Sunday, October 12, 2008

Daan Jippes and Carl Barks

I've been a fan of Daan Jippes as long as I can remember. I was very excited when I found out that Gemstone as publishing a new treasury that included many of the Donald Duck stories Daan has illustrated.

However one of the most interesting things about the treasury was this page below.

It explains that Carl Barks drew 24 rough stories that he was unable to clean up and finish. So other artists were hired in the 1970s to do final artwork for the stories so that they could be published.

Now the first thing to note is that I feel really badly for the artists who were hired to redraw these and who are referred to as having done a rather poor job with the original Barks scripts, especially Kay Wright who is mentioned here by name. I'm sure they did their best to take on what would be a pretty daunting task. But it's true what the author here implies...the page represented here from Wright's version seems pretty bland.

Anyway the reason this page is so fascinating is that we can compare Bark's original rough with two different versions of the final page and see how it was interpreted by different artists: Daan Jippes and Kay Wright. That's such a rare treat - if anyone knows where there might be more of these Barks roughs online let me know.

Overall, Daan has worked a lot harder to get depth into his panels than Wright did. Just look at the first panel where Wright's wall is parrallel to the picture plane while Daan's version of the wall recedes in perspective to give more interest but it also gives the panel a better composition. The wall leads your eye back into the center of the composition and over to the left while the mountain on the left of the panel helps keep your eye from drifting off the left side of the page. Notice how Wright's version of the tree in that first panel is placed almost in the middle of the page, which always makes for a static composition. Also Wright's version is a very generic tree - with a very simply drawn version of leaves that is visually uninteresting. Also the way the word balloons separate the trunk from the leaves makes the trunk and the leaves seem separate from each other. That tree doesn't add anything to the composition. In Daan's panel, on the other hand, there is great care taken to compose the dialogue panels so that the transition from trunk to leaves is clearly seen. The tree is placed off to the side instead of right in the center of the panel. Also Jippes uses the leaf shapes to keep your eye pointed down towards the characters, the most important part of the panel.

Also in the first panel notice the placement of the characters. Jippes stayed pretty close to what Barks drew and he arranged the composition and perspective so that what Barks had made sense. Daan drew background elements like the hill in the foreground to accommodate the figures the way Barks had drawn them. Wright flattened everything out, making the ground plane flat and the fence flat as well, and then arranged figures on top of that so that the composition would feel "filled out", but the figures don't feel like they're really sitting in that space. The figure on the left is standing right on the bottom line of the panel (always an awkward choice) and the top of the head on the right looks funny because the ground plane is so flat. That character's head - if he were standing - should be blocking our view, otherwise the ground is staring to slope suddenly under that one guy. It would have worked better if Kay had drawn that head bigger but because it's the same size as the one just to the left of it (the pig head) it looks like the figure is standing on the same plane as the pig in space and that the figure is either really really short or standing in a hole.

In the second panel Jippes's addition of the top of the wall and seeing enough of the duck's bottom to see how it's sitting on the wall creates a more interesting composition and helps keep your eye from drifting off the right side of the panel, as well as adding depth to the panel as it recedes in space.

The other biggest overall difference between Jippes's and Wright's versions is that Wright's figures tend to be much more symmetrical in their poses and their expressions; Wright's are the same on both sides of their faces while Daan's are much more appealing and interesting because they are asymmetrical. Daan's figures are less straight up-and-down and seem more active and interesting because they tend to be more diagonal. Also Daan's have much more rhythm within their bodies. Daan's characters have more of a curve rhythm to their bodies while Wright's are more chubby and squat with a straight up-and-down feel.

Again in panel three we see that Wright has chosen to make the background flat, level and uninteresting. To create more depth Jippes has broken up the background into different planes, adding hills and mountains to breakup the spaces and add variety. Also notice the way he drew three different types of fences running along on the right back into the picture plane. The fences add a lot of depth, but beyond that, it's an interesting choice to make the fences three different sizes. If you think about it, what if the fence was all the small height of the stone wall in the foreground? It would quickly fade back into a very small shape right about the time it passes behind the bird's head. So transitioning to the tall green fence makes it into a larger shape that can be seen in the distance better. And if he had started by drawing the tall green fence beginning all the way at the right side of the panel, it would have been so big that it would have been too large and would have overwhelmed the composition, as well as creating a really strong diagonal shape that would have been way too dynamic and distracting.

