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

Ben Denison, In His Own Words: Part 1

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A few years ago I wrote about Chicago illustrator Lucia Larner.

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Not long afterward, I received an email from a gentleman named Ben Denison:

"I also worked at [Chicago art studio] Stephens, Biondi, DiCicco with Lovely Lucia," wrote Ben. "She inspired me and I admit to imitating her on many of my illustrations for Playboy and other assignments! My cartoon for Playboy's first issue was just auctioned for WAY more than I could ever have dreamed, and you can find it by googling Ben Denison."

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Naturally I immediately began corresponding with Ben. Each time I wrote, he'd generously provide thorough (and thoroughly entertaining) information about his life, his work and his career, giving me a rare, detailed, first-hand account of the intriguing Chicago commercial art industry of the 1950s.

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Sadly, our email exchange ended as abruptly as it had begun. One day in 2008 a note from Ben's daughter Mary arrived in my mailbox: "So sorry to have to inform you that Ben passed away on March 18th. I know that one of the things he felt he had left undone was his work with you. Please let me know if there is anything else we can do to help. It is such a comfort to us all that someone is so interested in Dad's work."

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Over the next several months Mary Denison and her sisters made a valiant effort to assist me in completing the documentation Ben and I had begun... but due to any number of circumstances, the project fizzled out. Recently however, several of Ben's originals have popped up on the Internet - at Heritage Auctions and elsewhere - and more specifically in the Today's Inspiration Facebook group - which prompted me to revisit my correspondences with Ben Denison.

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Through a little further investigation, I discovered even more of Ben's work online - enough to comfortably support the text he had provided to me during our email exchanges.

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After languishing in my files for these last several years, here at last is Ben Denison, in his own words...

The Early Years

Born: Falls City, Nebraska, December 1926. Didn't draw anything but those square tailed airplanes and machine gun tracers coming out of machine guns that most kids drew. I did collect clippings though. Starting with those Erte' type dance costumes that were in my mother's "Dance" & Ballet Magazine" collection and progressing through Brick Bradford comics and the Big Little Books available of the time to Flying Aces.

Didn't take any interest in drawing or art as such because I wanted to be a jazz cornet player like Bix Beiderbecke and his Rhythm Jugglers. (Google that!) Still do!

The lady at the Reisland's Drug Store in Falls City told my wife years later that they used to "worry" about me because I was always looking at the lady's magazines at the magazine counter. Good HouseKeeping, Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, etc. Seeing fashion drawings by R.R. Bouche', Erickson, Verte's et al.

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My mother, Maybelle was a musical prodigy, piano and voice who, when she had the opportunity to sing the leading role in a performance, was struck with stage fright and never performed in public again. She taught piano, voice and dance. Hence the dance and ballet magazines. Mother tried to teach me piano but gave up and my two sisters played piano and violin and danced. I was only interested in jazz and played my cornet way more than they enjoyed. Guess that made me a "Black Sheep"!

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When I was in high school in Omaha NE, I took a drawing class and was told to draw something. I got out something from my clipping file, probably a gun or a tank or a car, but an object at any rate, drew it, and was summarily told that copying was not allowed in her class.

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My logic was not appreciated and that class was dropped.

Went to Falls City High till my senior year 1943-44 at Benson High, Omaha. After graduation I worked as a sub-postman ('til I was fired - don't ask) and got a job selling shirts and ties at Nebraska Clothing Company in Omaha. During some down time I made a little sketch on the back of my sales book of my boss, Bill Fiellor. A fellow sales person with whom I had been talking about what we wanted to do with our lives said, "Hey Ben, that really looks like him, why don't you be an artist!" So I took the drawing up to the lady who did the fashion drawings in the advertising department and showed it to her and said, "I'd like to learn how to be an illustrator!"

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She looked me over, dapper salesperson as I was, called Fiellor to find out if I showed up on time and - Bang - I had a job carrying and filing stuff and learning about the advertising business. I've have been at that for about 62 years.

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My parents reaction to my decision to be an artist, (I preferred "Illustrator"), was raised eyebrows, a shrug and a "Here we go again!"

But I did stick with it, found out how to file all those clippings I had collected in boxes under my bed. I learned paste up (rubber cement, powder to keep the ink from smudging,) I picked up and delivered ads to the Omaha World Herald and the advertising agency, Bozell and Jacobs.

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After some months as a gopher at NCC, I became a gopher at Bozell and Jacobs where I would end up working before and after art school at the American Academy of Art in Chicago and again after service in Korea. There I learned enough about illustration, how it was done and reproduced was given much guidance by Floyd Wilson, art director and Hans Neilsen, a great illustrator and water colorist, then went back to NCC and was shortly "on the board" doing shoes, undergarments, and occasionally even a suit or dress. I learned to add Lord and Taylor to my clipping file.

