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The Pin-Up Art of Dan DeCarlo
posted February 24, 2005
Dan DeCarlo, Alex Chun, Jacob Covey
Fantagraphics Books, 216 pages, $18.95
This is the third of Fantagraphics' planned series of girl-cartoons, and I bet without even looking that most of the reviews will note similarities between some of these girls from Dan DeCarlo's pin-ups for Humorama magazines (in format, they were kind of the manga of the newsstand) and his later work on the Betty and Veronica characters in the Archie Comics. There is a little bit of that. Actually, though, not only are most of the female forms depicted here exaggerated in more womanly ways than the comparatively teenaged figures of Riverdale High's pair, but DeCarlo uses a lot of a models for his various faces -- this is particularly true from his males, who look like they were cast out of a half-dozen other cartoonists' works.
There's a lot of here of interest. DeCarlo is obviously still developing during this work, so you can track some of his artistic choices, good and bad. Related to the Betty/Veronica thing is that you'll likely notice visual codes with which DeCarlo built his run on children's comics transposed onto the sexier stuff in a way that makes you think of every female as a wide-eyed, button-nosed innocent, which fits perfectly into various innocent dumb-girl jokes on display. DeCarlo and his editor worked in a way where the artist provide drawings over which were later placed captions; there are a ton of jokes that don't quite match up to the depiction, and many jokes that are repeated (to their credit, Alex Chun and Jacob Covey run many if not all of these in close proximity to one another). The two-color printing and general design choices, especially where Covey brings us into a specific element of a drawing, are really effective without becoming distracting (it's nice that Covey is given co-author status on the book's cover). Overall, this is a handsome presentation of non-vital work kept appropriately cheap and presented as light entertainment rather than as considered art or a documentary. Bring on Bill Wenzel.