Frank Godwin’s different styles, as shown in the daily “Rusty Riley” comic strips . . .


I don’t think anyone who has thought about it, and who has seen a lot of Rusty Riley strips, would fail to conclude that Frank Godwin drew the strip in different styles, at different times.  That sentence is a bit convoluted, so I will say:  Frank Godwin drew in different styles.  This is true as to the daily strips and the Sunday strips, but in this post I am discussing only the daily strips.

This post represents some of my opinions.  Yours may differ.  But in any event the comments below may give you some things to think about.

One of Godwin’s most attractive styles, unquestionably, is found in the strips in the first few weeks or months of the Rusty Riley daily strip, starting with January 26, 1948.  The time and care he put into those early strips is obvious, and that is probably to be expected, because (1) he could take all the time he needed, and (2) it was important that he make a good, lasting impression.  Nonetheless, even as to the very early strips, some were better than others.

From the beginning, Godwin maintained a similar style fairly consistently until perhaps April 1948.  I have looked closely at a lot of the early strips, and it seems to me that there was a gradual evolution to a simpler strip, one that could be drawn more quickly than the first ones.  There is no definite cut-off point at which this happened.  My impression, and I may change my mind on this, is that starting in or around April 1948, two things started happening.  One thing was that occasional panels were somewhat simplified, and employed somewhat less line-work.  The other thing was that certain entire strips were somewhat more simplified.  But then, mixed-in here and there would be a strip that all the earmarks of the very early strips!

And I think that one of the things Godwin did more often after the first strips was create compositions that allowed him to produce excellent work, but which did not really “show off” his capabilities the way the earlier compositions did.  Perhaps the later compositions were not as complex and varied, and perhaps there were more of the “two people in conversation” panels.

The May 1, 1949, strip, which is still relatively early, clearly shows a style different from that of the early strips:

IMG_4721 Eva Rusty Patty

Eva, Rusty, and Patty, in the original “Rusty Riley” art for May 1, 1949. Notice the quickly rendered shadows and lack of detail in the images of Rusty and Patty.

Notice that the faces of Rusty and Patty — and their hair — are rather simply rendered.  The same applies to their clothes.  And check out Rusty’s shadow on the stairs, and other quickly drawn shadows.  This is not at all like the first strips.

However, the simplification of compositions, which I referred to above, was not maintained throughout the strip, and indeed the composition of the panel shown (in part) was not particularly straightforward.

And probably often throughout the strip, compositions were quite simple, but the pen work was outstanding.  The much vaunted “castle and raft” sequence of late 1956 and early 1957 contains a number of extremely simple compositions, along with a story which, as far as I have been able to discern, is not particularly strong, yet Godwin’s pen (and probably brush) work make the strips a favorite with many collectors.

But I am getting a little off the topic.  My main points here are:

1.  The Rusty Riley daily strips demonstrated a number of different styles throughout its twelve-year run.

2.  Some of the styles were “better” than others.  They were more appealing and showed more virtuosity.

3.  By “style,” I am referring principally to the actual pen work and brush work.

4.  However, composition also comes into play.  Many of the strips mainly feature people standing (or sitting) around talking with each other, and often such strips are not masterpieces of composition.

5.  I have the impression that Godwin’s style — composition, pen work, brush work — largely stabilized during the final few years of the strip, and that there is a more uniformly high quality of comic strip during that period.

However, there is a great deal of the Rusty Riley daily strip I have not seen, though I have a large number of dailies as extracted from newspapers.

–Tom Sawyer

October 26, 2013

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One Response to Frank Godwin’s different styles, as shown in the daily “Rusty Riley” comic strips . . .

  1. Maurice Horn says:

    Thanks for all the salutes. Happy New Year, and a toast to Frank Godwin, Maurice Horn

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