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Celebrating Illustration, Design, Cartoon and Comic Art of the Mid-20th Century

"The Art of WoW!" featuring Winnie Fitch

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

While things have been very quiet here on the TI blog these last few weeks, it's been crazy over on the TI Facebook page! We're closing in on 1,7500 members, and our many contributors have been posting an average of one hundred vintage art, design, cartoon and comic book scans a day. That's 3,000 new images a month! The discussions around these posts continue 24-7, so there's always something interesting going on, no matter what timezone you're in.

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If you haven't checked it out yet, I encourage you to do so. Here's the link.

Last week a discussion about our female membership began on the Facebook group. Why aren't they more engaged in posting, commenting and 'Liking' the stuff other members post... and why are there so relatively few female members? I asked, "Is this group becoming too sexist... is it becoming a 'boy's club'?" Lots of members chimed in with their opinions (you can read the entire thread here). Ultimately, one person made what I think is a worthy suggestion to get more women to participate: one day a week, why not focus on women creatives of the mid-20th century. I've decided to pursue this idea with a new weekly feature - both here on the TI blog and in the TI Facebook group - which I'm calling "The Art of WoW!" or "The Art of Women... on Wednesday!"

By "the art of women" of course I mean "the art of women illustrators, graphic designers, cartoonists and comic book artists of the mid-20th century." I know, I know, it's a little goofy, but let's face it; as acronyms go "The Art of WIGDCaCBAotM20C!" doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

So here we go... for my first "Art of WoW!" subject, I'm featuring an female illustrator name Winnie Fitch.

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The first time I saw something by Winnie Fitch it was this wonderful little spot, signed "W. Fitch," tucked into the corner of an otherwise lacklustre 1957 print ad for Dial Soap.

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A little detective work online turned up another Dial ad - this time signed with the full first name "Winnie."

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I was so pleased to have discovered a terrific female illustrator of the mid-20th century previously unknown to me. Here are couple more of Fitch's Dial illustrations I found on Meghan McCarthy's blog about children's books. (Megan has numerous other fun images by Fitch at that link)

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More detective work resulted in a happy discovery: Winnie Fitch was still with us - and she had a website! I immediately emailed her, but unfortunately I never received a reply.

Recently, while flipping through one of my 1964 volumes of "Childcraft, The How and Why Library," I discovered a story illustrated by Winnie Fitch.

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Fitch's character designs are tremendously appealing. Like many of the Childcraft illustrators, I suspect she was working in Chicago at the time (there seems to be a predominance of Chicago art contributors in that book series).

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Earlier today I found this short autobiographical passage by Winnie Fitch on her website which reassured me I was probably right:

"Cooper Union School of Art gave me a wonderful design background that has served me professionally lo, these fifty-some years!" writes Winnie Fitch on her imagekind.com profile. "At first," continues the artist, "it was illustrating for national advertising and publishing, including children’s picture books, in Chicago, New York and Boston."

Below are a couple of children's book illustrations by Winnie Fitch - first from 1958...

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... and from 1966.

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Visit her site and you'll find a list of the many other books Fitch has illustrated over the course of her career. Fitch writes "Currently my design and illustration is applied to the children’s songs and musicals we [she and husband John Houston] write and record together."

Yesterday I emailed Winnie Fitch again... if I hear back from her, I'll be sure to post about her again!

Raymond F. Houlihan (1923 - 1991) Part2

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

In the 1950s, Ray Houlihan was already well established as a book illustrator. Here's one example, published by Doubleday in 1956...

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As mentioned yesterday, aside from Coronet magazine...

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... where his work was often printed far too small to be truly appreciated...

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... Houlihan doesn't seem to have managed to penetrate the mainstream consumer magazine market during the 1950s.

But in the 1960s his work did appear in Reader's Digest - both the magazine...

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... and in Reader's Digest Condensed Books.

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Once again, Houlihan's work had to endure small reproduction...

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... and poor paper and printing quality.

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In spite of those shortcomings, the artist clearly put tremendous effort into his work. That quality shines through.

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Noticeably at this point, Houlihan seems to have begun working in full colour (he occasionally painted in colour during the '50s, but not often).

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Even when he was 'painting' in colour however, as Walt Reed wrote about Houlihan in his book, "The Illustrator in America", "... his pictures are all distinctly linear in nature..."

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"... even when in halftone."

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The last appearance of Ray Houlihan's work I was able to find was in The Rotarian magazine. First in the April 1966 issue...

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... where once again we can compare his painted and linear art...

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... and again in October 1971.

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That later issue included a brief passage about the artist...

"Ray Houlihan of Union Square in New York City did [the illustration on] page 40," wrote the editor of The Rotarian. "Specializing in historical subjects, he currently has work in Reader's Digest, American Heritage, and many other magazines and books. He once lived and worked (in the army) on the Old San Antonio Road. Ray studied at the famed Art Students League in New York City, does photography as a hobby, lists under "Family: one beautiful wife."

