Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fritz Siebel Recognized in Österreich

Frederick (Fritz) Siebel's work has been featured quite a few times here on Today's Inspiration and now, as we count down to Christmas, I'm very pleased to feature Siebel once more.


Last summer I received an email from a gentleman at the Austrian Biographical Dictionary, which is edited by the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Hubert Bergmann wrote, "I am currently undertaking [to write] on the life and work of graphic artist Fritz Siebel. I plan to publish a short online article on the website of our dictionary on the occasion of Siebel's centenary in December 2013."


I put Mr Bergmann in touch with the Siebel family and just a couple of days ago, right on cue some five months later, Mr.Bergmann sent me another message...


"My biographical sketch on Fritz Siebel has been published recently as "Biography of the Month" on the homepage of our project, the Austrian Biographical Dictionary. I would be very pleased if you could place a link to the article on your blog," he wrote.


"My small article contains a fashion drawing of Mr Siebel from 1933/34, an exercise during his studies at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts. The archive of the successor institution of this school, the University of Applied Arts Vienna, was so kind as to allow me to place it in my online publication."


Mr. Bergmann concludes, "Although my biographical sketch is in German, it could be of interest at least for a few of your readers."


More than a few I imagine, even if only to see the terrific photo of a handsome young Fritz Siebel at his drawing board. To visit the Austrian Biographical Dictionary website, click here.

* My Fritz Siebel image archive on Flickr

Monday, December 09, 2013

In Memory of Sheilah Beckett

The countdown to Christmas begins on a sad note this year: Sheilah Beckett passed away on November 17th. She was 100 years old.


I was honoured to have had the opportunity to speak with Sheilah on a couple of occasions. We talked at length on the phone about her remarkable life and career. Those conversations became the basis for articles that appeared here on the TI blog and in Illustration magazine.


A friend once asked me what I would do after I retire from illustration. I couldn't answer because it never occurred to me that one would ever consider giving up something that came as naturally as eating or breathing.


Sheilah Beckett must have felt the same way. She was still illustrating books and taking on private commissions long after most anyone else would have set down their pencil or paintbrush for the last time.

At the time of her passing, Sheilah was working on a new "Little Golden Book" for Random House - illustrating The Nutcracker - and working digitally, with a Wacom tablet in Photoshop! Can you imagine? How amazing! How inspiring!

Sheilah's son Sean told me his mom "had been very tired those last few days. She saw her doctor and there was nothing wrong with her other then being 100 years old. She had had lunch with my brother and said "this is ridiculous I can't lie around like this! I need to get back to work!" So Ian went to turn the computer on for her. He went to get her and found she was gone. So she was working right up to the end."


I think, in a way, I had come to take Sheilah Beckett for granted... that she would somehow miraculously always be there, working away at some marvelous new creation. For me, she was the living embodiment of tireless energy and enthusiastic inventiveness. She seemed to carry within her an eternal flame of the love of illustration.


Just today a note arrived in the mail from Sheilah's sons, Sean and Ian. In it they wrote, "She was not a believer in funerals or memorials... she would not want flowers or a ceremony, but for you to just keep a fond memory of her in your heart, and she would be happy."


The vessel that carried the flame may have expired, but that fire will burn bright so long as Sheilah Beckett's art continues to delight and inspire us; her many friends, fans and admirers.


Rest in peace, Sheilah Beckett.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Matt Baker: Making the Most of It

By Guest Author, Joe Procopio

Matt Baker knew life was short, his in particular. Some of his closer friends surmised that this keen awareness of his own mortality is why he often burned the candle at both ends, cramming as much living into whatever time was allotted him. A childhood bout of rheumatic fever compromised his heart, which kept him out of the Army for World War II, but didn’t stop him from smoking, traveling to Mexico, cavorting with a variety of lady friends, or cruising around in a canary yellow Cadillac.