I also like in that third panel how Jippes chose to cut off the figures around the tops of their shoes and just above their knees instead of how Wright handled them, cutting them off with their bottoms sitting on the bottom of the panel. Daan's approach is much more interesting. Look at how in Jippes's version the three figures seem stacked up in space and lead you over to the duck, who is the most important figure in the panel. Also the far left figure in Kay's version - the duck - has his bottom and tail so close to the left-hand border that it creates a tension when you look at it. In Jippes's version he pushed the figure's rear further to the right to make sure there's no annoyingly small gap to create tension there.

In Kay's fourth panel he's added a fence to the background that would seem to be a good choice but it's falling away so severely that it creates an overwhelming and distracting diagonal (just like it would have if Jippes had drawn the large green fence running all the way through his version of panel three). The flat ground plane that Kay has drawn doesn't make it seem like the fence would be falling away that fast in perspective, and the most confusing thing about his choice is that he drew all the fence slats the same width. He should have drawn them as seeming to get closer to each other as they move away from us into space. The end result here is that it looks like the fence is parallel to us but someone cut it in half along the diagonal.

In Jippes's version of panel four he has wisely left the background out so that the nephew's really active, dynamic dancing pose can be the featured attraction without background elements to detract from it.

In the final panel Jippes frames the school between two groups of foreground characters (just like Barks did in his rough layout). Wright chose to put the foreground characters in the bottom half of his panel and to put the school in the top half of the panel, which is a bit problematic in a panel that's as wide as that one is. To take a panel that wide and effectively cut it in half along the horizontal isn't using the shape of the panel to it's best advantage but Jippes and Barks use the wide stretched out panel to stack the ideas horizontally instead of vertically which feels better. And Daan's and Bark's composition is better because they are able to stage the characters in a more interesting grouping - one solo character one the left and then several grouped together on the right. Also the way Wright tackled the layout seems weaker than what Daan has done because - again - laying it out like this creates really strong diagonals in the sidewalk lines that seem to overwhelm the composition and make your eyes want to slide down out of the lower left hand corner and out of the frame, or to zip up and shoot out of the upper left hand corner. You can see again why Wright's approach of thinking of all the ground planes as completely flat at all times isn't as useful as Daan's approach of making the environment more uneven, creating little hills wherever it helps him create a better composition or staging. Kay's use of flat staging with the camera so high have also created a bit of a perspective problem; you can see that the two ducks in the center of the frame look much smaller than their counterparts in the foreground left and right. Daan's technique of adding little hills and rising terrain where he needs it allows him to keep the camera (and horizon line) lower and allows him to place his characters a little more freely without creating awkward perspective problems. A lower horizon line is always more forgiving when placing figures in perspective.

And Daan uses a favorite trick of Barks's here: he placed part of the frame in total silhouette to simplify it and make it all one element. Making the duck on the left completely in silhouette also helps make him look closer to the viewer than the rest of the frame and breaks the scene nicely into three manageable areas: Foreground, Middle Ground and Background (another favorite trick of Carl Barks's).

Also I love the flagpole in front of the school; in Barks's and Daan's it serves as a great vertical accent to the overall horizontal shape of the panel. In Wright's it wouldn't have worked because he chose to turn it into a more horizontal composition overall.

Now I should point out that I don't really know Daan personally and I will never be the draftsman he is, so take all this as just my humble interpretation (and best guess) of what he's thinking as he draws this stuff. I'm not speaking for him and I have no special insight into his process. Take this post as a basis to look at Barks's and Jippes's work for yourself and see what they are trying to do with the way they present their stories. Also looking at the work of artists who aren't quite as sharp as those two can be helpful; you can look at it and ask yourself how it could be improved.

For those interested in seeing more of Daan's artwork, there is a cool page here that has a nice gallery of his work. Click on the icons to the right to see many examples of Daan's work and to get a good feel for the artistic range he has.

Also there are a lot of great examples of his work here on Joakim Gunnarsson's blog.

Now this is going to get me into a lot of hot water with a lot of people, but to tell the truth, I was a little disappointed with the book when I got it. And the reason is that I never realized that Daan was actually not drawing in his own natural style, but instead trying very hard to imitate Carl Bark's style when he draws these stories. He does a good job at that, but for my taste it's too faithful of a recreation. Carl Barks drew a lot of stories and I don't really need to see more - I would rather see what Jippes would do with the ducks if he was let loose to do with them what he would!

I love Carl Barks and I am a big fan of his work and his storytelling, and I like his drawings very much. But Daan is a far superior draftsman to Barks. Daan's work has a fluidity and rhythm to it that is unparalleled. His sense of composition and staging is really dynamic and interesting. So I would much rather see his take on the Ducks than seeing him have to imitate what Barks did. He almost seems to be restraining his own draftsmanship in order to fit into Barks's more straightforward and simpler style.

