A few notes on “artist recognition” in connection with comic strips, with emphasis on Frank Godwin. . .

Connie is one of those comic strips in which the principal creator produced almost all of the final comic strips.  In that sense, it is very different from those strips which are well known for having been produced in large part by more than one person.  (Examples:  Li’l Abner, Joe Palooka, Beetle Baily.)

Nonetheless, it is plain that Godwin did not produce all of the Connie episodes by himself, but I believe that when he did not, this fact is quite obvious.  Whether Godwin had any role in the episodes that were not wholy his, I do not know.

If I were to look at a Li’l Abner strip, I would basically have no idea of how to determine who drew it.  In many cases, I don’t even know if that can be determined.  Jim Vadeboncoeuer says that Frank Frazetta was Al Capp’s assistant “for eight or nine years.”  Huh?  That seems kind of vague.

A Pacific Comics Club ad refers to “the first few years when he [Frazetta] often inked his own work.”  But the Wikipedia article on Li’l Abner, although not a masterpiece of clarity, says that Capp “drew and inked the faces and hands of the characters.”  Yes, the Wikipedia article leaves room for Capp not always doing that, but instances where he did not (if any), seem few and far between.  The Wikipedia article says, “Capp had a platoon of assistants in later years, who worked under his direct supervision.”

My only point in the preceding two paragraphs is that the situation as to Connie is nothing like that as to “who drew it.”  (Now, I don’t know whether the questions as to who wrote the strip are so simple.  I have never seen much discussion of that point.  In fact, by far the most I have seen on that topic is a post on this blog.)

Below, though, are a few tips relating to analyzing “artist” issues.  Some of this might apply only to Connie, and some might apply only to other strips.

1.  Sometimes, it is going to be impossible to say “who” drew a certain specific episode of a strip, based only on one printed example.  That is to say, often, the art alone, in a vacuum, proves nothing.  You might look at it (or the most expert analyst might look at it) and be unable to say who drew it.

2.  The fact that artists tend to draw in different styles, or go through a bad period, or evolve over time, tends to mean that, in order to be able to identify an artist’s work, one has to know an awful lot about his work.  I am afraid that, in most cases, people simply do not know that much about an artist.  Thay might be able to say, “This is by Godwin,” but as to another piece, they might say, “I just can’t tell,” or, worse, they might say, “This is not Godwin,” even though it might be.  I used to toy with the idea of gathering together little pieces from published Godwin work, and asking, “Is this by Godwin,” as an exercise.  It would be largely pointless, though.  I know for a fact (or, at least, I am convinced) that a lot of Godwin’s work would never be recognized by ANYBODY as Godwin’s work.

3.  In the comic-strip field, in many cases there is a real danger of misidentifying artists, especially in cases where various artists worked on the strip without credit.  This was frequently the case with Ledger Syndicate strips.  And sad experience (or reading) has shown me that some people with no “art recognition” ability to speak of have gone ahead and shared their analysis as though they have such ability.

4.  Looking at scans of art on the internet is rarely a good basis for helping determine who drew what, except where it is obvious who drew the art.  It is possible for images on the internet and in books to look very different from the originals.

I hope to say some further things on the topic in the future.  The four points above probably don’t do more than scratch the surface.

—Tom Sawyer

June 29, 2012

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