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THE LIFE AND ART OF MORT MESKIN

From Shadow to Light: The Life and Art of Mort Meskin
By Steven Brower with Peter and Philip Meskin
220 9x12-inch pages, some color but mostly b/w
2010 Fantagraphics hardcover
$39.99

From Shadow To Light coverFittingly, in a book about an artist, pictures predominate. Beginning with Meskin’s teenage art, the book includes youthful pulp illustrations and then on to covers and pages of the Golden Age comic book characters he’s most associated with — Vigilante, Fighting Yank, Black Terror, Golden Lad and Johnny Quick (for whom Meskin innovated the use of multiple figures to show the character’s speed, the so-called “strobe figure motion”) — unpublished art, sometimes whole stories; paintings in color, color roughs, advertising art from his later years, including storyboards for TV commercials, and lots of original art, some comic book pages in pencil.

The narrative relies heavily upon the quoted memories of Meskin’s two sons and of Jerry Robinson, with whom Meskin roomed early in his career and later collaborated with. They were lifelong friends and mutual admirers. I was a fan of Black Terror in my youth, and I once asked Robinson who did what in collaborating on the feature. What he told me astonished me: they alternated penciling and inking — sometimes from panel to panel. Robinson repeats and elaborates upon this fascinating fact in the book.

Even more fascinating is Alex Toth’s tribute to Meskin in a two-page sidebar essay.

“Mort Meskin broke rules, created his own (and years of splendid artistry along the way) — most notably in his Vigilante and Johnny Quick series. ... His invention, daring, and subtlety were unique and exciting to us young Turks and old pros. Mort created surprises, beauty, action, and mystery art through his keen talent for the unusual viewpoint, layout, composition, lighting, massing of forms and solid shapes, rich blacks and line work, in ways deceptively simple, bold, strong (yet subtle, remember), and clearly-stated. ...”

Toth described Meskin’s method of laying out a page. First, he rubbed a soft-lead pencil across the entire surface of a blank piece of paper, and then he took a kneaded eraser and, referring to the script, “proceeded to ‘pick out’/erase panel borders ... and then solid shapes of each panel’s interiors — a caption block, a balloon, a figure, another. Working in reverse, he erased shapes, forms, interlocking compositional elements, to create complete (but negative/white on gray) pictures.” Then he filled the blank white spaces with drawings.

Insightful as the essays and testimonies are, the book’s pictures are its greatest trove of Meskin.

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For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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