When the planets aligned, the printed “Rusty Riley” Sundays looked great . . .

I think that in the early Sunday Rusty Riley strips, Frank Godwin was a little more creative with lighting and color than he was in the later strips.  If I am right on this, the reasons he may have simplified things may have been twofold.  First, the complex scenes probably took more time, and second, the results in the printed versions were not always satisfactory.

Among the main problems were:  the fact that there was often poor registration (that is, the colors were often out of registration), the fact that different papers often varied somewhat in the colors they printed, the fact that sometimes the line-work tended to “thicken” and perhaps even block-up somewhat, and the fact that sometimes “show-through” from the reverse side could detract from the art.  Also, there may have been a problem with inconsistency through a strip, where some portions contained delicately nuanced color, and others might just have solid blocks of unvaried color.

Whatever the reasons, some of the effects of the earlier Sundays do not appear to have been used in the later Sundays.  In this post, I’ll show a few panels where “everything came together” — the art, the theoretical (planned) color, and the actual printing.

Here are a few examples I noticed.  I have a feeling that praise also goes to the people in the syndicate who did the coloring.  I have never seen any evidence that Godwin provided the syndicate with color guides, and I have seen at least two, and maybe three or four items (either in my own collection or on the internet) of Sunday original Rusty Riley art that had notes on how the color should be handled.  Granted, these photos are not the greatest, but I am trying to point out some details apart from displaying the images.

I’m showing these images in chronological order.  The first is an image of Tex, from the August 8, 1948 strip, less than two months into the Sunday strip.  Not only are there different shades of flesh-color, but the reflection on the right of the image goes to pure white!  Even apart from the line work, there are shadows effectively placed on Tex’s chin, above his mouth, and elsewhere.  And his shirt is two shades of blue.

This portrait of Tex, from a 1948 Sunday "Rusty Riley," shows amazing subtleties in coloration.

This portrait of Tex, from a 1948 Sunday “Rusty Riley,” shows amazing subtleties in coloration.

The following week, August 15, 1948, there were a couple of comparable panels.  The one shown here shows a similar contrast between areas of light and shadow, as well as very subtle changes in flesh-color.

These two schemers, in Frank Godwin's August 15, 1948, Sunday "Rusty Riley" strip, show beautifully rendered colors.

These two schemers, in Frank Godwin’s August 15, 1948, Sunday “Rusty Riley” strip, show beautifully rendered colors.

The following is from the May 22, 1949, Sunday Rusty Riley.  The subtle gradations in skin-color are notable.

More schemers!  This image of beautifully depicted men is from the May 22, 1949, episode of Frank Godwin's "Rusty Riley."

More schemers! This image of beautifully depicted men is from the May 22, 1949, episode of Frank Godwin’s “Rusty Riley.”

Next is depicted a panel from the April 6, 1952, Sunday Rusty Riley.  The lighting is dramatic.  Moreover, not only are there many colors, but they occasionally blend gradually from one color to another.  Most people probably do not realize that this type of subtlety was sometimes seen in comic strips of more than sixty years ago.

A beautiful grotto-scene from the April 6, 1952, Sunday episode of Frank Godwin's "Rusty Riley."

A beautiful grotto-scene from the April 6, 1952, Sunday episode of Frank Godwin’s “Rusty Riley.”

I have not done a scientific study, but I have seen a great many Rusty Riley Sundays, and I think that such scenes as the foregoing are rarely seen in the final years of the Sunday Rusty Riley strip.

All of the above examples come from one-third-page versions of the strip.  The images probably vary somewhat from those in the half-page versions.

—Tom Sawyer

October 29, 2013

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