Monday, June 18, 2018

Alden McWilliams' "Twin Earths" Artwork

The first, and perhaps the most famous, science-fiction comic strip was Buck Rogers which debuted in January 1929. Others of that genre followed, the best-known of these was Flash Gordon which featured the highest quality artwork of the lot, certainly in its earliest years when Alex Raymond wielded his pen and brush.

The only other American sci-fi strip with top-notch artwork that I'm aware of off-hand was Twin Earths (1952-1963), created by publications maestro Oskar Lebeck (1903-1966), who did the writing in the early years and Alden McWilliams (1916-1993), who did the art. I will probably write more about McWilliams in another post, but shall focus on Twin Earths here.

The concept of Twin Earths was that there existed a totally Earth-like planet that shared Earth's orbit but at exactly the opposite side -- 180 degrees away. This meant that, as of 1952 when the strip started, there was no way we on Earth could detect Terra, as it was called. Terrans were a few hundred years ahead of Earth technologically, so could visit here using their flying saucer spacecraft. Another quirk was that their population was 90 percent female. Yet another was that they had lifespans exceeding 150 years, yet preserved youthful appearances over most of that time.

The opening few months of panels can be found here. A Terran female agent reveals her identity to an FBI agent, the male hero of the strip. Then things flow from there.

The Seattle Times newspaper suffered a strike in 1953, and when it ended the paper published special sections displaying all the comics that would have been printed during the time of the strike. I recently made scans of these for Twin Earths, and two of these are displayed below. At this point in the strip's development, the plotting wasn't very interesting. Mostly it was presenting the futuristic marvels of Terra, contrasting them with 1953 Earth. There was a bit of romance-related activity, but no space wars or bug-eyed monsters.

I'll comment further in the captions, but want to stress McWilliams' artwork. Grinding out comics panels day after day can make corner-cutting tempting. Yet McWilliams didn't seem to fall into that mode very often, maintaining a commendably even strain.

Click on the images to enlarge.


I don't think the dialog regarding electromagnetism set readers' hearts to beating faster. But Ah! the artwork. The compositional variety. The poses of the characters, the shifting points of view. And those seriously attractive women. McWilliams could do it all.

This set deals with Terra's contact with a planet from another solar system.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Jes Schlaikjer, Forgotten Illustrator

I hadn't known of Jes Wilhelm Schlaikjer (1897–1982) until he was featured in Illustration Magazine a few months ago.

For one thing, he wasn't included in my go-to reference book about illustrators, Walt Reed's The Illustrator in America, 1860-2000. Another reason I hadn't noticed him was that he seldom or never appeared in major magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post or Collier's nor in some other magazines that I sometimes saw when I was young.

His Wikipedia is here. It states that he was "most known for his recruitment and war bonds posters during World War II." The Illustration Magazine article also deals with his pulp magazine cover art and illustrations he made for the American Legion's magazine.

What struck me was how competent Schlaikjer was in depicting people. Most illustrators of his generation were competent at doing that, but he was at least half a notch above the average of the pack.

Sadly, his career ended when in his early 60s he contracted Parkinson's Disease which afflicted him for the rest of his long life.

The images below can be found in the Illustration Magazine article along with many more. You can probably still order that issue (No. 59).


Story illustration - 1924
This is in line with illustration fashions of the time.  Reminds me of Dean Cornwell's early 1920s work, though the Illustration article does not mention any direct connection between the two men.  However, they both had training at Chicago's Art Institute and the Art Students League.

Black Mask magazine cover - February 1929
Pulp magazine cover.

Black Mask magazine cover - April 1932
Another from a few years later, this in a style he mostly used for that magazine.  He signed his pulp work with the blob seen at the bottom of the image.  The Illustration article probably correctly speculates that his was done as a career-protection tactic -- so as not to be type-cast as a pulp illustrator.

American Legion Magazine illustration - 1939
Again Schlaikjer uses a vignette format.  But here his depiction is far more naturalistic.

American Legion Magazine illustration - 1940
I find this very nicely done -- especially the seated officer in the foreground.

World War 2 poster
This features the famous M-1 (Garand) rifle.  I was issued one in basic training and liked it better than the later M-14 I had when stationed in Korea.

World War 2 poster
Schlaikjer was a Great War Signal Corps guy, so probably put extra effort into this poster.

