On Glamourpuss by Dave Sim

Posted by on January 29th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Aardvark-Vanaheim; single issues

Nicked from comicsvillage.com; click to view larger image

While elsewhere other forces are marshalling “best of the year” 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 Sim’s Glamourpuss. That title — and in that fraction — was a scrupulously cultivated, astute and thrilling analysis by an artist of a visual style and its masters.

Sim’s topic is one he originally broached in The Comic Journal’s first Special Edition back in the winter of 2002. There he offered a lush, two-page spread titled “The Raymond School; An Appreciation.” Glamourpuss elaborates and makes concrete that appreciation. Indeed, Sim posits “the 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.”

While all of Glamourpuss flaunts the fruits of Sim’s photorealistic preoccupation, half of each comic is devoted directly to a developed esteem of that “Raymond School.” Sim’s 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 “NOT FLASH GORDON strip,” those from Raymond’s detective saga Rip Kirby.

from Raymond's Rip Kirby strip

For the girls of Glamourpuss, Sim traces and transfers his renderings to art board. It’s 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 — who, again, should know — the real trick in producing such facsimiles, either materially or in spirit, is in the “translation,” or “simplifying facial features and clothing details while retaining as many of them as possible.”

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 Raymond’s late technique “very much analogous to Japanese calligraphy — thick, lush brushstrokes accented by tinier, finer brush strokes which create an illusion of meticulous detail that isn’t really there. It’s sheer drawing knowledge and self-confidence in action.” And he guides us in the observation, like an experienced scout stalking the chosen quarry.

In early issues of Glamourpuss, Sim allows he was “wrestling with myself to develop a top quality Alex Raymond brush line.” 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 Raymond’s 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 … 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?).

Sim’s 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 “really bad copies” where “all the fine lines had either fattened up, filled in or disappeared long ago.” In the first issue of Glamourpuss, Sim offers an example of his source material to show just how much Raymond’s art had suffered in reproduction.

Even so, the Spanish books make for “great reference and inspiration as long as you know what’s ‘under there’.” So while part of Sim’s investigations are for his own practical education, another impetus is distinctly archeological, digging out what must have been Kirby’s original lines and then attempting to duplicate them. There remain disappointments: “panels that I know would be sensational to re-do but that I can’t use because there’s just too little info left to even guess what they’re supposed to look like.”

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 medium’s 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, I’ve snapped up the recent Kirby reprint volume from IDW and have been likewise tempted by Classic Comics Press’ inaugural release of their The Heart of… series.

Away from the guided tour of photorealism’s 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 Sim’s practice and edification, though, there are some distinct differences between his source materials. As Sim relates it, “that might be all that I’m able to teach myself: stop caring so much and just ink. It’s one of the reasons that I’m alternating the pages of copied panels [of Raymond and Drake] and the self-generated pages. It’s 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.” 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 ‘falutin, 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.

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6 Responses to “On Glamourpuss by Dave Sim”

  1. Mike Hunter says:

    A splendidly concise, informative* and elegantly-phrased description of the comic and Sim’s efforts.

    Would that the parts devoted to Raymond and the photorealism school could be nipped out and gathered into a book someday! Aside from the accurately noted failings in Sim’s fashion-mag-writing parody**, his fashion-photo-traced drawings, for all the impressive technique on display, are utterly empty. Those many “waste of space” (for me, anyway) pages finally made me give up on buying “Glamourpuss,” for all that I relished the rest.

    The “Rip Kirby” and other photorealist comics’ figures were CHARACTERS***, often in dramatic poses, stylishly lit; given emotional heft by appearing in the context of a story.

    While the fashion models – tellingly referred to as “mannequins” in the trade – are generically pretty nonentities, which might as well be brain-dead. The poses and lighting focus on displaying the garments to best effect; all else is of relatively little importance…

    * Having bought the first half-dozen or so issues, I already know the information imparted, but it’s impressive to see how you “hit all the bases” for those who haven’t in a lively, appealing manner.

    ** As John Simon noted about another subject entirely, “How can you satirize something which is already ridiculous to begin with?”

    ***Can somebody explain t’me how to create italics in blog comments?

  2. golanbatrac says:

    ***Can somebody explain t’me how to create italics in blog comments?

    Test…

    _Italics_
    Italics

  3. golanbatrac says:

    Mike,

    surround the word or words to be italicized with and (leaving out the underscores).

    Bold should be and (again, leaving out the underscores, and to quote text, surround the text to be quoted with and .

    • golanbatrac says:

      Oh, hell…

      One more time.

      Italics — surround with em and /em bracketed by greater than and less than signs.

      Bold — surround with strong and /strong bracketed by greater than and less than signs.

      To quote a post — surround with blockquote and /blockquote.

  4. Mike Hunter says:

    Thanks! But I’m puzzled; do “greater than and less than signs”mean + and -? And what is this “strong”?

    Would bolding (“boldening”?) be:

    strongBold/strong …? (Wish I could preview blog posts to see if this works…)

    Did some looking elsewhere on the Web, and from “How to Create Italicized Text with Simple HTML Programming” ( http://www.ehow.com/how_2135530_italicized-text-simple-html-programming.html ) it might be the > and < symbols.

    Following that site, it'd be (might as well test this here)

    Italicizing:

    Italics

    But, http://www.ehow.com/how_4464722_create-bold-italicize-text-using.html shows a ridiculously laborious way to do italics and bolding.

    This MySpace ( http://hubpages.com/hub/How-to-bold-text-on-MySpace-And-Other-MySpace-Tweaks ) advice looks much more reasonable, and follows the pattern in the first site. So, let me give it a try:

    Bold

    (Sorry, Rich Kreiner!)

    • golanbatrac says:

      Yeah, Sorry Rich Kreiner!

      Mike,

      The greater than and less than signs are > and < (as you've figured out). i for italics and b for bold have been deprecated in html in favor of em and strong. For now, both will work, but eventually i and b will stop working.