inker's) linework.
David said regarding John's questions above:

  1. Regarding the size:In all probability, I'd think.  The whole process in all aspects of the production of the comic seems rigidly structured.
  2. Regarding the colouring at home: Probably at home if it needed subtle colour in an original. But the black ink linework was 'drawn for colour' - knowing in advance that it would be coloured.  As opposed to "Garth" which was not drawn for colour or intended to be coloured and looks entirely different in its original b/w to how it would have looked if it had been intended to be coloured.
  3. Regarding the colouring artist: Probably likely.  It doesn't look like recognisably FB colouring.  Could look and see if the colourists always did a standard thing with colouring the text boxes etc, whoever the artist...
ADDITION: 30 June 2017 by David Slinn:
Apropos Basil Reynolds’ eventual departure, during February 1956, from Odhams Press to the nursery titles, Tiny TotsPlayhour Pictures and Jack and Jill.  It remains unexplained, where John got hold of the idea this was “...when Mickey Mouse Weekly had been taken over by the Amalgamated Press.”  The Walt Disney title continued to be published by Odhams, until the original licensing agreement expired at the end of 1957.  As touched on before, possibly becoming aware of this major change on the horizon, Basil opted to leave.

He also added a thought on reading this original article:

The key FB question also seems to have been missed.  Was the initial experience, on the Mickey Mouse Weekly ‘The Living Desert’ feature, of having to tackle the required colour-guides involving an interim “ghost” image, responsible for the: “…one red, one blue, one yellow, and obviously, the black…” – technique he then decided to adopt?

ADDITION: 3 July 2017 by John Wigmans
And in the true spirit of the 'right to reply', John sent me this:

These are and never were my words nor conclusions nor ideas. Way back, in October 2007, I already expressed my doubts on Alan Clark's statement about the Amalgamated Press taking over MMW (in his "Dictionary of British Comic Artists, Writers and Editors"). Please refer David to the original post on the ComicsUK-forum ( There he can read all about my initial scepticism. 
Ten years after the first post, I finally had enough evidence (and confidence) to prove Clark wrong on this point. As I wrote in my last post on this subject: "Every 20 years or so the information became less reliable." I hope the above will clarify matters.

David Jackson (so many Davids write to me!)  added his thoughts, I thought worth adding the body of the text here.
Morning Norman,
Having now taken a longer look at the one "Living Desert" that I actually have a copy of and the other two v. large scans noted on the Checklist.  I don’t know what the other three look like - apparently FB drew six in all. 
Without being too dogmatic about it, to re-use a favourite phrase from a work colleague in the early seventies, there’s no way in the history of cats that Frank Bellamy had a hand in this colouring!
OK then, so for why, you might say. See the 17 July episode.
The intensity of the lurid green in the top right frame is in optical competition with the hatching linework. By any logic, it should be, I’d say, pale sky. Or why the lurid yellow in frame one? Or why is the cactus plant between the gila monster and the squirrels two different shades of flat green?
To take the one for 3 July 1954.
As with the other two Noted - FB might well have coloured the last three for all I know, not having seen them - it seems FB did the black linework and technicians did the colouring; maybe because of tight deadlines, or those in-house considered themselves the authority in terms of the technicalities of the process - whatever.
Coincidentally enough, after previously mentioning that Tarzan frame, the first indication, or clue, is the full moon. Is there any way in space or hell Frank Bellamy would either colour, or instruct anyone else to colour this, bright yellow? Never happen! Also take a look at the patch of sky to the right of the second moon - would FB ever have left that like that?
There is no other thought-out thought-through (use of colour) arrangement of lighting.
It is the same story over the whole of the piece, and the other two episodes. If it isn’t the three odd drops of orange on the owl in the first frame, it is the way the colour is applied overall.
The ‘thinking’ at the back of the colour application seems to have been: look for a discrete shape of each form, and colour all of it a different colour to other forms. This is colouring-in-book colouring by someone just colouring it in.
Would FB have coloured the different stones and ground in this way (different colours) in these episodes - when he would KNOW that the sand and the sandstone(s) should (would) be all the same local colour?
I don’t think so...

 I am very grateful to John (and both Davids) for participating so amicably in this discussion and taking the time to correct any mistakes that arise through original articles, corrections and amendments!!