Washington Star newspaper photo of Schlaikjer painting a portrait of Major General Anthony C. McAuliffe - 1950
McAuliffe led the defenders of  Bastogne during the December 1944 Battle of the Bulge and famously told the Germans "Nuts!" when asked to surrender.  Note how well Schlaikjer captured McAuliffe.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Harrogate Travel Posters from the LNER

During the 1920s and 1930s Britain had four major privately owned passenger railway systems that operated on a largely regional basis. That is, each had a core area that it essentially dominated, but also had tendrils that were in areas of others. So there was some direct competition, but that was generally minor aside from, for instance, the London Midland & Scottish Railway and the London and North Eastern Railway (the LNER) both serving Leeds, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Besides the relatively minor case of overlapping destinations, the greatest competition seems to have involved attracting tourists and vacationers to places within core service areas. For example, the Great Western Railway would publicize Cornwall while the LNER would be touting Scarborough, leaving potential travelers to mull over which site to select.

To keep advertising fresh from season to season and year to year, railroad companies often used different poster designers over time instead of sticking to one artist doing multiple works for the same destination (though that was done too). This rotation was the policy of LNER.

As an example of this, below are LNER posters for the spa city of Harrogate in Yorkshire, not far west of York.


By Frank Brangwyn.

By Lilian Hocknell.

By Austin Cooper.

By Arthur C. Michael.

By Fred Taylor.

By Joseph Greenup.

By Tom Purvis.

By Frank Newbould.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

In the Beginning: Paul Gauguin

Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) famously painted Postimpressionist, often Symbolist scenes of Brittany and French Polynesia using exaggerated color schemes. It took him a while to reach his signature style, and this post provides some examples of his work leading up to that point.

Wikipedia provides an lengthy (for them) entry dealing with Gauguin here. Included is information that he began painting about 1873, but didn't do it full-time until starting around 1882-83.

Below are images of some paintings from his earliest artistic days to when his main style emerged.


Clearing - 1873
A dark scene reminding me of Barbizon School art.

Cail Factories at the Quai of Grenelle - 1875
This is sketchier, the colors are brighter yet limited.

The Embroiderer (Mette Gauguin) - 1878
Here we find Impressionist-style brushwork and perhaps coloring (though this is an interior scene, not outdoor countryside).

Geese on the Farm - 1879
Again, quasi-Impressionist.

Pissarro's Garden, Pontoise - 1881
Painted while they were still friends.

Farm in Osney - 1883
Here Gauguin is using somewhat stronger brushwork while maintining interest in color combinations.

Mettte Gauguin in Evening Dress - 1884
This setting is a rarity for Gauguin.

Four Breton Women - 1886
A subject theme while he was in Brittany, though here his style is close-to, but not quite Gauguin.

Martinique Landscape - 1887
Now he has been exposed to tropical colors -- an important factor of his later work.

Then, in 1888, Gauguin painted pictures in a wide variety of styles including the cloisonnist, strongly colored theme he became noted for.

Paintings from 1888

Madeleine Bernard - 1888
A nice portrait of artist Emile Bernard's sister.

Breton Woman and Goose by Water - 1888
An experiment using extremely bold colors.

Cove Opposite Pont-Aven Harbor - 1888
Here he drops back briefly towards Impressionism.

The Vision After the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel) - 1888
This is perhaps Gauguin's earliest famous painting.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Fred Taylor: Poster Art for the LNER and Others

Fred Taylor (1875-1963) was one of the many talented artists who created art for British railway company travel posters.

Biographical information on him is truly sketchy. A National Railway Museum publication in my library has the following:

"Born in London, he studied at Goldsmith's College and worked at the Waring and Gillow Studio. In 1930 he was commissioned to design four ceiling paintings for the Underwriting Room at Lloyd's and murals for Reed's Lacquer Room. He worked in naval camouflage during the Second World War. He exhibited at the Royal Academy and other galleries in London, and worked for the Empire Marketing Board, LNER, London Transport and several shopping companies."

And that's all I could find. The above blurb essentially deals with what he did starting at age 55.

The images below are of some of the poster art he did for the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) along with a few others in the 1920s and 1930s. Some of his 1930s work for LNER is similar in style to that of Tom Purvis, a more critically acclaimed poster artist who I wrote about here. Most of his poster illustrations are made in more traditional styles. Regardless, they are skillfully done. They were also popular with the general public, if the criterion is sales of posters. Moreover, Taylor was the best-paid LNER poster artist.


Judging by the costumes, this was probably done in the early-to-mid 1920s.

Even though I've sailed from there, I had't realized that once upon a time Harwich was a port for steamships going to Belgium, Germany, etc. Note some items projecting beyond the frame at the left.

A Tom Purvis style poster. Perhaps the LNER at the time was interested in consistent images.

Petergate, in York: Minster in the background.

Historical scene: Captain Cook's departure in 1776.

Two railroads cited here, so I'm not sure who commissioned this.

It seems Taylor also did some work for the GWR.

Subtle color scheme for a travel poster, but nice.

A city close to York, and well worth a short visit.

Evocative Piccadilly Circus illustration. This was done in 1925.