In any case I definitely recommend getting the book. It's got a lot of great artwork and stories in it, and it's titled "Volume One" so hopefully we will be treated to many more of his stories, and let's hope they publish more pages like this in the next one; it sure was an education to look at.


Josh of Pixelton said...

What I find interesting is that if you skip reading the words and simply focus on the visual storytelling, Wright's is far clearer.

It is hard to tell what is exactly happening in Jippe's version (though his sense of depth and framing are much better). Plus, I feel his backgrounds distract from the main character's actions. And his inclusion of a silhouette feels very forced and adds nothing.

As an artist I enjoy Jippe's but as a storyteller Wright wins.

stevem said...

I've been a Barks fan since you mentioned him back in '06. Am not aware of any of his rough drawings online, but there are some Don Rosa roughs with comments at this site (click on "pencil page" icon at bottom of screen for each of the twelve pages).

valrossie said...

It explains that Carl Barks drew 24 rough stories that he was unable to clean up and finish. So other artists were hired in the 1970s to do final artwork for the stories so that they could be published.

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Anonymous said...

Comment will follow. --Daan Jippes

Daan Jippes said...

Though all them words of praise leave me somewhat dumbfounded I may be able to utter a few clarifying words on the last part of your epistle, Mark.
Where you decry my abstinence from an “own”style in doing these Barks interpretations, I feel obliged to point out the agenda I and my dutch and scandinavian publishers tried to follow in this endeavour to redo all of these Barks-pencilled stories: to stay as close to what Barks MIGHT have had in mind…when visualizing –via his scribbles- his stories.
However presumptious that may sound.
Yeah, I could`ve executed them MY way. But SO did Kay Wright, Bob Gregory, Tony Stroble and all these guys commissioned by Western Publishing in the 1970`s. So what would`ve been the point?
I`m known for being a style-chameleon, and not ashamed of it. The extra pressure to stay within the graphic realm of a given style, in this case Barks`, I particularly treasure. It`s only when I work “just”to put a visual idea across, like when I`m storyboarding, that my drawing descends into my “own”style ( the notion that not many eyes will scrutinize it helps, I guess).

One correction on Gemstone`s assertion that I would still be toiling away at those Barks redos: the very last story was finished in november of 2006. Since then I`ve done Barks-toned duck stories on my own scripts. And just wrapped HAVANK 2 ( for those of you with european tastes).

mark kennedy said...

josh - interesting, I completely disagree but thanks for the thoughts.

stevem - cool, thanks for the link.

valrossie - yep, that's right.

Thanks for clarifying Daan.

Although it makes sense to clean up Barks's stuff and try to stick to how he might have drawn it, I always prefer to see artists work in their own styles because styles are so personal. An imitation never feels as sincere....but that's just my opinion.

If you could tell us where those of us in the States could by Havank 2 that would be great!

mark kennedy said...

I meant "buy" Havank 2.

Jesse Hamm said...

I agree that Daan's version of the page is better overall, but with due respect to Daan, I also agree with some of Josh's crits.

For instance, in the first panel, Wright leaves plenty of breathing room between the tree trunk and the speaking duck's hand. In Jippes's page, the trunk crowds the hand, creating a tangency. There are also tensions/tangencies between the heads of the three characters at the left.

The shift from wall to picket fence in that panel is also distracting and apparently arbitrary, and the pickets add unnecessary detail that competes with the duck in the background. (The same trouble occurs with the fence and a duck's face in panel 3.) Also, the house in that background appears to turn into a church in the third panel. Maybe this is due to the shift in p.o.v., but it's disorienting.

In panel 4, Jippes crops the figures at the ankles, which gives the impression that they're sinking out of frame. Wright instead pushes them up into the panel and establishes them on the ground plane.

In panel 5, the edge of the building at the left is hard to make out, and competes with the Jr. Woodchuck's hat and hand. Wright's simple background of bushes instead creates a clear backdrop for the action.

I do prefer Jippes's version, but I think it's worth observing that, like so many things, there are pluses and minuses. No doubt similar criticisms could have been raised had Barks drawn the page himself.

David Cousens said...

This was a really fascinating post. It was really useful as a comparison to see how to get things right and what works in an image.

PS. Daan, you should be proud, you dealt with the challenge much more capably than your predecessor. :)

Floyd Norman said...

I've had the good pleasure of working with Daan Jippes at Disney some years ago.

In my opinion, Daan is a master, and everything he touches is made that much better.

I've worked with many incredibly talented artists in all my years at Disney, and Daan Jippes is one of the best!

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