Reed Crandall: Illustrator Of The Comics by Roger Hill (book review).

I have to confess to not really knowing much about comicbook artist Reed Crandall. He came to prominence in the 1940s-50s and a little before my time and I wasn’t really picking up that many Warren magazines in his last phase in the 1960s. None of which is helped by not having a by-name associated to his art although once you see Crandell’s material, you can’t mistake it. In fact, I suspect I might have seen quite a lot but not associated it with Crandell as he rarely signed his work neither. In the factory art pages of that period where expertise meant you became known either as a penciller or inker. Few were good at both and Crandell was, especially humans and animals even more so without the need of a model. Crandell also inked his own work from time to time.

Indiana born Reed Crandall Jr. was drawing by the age of four, a star pupil and winning prizes not only for his paintings but also showing to be a good sculpture using soap, wood and plastic as his mediums. When he got to New York, he was employed by the Iger and Eisner Studio and got quickly established amongst all the comicbook companies starting with Quality Comics before branching out when he realised he’d been seriously underpaid. Crandall could turn his hand to anything and the art here shows this. On the super-hero front, he was key artist on Blackhawk, Uncle Sam, Doll Man and the Ray at Quality and later went on to draw Noman of ‘T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents’ for Wallace Wood. In between, he did westerns and horror for EC Comics drawing 67 stories. Crandall never signed his early work and very reluctantly in his later work but the quality shown here shows why he was revered by pros and fans alike.

For someone who was highly regarded, Crandell was self-effacing and had little ego other than do as good work as he could and he was also a fast worker, having little else to occupy his time. When you see the tight pencils he did with a good knowledge of anatomy you look up and say ‘We are not worthy’. Problem is, Crandell would also the same. He really was that good and Roger Hill’s book really shows that to the hilt.

A lot of his background is only hinted at but Crandell was really a solitary type, associating mostly with other comicbook artists, especially Al Williamson, and the occasional spot of angling. He really just lived to draw and look after his mom after his marriage fell apart. His art spoke for him across all the genres. From western to war to horror to, well, anything really. Crandall had some preferences but he was a professional, drawing what he was paid for.

If there’s a key problem with this book then its putting the picture captures in grey boxes. The white text isn’t contrasted enough and makes it harder to read.

This book is an intense and absorbing read. You not only learn a lot about Reed Crandall but his artist friends with an added dose of comicbook history as well. What more can you ask for in a book? If you are only going to buy only one book about comicbooks this year, then this is the one.

GF Willmetts

August 2017

(pub: TwoMorrows Publishing. 256 page illustrated large hardback. Price: $49.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-60549-077-9. Direct from them, you can get it for $42.46 (US))

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