About childhood art, as you can tell there just wasn't any! Enough for now, I'll mix a drink and ruminate on this!

* Tomorrow: Ben's Chicago Art Studio Days

Frank Bellamy: "... if I got the chance, I’d drop everything and start drawing “Heros” tomorrow."

Friday, October 25, 2013

The lavish new hardcover collection 'Frank Bellamy's Heros of Spartan' features not only mouth-watering 
scans of Bellamy originals, many of which have never seen 
print, but also includes the first ever reprint of Dez Skinn’s interview with Bellamy from 1973. With permission of the publisher and with thanks to Dez Skinn, a few short passages from that interview have been excerpted below. The text is © Dez Skinn ~ Leif


FB: Actually, I prefer never to have to draw a strip more than quarter up.

DS: ... which is only fractionally bigger than the printed size. Why do you prefer this size?

FB: I don’t, actually. I prefer most of all to draw same size.

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DS: But I would have thought you could get sharper lines and a tighter effect if the originals were drawn for reduction?

FB: No. I don’t want it to appear more detailed in print, just because it has been reduced a lot from the original size. I’d rather present a finely drawn original in the first place, and therefore, once again, give the editor a piece of finished work ready for press, that he can look at almost exactly as it will appear in print.

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DS: Could you tell us more about how you started on a “Heros” instalment, right from receiving the script?

FB: My usual method would be that I’d read the script through, imagining the words in pictures and noting down “l”, “m” and “s” – large, medium and small – by the writer’s frame descriptions. That is, as I’ve said, I would ignore the writer’s remarks about close-ups and long shots.

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Then I can see which are the important frames and which are the fill-ins. There would always be one very large frame that would sum up the whole spread, so I’d put a large cross by that one. Then I’d work out a thumbnail layout. Generally, I’d set it out in banks of three or four frames across.

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From there it would soon build up around the one or two main frames.

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Then I’d go straight on to the board, never making roughs. The “Dan Dare” team used to make roughs, but I always thought that if you make a highly detailed rough, you can’t draw the same thing a second time, on your board, and capture as much atmosphere. There’s always something lacking. There is no spontaneity or imagination in copying a rough on to board.

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DS: It seems that British comics had a swords and sorcery boom long before the current American trend. Not only your “Heros the Spartan”, but John Burns’ “Wrath of the Gods”, Ron Embleton’s “Wulf the Briton”, Don Lawrence’s “Karl the Viking”, “Clac the Gladiator” and so on……

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FB: Yes, I suppose they were sword and sorcery heroes, really. I definitely found "Heros" to be something entirely different from anything I’d ever draw. I was able to create giant warrior tribes, sea monsters and eerie creatures.

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I must admit, I thoroughly enjoyed drawing “Heros”, and if I got the chance, I’d drop everything and start drawing “Heros” tomorrow.

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* Thanks to Dez Skinn for allowing this short excerpt from his 1973 interview with Frank Bellamy. The text is © Dez Skinn. Thanks also to Alan Davis, Paul Holder, Norman Boyd, Paul Stephenson and David Ashford who provided us with the images that appear in this post.

Illustrators editor Peter Richardson has edited and designed a beautiful book entitled Frank Bellamy’s Heros the Spartan. Available in two luxurious editions measuring a gigantic 
11 x 14 inches, the deluxe limited edition of only 600 copies with 272 pages features a beautifully designed blue hard cover with embossed and varnished detailing. The leather bound and numbered edition, restricted to 120 copies, features a beautiful gold embossed red cover and slipcase, plus a tipped in numbered plate, and an additional 24 pages of some of the most stunning Heros originals, which have previously remained hidden in private collections.

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* Frank Bellamy's Heros the Spartan, from which all of today's art and text is excerpted, is now available from Book Palace Books

Frank Bellamy on 'Heros' : "... I wanted to give it instant impact"

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The lavish new hardcover collection 'Frank Bellamy's Heros of Spartan' features not only mouth-watering 
scans of Bellamy originals, many of which have never seen 
print, but also includes the first ever reprint of Dez Skinn’s interview with Bellamy from 1973. With permission of the publisher and with thanks to Dez Skinn, a few short passages from that interview have been excerpted below. The text is © Dez Skinn ~ Leif


DS: When drawing “Heros”, how may hours of the week, on average, do you think it took to draw a spread?

FB: It would easily take me a five day week. Sometimes six or seven days.

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Being fantasy, I didn’t have to do all the research I’d needed for sets like “Churchill”, but some frames took much longer to draw than others.

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One extreme example of this was a week when I had a big frame which covered almost the entire spread, surrounded by smaller frames – that particular page was on display, by the way, at the American Academy of Comic Book Arts.

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DS: What made you want to draw that instalment the way you did? Just the urge to have a huge battle scene, or what?

FB: No, much more than that. The script was ideal for the type of composition I prefer. Let me explain.

