Thursday, January 15, 2009

I Can If Caniff Can

Thursday Story Day

A lot has been written lately about Milt Caniff and Noel Sickles. With the appearance of the Complete Terry and the Pirates (a series you'd better buy as there will never be a better compilation of this strip) and the Complete Scorchy by Niel Sickles (with an overview of Sickles career as an illustrator which could have been a book on it's own) their unique friendship and working relationship has been examined and commented upon by many writers. It seems to me that over the years the role of Sickles has been expanded with each retelling of the story. Milt Caniff never hid the fact that Sickles was a huge influence on his style. When he was starting Terry and the Pirates he was sharing a studio with Sickles, who at that moment was revamping Scorchy Smith into his own style. He developed a way of drawing with shadows, that may seem old hat to us, but was a complete revelation at the time and has been followed by a whole generation of artists since then. At first, it was said that Sickles helped Caniff draw some of those early Terry and the Pirates. Rick Marshall has the idea that Terry and the Pirates went downhill when Sickles left the strip in 1941, which would mean he was involved in the first six or seven years. While it is tru that Caniff left the drawing of Steve Canyon to Richard Rockwell from the mid-fifties onward and 'only' wrote and inked it, I don't think a similar arrangement was in place in the early years. Steve Canyon got visually less interesting after Rockwell started drawing it to such an estent that I have to credit Caniif with some talent of his own on the pages before that. Of course Caniff had other asistants. First there was Alfred Andriola, who seems to have been not much more than an office boy. When he got his own strip, Charlie Chan, it is said to have been on the strength of a try-out week written and drawn by Caniff and Sickles. Later episodes of that strip are supposed to have been done with the assistent of an other Caniff assistent, Charles Raab. Raab took over Patsy from Mel Graff, who like Sickles and Caniff worked at the offices of Associated Press and drew in such a Sickles-influenced style, that some people have also said Sickles may have ghosted Paty for him. Or for Raab. I have lost track of how many strips Sickles must have ghosted.

The following Patsy strips are from the year that Raab took over from Graff. What I see in these styles, is that Graff drew in a style that's very similar to that of Sickles. It almost seems like Sickles own work, until you realize that all of Patsy looked like this. It's only until the second quarter of the year that I start to recognize traits of the style that Graff later used for Agent X9 and especially on Brick Bradfort*. Than Raab takes over, not signing his first couple of dailies. What I see is a much more Caniff influenced style, making it possible that Raab had worked for Caniff on backgrounds or something like that.

*Joakiim warned me that Graff never drew Brick Breadford. That was Paul Norris, who drew the Jungle Jim in an Alex Raymond style, before taking over Brick Bradfort in a simplified version of the Milt Caniff style, using lots of ben day. Joakim also says he assisted Graff, which could mean that the hints of the later Bradford style betray Norris' involvement rather than Graff's or Caniff's.

I'll be returning to this topic later, but here are some images.

Jan 20 1940:

Jan 28 1940:

Feb 2 1940:

Feb 23 1940:

April 27 1940:

May 31 1940:

June 12 1940:

June 13 1940:

June 15 1940:

June 17 1940:

June 18 1940:

June 20 1940:

June 22 1940:


Joakim Gunnarsson said...

Some corrections here.:)
Graff didn't work on Brick Bradford. That was Paul Norris. (Who was also filling in for Graff on X9.)
Raabs first dailies were actually signed by him.(Probably lettered by Frank Engli and with art assist by Caniff.)
And the Dwyer (spelling?)
Patsy must be from a later date than 1940.

Posted some Norris/Graff art on my blog today, BTW.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

I keep mistaking Norris for Graff. But what did Graff do after 1945, when X-9 was taken over by a string of artists, inlcuding Rodlaw Willard in the late forties and possibly early fifties (Wikipedia mentions another artist for 1950/51, but my samples show it was signed in the panels by Willard). In 1952/1953 Hollingworth drew the strip, after which Geortge Tuska did it for a while as well. I have samples of those two as well, both interesting to me as I am interested in comic book artists whole moonlightedin newspaper strips?

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Patsy was taken over by Bill Dyer. I accidentally used one of his dailies here, which I removed. The temptation to call him Dwyer is big, especially if you are into Caniff as much as you are an know one of his early friends and masters was a Dwyer.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

And I just found out that X-9 was not taken over by anyone (the names I mention are involved with the later version od Scorchy Smith). This gives me something else to look for.

Smurfswacker said...

I'd like to join the Graff discussion. I've seen enough of his work on Patsy to conclude that most of the work was his, and that despite his debt to the Sickles/Caniff style, he was a master in his own right.

Patsy is full of great experiments with lighting and staging; and Graff worked hard on the scripts, trying to humanize his characters and situations. Graff was the only adventure strip writer other than Caniff to try this, and if his efforts didn't match Caniff's epic proportions, he still did a fine job.

I can't figure out why Graff made such a major stylistic change during X-9. The first year or so were close to his original style, and rather good, but he got very sloppy. As is well-known, he was battling the bottle; perhaps its effects were partly responsible for the change. It definitely figured into Norris' being hired to write and draw fill-in stories. Even so, during the fifties Graff's stories continued to emphasize character in both the leads and the secondary players.

All this ended when Bob Lubbers took over. Even the beautiful Al Williamson strips had very simplistic, formula scripts (this is not a putdown of Archie Goodwin, whose work I admire; I'm sure he followed the syndicate's instructions).

By the way, I've seen some clips of Raab's Patsy, in Ron Goulart's collection, which were unmistakably Sickles' work (except perhaps for Patsy).