Friday, September 19, 2014

Sheldon Moldoff's Hawkman and the art of the swipe

Sheldon Moldoff came on the comics scene at the very beginning of the Golden Age of comics. He quickly became a hot young artist at National Periodicals (now DC Comics). His big claim to fame was Flash Comics' Hawkman feature which he used his ability to "swipe" Alex Raymond from his Flash Gordon to great effect.

Hawkman from Flash Comics #24, Dec 1941 by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff

Jules Feiffer wrote about the art of the swipe in his introduction to The Great Comic Book Heroes, "Swipes, if noticed, were accepted as part of comic book folklore. I have never heard a reader complain. Rather, I have heard swipe artists vigorously defended, one compared to another: who did the best Caniff, the closest Raymond?"

"Hawkman, a special favorite of mine, gave an aged and blended look to its swipes — a sheen so formidable, I often preferred the swipe to the original, defended the artist on economic grounds (not everybody was rich enough to hire models like those big newspaper guys), and paid his swipes the final compliment of clipping and swiping them."  Jules Fieffer

Roy Thomas : How did the idea come to you to employ the Alex Raymond approach? Neville (the creator of Hawkman) hadn't done the strip that way.

Sheldon Moldoff : No, his version was completely different. But when I looked at "Hawkman" and read a couple of stories, I said to myself, "This has to be done in a Raymond style." I could just feel it, like Raymond-or (Hall) Foster.

RT: How did you work it? Had you kept a collection? Because you obviously couldn't go out and buy a collection of Flash Gordon or Prince Valiant in 1939 the way you can now.

MOLDOFF: Oh, I saved those Sunday pages and the daily papers for years! There isn't an artist around that does not have a file... a "morgue."

Jules Feiffer, "Swiping was and is a trade term in comic books for appropriating that which is Alex Raymond’s, Milton Caniff s, Hal Foster’s or any one of a number of other sources and making it one’s own. Good swiping is an art in itself. One can, for example, scan the first fifteen years of any National publication and catch an album of favorite Flash Gordon poses signed by dozens of different artists.

a tense moment for Flash and Fria, from Flash Gordon June 18, 1939. Right, Things get hot for Hawkman and Shiera, All-Star Comics #3, Winter 1940-1941

Rena from Flash Gordon, October 6, 1940. Right, Hawgirl suits up for the first time, All-Star Comics #5, June-July 1941
"Flash, Dale, Dr. Zarkov and Ming the Merciless stared nakedly out at the reader, their names changed, but looking no less like themselves even if the feature did call itself Hawkman. Other cartoonists preferred the Caniff touch, so next to nine pages of swiped Terry and the Pirates there often appeared nine pages of swiped Flash Gordon. Then there were those who mixed their pitches — using within the same story Alex Raymond swipes, Milton Caniff swipes, Hal Foster swipes, and movie-still swipes. So that a villain might subtly shift his appearance from Raymond’s Ming in one panel to Caniff s Captain Judas in another to Foster’s Sir Modred in a third to, at last, Basil Rathbone." Jules Feiffer

Flash saves Dale from a watery death, April 30, 1939. Right, Hawkman takes to the skies with Hawkgirl, All-Star Comics #5, June-July 1941
"On occasion, swipe artists would try to be clever, try to confuse the reader by including, within a single frame, a group of figures swiped — and even changed slightly — from three or four different sources. They may have gotten away with it with others, but never me: no comic book man could cloud the gray cells of the boy Poirot." Jules Feiffer

An inventive composite: From left, Flash and Dale from Flash Gordon, July 13, 1939 and July 16, 1939. Right-the two panels are merged to create Hawkman and Shiera, All-Star Comics #3, Winter 1940-1941
Sheldon Moldoff talked about swipes in an interview with Roy Thomas, "As a matter of fact, I met Albert Dorne early in my career; he had a cousin my age who introduced me to him. At that time he was considered the top commercial artist in New York City. He did ads for everybody; he was unbelievable. He had several different styles. He had a tremendous drawing board, and on it were tacked different swipes. When he got a job from an agency, regardless of what it was, he'd first get swipes. That would bring him up to date on every possible angle that would benefit the illustration. Then he went to work! Dorne was a master craftsman, but he found that, using swipes, you had something to lean on, and it could enhance your work! It could be photographs, it could be drawings, it could be color, it could be anything! But it helps you to get a better finished product".

I Swiped the swipes from Facebook's Digital Comic Museum, the art of the swipe with permission.

You can read Roy Thomas' interview with Sheldon Moldoff on Twomorrows.com

Book Steve's library BlogSpot has a nice post on Hawkman swipes revisited

I got the Jules Feiffer quotes from The Comics Journal archive - The Great Comic Book Heroes Intro & Afterword by Jules Feiffer


No comments:

Post a Comment