Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles

I've spent three posts taking a close look at the comic strip art of Noel Sickles. But the three years he spent drawing "Scorchy Smith" only represents a small part of his career.

Sickles was first and foremost an illustrator, and he could readily adapt his style to the assignment at hand -- yet approach the subject in an original manner that raised the artwork beyond the conventional.

The best source for finding out more -- and appreciating the work of -- this extraordinary artist, is the Fantagraphics book "Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles," by Bruce Canwell and Dean Mullaney. In addition to containing Sickles' complete run of "Scorchy Smith," the book also has excellent examples of his later work.

One such is his work for the United States Postal Service. In 1962, Sickles did the art for the Battle of Shiloh commemorative stamp. Notice the economy of line (click on the image to enlarge). It's really a simple stamp -- just one soldier in combat. We can't see his face, and it's not clear which side he's on. This one soldier represents the over 109,000 men who were involved in the struggle.

Sickles wanted to emulate combat sketches of the period. While he captures the essence of a hastily drawn image by an eyewitness, it still has a contemporary look. The stamp successfully combines the styles of two centuries -- appropriate for such a commemorative.

Scorchy Smith wasn't a fluke -- almost everything Sickles drew professionally worked on multiple levels. If you're interested in illustrative art at all, "Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles" is a worthy investment. - Ralph

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