Frank Godwin’s greatest drawing of Patty Miles, ever!

In an earlier post, I discussed an item of original Rusty Riley art in my collection, and I claimed, only half-kiddingly, that the drawing in the second panel might be the greatest picture of Patty and Rusty by Frank Godwin.  In the present post, I turn my attention to pictures of Patty Miles, and my claim now is that the picture below represents the best picture of Patty (by herself) that Godwin ever drew.  (Of course, I have not seen them all.)

The image is from the April 2, 1955, episode.  It shows Patty’s reaction to the theft of her bag or purse while she is shopping in the Junior Miss section of a department store.  It was relatively seldom that any of the characters in the Rusty Riley strip were shown shedding tears, as in this episode.

I’ll mention a few examples.  (It seems unlikely that these are the only instances.)  Rusty is shown weeping in his farewell to Miss Walker at the orphans’ home.  Patty is shown with tears when Rusty departs for Kentucky, as discussed in an earlier post.  She also sheds tears in what I believe was her very last appearance in the Rusty Riley comic strip — the Sunday strip for October 11, 1959.  And in more than one strip in the “stolen bag” sequence, she is shown crying.

Anyway, in all of the art I have that shows Patty, I think this may be my favorite portrayal of her.  I cannot remember ever having seen a more detailed portrait of her, or one that was more carefully rendered.  The strip is interesting also because this panel (and the first panel, not shown here) have essentially no background at all.  Yes, this panel has a few lines.  But on the whole, we are just looking at a disembodied head — perhaps Godwin wanted us to focus on the emotions shown by Patty’s face.  (If Godwin had included, say, her coat, then the drawing would become more of an exhibition of brilliance in drawing, and less a study of Patty’s grief.)

patty tears

As far as the actual drawing goes, Godwin demonstrates an extraordinarily high level of skill.  Patty’s hair (especially on her forehead) looks almost real.  Godwin’s use of hatching and cross-hatching on Patty’s face were applied beautifully to reveal the subtle contours of her face.

This panel is also significant, in that it is the only place that I know of in which any reference is made to Patty’s mother.  One aspect of the Rusty Riley strip that I have never seen mentioned by anyone is that fact that Patty, like Rusty, was missing her mother.  So that gave Patty and Rusty something in common beyond their interest in horses.

If you consider Junior Norton, who was more or less Rusty’s nemesis in early episodes — well, Junior’s mother was at the other end of the spectrum.  Toward the beginning of the Rusty Riley strip as a whole, Rusty says something along the lines of, “I never really knew my parents.”  (Those probably are not be his exact words.)  Then we have Patty, who knew her mother — and that may have made Patty’s loss even more cruel.  Then we have Junior’s mom, who was a conniving gold digger.  So we see that mothers, and the lack thereof, played an important role in the Rusty Riley saga.  (These are not the only mothers dealt with.)

I view this episode (and, more generally, the “stolen purse” story) as more or less pivotal in the strip’s exploration of the whole mother-child dynamic.  It is crucial in showing Patty’s loss, and its nature.  It also shows that Quentin Miles — although he is a loving father — does not completely understand his daughter, and that he cannot really play the role of both mother and father.  In the second panel (not shown), Mr. Miles’s proposed solution, in his words, is:  “I’ll buy you a new bag, and you can continue shopping as if nothing had happened.”

It the panel shown above Godwin seems to have shown Patty staring disconsolately  outward at some undetermined point in her uncaring surroundings  — and not at her father.   This particular episode seems to have built into it a lot of subtleties — to a much greater extent than the vast majority of Rusty Riley strips I have thought about.

—Tom Sawyer

February 10, 2013

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