Friday, January 10, 2014

Roy Crane's Two Shades of Gray

Aside from Lyonel Feininger, I find it hard to come up with the name of an important fine artist who drew comic strips. After all, comic strips are highly constrained in terms of technology, spatial requirements, marketing channel considerations and other factors that can lead to their being ignored by fine artists and even by illustrators.

But lessons -- some, not many -- can be learned from comic strips. Consider value, the painting term referring to areas of light, dark, and intermediate shades on a painting. Value, in most cases, is the basis for an image's composition. Traditional art instruction sources suggest having one of a painting's preliminary studies deal with values, and a limited number (say, three or four) of them at that.

Roy Crane (1901-1977) was an influential comic strip artist who, as his Wikipedia entry indicates, evolved his style to a point in the 1940s that he could make use of areas of solid black, white (the un-inked newsprint background) plus two shades of gray. Earlier, he used black, white and a single gray shade, the latter based on a uniform benday screen. He found three values to be too limiting for his taste, so later adopted Craftint. That provided two levels of shading -- the lighter one simply parallel lines and the darker one a crosshatch of other parallel lines set at a right angle to the former. This blog post deals with Craftint and its eventual demise, using Roy Crane as an example of how it was made to work.

Artists wanting to sharpen their values awareness might consider the work of Crane and perhaps some other comic strip artists who made use of shading technology.

The examples below are from Crane's Buz Sawyer strip. He liked cute puns for names of some of his main characters. For instance, Buz Sawer = "buz(z)saw" and Wash Tubbs = "washtub." Click on the images to enlarge.


Buz Sawyer - December, 1944
This strikes me as the best of the examples of Crane's Craftink work shown here. These are panels from successive daily strips. Not how he forces readers to rotate the page half a turn to display the Douglas SBD dive bombers at work.

Buz Sawyer - November, 1949
Buz Sawyer - January, 1950
More daily strips from a few years later.

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