Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Capp's Corner

Wednesday ad day.

From now on I want to use the Wednesday to show you some of the marvelous comic strip ads that were made during the forties and fifties. In the days when Sunday sections were big, it paid to have comic strip ads made especially for them. These ads show who the intended audience for the sections was... anyone who read a newspaper. There were ads for coffee, wash machine detergents and cigarettes. Anything you would find in any of the big magazines of the day.

Most of these ads were produced by actual companies that specialized in them, often by big name creators using their own characters (or creating new ones for the product) or by actual professionals who were moonlighting. As time went by, some artists devoted all of their time on these ads. One famous example was Lou Fine, who had been a comic book artist in Will Eisner's studio. His 'lyrical' style was very much admired by all artists of his generation. But he left comics for advertising, probably because it paid so much better. A successful newspaper strip paid even better, but he might have felt that he would not be able to keep up the quality at the required rate. Working for one of the most famous comic advertising companies, Johnstone and Cushing, he developed a new realistic style, which was blander than his old comic book style, but again inspired many of his colleagues. In the late fifties he finally got his own newspaper strip, a tense detective strip called Peter Scratch. Some reprints have been attempted, but all of them had to work with newspaper clippings and the quality of his line work is often obscured in them. Some of his best work can be found in the newspaper section that was made by the Johnstone and Cushing team for Boy's Life, the boy scout magazine. But since most of it is unsigned and many artist tried to emulate Fine's style, it can be tricky to find a sample that typifies his work.

Other artists from his generation followed the same route. Gill Fox started out at Quality, as I already told. He went into Johnstone and Cushing as well and tried very hard to get into newspaper comics in the late fifties. In the sixties he finally landed a panel series called Side Glances that lasted him most of his career. He had to adept a totally new style for that, but that was no problem for Fox. Another artist who went the same route was Alex Kotzky. He also started at Quality, often drawing the same features as Lou Fine in a style that could hardly be distinguished from his. He also drew or inked Plastic Man stories when Jack Cole couldn't handle the workload and inked Jack Cole's gruesome horror stories in the early fifties. In the late fifties, he landed a comic advertising serial of his own, called "Duke" Handy for cigarette company Phillip Morris. From there he went to draw his own soap-opera strip Appartment 3G for the rest of his career.

I will show work by these artists later on, but I want to start with another artist who worked in newspapers and advertising, or at least his assistants did. Al Capp is the famous artist and writer of Li'l Abner. He was also one of the last artists whose name was as recognizable to the main public as his creation, due to a lot of articles and radio and television appearances. These things were more common in those days than now, with comic strip artists appearing in ads and game shows such as What's My Line? Which rarely happens these days, another example of how the general media lost it's interest in comic strips.

Al Capp also designed or drew a lot of advertising campaigns, the most famous of course the lending of his Dick Tracey parody Fearless Fossdick for the hair product Wildroot Cream Oil. But I came across another much less successful series, called Capp's Corner, for Nestlé's cocao. It features a kid character quite similar to a character he had introduced in the comic around the same time. My samples come from October 1959 to February 1960. The dates seem to suggest there might have been one every two weeks, but I would have to check my (incomplete) Sunday sections for that period to see if I that is true.

The art itself does not look like typical Capp, or even like Capp with the ladies pencilled by Frank Frazetta, as his Sundays were at that time. My guess is that they are by Bob Lubbers, who was drawing Long Sam (supposedly written by Al Capp) but soon would join Capp's regular assistants in some sort of pencilling function. I hope one of my readers can help me verify this.


Joakim Gunnarsson said...

The artwork doesn't look enough Lubbers for me to definitely say it's his.
I'm usually pretty good at spotting Lubbers style but when it comes to his work on Capps stuff I'm quite unsure.
I've seen his pencils for the females in the Li'l Abner strips made on the backs of strips, but I can't tell his inked work apart from the rest of the Capp assistants.
Looks to me like these ads were made by several persons.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Yeah, that's the problem with Capp... there are usually several people working on these strips. My reason to believe Lubbers may have been involved is the fact that the angles are all wrong fro Al Capp. Usually, his shots are pretty much straight on, but here we have a couple of upshots and downshots that reminded me of Lubbers. But we'll never know for sure.