Note: I have sold the two strips pictured below.
Back in October 2013, I posted a little article on Frank Godwin’s Billy West comic strip — which consisted of a group of sample strips that preceded both the Rusty Riley strip and the Rusty Ryan strip. (I’ve written quite a bit about the Rusty Ryan strip on this blog, and you can find a lot of it by searching this blog for “Rusty Ryan” in the “Search” field in the margin.) Anyway, I’ve decided to post a revised version of that Billy West post. The original version was accompanied by one image, which was none too clear. I am reposting that image (in a much better version), and I am adding another image, as well as additional discussion.
I have three examples of the strip in my collection, and the first thing to note is that the Billy West art is positively gigantic. The image is roughly 6 inches by roughly 27 inches. Rusty Riley daily art varied in size, but most examples were probably about 5 inches by about 18 inches, image-wise. (None of these measurements are precise. I rounded-down, from measurements that were not exact anyway.) So, I am talking daily art that is about 9 inches wider than the typical Rusty Riley daily is!
The Billy West strips, I believe, were created no later than the end of the war in May 1945, because of the reference to Germany (seen in an image below) that one of the characters makes. It also seems likely that the strips date from after the entry of the United States into the war in December 1941. A reasonable guess would be that the strips date from sometime during the period January 1942 through April 1945.
I do not know whether the Billy West strips were submitted to any syndicates. As far as I know, Frank Godwin left the Connie comic strip around the end of 1940 or the beginning of 1941. It seems reasonable that at that time Godwin was searching for another comic-strip to draw. So, I think that this strip probably dates from abound 1942.
Below is an image of a panel from one of the strips. The characters shown are Billy West (on the left) and Jim Carroll. The episode has four frames, and this is the third frame. As can be seen, the strip was done in a freer, more “casual” style than either Rusty Ryan or Rusty Riley. It is more like many of the Connie daily episodes. This is one of the reasons why I see the strip as a bridge between Connie and Rusty Riley.
Also, some of Godwin’s approach to this image can be discerned. For instance, there are horizontal pencil-guidelines for the lettering. The lettering was also pencilled-in, and that is quite visible in the word “somewhere” and elsewhere as well). You can see Mr. Carroll’s elbow (in pencil) protruding into the fourth panel, suggesting that Godwin had not yet determined the size of those two adjacent panels. [2016 note: Upon rethinking this, I believe Godwin did already know what the sizes of the panels would be.]
Also, you can see that the globe was pencilled-in apparently before the speech-balloon was drawn (a little of the pencil can be seen inside the balloon).
The following panel, from an earlier episode, also shows a number of interesting traits. Notice at the bottom, to the right, are two little vertical lines. These mark the distance between the second and third panels. This is wider than the distance between the first and second panel (and it is also wider than the distance between the third and fourth panels). This was plainly so that the strip could more easily be broken into two tiers, the top tier with the first two panels, and the bottom tier with the third and fourth. Thus, one would expect that the first two panels as a group would always take up the same space as the last two panels, and that is the case in the three examples I have. (Similar little lines are also visible on the panel pictured above.)
This panel below also shows the names of all three of the characters who appear in the three examples I have: Billy West, Jasper, and Mr. Carroll. This panel shows clearly Godwin’s characteristic lettering, which was very much in evidence in Connie — but less so in the later panel (the one that mentions Germany), and also less so in the Rusty Ryan strips and the early Rusty Riley strips, where the lettering was a bit more meticulously done. The background is a fairly typical Godwin landscape (in this case, not fully developed). The sky is probably like none in the Rusty Riley strips, though I would not be surprised if the Connie comic-strip sometimes had such skies. Also, the panel includes a nice portrait of Jasper, who is absent from the panel pictured above.
The direct predecessor of the Rusty Riley strip is the Rusty Ryan strip. However, in my view, questions abound about the Rusty Ryan strip, and it seems that many of those questions will remain forever unanswered. (See this post.) But the Rusty Ryan strip remains of high fascination, because of elements that it has in common with the Rusty Riley strip.
—Tom Sawyer January 31, 2014
About 894 words.