Friday Comic Book Day.
I have found a couple more early DC stories by Mort Meskin. But first, here is a story by George Roussos from Gang Busters #66. It is typical of his work, but you can also see his relation to Meskin's work. I don't know who learned what inking trick from whom, but they certainly influenced each other. After that is one of the first things Meskin did for Dc, before being forced to tone down his style. It's also from Gang Busters, about a year earlier (#57).
And what an impressive story it is.
The story starts with a moody vertical opening splash. Meskin had developed his way of inking into a sort of impressionistic version of Sickles chiascuro style. But sometimes he overdid it and turned it into a trick to work faster. Here the stark contrasts are justified by the chystal ball. The rest of the shadows are dark where they have to be, but they are also soft-edged to show how the light melds into the dark as well as leave strong contrasts. In the second panel (after a clever gap between the captions to help us read the panels in the right order) he uses the strong contrasts to steer our eye to the important figures in the middle. The blocking makes them clear to see, but the lack of detail lets us nog linger too long on them. This is not where th information of this panel is. It's the chrystal ball we shoud notice and the text that's important here. In the third panel the 'mark' is a bit clearer (even though it suddenly seems his coat has turned from brown to black), but all we see he is just an ordinary Joe. The impressive thing here is in the figures in the audience, who are drawn with care and detail but positioned (and colored) to be part of the background. He could have blacked them out here, but then they probably would have demanded too much attention. Instead he makes them light and airy, almost as if they are hardly there.
On the second page, the staging again is impeccable. Creating depth by using figures in the foreground in panels one, two three and six or by cluttering up the background in panel six and seven. Panel four is a borderless downshot, making it the focuspoint of the whole page, so we know what the magican is up to even before we start reading the first panel. Panel five is made interesting by doing an upshot, creating the impression we are viewing this from the blown apart safe they are talking about. All through the page, we can admire Meskin's double or triple stroke appraoch to creaing lines, which give his figures weight as well as a sketchy reality. In a recent issue of Rough Stuff I read that nicely inked figures with thick flowing lines that connect everywhere can make a realistic drawing look cartoony. Meskin always keeps it light and open, eve when he is creating a mood. Look at how he fills in the shadow on the back of the two foreground figures in panel two or in panel three of page four.
On the rest of the pages, we see a number of new and special trick employed to give the story a sense of magic. The open side on the chair on the first and last panels of page three, bracketing the whole page in a clever way. The scratched out white lines on the television images. I've seen this done with black lines in Harvey Kurtzman's television parodies for Mad, but this is even better. The sketchy lines suggesting a sort of shimmering darkness, when they are watching slides on page three, enabling him to ink the foreground figures darker against the light of the slide. The bottomless first panel on page four. The foam under the boat on the last page. The way he frames the detectives in their car on the third panel of that same page. How he didn't make the underside of their car roof all black, because it would have thrown the balance of the page. This are all arks of a great artist at work. I can't imagine why the powers that ruled at DC would want him to tone down his style. Probably because it wasn't as slick as all the other suff done for them. In fact, I would call this impressionistic style of Meskin the direct opposite of slick. It's nice and sticky.
Gang Buster #66:
Gang Busters #57: