Sunday, December 25, 2005
  Wallace Wood: Against the Grain, part two
Saving newspaper strips to study his favorites, the young Wally Wood was attracted to the adventurous settings of Flash Gordon, Captain Easy, and Terry and the Pirates; under his mother’s supervision he made an easy leap from comics to reading books. His reading skills, developed outside of the classroom, enabled him to go directly from the third to the fifth grade. “Wally was really a bookworm,” said Glenn. “My mother got him interested in reading at a very early age. Even before he started grade school he was reading; my mother was tutoring him. When he was in the early grades, he was reading well beyond his level and on his own. He was reading into ancient history. He would dive into this stuff and devour a book in short order. He had a tremendous appetite for reading.”

Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant began in 1937, the year Woody was ten years old, and Foster moved to the forefront of his favorites, along with Caniff, Raymond and Roy Crane. Wood’s friend and associate Bill Pearson notes, “The major influence, in my view, was Roy Crane. Both Woody and I considered Crane the master of masters. At different times he cited different artists as major influences. He saw Foster as a master illustrator and Crane as a master storyteller.” When Wood was interviewed by Rick Stoner in 1978, he remarked, “The main one is Foster, but I’ve been influenced by lots of people — Raymond, Caniff, Crane, Eisner, Basil Wolverton and Walt Kelly.”

An illustrator named Wally Wood produced work during the Thirties for the Saalfield Publishing Company in Akron, Ohio; his signature appears on the front covers of two Saalfield coloring books, The Three Little Pigs (1937) and Puss in Boots (1937), but Woody was unaware of the existence of this other Wally Wood until years later, as revealed by a comment he made to Bill Pearson during the Sixties. Going through Wood’s files, Pearson was surprised to find the two coloring books, examined them and asked, “Woody, what’s this?” Wood glanced at the two books and replied, “A fan sent them to me. I don’t know anything about them.”

The same year that Woody fell under the spell of Prince Valiant, his family began the series of moves that took them across the Great Lakes region, first putting down stakes in the lumber center of Park Falls, Wisconsin, on the Flambeau River. “The logging operations started when we moved from Menahga to Park Falls, Wisconsin, about 1937,” said Glenn. “Then from 1937 through the time I graduated from Wakefield High School in 1943, we were moving through upper Wisconsin and upper Michigan. We were in Park Falls for a matter of months, and then my dad took on a more extended logging operation down in Rib Lake, Wisconsin, further south. I remember going to school with Wally in Rib Lake; we were there for about a year. In 1938, 1939, and 1940, we were in Iron Belt, Wisconsin. From there the family moved to Montreal, Wisconsin, a mining town just ten miles away. Wally and I went to the Hurley, Wisconsin, high school for a year together; in Hurley High School at that time I was a junior. My senior year was in Wakefield, Michigan, which was about 25 miles from the border in another mining town. All this time my dad was in different woods, working jobs, and we didn’t see much of him. He would come home maybe every two months or so. Mother would be head of the house. These logging camps would be 30 or 40 miles from wherever we were, and he would come in maybe in six weeks, maybe eight weeks. There were long periods when we wouldn’t see dad at all.”

Woody was 12 years old when the top names in country and western music found a national audience over the NBC radio network. The Grand Ole Opry began in 1925 over WSM in Nashville, eventually expanding to a five-hour long Saturday night broadcast. NBC, in October 1939, started its successful long-running series of a half-hour segment of the show, sponsored by Prince Albert tobacco. Throughout the Forties Wood could tune in such Opry stars as Red Foley, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, “Tennessee Ploughboy” Eddy Arnold, Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe.

Many of the drawings Wood produced during the Thirties were penciled on a coarse, rough paper, but World War II and the V-Mail Service resulted in a free supply of smooth V-Mail paper, perfect for drawing. V-Mail was used to reduce the weight of overseas mail deliveries, as explained in the V-Mail instructions: “When addressed to points where micro-film equipment is operated, a miniature photographic negative of the message will be made and sent by the most expeditious transportation available for reproduction and delivery. The original message will be destroyed after the reproduction has been delivered.” The “original message” was written on the blank side of a piece of V-Mail paper 5 5/8" wide by 9 1/8" deep that folded into an envelope. The other side featured the instructions and envelope area printed in red. With the V-Mail’s clean, white surface to draw on, Wood turned out a pile of drawings. By the time he was 15 he also managed to acquire the Duoshade paper and developing fluids marketed by Cleveland’s CrafTint Manufacturing Company; later available from Cleveland's Ohio Graphic Arts Systems (a company which changed its name to Grafix in 1990). The CrafTint paper enabled Wood to begin simulating the tonal and shading effects he had seen in Roy Crane’s work.

But these early efforts did not impress his teachers, judging by Wood’s 1980 recollection: “I always got bad marks in art. I always had the attitude toward art teachers that if they were such hotshots, why were they teaching art in a jerkwater high school? I guess it showed. Always got a ‘C’ in art.” As he continued on his path of self-study, he did not ignore the usual high school social activities. In 1942, when he was a high school sophomore, he was one of the organizers of the school’s sophomore dance party, as indicated by the line “Buy your tickets from: Wood Holcers Zell Jordan” on the jazzy and surreal poster he drew and colored to promote the event. The poster shows a jazzman riffing on “She’ll Be Comin' ’Round the Mountain,” a tune heard widely during the Thirties as recorded by the Paul Tremaine dance band (Columbia 2130-D).

On weekends, in the darkness of smalltown movie theaters, he observed the manipulation of lighting for dramatic emphasis in Hollywood films and then headed home to attempt a similar handling of light and shadow in his drawings. Rounding up his friends, he employed them as actors in 8mm films he made with a used Keystone camera. To his friends he became known as Woody, and he grew to dislike the name Wally, a feeling he expressed in the second issue (1978) of The Woodwork Gazette: “...I hate the name Wally. Ever since I was a kid it’s been ‘Woody’ — and now I have two nephews who are also Woody to their friends. And even my mother was Woody on one job she had.”

He walked past newsstands racked with colorful displays of pulp magazines, and the Bug-Eyed Monsters of Planet Stories appealed to his youthful imagination. In A Pictorial History of Science Fiction David Kyle wrote, “It was Planet Stories...which made the BEM its house pet, usually with a helpless, lightly clothed damsel in the foreground and a virile, heavily clothed, gun-slinging hero in the background,” a caption description of A. Leydenfrost’s painting for the Spring 1942 Planet Stories cover, reprinted by Kyle. In an incomplete comics page roughed by Wood in the early Forties, he swiped the head and shoulders of Leydenfrost’s alien creature; it appears in a sequence of six captioned panels containing three unfinished drawings. (Wood was not the only artist who found this creature of interest; it was also swiped ten years later by Maurice Whitman for the front cover of Planet Comics #67.)

Also in 1942 he used his CrafTint paper for studies taken from Will Eisner’s The Spirit which he read in the Minneapolis Star-Journal. One such is a copy of the background of the entire February 22, 1942, Spirit splash page. Speculating in The Outer Space Spirit on this 1942 Wood drawing, Catherine Yronwode commented, “Wood made good use of Eisner’s free weekly lessons in panel composition and lighting effects... Wood may have felt that copying the human figure was too hard, or perhaps at age 15 he had already decided to take his anatomy lessons elsewhere. The swipe is only that of the ‘stage setting’ Eisner drew, not the man standing in it.”

As the war raged on, the Wood family, uprooted a total of nine times, had left a splintered trail past the logging camps, but the trek came to an end when Glenn graduated from high school in Wakefield, Michigan. The family returned to Minnesota where the teenage Wally Wood suddenly found himself wandering the corridors of a big city high school, West High in Minneapolis, during his senior year. Glenn recalled, “I graduated and went into the Navy college program. Wally and mother joined my dad in Minneapolis. I was at Illinois Tech in Chicago from July 1943 until I graduated that program in February 1946. In the meantime, Wally went through West High, and if my memory is serving me right, that’s when he did these different jobs like dental technician and so forth. As a dental technician in Minneapolis, he made dental plates.”

Labels: ,

Wood I hear, used a copy of his West high diploma for certificates to those who joined his club.West high was shut down in 1982,& torn down around 84-85. Little did I know when seeing it go down, that Wood went there.
Post a Comment

<< Home
Masquerade of the albino axolotls

My Photo

is the editor of Against the Grain: Mad Artist Wallace Wood (2003), reviewed by Paul Gravett.

October 2005 / November 2005 / December 2005 / January 2006 / February 2006 / March 2006 / April 2006 / May 2006 / June 2006 / July 2006 / August 2006 / September 2006 / October 2006 / November 2006 / December 2006 / January 2007 / February 2007 / March 2007 / April 2007 / May 2007 / June 2007 / July 2007 / August 2007 / September 2007 / October 2007 / November 2007 / December 2007 / January 2008 / February 2008 / March 2008 / April 2008 / May 2008 / June 2008 / July 2008 / August 2008 / September 2008 / October 2008 / November 2008 / December 2008 / January 2009 / February 2009 / March 2009 / April 2009 / May 2009 / June 2009 / July 2009 / August 2009 / September 2009 / October 2009 / November 2009 / December 2009 / January 2010 / February 2010 / March 2010 / April 2010 / May 2010 / June 2010 / July 2010 / August 2010 / September 2010 / October 2010 / November 2010 / December 2010 / January 2011 / February 2011 / March 2011 / April 2011 / May 2011 / June 2011 / July 2011 / August 2011 / September 2011 / October 2011 / November 2011 / December 2011 / January 2012 / February 2012 / March 2012 / April 2012 / May 2012 / June 2012 / July 2012 / September 2012 / October 2012 / November 2012 / December 2012 / January 2013 / February 2013 / March 2013 / April 2013 / May 2013 / June 2013 / July 2013 / August 2013 / September 2013 / October 2013 / December 2013 /

Powered by Blogger