Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cartoony Is Bad In A Comic Book??

So we know that Silver Age DC really hated their readers. But you know who else they hated? Their artists.

Remember, this is the same company that was eager to bring over Jack Kirby, but then insisted on having some other artist redraw Superman's face in The King's comics. Heaven forbid he get too far "off model."

But I never suspected it could get this bad.

From Four Star Spectacular #1 (1976):

What, you're's just an adventure of the Golden Age Flash. Ah, but wait for the inevitable zoom-in:

"Too far below modern standards to reprint that tale as it was."

What. The. Hell.

At least it's an anonymous insult, as editor E. Nelson Bridwell doesn't even bother to mention the poor, sub-standard artist. Nope, we'll just say that whoever drew this story originally for All-Flash #22 (1946) apparently couldn't hack it as an artist in the unassailable creative peaks of DC 1976. In a word, sucky.

Now, in fairness, in that issue's text piece, the justification is phrased ever-so-slightly less callously: "...the original art for the story was rather simple and cartoony --not at all suitable for today's comic audience." Yeah, because in 1976, the comics audience was soooo sophisticated, they would spit upon simple and cartoony art...

Well, look...we've all seen the quality of some of the Golden Age reprints DC was putting out in the 1970s. It seems to me that an awful lot of it was "cartoony" or "simplistic." So why suddenly try this here?

For the record, the artist in question was Martin Naydel (some online sources confuse him with Martin Nodell, the artist who created the Golden Age Green Lantern, but he was a different person). The majority of his career seems to have been spent on humor books, or funny animal books, or one-pager and half-pager joke strips in other comics. But roughly from 1944-1947, we was the regular artist on Flash, All-Flash, and All-Star (starring the Justice Society).

I don't have access to any of his interior art, [UPDATE: Booksteve did have access to some of Naydel's interior art, and has posted a side-by-side comparison] but his a sampling of his covers from back in the day (hat tip to the GCD):

Cartoony? Sure. Other than that, it's hard to tell from covers alone. But certainly, the work he did on those covers sure doesn't seem so terribly "below modern standards" or "not suitable for today's audience." Far from "simple," I see some fairly complex work (for covers) and a lot of influence on later artists.

The beauty part was, Bridwell did this again a few months later, having another "young artist" redraw another of Naydel's stories from All-Flash #22, this time in DC Super-Stars #5 (1976).

So the question is, what the hell? Was DC so intent on a particular "house style" that they found anything the least bit different or individualistic or "cartoony" to be objectionable, even when reprinting classic stories? Or was it just Bridwell?

Or, perhaps, was it just an attempt to see if they could get away with using young (i.e. low-paid) artists and a script they already owned to churn out cheap "new" stories? In the text-piece, Bridwell does refer to the issue as a "new concept in presentation of classic comic-mag adventures." Maybe there was some masterplan to "rejuvenate" DC's back library with new, "modern" artwork to entice readers.

Of course, none of that required publicly dissing Martin Naydel, did it? That was a pretty classless move. Re-doing the art might have been an interesting experiment, but taking pot-shots at the original artist was clearly unnecessary and mean-spirited.

And now, 30+ years later, times have changed, and DC loves to reprint original Golden Age stories, warts and all. And there is a much greater tolerance of "cartoony," individualistic art. There's a huge market for the stuff, so I guess "today's comic audience" isn't as discerning as Bridwell's 1976 readers.

On the bright side, maybe in 2039, DC will reprint some recent JLA stories, but with the art redrawn, because Ed Benes will be "too far below modern standards."


Erich said...

I like the idea of having the same script redrawn by different artists, just to see how the interpretations might differ...but insulting the original artist is just a dick move.

Daniel said...

Robert Kanigher had done the same thing for years over in Wonder Woman. Apparently the Silver Age was not ready for H. G. Peter.

Anonymous said...

I rather like the original drawings. They were kind of quirky!

Booksteve said...

An interesting piece. I plugged it on Yoe's ITCH blog this morning and even made up a side-by-side comparison of the splash pages. I like the original better.

snell said...

Thank's Steve.

Kelson said...

Great write-up! Funny thing is, I've been planning to write this up myself, but it looks like now I don't need to!

Bubbashelby said...

I love the Jitterbug cover!

dejadrew said...

Naydell didn't deserve that, definitely. Benes, on the other hand... Um, could that young underpaid 2039 artist redraw everything by Greg Land, while he's at it?