Sunday, March 2, 2008

Peter Byrne - 1940s/1950s

sgPeter Byrne One of those things I obsessed about as a kid was a comic book called Wings. It was during the war and I guess for about three or four years I bought a copy every month. I think it was the cover art that got to me more than the stories or even the strip art.

When I discovered comic books, the war filled my consciousness. Two other comic books were favorites; Blackhawk, and one titled The Boy Commandos. The pilots in Blackhawk, an international mix of course, fought the evil fascists while wearing flashy Prisoner of Zenda, Hapsburg uniforms, and they flew stubby, little two-engine Grumman naval fighters that in reality never saw action during the war.

The Boy Commandos were a comic book version of the Dead End or East Side movie gang who also fought the evil Nazis and Japs. I though they were great.

Now here's a strange one. I rarely read a comic book. I looked at the pictures. If the artwork got my attention, I bought the book and looked at the pictures. The stories hardly interested me at all.

sgWhen the Korean War started in 1950, I was twelve and already into the whole EC comic line. I had every on of their two war war comics, mostly for the Jack Davis and Harvey Kurtzman work, particularly the Kurtzman covers.

I bought a couple of reprints back in the late eighties or early nineties and what surprised me was just how well the artwork, the Kurtzman covers specifically, have held up. After more than fifty years, I believe that in terms of graphic art, subject matter aside, it would be difficult to date them. They are wonderful.

To me, Kurtzman had a genius in being able to convey a wealth information with a minimum of detail. I just pulled out one of the reprints, a 1951 Korean War piece titled "Contact" (ok I am a nut case). I think the title panel is a masterpiece. The rendering of the winter tree holding a Chinese sniper is almost van Gogh-like. And the drawing of the rifle, absolutely minimalist, is still recognizably, a Mauser.


Richard said...

I'm left waiting in vain for the "nut case" part because that description sounds right on target to me.

Those wartime Boy Commandos and Blackhawk comics stand up very well, even for a reader who missed the war by a couple of decades.

Grears said...

I am just looking at the EC books now as they are bing republished in the Gemstone Hardcovers, and the artwork is timeless. You can't tell it was produced in the 50's. Good stuff- and great story.