Monday, March 12, 2007

My Favourite Cartoonists Part 1: Roy Crane

Whenever people ask me about my influences as a cartoonist, Roy Crane is always near the top of the list. I first encounted his work almost a decade ago, and its been a source of great inspiration ever since. I know there's been a resurgence of interest in the work of early comic strip artists lately, and great cartoonists like Noel Sickles, Frank Robbins and Alex Raymond are being re-discovered by a whole new generation, but sometimes it seems to me that Roy Crane is still being neglected and not being afforded the respect he's due.

As a pioneer of the adventure strip form during the 1930's, Crane was very popular and influential with the first generation of comic book creators and well known in his day. Even the late great Alex Toth often mentioned how much he respected Crane's elegant and refined cartooning. However, many people today seem unaware of his art and writing and just how beautiful and humane it was.

Personally, I learned a lot from studying Roy Crane's comic strips. His strip Wash Tubbs/Captain Easy is a wonderful blend of humour and light hearted, all-ages adventure -- the kind that doesn't seem to exist any more. But his follow-up strip, Buz Sawyer, is even better, in my opinion. Like Peanuts or Calvin and Hobbes, when I read Buz Sawyer, I get a real sense of the warmth and humanity of the artist's personality. And Crane was an absolute master of adventure continuity writing. If you read a handful of strips, you'll be hooked on the story line and characters for good.

As for his artwork, its a joy to behold. The Wash Tubbs/Captain Easy artwork is a big-foot cartooning treat, but man, that Buz Sawyer stuff is absolute heaven! If you want to know where I get my two-tone sensibility from, the secret is that a good part of it comes from Crane and Buz Sawyer. He drew that strip on duo-tone board, so it was illustrated in black, white and a couple of grey tones -- all of which he handled masterfully. There's some panels I saw early in my career that just completely floored me, and they convinced me to stop working in just black and white and start adding a half-tone or second colour. The illusion of light and atmosphere he created with his duo-tone artwork was incomparable and when it was coupled with his cartooning, which stressed clarity and stripped compositions down to their essential elements, the result was magic.

I can see the influence of Roy Crane in many other cartoonists that I admire like John Severin, Joe Shuster, C.C. Beck and Jaime Hernandez, and I hope that more and more people will discover his art, and the wonderful body of work he left behind.