Lastly I'll leave the last words - which are an aspiration, for John (and myself!):
It is a shame that none of FB's original art for MMW, "Monty Carstairs" and 6 instalments of "Living Desert", have survived...

Many thanks go to John for tracking down this obscure, but fascinating, corner of British comics!

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Frank Bellamy and Monty Carstairs

UPDATED 5 Aug 2015- see below
I suspect a lot of people have never seen much of the "Monty Carstairs" strip in the Mickey Mouse Weekly  and I love the 'controlled' nature of Bellamy's early work. As listed on the website Bellamy drew "Monty Carstairs" from 25 July 1953 till 26 June 1954. he drew four stories, outlined below. From the first episode he had the full page but from 12 December 1953 to the end of his run Bellamy loses a sixth of the page to a comic strip cartoon. All his art is linework in black and white ink. The other strips in the comic in black and white are interesting to compare to as even here, Bellamy's earliest regular comic strip job, he tries to break the panel boundaries in his artwork.

Before we get to Bellamy's work I thought you might like to see some of the rest of the comic to give you a bit of context.

Mickey Mouse Weekly 13 Feb 1954 - Cover

The cover of this randomly selected issue (of the few I own) is taken up with the popular and iconic "Mickey Mouse" which makes sense.

Mickey Mouse Weekly 13 Feb 1954 pp2-3
We then have "Donald Duck"; "The Misadventures of Goofy" and on the opposite page "Billy Brave and his friends" (the latter drawn by Tony Weare)
Mickey Mouse Weekly 13 Feb 1954 p4
Frank Bellamy's artwork for "Monty Carstairs in the 'Mystery of the Black Pearls'" takes up most of the page with Smith's "Prinny" in the bottom sixth of the page. In this example Bellamy sticks to the common layout within Mickey Mouse Weekly (MMW) but still manages to differentiate nicely the day from night and leaves us with a visual cliff-hanger

Mickey Mouse Weekly 13 Feb 1954 p5
One of Malcolm Saville's Lone Pine novels is serialised here "Seven White Gates" with illustration by F. Stocks May and the feature "Mickey Mouse Jungle Club" appears below
Mickey Mouse Weekly 13 Feb 1954 pp6-7
The double page spread on pages 6-7 has "Walrus and the Carpenter" (from the 1951 film "Alice in Wonderland"), "Walt Disney's True Life Adventures: Olympic Elk", "Jaq and Gus" (from Cinderella), "Mad Hatter and the March Hare" and finally "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". You can read my previous article on the True Life Adventures here
Mickey Mouse Weekly 13 Feb 1954 p8
Page 8 gives us "Marney's Circus in 'South Seas Island Adventure'" and "Popsy" by Davis.

Mickey Mouse Weekly 13 Feb 1954 p9
"Whitey and the Killer Whales" featuring 'Willie the operatic whale' from the 1946 cartoon The Whale Who Wanted To Sing At the Met, is next famous from the film Make Mine Music.

Page 10 featured "Robin Alone" (which I have seen credited to Tony Weare, Bill Lacey and 'Unknown' - I'll vote for the latter for this particular episode and Lacey for many others I've seen! - however David Slinn has identified this as Bill Lacey - see below and he credits my 'unknown' artist as Edward Osmond) and Donald Duck's nephews "Huey, Dewey, and Louie"appear at the bottom of the page
Mickey Mouse Weekly 13 Feb 1954 p10
Page 11 stars "Peter Pan in 'The Secret of Joshua Slogg'" and "Jimmy and the little old engine" drawn by the well-known (in UK comics) Neville Main and I see that he is credited when some of these strips were published in 1954 by Brockhampton Press.

Mickey Mouse Weekly 13 Feb 1954 p11

Page 12, the back cover, has a strip adaptation of Disney's film "Rob Roy" which premièred  26 October 1953 in the UK drawn by Patrick Williams (thanks David Slinn for the identification).

Mickey Mouse Weekly 13 Feb 1954 p12

Now let's get to Bellamy's art in "Monty Carstairs". The artwork is lovely and clear (if not in my photos, forgive me!) and it doesn't take long for Bellamy to experiment - strictly in the constraints of 5 or 6 row strip


As far as I can see Monty Carstairs started some time just before April 1951 and was drawn by Cecil Orr, I think. (Issues I've seen in 1949 and up to December 1950 do not have Monty Carstairs). The excellent Inducks database says 25 August 1951 (unless I have misinterpreted and they mean the start of that particular story "The Green Dolphin"?). eBay searches show it's likely this might be the case as I have found "Red for Danger!", a Monty Carstairs Special agent cartoon serial story" mentioned for the issue dated 7 (and 24) April 1951. According the same eBay seller 7 July 1951 has the story "The Prisoner of the Chateau". Details are so sketchy for this series, if you can help I don't mind changing this.

