Saturday, May 01, 2021

Hammering On

Sunday Surprise Post. 

While looking for some other stuff, I came a cross an early Coca Cola ad that is pretty interesting for comic collectors. I immediately saw that it was by someone I knew, but it took a while to click. This ad was obviously drawn by the great Noel Sickles. Noel Sickles was an early comic strip artist who developed the black and white brush style that Milt Caniff used on Terry and the Pirates. Both men worked at the Associated Press bullpit, doing a variety of small syndicated feautures - a kids feature, illustrations for serialized stories, daily panels. From there both men graduated to their own newspaper strips. Sickles took over the flyer strip Scorchy Smith from John Terry - who drew it in a light wiggley style. At first Sickles imitatedTerry's line, but soon he began to develop a chiascuro style, using his brush to 'draw with shadows'. It was a simpler style, more suited to the daily comic strip grind, because you no longer had to drew every detail. Instead you could suggest or even cover elements by putting them in the shadows. It was also an infinately more exciting style, bringing the characters and their world more alive. Caniff saw this and started using Sickles' techniques. He even had Sickles join him at Terry and the Pirates and together they became the del for various generations of artists. Years later it gave Caniff the title 'the Rembrandt of Comics'. I like to call all those who worked in his style or adopted it (from Frank Robbins to Joe Tuska and John Romita Sr.) the "School of Rembrandt'. Which makes Sickles something like Carravaggio, I guess. Noel Sickles and Milt Caniff kept working together all through the thirties. In 1938 they did a series of comic strip ads under the pen name Paul Arthur. For a long time it seemed to have been their only comic strip ad work. But here we are, in 1943. Noel Sickles was no longer working with Milt Caniff (although they remained associated into the sixties and seventies). He had done political cartoons for Associated Press, came in once a week to lay out a week of Patsy in Hollywood for Charles Raab (an excellent member of the School of Rembrandt' whose reputation suffered in hindsight from having Sickles associated with 'his' Patsy. Fans nowdays assume Raab had no real talent of his own, which is a big mistake. But mainly Sickles was learning how to become a prefessional illustrator - which he ended up doing as a reglar at Life, The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's and The Reader's Digest, among others. Identifying this Coca Cola series as Sickles' work illustrated my private theory about art spotting: if a piec eof comic art is by a certain artist, it is always unquestionably so. Comic styles are personal and unavoidable. If something seems like it might be by, it usually isn't. There are occasions where mutltible hands make it harder to judge, but on the whole this rule has served me well. Unfortunately, that means here that Sickles did the first three Coca Cola ads only. After that the content of the ads changed to advertise a free booklet you could save for with airplane silhouettes (so you could spot enemie planes, which was a thing back then). The first of the silhouettes ads looks as if iy could be by Nockles. The way the flying planes are drawn is similar to his style, with a single line behind the plane suggesting both the exhaust fumes and the trjaectory (something Alex Toth picked up from his hero Sickles). But the panel of the guys at the end certainly is not by Sickles, so the whole thing disqualifies. Still, three new ads by Sickles is not a bad find. And yes, I looked. They were once a month and there were none before this. 


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