Friday, March 26, 2010

FOUR COLOR No. 239, August 1949

Recently when reading Pappy's Golden Age Comics Blogzine I saw featured an artist whose work I didn’t know – but clearly should have (not an uncommon experience for me at Pappy’s). The artist was Bill Ely. The hunt was on!

Bill Ely is best remembered (I have learned) for his intense work on crime and suspense anthology titles (House of Mystery, House of Secrets, Tales of the Unexpected, etc.) through the 1950s and 60s. His rich, classical style lends itself perfectly to traditional boy’s adventure as well. Case in point:

Next Post: The conclusion of Adventure Bound!


  1. He also did a lot of issues of RIP HUNTER TIME MASTER but I don't recall any of them being as well done as the art seen here today!

  2. Booksteve: I agree. The art in this story is really something. -- Mykal

  3. Very nice work. I always looked at Bill Ely as a mid-level artist. Never knocked my socks off, but certainly was a pro through and through. This certainly is much better than his DC work. I did like a lot of his Rip Hunter stories.

  4. Thanks, Gary! I get the feeling that Mr. Ely was really going for it in this comic. His work here really harkens back to the classic age of illustration - Howard Pyle and the Brandywine School, etc. I really love it. -- Mykal

  5. You really get drawn into this story, in large part due to the very real illustration, which grounds it to this world perfectly. FANTASTIC colors~! Especially in sequences aboard ship. Hey Mykal~! That reminds me~! You forgot to mention that this entire comic uses that wonderful Dell/Gold Key style of BORDERLESS PANELS~! And Man does it work great here~! (I hope Maria waits for our little Hero to grow up ;~j)

  6. ps: I am originally from the Brandywine area of Delaware and Pennsylvania, so your comment about the Howard Pyle School (and Schoonover and Wyeth etc.) really hits home~!

  7. Lysdexicuss: This is just a beautiful comic. You are so right on about the borderless panels! Great catch! I thought of mentioning it, but I thought it was only of interest to me! This is a perfect example of what the borderless panel style is supposed to achieve - a classical look - almost like an illuminated manuscript or a book of fine art prints. This comic really made me wonder if perhaps the Gold Key editors had seen it and said to themselves "ah!" I wonder how often Dell used this technique? -- Mykal

    PS: I am a tremendous fan of the Brandywine School - Go Howard Pyle and his Book of Pirates! -- Mykal

  8. Mykal: Aren't Dell, Gold Key and Whitman ALL different brand names for the same company, Western Publishing?

    I, too, was reminded of the Brandywine school of illustration. I am extremely enamored of N.C. Wyeth, (partly because Treasure Island is my favorite book of all time and Wyeth's illustrations for the 1911 edition are the BEST, bar none), Dean Cornwell and, of course Howard Pyle. I have a copy of Pyle's Book of Pirates, and I marvel at the artistry of his paintings.

    On a separate, not wholly unrelated note, I just picked up a collection of EC's "Piracy!" which has several covers featuring Reid Crandal blatantly plagurising Pyle.

  9. Ghost: Yep. Dell, Gold Key, and Whitman all fall under the Western Publishing umbrella, but the borderless panel technique is thought of as a Gold Key characteristic as the Gold Key editors used it a great deal and spoke of it as a Gold Key innovation.

    Cool! An issue of Piracy! I’ll bet that cost a pretty penny.

    Interesting you mention Reed Crandall possibly lifting Pyle. Angelo Torres talked about that in a in a long interview with Steve Ringgenberg in October of 1986 (which appears in the Russ Cochrane hardback collection of Piracy). Long story short, Torres said that he and Al Williamson always looked at the Pyle and Wyeth stuff for inspiration, but Crandall made a direct copy of a Pyle painting (Piracy #2). Torres called it a "magnificent job; it looked like woodcuts." I get the impression that Torres was in awe of Crandall’s work, perhaps wishing to speak of it as homage as opposed to a plagiarized rip-off (although Ringgenberg refers to the cover as a Pyle “rip-off”).

    John Benson, in the same hardbound volume, writes about this issue in an essay about Piracy. He wonders what Crandall might have been thinking when engaging in such “total swipes in such a highly visible spot as a cover.” Benson also acknowledges that Crandall was such a superb craftsman that “he did not need to swipe from anyone, and hardly ever did.”

    My own feeling is that the answer as to whether Crandall plagiarized Pyle lay in Benson’s question: why steal in so obvious a place as a cover? The answer is that he wasn’t stealing – he was paying homage. It was so obviously copied - so exactly like the original with regard to exact composition and position of characters - that Crandall could not have imagined anyone would think of it as anything but homage. Crandall, by the mid-fifties, hardly needed to steal from anyone to promote his career or secure opinion of his talent. .

    Torres also called the Wyeth/Pyle stuff "the best pirate stuff done."

    I also know from reading a lot about EC that all those guys - Torres, Woodbridge, Frezetta, Williamson - used a ton of photo-reference. They would take pictures of each other firing rifles, sword fighting, swinging from ropes, etc.

    What a fantastic collection of artistic talent.

    Thanks for commenting. -- Mykal

  10. Mykal: it is, in fact the Russ Cochrane hardback to which I am referring. I picked it up at a used book store for $20. I haven't read the interviews yet, I'm halfway through issue #1. But Crandall swiped Pyle for the cover of #2 and also for #3 which is the painting usually used as the cover for "Howard Pyle's Book of Pirates"! I agree that it may have been an homage, but Crandall does not include any "After H.P." or anything with his signature that would confirm that. Crandall's work is, indeed, breathtaking and very much like a woodcut.

  11. Fooey! I thought you had an issue - I misunderstood your first post. I was so jealous for a moment! Anyway - I love this comic and wonder how much Ely was inspired by the very famous Pyle book (I think every artist of that generation that ever drew a ship or pirate for comics probably had a look at it).

    Wait till you see the next installment of Adventure Bound, particularly the back cover painting! - Mykal


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