The monocled Carstairs appears to be a common fictional device in the mould of Lord Peter Wimsey, who also wore a monocle and was the detective character created in 1923 by Dorothy L. Sayers.

1) The Secret of the Sands story has "the famous detective", "the prince of private investigators", "the gentleman adventurer" Monty Carstairs visiting Sandypoint Cove, Cornwall, where Tony and Mary Peers discover a German u-boat and some men who are up to no good!  We learn that Carstairs' bowler-hatted "Siamese servant" is called Mr. San, which could be translated from the Japanese as "Mr. Mr." - but kids were not so sophisticated back then and are likely not to have noticed this slight discrepancy!

 In the third row (above) we see Bellamy beginning to stretch himself and show something different.

I'm not suprised this is the page often reproduced as the villain looms large in intimidating the boy, especially with those thick lenses in his spectacles.

The second row here shows a telephone conversation - the pictures angled to add emphasising the device

2) The Mystery of the Musical Box has Sally Rogers and her twin cousins David & John visiting their Aunt Sophie's eponymous antique shop in Waterberry. But the story also involves an actual musical box too as the group solve the mystery of a missing painting

In this interesting page we see Bellamy's competent handling of architecture, internal and external. I wouldn't be surprised if the two buildings shown are somewhere around Kettering, his home town, - ask me sometime about the pub in Bellamy's Garth strip. I love the angles in this page too.

The middle panel here showing the car driving through a town, may not be perfect perspective but the houses look so interesting with a castle behind

I've blown up the panel that I love, with the description "beneath the starry sky that night..." we see the light of the moon shining in by virtue of the stark shadows and again detailing that makes the image so impressive.
3) The Mystery of the Black Pearls is the first story where Bellamy condenses the title to one panel (not the whole row as previously) in order to make room for the cartoon strip "Prinny" below. Joe is the orphaned nephew of Mr & Mrs Muggins (!) who own "The Shifted Anchor" pub. Joe, and a friend he makes, called Ann, help Carstairs solve the mystery.

Notice the third row and second panel above, where Bellamy, not uniquely, abandons the formal frame.In the example below he extends the last two panels across the usually 3 or 4 framed rows

Mickey Mouse Weekly 1954 February 13, p4

4) The Men from the East is unusual as it has a very grown-up theme, a missing British offical in Tibet and no children take part! I found the art to be rushed and not very exciting as it's set in Tibet there are lots of mountainous rocky outcrops which Bellamy was so adept at drawing but don't make for a great story. I think his mind was elsewhere at this point.

Strangely on 10 September 1954 the final story illustrated by Bellamy began its appearance in The Sydney Morning Herald and one part is available from the Sunday 26 December 1954 edition thanks to the excellent TROVE website. Can any of my Antipodean friends tell me more?

UPDATE from David Slinn (August 2015):
The most recent piece, covering the 1954 Mickey Mouse Weekly and your particularly detailed look at ‘Monty Carstairs’, was especially enlightening. Noting with interest, the resulting comments about how far ahead of “the field” he was, it does seem slightly puzzling this was Frank’s first major venture with a weekly strip. My theory, no more than that, is the post-war page-rates for adventure strips being pretty dire at the Amalgamated Press, and even more abysmal in Dundee, Odhams Press actually had – by comparison – a very generous scale of fees. Only when the Hulton Press entered the children’s market, was there anywhere else he could have earned, relative to magazine and advertising illustration, what he (or International Artists?) would consider – for the standards of artwork Frank strove to attain – a satisfactory living.

I’ve always regretted [despite, parental pressures on tidying-up, actually being responsible?] no longer having the issues of Mickey Mouse Weekly, sparsely purchased out of limited pocket-money, along with very early copies of Eagle.

