Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Browne or Fox

On the whole, I find it easier to identify artists than one would think. Most art styles are quite personal and it is harder to imitate some else's tricks and idiosyncrasies than it seems. One rule guides me to this all. If looks like it could be by an artist, it probably isn't. Most artists are immediately identifiable, if you get to know them.

This rule is more applicable to 'realistic' art than to cartoon art. Cartoon art is often more stylized and the bag of tricks of a funny artist is easier to imitate than the individual way an artists interprets reality. What I mean to say is, the way Gene Colan draws shadows is not a trick that can be imitated. It is probably how he sees the world. Another example would be the way sixties DC artist Mike Sekowsky often draws people with large foreheads and small chins (often with a double chin). I always thought it was a stylistic trick... until I realized he probably used a mirror and this was how he saw himself looking up into the mirror while he was drawing.

The stylistic tricks needed to draw a cartoon character are often only related to reality in the moment they were designed. After that, this set of rules can be repeated and imitated. Many series use this to have the work done by studio's of underpaid Tahiti artists - who can draw the whole thing faster and cheaper, without it looking any different. Of course there are gradations of these two positions. Some cartoonists are so talented they can find the cartoon form of their drawing every time again from scratch, thus imbuing their work with a vitality that makes it stand out above the crowd. It's the work of those cartoonists that I want to celebrate in this blog. But even then, the trick (or the sensibility) can be so limited or often imitated, that it wears out it's welcome. I think Hank Ketcham is one of the greatest cartoonists of the last century, but after the fifties all the life seems to disappear out of his panels. Not because his work is any less, but because the number of situations he can put his character into are exhausted. The panel only comes alive to me, when he draws a new incidental character I haven't seen before. In the Sunday (which was written and drawn by a whole new team) they succeed much better in creating drawing challenges for themselves. Therefor the Sunday strip is very much more alive in those years.

All this is a preamble to say that I have difficulty in distinguishing between the advertising work of Gill Fox and Dik Browne in the early fifties. Both worked for Johnstone an Cushing, both on newspaper ads and the Boy Scout's monthly Boy's Life. There's a famous anecdote about Dik Browne getting the job for Hi & Lois. Writer Mort Walker and King Features head Sylvain Beck were talking about possible candidates. Both had one. Walker wanted to have a look at the guy who drew The Tracey Twins in Boy's Life. Beck came with the artist of the Campbell Soup Twins advertisements. Both strips with families and kids, sio neitherw as an odd choice. In fact, theuy were the same choice, because the artist in both cases was Dik Browne.

At least, that's the story. Because I am not sure if Gill Fox wasn't in some way involved in either of those strips. He probably wasn't, but he did work with Brown on a lot of other projects at the same time. Or he worked on other projects, in a style that was similar to Browne. or Browne developed his style alongside Fox. I am just not sure. All I know is, I see a lot of Fox in what I believe to be early Browne samples.

I will probably return to this subject a couple of times, because I have a lot of great stuff by both artists from this period to share. I know I have some samples from The Campball Soup Twins somewhere, which I will show when I come across them. Here are three sunday ads from a similar series, that ran before that. Or at least, I guess they did, because I don't think Campbell Soup would order such a similar series by the same artist - as the client for this ad (Lipton) uses the bottom tier of the strip to sell their line of soup packets.

March 1951
May 1951
Januari 1952
The art for these ads could be by Dik Browne. No, let me rephrase that... it probably is by Dik Browne. But this is early Browne, when he wasn't influenced by Mort Walker yet. The samples are from march and may 1951 and januari 1952, so this series couldhave run off and on for about a year. The earliest samples have the most in common with Gill Fox' work. But the first one has a lady character who looks a lot like the early Lois from Hi and Lois (which started in 1954). Or at least, her slightly older sister.

To compare all this, i have added a signed page by Gill Fox in a similar style from Boy's Life in 1952. This is one of my favorite Fox pieces, representing the first time I noticed his name, and I am glad I am finally able to use it.

I also have a Tracey Twins page by Browne from 1956 (unfortunately, I have a large collection of Boy's Life magazines, but none from 1953/55). I think Browne did the Tracey Twins page on his own, although Hi and Lois was already taking off by then (having added a sunday strip in 1956).

Browne is supposed to have left Johnstone and Cushing when Hi and Lois could pay the bills, but I doubt that. Later I will show a couple of late fifties ads, that are probably by his hand. And he kept on The Tracey Twins until 1966 at least... signed by his name, although some people have said the later episodes were drawn by... you've guessed it... Gill Fox.

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