Friday, May 09, 2008

After the Fox

Gill Fox was a master forger.

He worked from the early forties until the eighties or nineties... and almost always on other people's creations. Gill Fox was one of those artists who can imitate any style. And usually add something to it as well. He started out in the early forties working for the Quality Comic book company, doing various series. He did a couple of one pagers on his own, but he did his best work when he started ghosting for Klaus Nordling on The Barker. The Barker is a delightful strip, which I would love to show later on, about a circus barker and his odd looking crew of circus freaks. Nordling assisted Will Eisner on The Spirit in the late forties and went on to do a lot of advertising work for Eisner's company American Visuals. Before that he took over the four page Lady Luck strip in the Eisner produced spirit section. I don't know if he ghosted the Spirit at that time, but the two men certainly spurred each other on in creating inventive splash pages. The seven or eight page Spirit stories are famous for them and for the way Eisner often used a whole page to grab the eye of the reader while plunging him directly into the story. The splash pages on Lady Luck had to be even more inventive, as Nordling had only four pages to tell his stories and couldn't afford losing even one page to a big illustration. Instead, he devised ways of arranging panels that made the splash into an attractive whole without sacrificing the narrative. The stories for The Barker were about eleven pages each, so here Nordling could really go full out and in my opinion he matched Eisner in his illustrative inventiveness.

Anyway, when The Barker moved from a lead feature in National Comics to his own book, Nordling couldn't handle the workload on his own and some of the stories (maybe even whole books) were done by Gill Fox. The only difference one might see was the fact that Fox's drawings were always a bit more slick.

In the late forties Fox moved on to comic advertising, which was a big and lucrative market back then. He did several impressive pieces for Johnstone and Cushing, the biggest of the comic strip advertising studio's. Because he was so adapt at taking over other peoples styles, it can be quite hard to pick out his stuff. One of his colleagues at Johnstone and Cushing was Dik Browne, who later went on to create Hi and Lois with Mort Walker and Hagar on his own. He and Fox developed a similar style, which Browne also used for a lesser know strip for another account... the newspaper strip section of the Boy Scout's magazine Boy's Life. And when his work on Hi and Lois paid enough to devote all his time to it, Fox took over that strip.

I'll talk some more about Fox' career in a later post, but here are some samples of one of the few things he did on his own... in a style he clearly adopted from Hank Ketcham. Ketcham has been mentioned here before (and will again). He had started his influential new strip Dennis the Menace in 1950. Fox adopted his style as early as 1954 (according to some sources) to create a non-regular strip for the New York Post and it ran of and on for about ten years. The New York Post was a remarkable paper, which had several strips created specially for itself. Some of those were regular strips, others were Sunday only. And some were strips that they used whenever they had a bit of space left over, depending on the amount of advertising that week. I guess the artists made bunches of them and provided new ones whenever the stack was reaching it's bottom.

For the new York Post Fox created Bumper To Bumper, a charming little gag strip about a regular guy running a garage and driving school. This setting is especially meaningful to me, because one of the sitcoms I am trying to sell has the same setting. According to Alan Holtz (who has created a link to me on his his excellent Stripper's Guide blog, so I should return the favor one of these days) Bumper To Bumper ran from 1954 or thereabouts to something like 1962. My samples are from 1957 to 1959 and I think they are delightful. Here's the first batch.

1 comment:

Karswell said...

Interesting post, and some really great examples here too. Looking to more on Fox, I really feel like I'm learning alot about strips from your blog, it's a wealth of information.