Monday, June 18, 2012

Digest This: Ken Riley Illos from RDCB

Time once again to take a look at some hidden gems from Reader's Digest Condensed Books. This batch comes from a 1958 volume illustrated by Ken Riley.


Riley began his professional career as a comic book artist, working for the Simon & Kirby shop shortly after WWII.


Through talent and ambition he quickly made the jump to "the slicks." His work began appearing regularly in the Saturday Evening Post and many other mass-circulation magazines in the late 1940s.


By the time Riley drew these illustrations for RDCB in the late '50s, he was one of America's premier illustrators.


Later in his career, Riley would become one of the most respected western painters in the country - his paintings are in the permanent collections of both the White House and the Smithsonian.



If you're unfamiliar with Ken Riley's work, have a look at the scans in my Ken Riley Flickr set.


Aside from his obvious skill as a draftsman, I'm sure you'll be struck by the unique and beautiful use of colour Riley used when painting.


That's also why I find these pieces so interesting; because Riley most often created full colour painted work for the best publications, these illustrations give us a chance to see how effectively he was able to find an alternate strategy for dealing with RDCB's inferior printing and very poor paper quality.


I've written extensively about Ken Riley's career previously on Today's Inspiration...



... for those interested, you'll find more about the artist at the following links:

Ken Riley, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5


  1. It doesnt hurt to come back to these great illustrators every now nad then Leif.
    These examples clearly place KR in the linear draughtsman school of Briggs and Sickles.Didnt know about the comics background.That was quite a primeval swamp climb out of.Kudos for Ken.

  2. I'm still digesting...and to "climb out of some primeval swamp of comics" to attain these heights of draughtsmanship; I found that funny.

  3. Remo; agreed - and you'll see many more of these great illustrators doing their "Condensed' thing this week, so stay tuned! :^)

  4. Rich; I think in this case Remo's description is appropriate. Today we celebrate the great comic art geniuses of that era, but so much of the work being done in comics at that time was really low grade, uninspired and unskilled. As I'm sure you know, the comics industry was so poorly regarded at the time it was considered only a step above the porn industry.

    A couple of years ago when I was researching my posts on the different commercial art fields of the mid-20th century, I spoke with Jim Amash who has interviewed over a hundred comic book professionals from the early days of the business for Alter Ego magazine. Jim told me, "almost all of them (the comic artists of the '40s and '50s) said they had wanted to get out of the business - if they could have."

    Not surprising then, that Ken Riley climbed out of that 'primeval swamp' as quickly as possible. ;^)

  5. Robert Newman11:12 PM

    Hi: Love this Condensed Books post. We just put a couple links to this at the new-ish Reader's Digest art Tumblr page: We've been posting some classics from the back covers days on the page, although our info on the artists is fairly skimpy at times. I had no idea the Condensed Books had art until a few months ago when the current CB AD invited me into their library and let me loose on stacks of old books. There's a lot of great, unseen stuff in there. Thanks for bringing it to life. --Robert Newman