Monday, August 29, 2011

26 – Murphy Anderson’s Runner-Up "PS" Continuity



Reaction to our most recent Blogpost - 25, displaying Murphy Anderson’s best PS Continuity was so enthusiastic that we feel compelled to follow it with Murphy’s runner-up PS Continuity, as selected by the New Millennium PS Staff. He created “Tools Paradise” for PS 261, which appeared in August of 1974 during the first year that Murphy held the PS contract on his own.



After Will Eisner tongue-lashed me into finally starting on my book, Will Eisner and PS Magazine, I undertook to interview all living PS editors and as many of the long-term key artists as I could contact. Among the latter, the one with Murphy really seemed to be a breeze.


That’s because he and I were born in the same year—1926. For Murphy, it was in July. My birthday is in November. That means Murphy turned 85 last month, and I have three months to go. My colleague in this blog effort, Joe Kubert, also was born in 1926—in September.



Then, too, there is a shared Appalachian heritage. I came out of southern West Virginia and Murphy is a product of far western North Carolina, beyond Asheville.


In addition to discussing PS and his long career in comics, we chatted about family names in his Mars Hill area, tobacco allotments, relative aspects of horses versus mules as farm draft animals, and a Secret Service agent from his neighborhood whom I had met in Washington.



The funniest part of the exchange was his narrative of a youthful expedition by bicycle from Greensboro to Mars Hill—a distance of 191 miles with a concurrent altitude-gain of 1,457 feet—described with a courtly delivery sprinkled with chuckles.
—p.e.f.
UPCOMING POSTINGS:
¶ Early Covers Put Eisner, PS in Hot Water
¶ Best of Zeke Zekely in PS
¶ A Covey of Connies: World War II to Today
¶ Best PS Continuity by Backes Group

Thursday, August 18, 2011

25 – Murphy Anderson’s Best "PS" Continuity





Murphy Anderson’s PS Magazine creds included a long stint of yoeman’s efforts in Will Eisner’s shop and two years when the PS contract was in the hands of the post-Eisner group, before he won the contract in his own name in 1973, going on to produce PS 252 (November 1973) through PS 308 (July 1978).

Murphy had already established himself as a multi-talented artist in the stables of DC Comics (National Periodical Publications) in the 1960s and 1970s. Murphy was considered to be not only one of their best pencil artists but an amazingly talented inker, inking not only his own pencils, but embellishing the pencil work of others.



"The team of Curt Swan (pencils) and Murphy Anderson (inks) on Superman in the 1960s and 1970s produced the Superman 'look' that the average Baby-Boomer sees in his mind when he thinks of Superman," PS Production Manager Stuart Henderson has said. Murphy also drew Hawkman, the Flash, Batman, and virtually all of the DC characters.



Other artists in Murphy's shop included: Frank Chiramonte, Augie Scotto, Dan Zolnerowich, Creig Flessel, Craig Daniels, Howard Berman, and Murphy's son (Murphy III), wife Helen, and daughter Sophie.


I held a high degree of respect and admiration for Zolnerowich, who was much-liked, friendly, cooperative and productive. His presence in the shops of Will Eisner, the post-Eisner group, and Murphy Anderson, was a highly valued asset. He was a meticulous, steady worker whose strongpoint was technical illustration—the true heart of the PS mission—from the magazine’s very beginning and for more than 30 years. He was an even-tempered bear of a man whose presence was a pleasure. Dan began his career in the Eisner-Iger Studios in the late 1930s, shared a Fiction House background with Murphy who also started there, and racked up an array of credits with the early DC Comics where he returned after leaving Murphy.



Anderson lost the contract in July of 1978 through a low-bid award to Zeke Zekely’sSponsored Comics. Zekely’s group produced PS 309 through PS 314 before defaulting on the contract. Murphy and his group stepped back into the picture, going on to produce PS 315 (February 1979) through PS 368 (July 1983).



The New Millennium staff at PS picked The Hunt, featuring Santa Claus and his Elves (as an endangered species), as Murphy’s best PS Continuity. It appeared in PS 265 (December 1974).

