Monday, October 10, 2005

Maurice Del Bourgo.

I’ve read a lot of comic books over the years –- approximately 1.2 googol’s worth –- so it takes a lot to catch my attention, especially with artwork from the golden age of comics, the 1930s-1940s. Nowadays I don’t read that many comics, mostly because the majority feature super-people running around in tight underwear with the same plots being recycled ad nauseam.

Also, prices have jumped on the “floppies,” as today’s kids call them. A 10 cent comic now has less pages and can set you back for around four bucks or more.

While poking around a secondhand shop that was going out of business, I came across some older comics for half-a-buck each, including one that reprinted a “classic” comic from the 1940s: More Fun No. 101, the Millennium Edition from DC Comics. The lead story, “Formula for Doom,” features a Robin Hood knock-off of Batman, the Green Arrow. GA has a kid partner named Speedy –-- a knock-off of Bats’ buddy, Robin –- and he gets around town in his Batmobile – oops, I mean his Arrowcar.

While the story is typical of the time, I found the art to be –- wild. At first glance Del Bourgo’s work on this story looks unprofessional; but after a second glance, you realize he’s pulling off some clever stuff appropriate for a superhero fantasy story.
Ever catch reruns of the campy Batman TV series from the 1960s? Remember how some of the scenes were shot with a pronounced tilt, the floor slanting at such a degree that you expected the people to slide away? The director was obviously inspired by comic book artists like Del Bourgo.

In one panel GA and Speedy are racing through the city in the Arrowcar, following up on a lead. The perspective is flat and cock-eyed. The elements in the scene –- the Arrowcar, buildings in the background, fire hydrant in the foreground –- look like cut-outs slammed down at random. The skyline runs straight across the top of the panel but the Arrowcar at mid-point is slanted down at a steep angle, the street ignoring the skyline. The hydrant in the foreground is also tilted but perpendicular to the Arrowcar as if ready to fly up and punch its way through GA’s yellow vehicle. A shadowy streak runs along the car, a glint over the front wheel forming an eye. The Arrowcar is outlined with splashes of gray and black.

Other panels also feature “acute perspective.” In one scene Green Arrow fires over the heads of the bad guys, his arrow trailing a cord as it embeds itself in the top of a bookcase in the background. The bad guys laugh, not realizing that GA didn’t miss. With the cord in hand, GA pulls on his “arrowline” and the bookcase topples, hardcover tomes hitting GA’s enemies with purple bursts.

This last action is summed up in one panel, GA’s gloved hand in the foreground, pulling the arrowline. The cord is severely foreshortened, compressed, running at a steep angle to the arrow stuck in the top of the bookcase. Even with the flattened perspective, Del Bourgo manages to fit in a couple of the bad guys between GA’s hand and the falling bookcase, complete with books bashing in their heads. To add to the crazy tilting, the bookcase falls crookedly, parallel with GA’s arm instead of straight forward.

I can’t draw an acceptable stick man, but I am a decent photographer. I look at that panel and wonder, “How the hell would I set up a shot like that? Wide angle lens? Telephoto?” Of course, a comic book artist has greater license than a photographer. At the same time to pull off something like that takes real talent.

And it becomes more impressive when you consider artists like Del Bourgo were working for peanuts, banging out work as quickly as possible.

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