Monday, 12 December 2011

Why Glamourpuss?

Glamourpuss #1 (April 2008)
Art by Dave Sim

DAVE SIM:
(from the essay 'Glamourpuss No. 1: The Post-Game Show', Glamourpuss #1, 2008)
No more mucking about. I want to do photorealism pictures of pretty girls, so that's what I'm going to do. The words were an afterthought. Okay, let's stick with that. So that's what I did. Then it turned into the meditations on comic strip photorealism that you see. Then later I thought of the "Origin of Glamourpuss" framing device. In comic-book stores if you have a No. 1 and an "Origin of..." story, no matter how pointless, it's going to boost your sales (I know. Sad, isn't it?). The same with turning a fashion magazine pictorial into a photorealistic comic-book story. If that's what it takes to introduce a whole new generation to Alex Raymond's NOT FLASH GORDON strip, well, hey, that's what it takes. By the way, if you don't like this issues's "Origin of Glamourpuss" don't sweat it. I plan on doing a different origin next issue.

I considered just scanning the Alex Raymond artwork from my reprint collections, but that would already add two generation of reproduction to what is already a seriously degraded strip. Just to show you an example, this is a panel from Comic Art No. 2 shot from the original artwork and this is how the same panel appears in my Spanish Rip Kirby reprint collection volume 6.
Now to be fair to King Features Syndicate, those are some of the skinniest lines that I have ever seen on a piece of comic art and I sure would hate to be the one in charge of having to get them thick enough to reproduce in the catch-as-catch-can reproduction methods favoured by daily newspapers back in 1956. I asked Neal Adams about that a year or so ago. "You guys had some of the worst reproduction imaginable and yet you were using the thinnest lines ever attempted in commercial illustration." "The really thin lines, I did for myself," he said, simply. I've been trying to bear that in mind, since I've got infinitely better reproduction to work with here. "Go ultra thin or go home."

I have to admit that when I look at the Rip Kirby strips - particularly panels that I know would be sensational to re-do but that I can't use because there's just too little information left to even guess what they're supposed to look like - I think to myself; it is more than fifty years later and I would certainly hope that there would be accurate reproductions of all the strips on file with King Features against the day when hey would be reproduced on something besides daily newspaper pulp. I suspect that I would be disappointed in that. As Al Williamson has said, it's the same with newspaper strips that it is with movies: the people who preserve the material are the collectors. The studios and the syndicates really couldn't care less. The licensors pay for what they get, but I'm pretty sure they aren't getting what the pay for.

I try not to go too far down that path, mentally, because the whole thing is pretty depressing. Obviously there won't be a state-of-the-art Rip Kirby collection until we find out if those terrible microfilms are all that King Features has and how many Rip Kirby originals and/or syndicate proofs (the week's worth they used to send to the newspapers) still exist.

So, I would try to remind myself: the point of the whole Glamourpuss exercise is photorealism pictures of pretty girls and, to me, the best guys at doing that were from the Alex Raymond School. No offence to the legions of Milt Caniff readers but the Dragon Lady does nothing for me. She's a cartoon. Raymond and Prentice and Stan Drake and Neal Adams and Al Williamson drew as-close-to-realistic women as you could get and that as-close-to-realistic look, to me, was created by Alex Raymond. So why not go back to the source and attempt to teach myself the Alex Raymond drawing method by extrapolating it from bad reproduction?

So far, not so good. I think they're reasonably successful reproductions and I think I've managed to take some of the thin lines back down to what they were, but most of the time, I have no idea what I'm copying. Why THAT solution? Why a series of thin brush strokes here and one big fat one there? As I indicated in this issues's "story", I begin to fear that the answer is: you really have to not give a s--t. You're over-analysing it. If you feel like putting in some thin ones, put in some thin ones. You want to put in a fatter one, put in a fatter one. So for the first few issues, that might be all that I'm able to teach myself: stop caring so much and just ink. It's one of the reasons that I'm alternating the pages of copied panels and the self-generated pages. It is already a lot easier to ink an original drawing of my own, traced from a photograph than to duplicate an Alex Raymond panel as accurately as I can. Just moving from the latter to the former is a liberating experience.

I'll try not to try harder next time.

Back in 2008 Dave Sim embarked on a '100 Hours Internet Tour' to promote Glamourpuss - Cerebus Fan Girl has all the links. Back issues of Glamourpuss are always available from ComiXpress.

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