torsdag 4. september 2008

A song for the unsung hero

Everyone who knows anything about comics, are well aware of Milton Caniff, Alex Raymond, Hal Foster and the rest of the 30's grand pioneers of newspaper series.

However, you have to know a lot more than anything to recognise Noel Sickles (1910-1982).

While he drew comics for three brief years only, his groundbreaking work on aviation adventurer Scorchy Smith from December 1933 through November 1936 inspired everyone from Caniff to Pratt.

While the latter leaned heavily on two stripes from October 1936 in the opening of La Conga des bananes, the former was both a close friend and so impressed by Sickles talent that he had him in periods help him out on both Terry and Steve Canyon.

How he managed over a six month planned effort to revamp his predecessor John Terry's amateurishly drawn daily strip into a professional work of art, is one of the most impressive achievements in comics history. Without his readers or his editors really noticing, until it was too late.

Aside from the occasional lending hand (and a far later planned collaboration with Caniff on a Bruce Lee strip which never came to pass), Sickles left the cartoon industry in 1936 to do what he did best, draw men and machines in movement.

He illustrated more American military instruction manuals than anyone else, besides commercials and work for magazines like Reader's Digest , National Geographic and Life. He even illustrated One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the 1960's.

So enjoy the drawings in this blog article, whether it is from the Western Plains or the Asian war front. Not the mention the rocket race, here from an article in Life, January 17th 1949, on the first manned expedition to the moon twenty five years in the future. Firmly based on "present knowledge and plausible guesses".

And check out this book which is really what I am reviewing here after having more than voluntarily bought my own copy, 400 pages of pure delight.

A heartfelt praise or three to IDW's Library of American Comics for making this wonderous volume available!

Inside you'll find both Sickles' complete 900-strip work on Scorchy Smith , the Bruce Lee strips and his extensive work for the military and the magazines. Besides the comics, there are 140 pages of drawings, including those he made for stories by Hemingway, Michener, Solzhenitsyn and Faulkner.

Few illustrated works have a higher wow-factor. Or a surer hand in making both thoroughly realistic drawings and highly romantic.

No one could teach you better how to disarm a German tank. And few a lady.

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