Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Eye In the Sky

Harvy Kurtzman wrote and edited Frontline Combat. A talented artist himself, it's my understanding that he typically drew the layouts for each story he wrote, then obligated the artist doing the pencils to follow his layouts EXACTLY.

EC Comics were employing some of the best artists around during the 1950s, so I understand that some of them were frustrated by this approach. But at the same time, Kurtzman was one of the best storytellers that's ever worked in the comic book industry. His sense of what would make a particular story look fantastic was impeccable.

Let's look at the first story from Frontline Combat #11 (March/April 1953). Like most stories from this book, it's a Korean War adventure. Titled "Bird-Dogs," its a very simple yarn about a pilot and his observer flying a small plane over enemy lines. They spot troop movements or gun emplacements, then call in artillery fire. That's pretty much it.

But it's a great story specifically because of the way Kurtzman had artist John Severin illustrate it. Much of the story is the direct point-of-view of the guys in the plane, looking down at the landscape below them. And this simple approach turns what might have been at best an okay story--perhaps even a dull story--into something visually innovative.

We can't help but get into the story when we see what the pilot sees--troops moving along a road or a machine gun nest (which opens fire on the plane). That birds-eye view draws us into the story and plops us down right next to the pilot.

I reviewed an EC war story a few months ago. Both that story and this one work for similar reasons--the visual layouts are designed specifically to highlight the strengths of the stories and thus elevate the level of suspense and excitement. It was part of Kurtzman's particular genius that he always understood the best way to do that for each particular story.

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