I’ve a clear recollection of the first ‘Billy Brave’ story, starting in October 1950, when the Odhams’ title was enlarged and extensively revamped, to compete with Hulton’s phenomenal success. Billy’s hero was Stanley Matthews and the original story, drawn by Tony Weare, revolved around the frail youngster’s soccer ambitions, which were still apparently being pursued in February 1954. Briefly here: I’d say the ‘Robin Alone’ episode (though, it goes out of focus if enlarged) is Bill Lacey; as you mention, Tony Weare did draw some of the earlier series, while I’m fairly certain your probable “unknown”, was Edward Osmond – even, if it seems unlikely. The ‘Marney’s Circus’ adventure, has the look of being Tony Weare’s artwork, and therefore a reprint – which, over the years, particularly with ‘Robin Alone’, Odhams weren’t averse to utilising. ‘Popsy’ is the Roy Davis, of later prolific cartoon output and, while it obviously puzzled you, the ‘Rob Roy’ adaptation is none other than, Patrick Williams.

Saturday 31 August 2013

Frank Bellamy and Doctor Janet Brown

This is going to be a very short know as much as I do about this.....I promised a new discovery of a piece from Bellamy, and here it is.

Doctor Janet Brown
Jeff Haythorpe, who has kindly shared so much artwork over the 13 years that I've been doing this research on Bellamy, just popped this into my inbox with no more clue than I had.

The word balloons say "So at last - Doctor Janet Brown - aren't you pleased?" with two name plaques - one with Dr. D. A. Brown and one with Doctor Janet Brown. Is this a husband and wife practice? An article on conquering sexism? A story of a country General Practice?

The three portraits look as if they might have been 'spotted' throughout an article/story, but the panel looks so like a comic panel that I half think it is too unusual for a romance magazine....but I have no idea really. I have no records to match anything here. The style looks very like the Monty Carstairs era, i.e. 1953.

I asked David Slinn (who worked in UK comics during the 50s and 60s) what he thought, and he replied:

"As I’m sure you’ve come across in researching magazines and newspapers of the early 1950s, small line portraits of the main characters were dotted about the text (even repeated during the run of a serial), either with or without a main illustration; or little vignettes of “typical professions” appeared in advertisements."

So there you go. Does anyone know anything about this? Let me know.

And for no other reason than I mentioned the Monty Carstairs strip from Mickey Mouse Weekly, here's an arbitrary page from 21 November 1953 just because it looks so good!

Monty Carstairs from Mickey Mouse Weekly 21 November 1953

Monday 6 July 2009

Mickey Mouse Weekly, Frank Bellamy and Basil Reynolds

John Wigmans from the Netherlands, together with our very own Phil Rushton have been corresponding with me regarding the "True Life Adventures" series in the 1954 copies of Mickey Mouse Weekly, and particularly the "Living Desert" episodes. This comic series was based on Disney's pioneering wildlife documentaries - we take it for granted these days, but in the 1940s-1950s these were unique - witness the award won on the Living Desert. I remember in the days before home video watching The Wonderful World of Disney on Saturdays in the early 1970s and Disney Time on Bank Holidays in the UK -the only chance, back then, to see some of these Disney films, or at least snippets of them. Junior Express - Basil Reynolds
Basil Reynolds illustration in Junior Express 4th June 1955
Anyway, as John said:
I am doing some research on Basil Reynolds (1916-2001), and the true life or nature features he drew for a number of magazines: Mickey Mouse Weekly (1952-1954), Junior Express/Express Weekly etc. (1955-1961) and Playhour Annual (1957-1958).
He came across my site where I had referenced the phenomenal Inducks database - all things Disney in comics! After much discussion and debate we concluded I needed to make an amendment to the site. But the thrill is in the nit-picking detail. Firstly, Bellamy's comment from the Skinn/Gibbons interview:
WHEN YOU WERE DRAWING "MONTY CARSTAIRS" FOR MICKEY MOUSE WEEKLY, DID THIS TAKE UP MOST OF YOUR TIME, OR WERE YOU ALSO TAKING ON OTHER FREELANCE JOBS? FB: I was still doing some advertising work and illustrations for Boy's Own Paper at the same time. It did help that Boy's Own Paper was a monthly, though. But not only did I draw "Monty Carstairs" in Mickey Mouse, I also got my first colour strip work, Walt Disney's "Living Desert" in the centrespread. But unlike on "Monty Carstairs", I couldn't sign "Living Desert" with my own name. I had to sign it 'Walt Disney'. Which, by the way, you have to write upside down because if you don't, you get your own handwriting instead of his. DIDN'T YOU FEEL SOMEWHAT CHEATED,HAVING TO SIGN HIS NAME AFTER ALL THE WORK YOU PUT INTO THE SET EACH WEEK? FB: Well, yes really, because it was hard work drawing such a thing as "Living Desert", which was my first experience of what I'd call a NON-continuity strip. There was no flow from picture to picture.
Unfortunately the dates are not very specific, but at least we do know that at the same sort of time he did Carstairs, he also did some "Living Desert". John takes up the tale:
Mickey Mouse Weekly 736 [using the Inducks method of numbering] is the issue with a cover date June 19, 1954, this issue contains Basil Reynolds’ last True Life Adventures in the series The Living Desert. After years of drawing series after series of True Life Adventures Reynolds suddenly quit drawing them, and handed The Living Desert over to Bellamy to finish this series. MMW-737, cover date June 26, 1954, not only contains Bellamy’s first TLA in the series, The Living Desert, but it also features his last episode of Monty Carstairs.
At this point I remembered how Paul Holder and I came about listing what we thought was Bellamy in this comic - laying comics on the table and arguing that 'this rock looks like his but this shading doesn't' etc. etc. It was obvious that the latter Carstairs strips were rushed compared to earlier ones, and now we know why. John:
Dear old Basil did most of the TLA's, from the early 50's up to number 736. His work can be recognized by looking at the dots at the end of almost every caption or balloon. The three (or more) dots are open... There are more clues that will point to Reynolds (like his lettering), but the open dots are easiest to spot. Even in Schoolfriend he showed this peculiar habit, and in the artwork he did for Express Weekly and the Express Annuals they can be spotted as well.

