Recently, Fantagraphics announced that they would begin publishing a new collection of reprints featuring the work of cartoonist Roy Crane, the creator of Wash Tubbs and Captain Easy. NBM Publishing had published several volumes of reprinting older material, but it would appear that these volumes have long been out of print.
It is easy to identify Roy Crane’s work. He used several layers of light and dark to create inclusive environments where his characters lived in. He was also a master of action series, preceding luminaries such as Milton Caniff and his work on Terry and the Pirates. Because of the small space available in a comic strip and the use of black and white, distinguishing features by purposely darkening visual planes is a worthwhile technique. Similar techniques are used in cartoon animation to differentiate the characters from the foreground, and their background. Unlike the Europeans who focused on the ligne claire, Crane did not use the same weight of line drawings to differentiate planes of drawings. He also used toned shading similar to the duotone that has been used in the last few decades by artists such as John Byrne.
Crane did understand that with a limited amount of panel and space he had to pack a punch in order for an adventure based story with some slapstick action had to be decipherable easily by readers. Looking at a Roy Crane comic strip, the reader does not have to read much of the captions to understand the action. It was all action-based with sometimes crude but effective drawings.
I’m overjoyed by the Fantagraphics collection because a lot of readers have no idea about who Roy Crane was and why Captain Easy and Wash Tubbs are important comic strips that have influenced so many masters since it was first published in 1924.