Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Photorealism Tryout: Lee Thacker

Alex Raymond's 'Rip Kirby' strip from 27 June 1956
Top: Alex Raymond's original art; Bottom: Lee Thacker's reproduction
(Click image to enlarge)

I chose to copy this strip for a number of reasons:
   1. Sparse backgrounds (I hate drawing backgrounds!)
   2. A nice close up in the last panel
   3. It related well to Raymond's alleged affairs (in my mind)
   4. The pretty girl
   5. It was from 1956, the year of Raymond's death
The text is really just questions that went through my mind as I was drawing it. The final question (posed to the reader) in panel three could be applied to both sexes I think!

Drawing and inking – some background info:
Between 2008 and 2010, I immersed myself in photorealistic portraits of celebrities and musicians. 16 of those ended up being a part of the Judenhass inspired Yellow Stars book, available as a free pdf and a physical copy. Most of the rest of them were used in The Festive Fifty: An Illustrated Memoir. See some examples below.

I spent those 3 years tracing from photos on a light box and inking them using a prolene pro-arte #2 brush. My first attempts were a bit sloppy, but I got pretty good at it and it was lot of fun. I then got the call to start creating comic book stories for David Gedge (of semi-legendary band The Wedding Present) and I've been honing my craft over the past few years into a much simpler, cartoony style with little or no time left over for photorealistic pieces. I should be working on issue 11 of the Tales From The Wedding Present comic this week, but I've taken a two day break to have a go at an Alex Raymond strip. Shhh. Don't tell David Gedge! Ha ha!

Anyway, a few observations on my attempt, panel by panel (in reverse order). I traced off all three panels in pencil using a light box and then inked them.

Panel 3:
This was the first panel I 'attempted' to ink. I decided to use a prolene pro-arte #2 brush as this is what I was using when I was doing the portraits six years previously.

Big mistake.

No matter how gentle I was with my brush strokes, I couldn’t even come close to Raymond's thin lines. I thought with it being a close up, it wouldn't be too difficult. How wrong can you be? It took me a good hour and a half just to ink this single panel - I can usually get half a page of 'cartoony' comics inked in that time! I put my brush away and vowed to myself to do a better job the following day on panels one and two.

Panel 2:
This went a LOT better. I opened up a fresh bottle of India ink, popped open a brand new Winsor & Newton Series 7 #2 brush and it was a breeze. Still not quite getting ALL of the fine lines, but definitely on the right track. The only real failure in this panel is Honey’s chin. I put just a little too much pressure on the brush during the inking of her jaw line and it’s slightly too small.

Panel 1:
Now I’m starting to 'get it' in terms of knowing when the brush was capable of a thin or thick line. Only Honey’s eyes turned out wrong – there should be a small gap between the lower lashes and the iris which I couldn't quite pull off.

This was a lot of fun to do and a real challenge. It's been many years since I filled in any blacks on the original artwork as I usually fill them in using Photoshop. It's also VERY tricky to render spontaneous lines deliberately. I've never seen any of Raymond's pencilled work, but I’m betting he didn’t pencil in every single hair highlight or clothing wrinkle!

Lee Thacker's Photorealistic Portraits:
Top row: Jack Kirby, Art Spiegelman
Middle row: Neil Gaiman, Lou Reed
Bottom row: Gene Tierney, Neko Case
(Click images to enlarge)


Anonymous said...

Spectacular work! Hopefully you've shared those pictures with celebrities who are still around. I bet they'd be impressed.

--Claude Flowers

Dave Sim said...

Hi Lee! Yes, the simmering edginess between Alex and Helen Raymond really communicates itself (and is a core element in SDOAR) and you've captured that very well -- especially since she was the original model for Dale Arden in FLASH GORDON. And then was replaced by photos of Olivia de Havilland. And then the parade of teenagers through her Mayapple Road quasi-mansion. Ouchie.

I go back and forth on whether the models were ENTIRELY a cover story for Raymond wanting pretty young girls in his studio and an actual "fine-tuning" that only Raymond was going through (can he make his "made up" women look enough like the models that you can't tell when he's making them up or drawing them from life? A lot of times I can, which means it still needed work).

As you've noticed, Honey Dorian is Quantum Levels Above any realistic comic art 1946 to 1953. NO ONE but Raymond could do a 100% accurate Honey Dorian and -- just as you say -- the eyes and the jawline are the biggest problem. And, of course, Raymond KNEW he was that far above everyone else (except Hal Foster). How could he not? (I always think of MC Hammer's "Can't Touch This" as Raymond's internal theme song).

That held true until Stan Drake came along and did Eve Jones in THE HEART OF JULIET JONES. To go from "Can't Touch This" to "Right with you, Alex: check out THIS facial expression, check out this hair, check out this pout, check out this sulk, check out this radiant smile".

Lee Thacker said...

Hi Claude!
Thank you for your kind words.
I actually sent a copy of 'Yellow Stars' to Neil Gaiman (at Dave’s suggestion) but never heard back from him. Not surprising as he’s a very busy man.
I recently posted a drawing of Mark E Smith from the band The Fall on their Facebook page and received 236 ‘likes’ and 47 very flattering comments within the space of two hours. I’m thinking of doing the same on a few other Facebook band pages. Self promotion is something I’m not very good at. I feel like a chancer/opportunist every time I mention my work on forums and blogs. I always give Tim the choice as to whether to add the links to my sites here (he always does) – it’s the British way, I suppose…

Hi Dave!
Ha! Now I’ve got ‘Can’t touch This’ running through my head – thanks for that!
I’m glad I got the gist of the ‘shimmering edginess’ in the strip. I also have the preceding strip on my ‘to do’ list – Honey seductively reclining on a sofa in the first panel – hubba hubba!
Having attempted a copy of Raymond’s work, it’s made me aware of what an absolute master of his craft he was. Although the stories hold little interest for me, I’m seriously considering purchasing the IDW ‘Rip Kirby’ reprints just to study and admire the composition and drawings.