Sunday, May 8, 2011

Special Inspection, by Order of the Emperor

I'm working on a project right now that requires me to draw dozens of people doing all manner of things, spread over a number of pages. I used to think (somewhat naïvely) that illustrators could usually do such drawings without referencing anything. But in order to draw or paint realistically, the artist needs to observe reality in order to translate it.

My budget can't afford models, so the quality of my 'realism' is going to suffer a bit for it, and I'll make things up the best I can. Norman Rockwell got to the point where he could afford a photographer to gather shots of his friends and family and neighbors. Other illustrators of the past had photographs taken of their models (and sometimes themselves) in the most precarious poses, simulating the action required for their commercial assignments. Many modern illustrators utilize digital cameras to pose themselves, friends and volunteers. Most times we can't afford to actually pay someone to pose, or in many cases afford the time to take photos.

I was really taken by surprise when I found out that a number of 'realistic' cartoonists used live models to pose for the multitude of poses required for a good storyline. Milton Caniff had a great swipe file, but he also used models for key poses for Terry and the Pirates.

And then I found out that Alex Raymond used live models for Flash Gordon—but what really surprised me was that his models were nude, for poses that were fully clothed. I understand that the artist needs to understand the architecture of the body under the clothes, but that seems a bit extreme for a comic strip. Remember when Raymond's style morphed from a stylistic brushy expressionism to hard-lined realism? I do believe that's when he could afford to have models at his beck and call. The strip at that point was nice to look at, but I believe suffered artistically as he left his brushwork-feathering behind him.

Take a look at this 'run-of-the-mill' strip:

Alex Raymond — Flash Gordon — March 2, 1941

Above, Alex Raymond drawing that particular strip.

Above, the line art for one of the panels.

And above and below, the model that he required for his realism.

Above, even for this seemingly insignificant pose of Dale behind bars, he used the model, below, to act it out.

I'm going to check my schedule and budget one more time—maybe I could afford some nude models for the dozens of poses I've got ahead of me, after all.

Oh, crap, most of those poses are supposed to be of old men.


Erik Johnson said...

A Syndicated Newspaper Salary must have been a sweet gig back in the day if he could afford a model for some simple poses on a single strip.

Thomas Haller Buchanan said...

Ah yes, sweet gig indeed. Some of these guys made a PRETTY penny.

M. D. Jackson said...

Thom, what does it matter if you're only drawing old men. If you have the cash why not have the nude models around anyway?

You could call it "inspiration". (or distraction, whatever it turns out to be)

Jeff Overturf said...

Once again...I was born too late! Dang!

Glen Story said...

So THIS is why all cartoonists wanted to get into the syndicated strip gig.
Charles Schulz prolly had nude models!


E.G.Palmer said...

This is a fantastic post,Thom! I really love this sort of insight into how the work was done and you've pulled together a great set of illustrations and examples here. I love your blog!

den said...

I think it's only fair to say that all these wonderful pictures,can be seen at the book:The art of Alex Raymond.Published by Adventure House.

joe bloke said...

I know it shouldn't matter ( I've used photo-reference a lot myself - mainly because I'm either not very good at drawing, or just plain old lazy, I haven't quite worked out which yet ), but, for some reason, knowing that Alex Raymond used models for Flash Gordon kinda bums me out. maybe it was just a labour/time-saving thing. yeah, I KNOW it shouldn't matter, but I can't help it.

Thomas Haller Buchanan said...

Good gosh, Joe, I'm sorry to burst your bubble. I wouldn'a posted this stuff if I'da known. But look at it this way:

1) his early (best) stuff was from the imagination 2) ALL realistic artists have to look at SOMEthing, in order to be realistic, and 3) ya still gotta be really good with your skill set to draw that way--cuz he wasn't using photos!

And besides, I haven't seen any evidence that he was using male models for Flash or Ming or Zharkov. I think he just wanted to have eye candy while he worked.

So cheer up, you woulda done the same as him if you were in his shoes.

Doruk said...

Well, he surely didn't have them wear any costume references... It is not like a bra and cloth wrapped around the waist would have been difficult to put together.

joe bloke said...

lol! you're probably right, fella! & fear not: my love for Raymond is not diminished in the least by this, I now have a greater understanding of his genious, and that's never a bad thing!

Anonymous said...

simply brilliant!!! please post more from him...

Anonymous said...

From Leonardo onwards, artists have worked from the inside out so to speak. Great figure work has bugger all to do with eye candy and everything to do with a respect for human anatomy... Men and women, boys and girls.

The human body is a machine after all. with all it's working parts in perspective. The best comic book artists are master draughtsmen who draw what they know, more than what they can see from models or photographic references.

Art Lover

Anonymous said...

Now i want to see images of the models he used for his rockets, cities and especially the Mongo wildlife :P

Zvonimir Tosic said...

Uh, this sounds like someone in 1930s has suddenly discovered hot water.

Posing in nude was common since Renaissance (it was also done in Classic Greek and Roman art) and has nothing to do with obtaining realism. It simply is a tool to avoid being subjected to concoctions of our own mind, if we use references from our mind alone.

Even Picasso used live models for his cubist work, Matisse for his fauvism, etc!

Artists use models as a reference to their own inner reality, which they then can create, furnish, amplify, and express on a canvas, or illustrator's board.

What Raymond has done is same: to avoid a trap of our mind to oversimplify matters and try to depict all female bodies the same way, he used models to get real nuances, real flavour. But he needed just a skeleton of reality, over which he has then wrapped his own clothes and drapery. Therefore his later art was more dynamic and much more original than his earlier work, in which he has used — under the pressure of deadlines and his own inexperience — drawings from other illustrators and comic strip artists as his own models!

And that was the bad thing he wanted to avoid. If he had continued doing the same, he'd never become Alex Raymond as we know him.