Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Noel Sickles and the Art of Sequential Art, Part 3

It doesn't matter if you're a student of sequential art or not -- just take a moment and let your eyes revel in the masterful images below. And as you do, remember this. Noel Sickles churned out such images every day, six days a week for three years.

Part one I talked about Sickle's depiction of night. In part two, I looked at his mastery of negative space. This time, it's all about location.

One of the problems with modern comic strips is their small panels. Most strips have little more than talking heads with the merest hint of scenery. But even in the 1930's when comic strips had more real estate, not everyone took advantage of it.

In the panel below (click to enlarge), Scorchy Smith visits Colonel Patterson, who wants to use the aviator to crop dust his Louisiana plantation. In this one image, Sickles conveys everything we need to know -- including a strong sense of place.

The plantation house in the background has the columned porch typical of Southern architecture (at least in popular imagination). It's also large, an appropriate home for a rich and successful planter.

And check out that stand of pine trees. Very typical for the area, which also adds to the sense of place. The trees also help establish depth to the scene. And their shadows show the time to be late afternoon.

The figures are on the extreme left, and Patterson's word balloon pulls the eye forward, first to the house, and then on across the scene on its way to the next panel. That long journey also gives the impression of spaciousness -- this is a big plantation.

Below is the sequence the panel comes from (click on image to enlarge).

Patterson's daughter gazes wistfully in the first panel of the bottom sequence. And if you look carefully, you'll see her in the second as well. She's not that hard to find, as her silhouette is just below Patterson's last word.

The final panel has a lot of exposition, so Sickles just draws the figures. But that's OK -- with the richness of the panel before it, that white space makes a nice balance.

Take another look at that image at the top, and think about drawing in all those trees and shadows. Who would go to that much work for something that was only read once and forgotten? Only a master craftsman such as Noel Sickles.

And I'm glad he did.

- Ralph


  1. I am glad you are posting about Noel Sickles! Yeah he was a master and I think Alex Toth was a great successor to his style.

  2. Of course Sickles and Milton Caniff influenced each other. Alex Toth definitely studied Sickles. Lee Elias and Frank Robbins were contemporaries working along the same lines.

    I think the biggest difference (and probably why Sickles didn't remain in comics) was that Sickles created these panels that weren't just illustrations to forward the story. They were examples of bravura drawing that you just want to admire.