Another look at a portrait of Patty Miles in the April 2, 1955, Frank Godwin “Rusty Riley” strip . . .

It seems self-evident that, as to pen-and-ink drawings (including brush work), Frank Godwin was a virtuoso.  By the time the early 1920s rolled around, and Godwin was in his 30s, it was plain that he could accomplish things in ink that few others could.  His meticulous drawings for the 1921 The Blue Fairy Book provide enough proof of that.  Many of his drawings for Vignettes of Life show the same level of competency.

When Rusty Riley came on the scene in 1948, Godwin had decades of experience in pen and ink, and it is reasonable to assume that he met and solved, in his own way, many of the problems he confronted.  Of course, he must have been taught a lot directly by others, and it is well known that James Montgomery Flagg was a major influence upon him.

If we look at a close-up of a portion of the April 2, 1955, strip (discussed in an earlier post), we can see exactly how brilliant Godwin was in portraying features of the face.  It is interesting that very often Godwin draws lines in places that one would ordinarily not think of putting them.  When he does so, the drawings come to life.  I think that the failure to do this — as seen in many examples of today’s quasi-realistic comic art (such as much of the super-hero art) — is part of the reason why much comic art seems so primitive, anatomically incorrect, and, ultimately, phony.


In the case of this particular drawing, we can see Godwin’s perfectionism, for he probably made the drawing more detailed than he needed to for reproduction as a newspaper strip in what was actually a tiny format.  I think it is likely that the care Godwin lavished on many of his dailies — as in the present example — was in many cases primarily for the purpose of living up to his high standards and drawing to please himself.  In this sense, the portrait of Patty is similar to a fairly large number of portraits of characters in the Rusty Riley strip for which Godwin pulled out all the stops.

Here is an even more detailed view:


Of note are the fact that the lines under both of Patty’s eyes stop abruptly as they reach the nose — the places where lines “aren’t” can be as important as where they are.  Patty’s mouth and the lower portion of her nose (and related shadows) show a number of levels of density achieved by a skillful application of ink in a number of different clever ways, from hatching to cross-hatching, to tiny marks, and with different densities of ink and various angles of lines.

Patty’s eyes are also beautifully rendered, such that the areas of the irises and pupils both incorporate the suggestions of reflections of her surroundings.

As I tried to show in another post, even the tiny daily strips as found in newspapers were capable of preserving quite a bit of detail — probably more than most people would imagine.  And since I haven’t seen the present strip in printed form, I don’t know for certain how much detail was preserved.

Oh, and you can see that the “abstract art” in an earlier post is an upside-down version of the nose and mouth area of art discussed in this post.

—Tom Sawyer

February 28, 2013

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