Born on December 10, 1921, in North Carolina but raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Baker quickly set his sights for where the action was. Shortly after graduating high school, he moved to Washington, D.C., described by a sibling as a “party town” in those days, but quickly adjusted course for Manhattan, where he knew he could pursue his dreams of earning a living from his art. Once in New York City in the early 1940s, Baker didn’t waste any time making the rounds, quickly landing a spot in the Jerry Iger shop while simultaneously attending night classes at the Cooper Union School of Art and Design. It wasn’t long before he became one of the stars of Iger’s bullpen of artists, working on comics for a variety of the day’s publishers (Fiction House, Fox, etc.) and taking over responsibilities for a multitude of ongoing comics characters. And those characters, perfectly matched to Baker’s skills, were invariably beautiful, spunky heroines with names like Sky Girl, Mysta of the Moon, Buckskin Belle, and Camilla the Jungle Queen. During these years he collaborated with many talented artists, from Al Feldstein to Alex Blum.

Looking at Baker’s art, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a couple of his avowed artistic heroes were Alex Raymond and Andrew Loomis.


Baker was a night owl, and more than one friend or colleague reminisced about staying up all night with Baker when he was on deadline (which was most all of the time), sitting in his one-bedroom Manhattan apartment as he smoked Camels at the drawing board, listening to jazz on the radio (Billie Holiday was a particular favorite).

The photographic evidence suggests that all of these late nights didn’t seem to take a toll on Baker’s matinee idol looks, a handsomeness only reinforced by his suave sartorial style (another recurring detail in nearly all his friend’s recollections).


While working in the Iger shop, he was often described as being reserved and taciturn, usually disappearing at lunch times. Being the only black artist in a white studio (and predominantly white industry) probably explains some of this behavior. But those who got to know Baker well, like his good friend and most frequent collaborator Ray Osrin, talk of a wholly different man, one who was charming, the life of the party. Baker’s brothers frequently commented on how funny he was.

Once Baker left the Iger studio and started working for Archer St. John, he produced the work that merits the accolades he continues to receive to this day. From 1948 to early 1954, Baker drew more than 1,000 pages of comics and over 200 covers at a sustained level of quality that’s daunting to contemplate. It was while at St. John that his style became assured and naturalistic, a mature kind of sexy that was never smutty, but rather buoyant, even fun. It was also while at St. John that in 1950 he produced It Rhymes With Lust, a 128-page graphic novel that many scholars argue is the first in the medium’s history.


When Archer St. John’s personal life wrecked his publishing house, Baker was left looking for work in an industry that had already been deeply battered by the Kefauver congressional hearings. Freelance opportunities had dried up, and Baker ignominiously found himself assisting the far lesser but better connected artist, Vince Colletta. Baker died shortly thereafter at age 37 from a heart attack in his sleep on Aug. 11, 1959, missing the comics industry’s renaissance that was just around the corner.

It was during Baker’s prolific St. John years that this master of "good girl" art latched onto one of that publisher’s only recurring characters, Kate of Canteen Kate.


Baker drew every installment of the candid wartime cutie, from her premiere in Fightin’ Marines (1951) to her final bow in Anchors Andrews (1953). Unlike the jingoistic comics typically published during the Korean War, Canteen Kate tales were designed to be morale-boosting screwball fun that centered around her silly hijinks on a military base.


Every Canteen Kate story ever published—22 in all—is collected for the first time in The Lost Art of Matt Baker, the latest volume in the Lost Art Books series.


The first in a three volume set devoted to Baker’s St. John work, these comics have been judiciously restored as well as enlarged 20 percent over their original published size.


A rich introduction by veteran comics writer Steven Ringgenberg provides insightful historical and biographical context, and a bonus gallery spotlights Baker’s skills as a cover artist.


Baker might have known his life would be short. One hopes he had an inkling that his art would outlive him for decades.

~ Joseph Procopio

For more information or to purchase, visit LostArtBooks.com

Lost Art of Matt Baker : The Complete Canteen Kate [BOOK] from Joseph Procopio on Vimeo.