Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review: 'Reed Crandall: Illustrator of the Comics'

In a time when fine artists were more likely to thumb their noses at comics than take jobs drawing them, Reed Crandall was happy to get the work. The fine sense of form and movement that informed his elegant and eclectic paintings, sculptures, and illustrations served him well when drafting Captain America, Blackhawk, and Doll Man to make ends meet. While his early work was usually anonymous, he began to make a name for himself when he started receiving his due credit while working for E.C. Comics, depicting some of the company’s most memorable crypt tales, such as “Carrion Death” and “Only Skin Deep”.

Reed Crandall’s art was exceptional, but based on Roger Hill’s new illustrated biography Reed Crandall: Illustrator of the Comics, the man may have been a bit of a blank slate. Hill describes the varied beats of Crandall’s history, but only the most essential ones of the man’s life get a mention, and Crandall’s personality remains frustratingly aloof. On occasion, a friend or acquaintance briefly describes Crandall as nice, humble, and a bit insecure about his work while dwelling on his art in far greater detail. The fixation on his work implies there wasn’t much to the man when he wasn’t at the drafting table. That could have been the case, but I doubt most people can be reduced so glibly. This also leaves Hill’s text a bit lacking in substance since so much of it is spent synopsizing plots of comics Crandall illustrated or describing Crandall’s artwork (textually, the book is more satisfying as a history of the early comics industry than a biography). The copious color and B&W illustrations included in this volume—which includes both Crandall’s comics work and his fine arts work— speak much louder about the artist’s talent. A flawless counterfeit of a King of Hearts card will make you gasp when you realize Crandall created it when he was only ten years old. That the man was such a master of his medium may overshadow his inner self in Reed Crandall: Illustrator of the Comics, but his mastery also makes the book a constant marvel to gaze at.
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