If we look at scans (provided by the guys mentioned above) we see some differences. The first taken from MMW 693 August 22 1953. MMW-693 August 22 1953 ...and then a blown up panel showing the 'dots' The 'Reynold's dots' are clearly there. Now skip forward to MMW-736 of June 19 1954, his last strip in the Living Desert story before Bellamy takes over. MMW-736_June_19_1954 and then one panel of text expanded: It's obvious that these are one and the same letterer, but because John assures us that this is Reynold's trademark art/lettering we now know what to look for. Now take a look at the very next episode, what I now consider to be Bellamy's first colour comic strip work (remember the interview above?) from MMW 737 June 26 1954: Now if you are still with me I want to move this up a couple of notches. Let's look at the blown up panel below: The dots are definitely more 'on the line' rather than floating in mid line and are not so hollow looking. So then who lettered this? Well, we agree when Bellamy did his last "Monty Carstairs" - 26 June 1954 - the same published date as the "Living Desert" above. If we look at this particular Carstairs we find something rather interesting. ...and here's the blown-up panel - the very last Bellamy Carstairs. Now look at the following letters in the "Living Desert" and the "Monty Carstairs" above and decide if it's the same letterer. The letters 'S', 'G', 'R' and 'H' are particularly interesting! The 'G' has a weighting at the top, and almost appears like a '6'; the 'S' almost looks like a number '5'. The 'R' always starts its 'foot' from the circular bit and lastly the 'H' has a 'stump' at the left. There are other letters to look at ('Y', 'P', 'A' and so on), but the 'F' certainly draws my attention as it's Frank's first initial and we have seen his (post-1950) signature many times in his work! I believe this proves which episodes of the "Living Desert" are by Reynolds and which by Bellamy, I have amended the website entry under Mickey Mouse Weekly accordingly. 

Here are the rest of Bellamy's 'Living Desert' strips.

Mickey Mouse Weekly #738, 3 July 1954
Mickey Mouse Weekly #739, 10 July 1954

Mickey Mouse Weekly #740, 17 July 1954
Mickey Mouse Weekly #741, 24 July 1954

Mickey Mouse Weekly #742, 31 July 1954

Thanks to John Wigmans for help with the scans

Something still puzzles me: what did Bellamy mean about the Walt Disney signature? As far as I can see he never signed any of the "Living Desert" strips either with Walt's or his own signature! I wonder if he was merely repeating a story that he'd heard Lastly a BIG thank you to Phil and especially John for the scans and the opportunity to close down one more mystery... that is until other evidence arises! 

NEXT TIME: Alan Davis adds to the question of lettering with a unique photograph!