—p.e.f.


UPCOMING POSTINGS:

Murphy Anderson’s Runner-Up PS Continuity

Early Covers Put Eisner, PS in Hot Water

Best of Zeke Zekely in PS

A Covey of Connies: World War II to Today

Thursday, August 11, 2011

24 – "PS Magazine" Characters and Animation







Questions regarding the use of PS Magazine characters in animation are not unusual, whenever knowledgeable sources interface with PS enthusiasts. The sad truth of the matter is that the questions far outnumber the known instances when the basic PS mission was augmented by animated film.

The first occurred in 1962 when plans were percolating for a force-wide readiness endeavor that ended up being called Operation ARM—for Army Ready Materiel. The kickoff was concurrent with the publication of PS 118 in September of 1962. (See PS 118.IFC-1, above, and PS 118.2-3, below.)

The product was a relatively short black-and-white tone-setter designed as an opening item for motivational sessions. Will Eisner produced it—under duress—kicking and screaming all the way. He said that he didn’t know anything about animation before he got involved with the project, and knew even less when he had finished it. Of course, this was ages before computerized animation, it was a labor-intensive undertaking, and his existing shop had no significant capability or inclination in that arena.




It wasn’t a bad little piece of work, but it certainly didn’t find its way to any film festivals. We picked out some opening Doom’s Day music that quickly led into a mushroom-cloud nuclear detonation and the mood was set. One problem that seemed to hang around until the last moment involved the repetitive-action loops—the tracks on tanks appeared to be running backwards, and the line of people (distant view) entering a building seemed to be coming out when it was supposed to be going in.

Will always claimed that he lost his shirt on the deal, and I’m inclined to believe him. In those days, training films were considered to fall within the responsibilities of the Signal Corps, which was not in love with animation as a communication concept, and was even less enamored of PS. The funding for the Operation ARM animation product came from the Ordnance Corps and the contract negotiation and administration was through the New York Ordnance District with some heavy handholding from the U.S. Army Maintenance Board.

Various PS staffers, over the years, have labored to preserve PS heritage as best they could, but file-retention programs, storage limitations, and four PCS (Permanent Change-of-station) moves over the years have taken their toll. Except for the one that I actually saw in the can at the preview showing, I don’t think I ever saw another copy of it. Up to this point, it’s been the big one that got away.

I have entertained hopes that some day a true PS fan with enough rank and Signal Corps roots will turn over the right rock.

But, enough already about what we can’t show you. Let me tell you what we’re gonna do.



(Frame from PS Magazine TV Promotion Spot)


Back in the late 1960s, five years or so after Operation ARM, there was a period of experimentation with black-and-white television spots prepared for release through Armed Forces television facilities. They were 16-mm, silent, clack-and-white products shipped with an accompanying sound cassette. Sound synchronization concerns were minimal. All of them that I’ve run across in the past two or three decades had managed to lose the cassette somewhere along the way—something that I suspect occurred more often than not, rather early on.

The video offered below is a 60-second, black-and-white television spot plugging PS, from 1968. You may never see another one like it!

—p.e.f.



video


It was a surprise for me to learn that Will did not want to get into animation with the PS characters. The reason for Will's reluctance could not have been lack of confidence or ability.

The essence of being a good cartoonist is to draw "still" pictures that give the impression of life and movement—to take a sequence, or a series of panels, and to select the actions that will allow (or inspire) the reader to fill in the missing pictures. A film or animated sequence contains each and every movement. A cartoon story or strip is much more limited and depends on a single picture for movement and credibility created by the cartoonist.

Will's capability to give life to his characters is unquestioned. So his hesitancy to get into animation must have been a business decision, not an artistic one.

—j.k.


UPCOMING POSTINGS:

Murphy Anderson’s Best PS Continuity

Best of Zeke Zekely in PS

Early Covers Put Eisner, PS in Hot Water

A Covey of Connies: World War II to Today

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

23 – "PS Magazine" Saluted "Gunsmoke"—When Both Were Young




When the world was made aware of the June 3 death of actor James Arness, at the age of 88, I had a flashback to a sun-filled, early autumn evening in 1960, sitting beside Will Eisner aboard one of the early commercial jets, on our way to San Francisco and, ultimately, Korea.




