Thursday, October 19, 2006

Ross Andru Pencils

Finding Ross Andru pages in penciled form are virtually impossible. I'll freely admit that in all my time tracking down examples of Andru pages there's been very little that I've come across in pure pencil form. I know of one dealer who claims to have an unfinished book in pencil form, but as he wants to sell me the book for a four figure sum and won't allow me to even see a single scan beforehand, well I'll take his word on things. I don't mind dropping some cash on something sight unseen, but I'm a bit reluctant to part with hard earnt for. I've also got high resolution scans of two choice pages from Andru's Amazing Spider-Man run, along with an assortment of head sketches and other scans, as well as a character design (pencils) for an Andru creation and what might well be the only Andru Spider-Man full bodied pencil sketch, which came to me via a dealer from a major Spider-Man artist who found it in his files. That one cost me, but hey, you want, you pay.

So what is out there? There's two answers and they appear to contradict themselves. The first answer is that there's very little. There might well be a cache of penciled pages sitting in someone's collection, if there is then I don't know about them. I know that I own almost all of the Andru/Esposito syndicate strip, Garlic Man, and that at least five strips are pure pencils (just for the record I'll pay over the odds for Garlic Man strips). They're an exception to a rule though. I know of one major inker who owns Andru pages with sketches on them, and that brings us to the second answer. What's out there? Loads. Heaps. You just have to look for it.

So where is it? This has a relatively easy answer - it's on the backs of the original art pages. Andru had a habit that might appear odd but in reality was very, very normal. He'd outline the panels in pencil, and then flip the page, place it on a lightbox and re-draw the panels on the rear, again in pencil.

(BLUE BEETLE, issue #21 panel detail)

(REVERSED IMAGE of previous panel detail. Andru would often focus on the main images when reversing and leave the backgrounds to be drawn in later on the image proper)

He'd then place the page back on the lightbox, the right way around and then 'fix' any errors that he saw from the reversed image. It's a practice that fine artists have been using throughout the ages, mainly in the use of copper engraving. The earliest reference that I could find to such a practice dates from the 15th century where copper engravers would reverse their work left and right. The reasons for this include the ability to view the work in a different light, different angles and by doing this the engravers would see flaws that they'd not normally see due to several reasons, the main one being lapses of concentration. The way they'd reverse images would be to work with a mirror close at hand and would reference the mirror to see the work they were producing in reverse. As copper and steel engraving is a detailed and meticulous craft getting it right was imperative - once the image was engraved it was virtually impossible to 'erase' the mistakes. The engraver would have to back and start anew. It's a technique that has been passed down through the ages and is still taught in basic art classes, or it should be if it's not. The concept of reversing means that the artist can be totally objective as they are seeing an entirely new piece.

(TEEN TITANS SPOTLIGHT #5, page 3 upper page detail)
(REVERSED IMAGE. This image closely mirrors the finished product and upon holding it up to the light it's clear where the changes came into place. Again, no great background detail exists on the reversed image.)

Andru clearly knew of this technique and used it to great advantage. How he learnt to adapt to his comic book art is unknown to me although I expect that such techniques were taught at the Burne Hogarth School, which Andru and Esposito both attended and learnt the bulk of their craft. I have examples of Andru work from the 1950s and he was already flipping pages and reversing images, even at that early stage in his career (frustratingly all that exists of a lot of those pencils are very faint outlines). Several inkers who worked with Andru told me similar stories about the page flipping. Some inkers left the images intact, others (including Mike Esposito himself) erased the pencils in order to 'clean the pages up'. Others were taken by the pencils on the rear and were impressed with the detail contained within. Like other artists Andru would often do warm up sketches on the rear of his pages, but I've not come across too many artists in the comic book industry who did, or do, what Andru would with the page flipping and image reversing. Neal Adams would first do his layouts in detailed pencil in thumbnail size and then blow them up. Other artists would do something similar. I know of several artists who'd go through several stages of creation before they'd put the finishing touches on their pencils - each artist has a different method of working and different styles, that's what makes them unique. Certainly Andru was a cut above the rest and it was this attention to detail that helped him become a cut above.

(TEEN TITANS SPOTLIGHT #5, page 10)

(REVERSED IMAGE. Great action and pacing here. It's very obviously that Andru put a lot of attention to detail into this page and the reversed image is very close to the final product, barring some sword placement. Andru draws more attention to the action by eliminating the background.)

And that's it. If you're looking for penciled pages from Ross Andru then keep looking as I expet that there are some out there. However if you're looking for Ross Andru pencils then a lot of people might not need to look any further than the reverse side of the pages they already own.

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