Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Black and White Maestros by Les Tanner (Part Two)

[Editor's note: the following survey of Australian cartoonists was written by cartoonist and cartooning historian Les Tanner for the centenary issue of Sydney publication, The Bulletin, published January 29th, 1980. Les Tanner's Family maintain a facebook page for him here.]

Read part one here.

 Phil May Self portrait

The Black and White Maestros by Les Tanner (Part Two)

Phil May was of a different kettle. Eighteen years younger than Hop, and sickly, he was recruited by W. H. (Hot-on-the) Traill after a Conan-Doyle-like adventure involving a meeting with a stranger in the Bayswater (London) swimming baths, a search and running to earth in a flat in Drury Lane, and an argument about salary (what's new?). So much rubbish and myth has been written about Phil May that it's worth noting that his economy of line had nothing to do with the vagaries of The Bulletin press. It had everything to do with his admiration for the careful paring away of non-essentials. Traill once said to him: "Look here, Mr May, Hopkins puts a good deal more work into his drawings than you do. Can't you finish yours up a bit?" May replied: "When I can leave out half the lines I use now, I shall want six times the money I am being paid now."

Unlike Hop, May didn't give a damn about politics and demanded that cartoon ideas be written out for him. Even "Things I see when I'm out without a gun" wasn't his title. It was Hop's suggestion. May just did the drawings. But what drawings — and what people to work with!

Phil May Postcard

The more you read around The Bulletin's early years, the more aware you become of Archibald, his zest and his vigor, prodding and pointing to some aspect of life, whether it was a woman buying meat or a child crying, as he walked artists and writers around the streets. Both May and Norman Lindsay recalled these outings. No wonder Phil May's output was so great — 900 drawings in two years — with such a man egging him to more and fresh ideas. How many editors have the wit and style to start out named John Feltham and end up as Jules Francois?

By the end of the century, the pantheon was almost complete. George Rossi Ashton, who had come to Australia to join his brother, Julian, succeeded Phil May. George Lambert, Fred Leist, Frank Mahony, B. E. Minns, Alf Vincent, Percy Spence, Tom Durkin, D. H. Souter, Ambrose Dyson and Hugh McCrae, all "saving their best work for The Bulletin," appeared together with Hop in the Christmas edition of 1899.

 D. H. Souter

Such were Archibald's persuasive talents that he even talked Tom Roberts into covering the Melbourne Cup of 1886. No wonder everyone wanted to be in the magazine.

In 1886 Traill left and, after some ups and downs, Archibald persuaded William Macleod, one of The Bulletin's original illustrators, to give up his work on the Picturesque Atlas of Australia and take up the management. (An artist with business sense is not the contradiction it sounds; ask Rudy Komon). Macleod and Archibald became equal partners and an added dimension was given to the kindly understanding of artists already present at The Bulletin.

 Our demoralized black brother
Police Trooper: ‘Well Jacky! What have you been up to this time?’
Jacky: ‘Not much, boss. Only swearing like a plurry trooper.’ (Frank Mahony)

Critics argue as to whether it was A. G. Stephens or Julian Ashton who discovered Norman Lindsay. The artist has said in effect it was neither but his friend, Jack Elkington, who recommended him to Archibald. No one doubts who accepted the recommendation.

In 1901 the young Victorian artist arrived in Sydney on the same day as the Duke and Duchess of York. "Flags, bands, banners and triumphal arches everywhere," he wrote, "and not a room to be had anywhere."

Lindsay and photo-engraving were made for each other. M. G. Skipper, writing in 1930 for The Bulletin's 50th anniversary, said: "If Norman Lindsay had to draw for the wood engraver he could no more have developed his peculiar style than Beethoven could have produced his symphonies if he had had to score them for the tom-tom." Personally, I would have said Debussy, but what's in a name in the afternoon of a faun?

Norman Lindsay's style has its adherents and opponents. Most of his family certainly took to it with glee. At times it's hard to know whether it is Norman, Lionel, Percy or Ray's creature looking at you through those slanted eyes. The only exception was when something big and portentous had to be drawn. Then it was all stops out for Norman as the pen-tip dipped into bravura and the War God sounded his gong.

The one Lindsay no one denies is sister Ruby. She, significantly, didn't use the family surname. She signed her work simply Ruby Lind and you can still fool people, who can spot any of the other Lindsays, with her work. Cool elegance of line and stylish economy of composition were her earmarks. She married Will Dyson, the cartoonist, and died tragically in the influenza epidemic of 1919.

Lionel Lindsay made himself a household name with a character in The Bulletin that Norman had got bored with after two or three drawings — Chunder Loo of Akim Foo, the boot-polish Indian.

 Chunder Loo of Akim Foo, the boot-polish Indian - Lionel Lindsay

The Black and White Maestros © the estate of Les Tanner.

English Comics Diversion: The Wonder Feb 2nd 1946


Mandrake The Magician - Feature Productions

Notes on New Zealand comics publisher Feature Productions and covers of first twenty issues of Mandrake the Magician here. Covers from FP production editions of Lee Falk's long enduring character, Mandrake the Magician, #21- #40 featured below.