Monday, June 25, 2012


Comic artist Will Elder described how he and Harvey Kurtzman made art on an assembly line:
We had to bring in guys to help make [Little Annie Fanny]. We rented a suite at the Algonquin Hotel in New York, turned on every light in the suite, and with the assistance of Frank Frazetta, Jack Davis, Al Jaffee, Russ heath and Arnold Roth, we were able to make our deadlines. It was a great time, ordering eggs benedict, orange juice and plenty of coffee.
Will Elder,  Jack Davis and Frank Frazetta combined
We set up an assembly line type of arrangement : some of the guys were doing backgrounds, some were doing other details.  We were following Harvey's layouts.  After one artist was done with his part of the work, he'd pass it on to the next guy who would fill in the next step of the story.  It would eventually get back to Harvey, who was such a perfectionist that he often had changes to the work.  He would mark the work with his changes and send it back to the assembly line unbeknownst to the artists who thought they were done with that panel.  Suddenly I heard Jaffee say, "Hey, this is the third time I did this panel."  To which Harvey replied, "Do it again!"  We laughed a lot, but we worked very hard.  
Judge and police on the left by Elder, police on the right by Davis, Annie by Frazetta

When you examine the originals, you see how these artists blended their distinctive styles to create seamless images.   Like solo performers singing together in harmony, each understood what the job required and worked toward a common goal.

We like to think of picture-making as a highly personal expression of taste, uncompromised by groups and committees.

But a surprising percentage of art is collaborative: 19th century illustrators teamed with talented wood engravers who redrew each picture and carved it into a wooden block so it could be printed. The drawings of comic artists are often inked by other artists.  Digital illustrators such as the prominent Mirko Ilic create images by preparing rough conceptual sketches which helpers then use to construct computer images.

Perhaps the largest, most ambitious "group effort" between artists these days is the animated film.  If you watch the (very long) credits after films such as Pixar's splendid new Brave, you'll see the names of hundred of artists roll by, each one making his or her contribution to a blended work of art.

Group art has the unfortunate effect of diluting individual artistic personalities. For example, animated films are  corporate artwork, polished and refined by so many hands that it is sometimes difficult to see the fingerprints of any individual artist in the end product.  Yet they are also epic achievements that could not be achieved by any individual artist.  In fact, most of the collaborations listed above were essential to achieve a particular result.

There is a separate pleasure from watching well teamed artists interacting.  One of my favorite parts of Martin Scorsese's concert film, The Last Waltz,  is watching the eyes and subtle exchanges between musicians at work.  When Eric Clapton is in the middle of a brisk guitar solo, his guitar strap unexpectedly breaks (at :47).  Clapton stops mid note to clutch at his guitar, but the audience doesn't notice because guitarist Robbie Robertson jumps in, improvising a riff without missing a beat.  He watches Clapton out of the corner of his eye and once the strap is fixed,  Robertson smoothly returns the lead.

A great example of the telepathy between working artists.

Whether in a suite at the Algonquin Hotel or on a concert stage in San Francisco, there is a special kind of pleasure from watching talented professionals combine their talents in harmony.


Blogger bill said...

An underground video of them at work in that room would be gold.

6/25/2012 10:43 AM  
Anonymous MORAN said...

It's great to see sharp scans of originals from Annie Fanny. Do you have any more?

6/25/2012 11:26 AM  
Anonymous Rich said...

British artist Ron Embleton drew and painted a strip very similar to this on his own.All opinions are subjective but I'd say his strip was every bit as good as this.

6/25/2012 1:17 PM  
Blogger Mellie said...

Yes, ancient Egyptian art was created by workshops and no one saw a need to sign their own name to anything. Many Renaissance masterpieces were largely produced by studio assistants.

The image of the artist individualist has always been romantic hogwash - applying to a few cases, no more.

6/26/2012 7:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about when the talents don't combine well? Jack Kirby's pencils were ruined by the inking of Reinman or Colletta. Other inkers, like Royer, were very good.


6/26/2012 10:05 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

bill-- Amen. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall.

MORAN-- yes, as with most illustrations, the originals are a very different experience.

Rich-- I know Embleton's work from Wicked Wanda, and while he is extremely skillful, in my opinion his work suffers from a lack of over-arching taste and class. I would compare him to Elaine Duillo or Alex Ross, who have dazzling technical skills when it comes to photo reference work, but who don't know how to build a decent composition and have very little color sense.

6/26/2012 10:59 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Mellie-- I think the ancient Egyptian pyramids are similar to animated movies, in that they are both epic works of art that require an army of workers. The Egyptians assembled a designer with an over arching vision, dozens of painters to inscribe the inner walls of the tombs, and battalions of slaves to puff and pant, lining up the stones in place. Can you imagine how long the credits for the pyramids would have taken?

JSL-- If you look at the drawing credits on those early Marvel comics, there are some mighty funky combinations. Steve Ditko inking Dick Ayers. Jack Kirby doing layouts for Jim Steranko. Wally Wood inking Gil Kane. What on earth were they thinking?

6/26/2012 11:15 AM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

"plenty of coffee"

6/26/2012 4:39 PM  
Anonymous Rich said...

Agree with you about the color thing some of it was bad,possibly due to the fact that he was so prolific,

6/27/2012 8:58 AM  
Anonymous Rich said...

Alex Toth penciling over Kirby layouts!?

6/27/2012 1:03 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन-- I thought you would be ticked off that I borrowed your patented technique, putting a youtube clip in my post. Pretty soon this whole blog will be dueling youtube segments.

Rich-- I agree that Embleton was astonishingly prolific, doing painted comics at a pace that took the combined effort of two or three other artists to match. I do think that he often used colors in a superficial way and his compositions seem like a hodge podge.

6/27/2012 9:50 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

No worries here, I've some other tricks up my sleeve.

6/28/2012 2:50 PM  
Anonymous Sonya Ayelen Sarabia Ortiz said...

good! i like your blog, your work is amazing

6/28/2012 4:19 PM  
Blogger Scott Quick said...

Excellent post as usual. I'm wondering at what point does renting a suite at the Algonquin and living off of room service cut into profits- I wince everytime I buy a new pad of bristol! Playboy does cut a good check ....

6/29/2012 1:37 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Bailey said...

Was there any reason her tits were hanging out of nearly every panel?

7/23/2012 9:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Two guesses as to why her tits were hanging out in every panel: 1.) Frazetta liked to paint pictures of tits; or 2.) readers of Playboy liked to see pictures of tits.

7/27/2012 2:26 PM  

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