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In my early days, I used to watch my son, David, when he was about eight years old, reading comics. I’m sure this would not apply so much with the American type of comics, because they have longer stories, all in colour, and all based around the same person. But in English comics, with ten or more different episodes of different stories in each issue, I noticed something. David and his pals would look through the early Eagles, and when they flicked right through the whole issue, they’d go back and read some of the strips. Quite a few they would ignore and turn straight past. I asked them why and they said they didn’t like the drawings.

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So, because the art didn’t appeal to them, though the scripts could have been first rate, they’d skip them. I remembered that I used to do the same. If I didn’t like the artwork, I didn’t bother with it. But if I liked the artwork, I’d read it, no matter what the story was about.

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DS: Then you consider the artwork to be more important than the script…?

FB: Well, I might be a bit biased but I do think art carries quite a lot of the weight. It makes the whole thing look good on first impression. Another thing I’ve seen David and other boys do is pick up a comic and say “I’ve seen that one!” This gave me the clue about composition of the page. I’d like to make sure that the reader could see at first glance whether he had or hadn’t seen the spread before. Of course, I made a problem for myself here, trying to get as different a look to each instalment as possible. And so the answer to why I did a big frame, a big battle scene, is that I wanted to give it instant impact and look as different as possible.

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Tomorrow: Conclusion

* Thanks to Dez Skinn for allowing this short excerpt from his 1973 interview with Frank Bellamy. The text is © Dez Skinn. Thanks also to Alan Davis, Paul Holder, Norman Boyd, Paul Stephenson and David Ashford who provided us with the images that appear in this post.

Illustrators editor Peter Richardson has edited and designed a beautiful book entitled Frank Bellamy’s Heros the Spartan. Available in two luxurious editions measuring a gigantic 
11 x 14 inches, the deluxe limited edition of only 600 copies with 272 pages features a beautifully designed blue hard cover with embossed and varnished detailing. The leather bound and numbered edition, restricted to 120 copies, features a beautiful gold embossed red cover and slipcase, plus a tipped in numbered plate, and an additional 24 pages of some of the most stunning Heros originals, which have previously remained hidden in private collections.

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* Frank Bellamy's Heros the Spartan, from which all of today's art and text is excerpted, is now available from Book Palace Books

Frank Bellamy: "I thought I could draw, but I found out I couldn't"

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Continuing this week's look at the British cartoonist/illustrator with short excerpts from the new lavish hardcover collection, "Frank Bellamy's Heros of Spartan"

From the book's introduction...

Frank Bellamy was born in Kettering, UK. Bellamy was a self-taught artist whose first job application was for a local shoe factory, but he soon realized that his early artistic talent was a path he wished to pursue.

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His career in Blamire's Studio began low key with the usual fetching, carrying, sweeping up and the inevitable tea-making duties. In a 1973 interview with Dez Skinn and Dave Gibbons, Bellamy recalled those early days: "I thought I could draw, but I found out I couldn't, seeing all the studio artists work." His talent was soon put to more appropriate use producing local spot advertising for newspapers.

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He had a further apprenticeship in the Norfolk Studio, London, after which his confidence grew...

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... and in 1953 he went freelance, realizing that to work full-time in the studio, and take extra work for Mickey Mouse Weekly would be too much.

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This initial work in comic strips raised his profile as he worked on 'Monty Carstairs' from 25 July, 1953 to 26 June, 1954.

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Then he moved over to his first colour comic work 'Walt Disney's True Life Adventures: Living Desert' until 31 July 1954, when a better offer came his way. Marcus Morris, with Frank Hampson, had created the million-selling Eagle comic, a blast of colour in a bleak post-war children's landscape. In the August 1954 edition Bellamy's black and white art appeared on the strip 'The Fleet Family' a modern type of Swiss Family Robinson which he also went on to draw followed by 'King Arthur' and 'Robin Hood's Adventures', until the 17 August 1957 issue, a period of three years' continuous weekly deadlines.

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He had six weeks between 'Robin Hood' and the next strip for the Eagle comic itself - 'The Happy Warrior', the true life story of Winston Churchill.

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After this assignment was completed, he went on to do back pages in colour of 'David the Shepherd King' and 'Marco Polo', but stopped the latter after only eight episodes as he had a more prominent feature.

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Bellamy:

"I thing Frank Hampson was getting a bit tired of 'Dan Dare' by this time. So Marcus Morris, editor of Eagle at that time, asked me if I'd like to take over. I had a chat with Frank Hampson, who also wanted me to take over, and under the agreement that it would be for one year only, I started drawing 'Dan Dare'."

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Bellamy expressed relief at being able to draw fantasy rather than having to rigidly adhere to accurate representations, however he inherited a poisoned chalice. During the year on 'Dan Dare' he worked with some of Hampson's former staff drawing whole pages one week and only a few panels the following week. The changed appearance, the mixture of art styles, has inflamed opinions against Bellamy's work to this day.