We had looked down at Manhattan when the jet circled westward and talked about Will’s abiding affection for the Big Apple, with its (then) grime and hard shell. When that conversation lagged, I had asked him which PS episodes, if any, he had really enjoyed producing. The first one that he mentioned was Gunsmoke.



At the time of that conversation, PS 93 had just come off the presses. TheGunsmoke issue, PS 81, had been a year before, in August of 1959. The television version of the adventures of U.S. Marshal Matt Dillon premiered in 1955, and the PS tip-of-the-hat appeared during the show’s fourth year of its eventual 20-year run.



Eisner said that he had been a nominal fan of William Conrad’s radio version of the Dodge City drama but ratcheted his enthusiasm up a Stetson-full of notches with the visual aspects and dialogue touches that developed with the ensemble troupe that coalesced around Arness as the central character. “Arness’s ‘Matt Dillon’ speaks in sequential-panel balloons,” Will said.



Another facet of Eisner’s enjoyment in doing the PS 81 Gunsmoke thing derived from the manner in which PS Editor James R. Kidd restrained his staff from crowding the artist during its development. The project developed from a discussion during the late stages of a pencil-dummy review conference in the late spring of 1959 in the PS offices at Raritan Arsenal in Metuchen, New Jersey—about half-way between the program’s 1955 transfer out of Aberdeen Proving Ground, in Maryland, and its next move to Fort Knox, Kentucky, in 1952.



The idea developed from a rather spontaneous exchange, but rapidly deteriorated when a couple of aggressive staffers began to pepper Eisner with specific visual notions and demands. Without restraint, they would have been more than willing to tell him how to allocate a page—plus, write the balloons before the art. Kidd dialed things down, told them to back off, and later channeled them into the task of preparing a script of technical necessities regarding the general field of hydraulics, and preventive maintenance of hydraulic equipment. Far-fetched? Not when a mal-functioning barber-chair played a key role at a critical moment in the PS-notion of a Gunsmoke dramatic episode!



Eisner’s concept for the Front Cover beautifully invoked the classic Gunsmoke opening-shot.

At one point when Joe Kubert and I were at Redstone Arsenal recently for the official U. S. Army celebration of the PS Magazine Sixtieth Anniversary, we found ourselves in the neighborhood of a giant blow-up of that cover. I was engaged in a conversation with several people, but I could hear Joe, behind me, delivering to another small group a precise analysis of what Eisner had done—and why. I hope he will append those remarks to this blogpost.




For me, the Gunsmoke Front Cover and Continuity of PS 81 present a precisely perfect melding of an essential technical message with the communication potential of imaginative sequential art.

—p.e.f.


[The cover for] PS 81 is a perfect example of the cartoonist's use of composition and color to tell his story clearly with impact. A complex illustration that Will simplified by the use of orange and red, except for the foreground gunbelt and gunbutt and the background figure—where contrasting blues and whites were applied. In this way, Will accomplished two things: he created an additional depth to the illustration and caused the reader/viewer to focus on the cover's point. The gun in the holster (handle falling apart because of lack of maintenance) and the spider-web connected to the handle (again showing lack of current maintenance). It is abundantly clear that the man in the background is about to do away with the foreground character for those obvious reasons.

The cover also contains a building, horses tied to a hitching post, a deep background with two men running, a couple of guys peeking out of the saloon door and two more guys hiding under the porch and one more behind the horses. With all this stuff to flesh out an interesting drawing, Will knew that the main point should be noticed first, and that's the way he designed the cover. Good compositions and proper graphic communication is no accident. Like Will always said, "The best cartoonist is the thinking cartoonist

—j.k.



UPCOMING POSTINGS:

¶ A Covey of Connies: World War II to Today

¶ Best of Zeke Zekely in PS

PS Characters in Animation

¶ Early Covers Put Eisner, PS in Hot Water