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This was Ray Houlihan's work at age 48. What came during the following 20 year of the artist's life? Lambiek.net, the comic creator biographical website says "Houlihan then focused on painting, and has exhibited widely in both museums and historical institutions in the U.S., London and the Middle East."

Unfortunately I was unable to find any examples of that later-period work. Ray Houlihan was a member of the Society of Illustrators. He died in 1991.

Raymond F. Houlihan (1923 - 1991) Part 1

Monday, May 27, 2013

Raymond F. Houlihan was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1923. He attended the Art Students League in New York City, but it's unclear if that was before or after he began working professionally.

Like many other aspiring young artists of his era, Houlihan's first published work may have been pages of comic book art like this example below. Houlihan was 18 or 19 years old when he pencilled this page for a strip called "Axis Grinder."

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Working for Funnies Inc., a "packager" that supplied completed strips to a variety of publishers in the 1940s, the teenage Houlihan drew short filler strips for some landmark publications at National (today, DC Comics) and Timely (today, Marvel Comics) as well as several other publishers like Lev Gleason, Ziff-Davis, Ace Periodicals and Hillman.

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These examples above and below, courtesy of Doc V, appeared in Human Torch comics in 1941 and '42.

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Thanks to Thomas Clement of the American Art Archives, we know that Ray Houlihan served on the front lines during the latter part of WWII. Thomas unearthed this article from the December 1963 issue of Saga magazine which reprints pages from Houlihan's wartime sketchbooks, along with his first-hand accounts of all that occurred around him. Fascinating reading...

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One of Houlihan's hand-written notes (above) reads, "Heavy two-way traffic on this scarred LIFELINE to the front... only 1000 yards ahead. Infantry clears the town... we pass through the "dragon's teeth" with our Tank-'dozer. We can hear the din of battle... smell the burning buildings."

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These pages, drawn by Houlihan when he was just into his early 20s, show admirable ability. But when one considers the circumstances under which they were sketched, they become even more impressive. When juxtaposed with the light-hearted comic strips at the top of this post, drawn only a couple of years earlier, they demonstrate what must have been a shocking loss of innocence for the artist - coupled with an intense personal artistic maturation.

Houlihan's note on the page below reads "... the shuffling sound of hundreds of feet in muddy snow... as one old-timer said, "Fresh meat!" - a cruel joke of war..."

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Despite the authenticity and honesty of the drawing style in Ray Houlihan's wartime sketchbooks, upon his return to America he chose instead to try his hand at gag cartooning. Perhaps he felt he would have more luck in that niche than in trying to sell editors on his more personal gritty, sketchy version of realism. Whatever the case, during the second half of the 1940s Houlihan sold gag panels to American magazine, Pic, Holiday and Argosy. Unfortunately I was unable to locate any examples from this period in Houlihan's career.

With the arrival of the '50s, Houlihan left cartooning behind and to explore a more a realistic-looking (though distinctly personal) style, finding steady assignments with the publishers of men's adventure magazines, as shown in my last post.

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In his introduction to the 1963 article on Houlihan's frontline sketches, the editor of Saga wrote, "For over a decade, Ray Houlihan has been doing illustrations for Saga - some of the finest we've published. His specialty is war - of any century - and his accuracy of historical detail has made him a favorite illustrator among book publishers."

Among Houlihan's other steady clients was the Reader's Digest competitor, Coronet magazine.

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Coronet made good use of Houlihan's passion for historical subject...

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... and his skill at delineating scenes of adventure and battle.

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Houlihan ably handled one of the unique challenges of working for a digest-sized publication: the often tiny reproduction size of one's artwork.

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In spite of their small size, limited colour and generally poor paper quality, Houlihan's illustrations, when examined up close, are remarkably detailed and quite beautiful.

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Here are a few more examples of Ray Houlihan's 1950s artwork for Coronet...

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I've never seen any of Ray Houlihan's artwork in any of the more mainstream magazines in my collection. As far as I know he was never published in the Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, or the popular women's magazines like Good Housekeeping, Redbook, etc. However he seems to have had another steady client in one of the emerging men's magazines of the late 1950s. Nugget magazine, a slim Playboy wannabe, often commissioned one or two full page or double page spread illustrations from Houlihan. Here are two from the January 1957 issue of Nugget...

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... and two more from the June '57 issue.

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Though he may not have had his work in the Saturday Evening Post (and I don't know for sure that he didn't), 1958 saw the publication of a book from the Post about the civil war - illustrated by Ray Houlihan.

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* Continued tomorrow.

* Thanks to Thomas Clement the American Art Archives and Doc V for generously providing scans for today's post! Much of the biographical information in today's post was found at Lambiek.net
 

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