His next strip was considered by many to be a natural for Bellamy, a lover of things African and big game hunting - 'Fraser of Africa'.

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Moving from earning money for creating one full colour page to a double page colour centre-spread must have appealed to him, and thus Bellamy's work moved to the centre pages of Eagle with another story of a living personality - 'Montgomery of Alamein'. Bellamy received a phone call from the Eagle staff asking if he would be interested in a new Tom Tully script about "the swashbuckling adventures of someone who would be a cross between a Roman warrior and an ancient Greek soldier."

Tomorrow: Heros the Spartan

* Thanks to Alan Davis, Paul Holder, Norman Boyd, Paul Stephenson and David Ashford who provided us with the images that appear in this post.

Illustrators editor Peter Richardson has edited and designed a beautiful book entitled Frank Bellamy’s Heros the Spartan. Available in two luxurious editions measuring a gigantic 
11 x 14 inches, the deluxe limited edition of only 600 copies with 272 pages features a beautifully designed blue hard cover with embossed and varnished detailing. The leather bound and numbered edition, restricted to 120 copies, features a beautiful gold embossed red cover and slipcase, plus a tipped in numbered plate, and an additional 24 pages of some of the most stunning Heros originals, which have previously remained hidden in private collections.

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* Frank Bellamy's Heros the Spartan, from which all of today's art and text is excerpted, is now available from Book Palace Books

Frank Bellamy’s Heros The Spartan: "... pages and pages of pure joy"

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Today, guest author Bryn Havord shares this excerpt from his upcoming four page feature on 'Frank Bellamy's Heros the Spartan', which will appear in issue five of illustrators quarterly (available mid November) ~ Leif

What a fantastic opportunity for a teenage boy: Art editor Arthur Roberts gave me my first job in Fleet Street, as a lettering artist on the thinking childs’ comics Eagle, Girl, Swift and Robin.

When one thinks of Eagle, Frank Hampson’s strip of Dan Dare and the Mekon immediately spring to mind.

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However, Frank Bellamy who had worked for the comic producing ‘The Happy Warrior’, featuring the life of Winston Churchill, ‘The Shepherd King’, the life of the biblical King David, and ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’, amongst others, replaced Hampson and spent a year drawing Dan Dare, but his triumph for the comic was producing Heros the Spartan in 1962 and 1963.

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Illustrators editor Peter Richardson has edited and designed a beautiful book entitled Frank Bellamy’s Heros the Spartan. Available in two luxurious editions measuring a gigantic 
11 x 14 inches, the deluxe limited edition of only 600 copies with 272 pages features a beautifully designed blue hard cover with embossed and varnished detailing. The leather bound and numbered edition, restricted to 120 copies, features a beautiful gold embossed red cover and slipcase, plus a tipped in numbered plate, and an additional 24 pages of some of the most stunning Heros originals, which have previously remained hidden in private collections.

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It was a privilege to be invited to do some minor production work on the book, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Bellamy’s incredible artwork at close quarters once again. Richardson has excelled himself with the editing and in his powerful designs of introductory pages featuring Bellamy’s drawings in monochrome...

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... in contrast to page after page of colourful spreads, many of which have been scanned from the originals.

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There are forewords by John Byrne, Dave Gibbons, Walter Simonson, Ken Steacy, and John Watkiss, with an introduction by Norman Boyd, each giving their own views and insights into the working methods and life of this incredible artist. It is one of the best books of its kind that I have ever seen: pages and pages of pure joy. There must be plenty of us old codgers left who want to take this trip down memory lane, and 
I only hope that Geoff West, the publisher at Book Palace Books, has ordered enough copies to go round.

~ Bryn Havord

* Frank Bellamy's Heros the Spartan is now available from Book Palace Books

Joe Krush, Condensed

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Here's a short story from a 1960 volume of Reader's Digest Condensed Books, illustrated by Joe Krush.

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I should say credited to Joe Krush. While I don't doubt that Joe took the ball and carried it for the majority of this assignment, since we know how often the couple assisted each other, it's highly likely Beth had an uncredited hand in the creation of these images.

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Aside from the typically charming quality of these pictures, they also give us an opportunity to take note of Joe's skill in rendering something other than line.

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Clearly he was as accomplished with paint and he was with ink.

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"The Krushes have received numerous awards and honors for their work. Some of these awards are: Boys' Club Junior Book Award, Boys' Club of America, 1953; Newbery Award, 1957; Newbery Honor book, 1958; Vermont Congress of Parents and Teachers, 1958; Lewis Carroll Shelf Award, 1970; and Helen Keating Ott award for outstanding contribution to children's literature, Churchyard Synagogue Library Association, 1983." ~ The Joe and Beth Krush Papers
 

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