Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Pin-Up Art of Dan DeCarlo

Fantagraphics has just released The Pin-Up Art of Dan DeCarlo, an absolutely gorgeous collection of work from 1956 through 1963, when the cartoonist was at the peak of his powers.

For those who came late, Dan DeCarlo got his cartooning start working at Timely (later Marvel) Comics drawing such fare as Millie the Model and Sherry the Showgirl for Stan Lee. From the late 50s into the 90’s, DeCarlo was the quintessential Archie artist, best known for his work on the daily Archie comic strip and his definitive depictions of the yin and yang of Riverdale sexuality, Betty and Veronica. Millions of adolescent boys (myself included) felt peculiar stirrings while reading about the exploits of the wealthy brunette and the wholesome blonde (particularly while engaging in their titular Summer Fun... no pun intended).

The discovery years later that DeCarlo was moonlighting as a girlie cartoonist for the Humorama line of men’s magazines was, for some fanboys, the sociological equivalent of the discovery of the early nude photos of Madonna or Vanessa Williams. As sexy as Betty and Veronica were, they were chaste (to Archie’s eternal frustration). The women DeCarlo drew for Zip, Joker and Laugh Riot were not innocent. And they were often naked.

While DeCarlo’s drawings of men came in all shapes and sizes, critics charge that all of his women looked exactly alike, with the same rounded face, turned-up nose and hourglass figure; That the only differing feature was the hairstyle. It’s a valid point, but in the end it doesn’t matter. It’s like criticizing the Ramones for recording the same song over and over. Yeah, they did. And better than anyone else.

DeCarlo’s art was pure cartooning, clean and distinctive, with a masterful line and a sense of design that rivalled anyone’s. He drew clothes better than almost any cartoonist this side of Hank Ketcham (not that there’s a lot of sartorial evidence in this book) and his comedic timing was exemplary.

The Pin-Up Art of Dan DeCarlo (compiled by Alex Chun and Jacob Lovey) is beautifully printed in a black and orange two toned scheme, mostly full page cartoons with some devoted to detail from the art. There are a few problems. An out of place pin-up drawn by DeCarlo in 2000 awkwardly stretches across two pages near the end of the book, none of the cartoons are dated or annotated and the text for the gags has been redone, but those are minor complaints (the absolutely hideous sliced lettering used for the title of the book is unforgiveable, however). This book is indispensible for anyone who loves pin-up art, beautiful cartooning.... or ever wanted to see Betty and Veronica naked.

Not that I ever thought about that.

POSTSCRIPT, September 2010:
A second volume was released in 2008.

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