Aardvark-Vanaheim; single issues
While elsewhere other forces are marshalling âbest of the yearâ retrospectives for 2009, I am nagged by a comic I failed to commend as of 2008. Well, half a comic, really. Last year, I neglected to publicly celebrate Dave Simâs Glamourpuss. That title â and in that fraction â was a scrupulously cultivated, astute and thrilling analysis by an artist of a visual style and its masters.
Simâs topic is one he originally broached in The Comic Journalâs first Special Edition back in the winter of 2002. There he offered a lush, two-page spread titled âThe Raymond School; An Appreciation.â Glamourpuss elaborates and makes concrete that appreciation. Indeed, Sim posits âthe 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.â
While all of Glamourpuss flaunts the fruits of Simâs photorealistic preoccupation, half of each comic is devoted directly to a developed esteem of that âRaymond School.â Simâs admiration is bolstered by a hard-won, firsthand knowledge of technique and visual effect, insight that he gained through meticulously copying or otherwise attempting to imitate said technique and effect. With such a stylistic focus as polestar, Sim ignores prior, fantastic beauties of Raymond to concentrate on characters of his âNOT FLASH GORDON strip,â those from Raymondâs detective saga Rip Kirby.
For the girls of Glamourpuss, Sim traces and transfers his renderings to art board. Itâs an obviously laborious, even obsessive process, one by which Sim comes to earn every confidence we can extend to an artist so painstakingly following the tracks of another. According to Sim â who, again, should know â the real trick in producing such facsimiles, either materially or in spirit, is in the âtranslation,â or âsimplifying facial features and clothing details while retaining as many of them as possible.â
Over the course of his discussion and demonstrations Sim is open and solicitous about his personal approach, aesthetic objectives and technical and procedural difficulties. He finds Raymondâs late technique âvery much analogous to Japanese calligraphy â thick, lush brushstrokes accented by tinier, finer brush strokes which create an illusion of meticulous detail that isnât really there. Itâs sheer drawing knowledge and self-confidence in action.â And he guides us in the observation, like an experienced scout stalking the chosen quarry.
In early issues of Glamourpuss, Sim allows he was âwrestling with myself to develop a top quality Alex Raymond brush line.â We get to witness his attempts, framed within a narrative that encompasses a wider context of newspaper strip styles, specifically those perfected by Milt Caniff and Hal Foster. In the Glamourpuss issues of 2009, Sim moves on to Raymondâs artistic heir, Stan Drake, and his strip The Heart of Juliet Jones. The transition has come to include enough detours and asides to interest any student of popular culture, period advertising, and mass media in general (his look at Margaret Mitchell and her shadow over The Heart of â¦ is particularly well-cobbled and delectably gossipy. Remember those lengthy notes in Cerebus that blended fact, deduction and wild supposition when that comic guest-starred the Fitzgerald and Hemingway like-a-looks?).
Simâs selections as copyist are smart and revealing, hampered even as he was by the material available to him at the time: 12 Spanish Rip Kirby reprint volumes, six each by Raymond and his successor, John Prentice. These were from âreally bad copiesâ where âall the fine lines had either fattened up, filled in or disappeared long ago.â In the first issue of Glamourpuss, Sim offers an example of his source material to show just how much Raymondâs art had suffered in reproduction.
Even so, the Spanish books make for âgreat reference and inspiration as long as you know whatâs âunder thereâ.â So while part of Simâs investigations are for his own practical education, another impetus is distinctly archeological, digging out what must have been Kirbyâs original lines and then attempting to duplicate them. There remain disappointments: âpanels that I know would be sensational to re-do but that I canât use because thereâs just too little info left to even guess what theyâre supposed to look like.â
Still, what Glamourpuss offers, what Sim is able to present, is compelling. Here are comic strips and panels in slow motion, enriched by informative commentary and authoritative explication woven together with industry scuttlebutt and the mediumâs history. The results are so cumulatively engrossing and persuasively intriguing that although I can never recall glancing at Rip Kirby or The Heart of Juliet Jones in the funny pages while growing up, Iâve snapped up the recent Kirby reprint volume from IDW and have been likewise tempted by Classic Comics Pressâ inaugural release of their The Heart ofâ¦ series.
Away from the guided tour of photorealismâs manifestations in the funnies, the remaining portion of Glamourpuss presents itself as a faux fashion magazine. The highlights are the photorealistic renderings of models Sim copied and translated in a process similar to what he performs for Raymond and Drake. In terms of Simâs practice and edification, though, there are some distinct differences between his source materials. As Sim relates it, âthat might be all that Iâm able to teach myself: stop caring so much and just ink. Itâs one of the reasons that Iâm alternating the pages of copied panels [of Raymond and Drake] and the self-generated pages. Itâs 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.â Again, we get to see this in action.
While the drawings of this high fashion mock-up are drop-dead gorgeous, as stunning as Sim the illustrator could render them, the accompanying prose in fake articles is uniformly arch to the point of tortuous contortion. In contrast to the obvious sincerity Sim displays when addressing the art of Raymond and Drake, his labored attempts at social comedy and broad gender parody are wearisome and disheartening, as when a forthright, earnest and engaging guy gets, suddenly and infallibly, all false and âfalutin, putting on airs, as if he wants to impress, like, girls or something. This half of Glamourpuss remains lovely to look at if difficult to actually read.