|Coll, Joseph Clement|
Joseph Clement Coll was born in
1881, the son of an Irish bookbinder. Self-taught from the works of
Abbey, his talent
was such that he was taken on as an apprentice newspaper artist on the
New York American at the age of 17. He quickly learned the skills of a
reporter and was sent to Chicago for more training. He returned to New York
in 1901 where he worked on the newly-formed Sunday North American.
The editor of the paper saw his talent and rewarded it with challenging
assignments to which he often contributed in the lettering and design.
The image at right is from his first assignment for the North American. I include it here to show just how accomplished he was at 20, and in honor of Richard Katz, a friend and fellow art lover who happens to own the original and bears more than a passing resemblance to the character depicted.
1902 saw the publication of Isn't It So?, a collection of bon mots and sayings. The work is small and derivative (see at left), but the pen line is alive. It's hard to remember that the ability to reproduce pen drawings without engravings was a relatively modern advancement back then. Until the 1880's, most art reproduced in line was drawn in pencil, on wood, and printed from the engraved wood block. Photography was initially used simply to transfer the image to the wood and it took the insight and involvement of Daniel Vierge to adapt the process to the reproduction of his un-engraved drawing. It was this revolution, scarcely a dozen years prior, that influenced Coll so dramatically. We take it for granted now that the brush or pen and ink are artistic tools, but Coll was breaking relatively new ground and helping to define a medium.
Coll's innovations were dramatic and popular. It wasn't long before he was drawing for Colliers, Everybody's and the Associated Sunday Magazine, among others. He was illustrating fantastic stories by the most popular authors of the day: Arthur Conan Doyle's Sir Nigel and The Lost World (also collected into book form in 1912), Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu (Colliers circa 1913 - a sample is at left), many stories by Talbot Mundy, The Messiah of the Cylinder by Victor Rousseau (post apocalyptic science fiction in 1917 - below), tales of Africa by Edgar Wallace, even a collection of stories from Dickens in 1910 (right). Everything that was thrilling was fair game for his imagination and his skills just kept developing.
Other artists were exploring the possibilities of pen and brush, but Coll was setting the standards.
He was a prolific artist, but the majority of his work appeared in the ephemeral world of magazines. Even the smattering of books that can be found are merely excerpted from the larger body of drawings that appeared in the serialized versions.
Fortunately, there is another source. In 1978, Donald Grant published The Magic Penf Joseph Clement Coll by Walt Reed. It's a marvelous book. The original edition was available in a hardback edition limited to 750 copies and signed by the author, as well as a trade paperback. We think both of these superior to the recent green-covered softbound reprint, but that's just our opinion.
Coll died at the age of 41 from appendicitis in 1921. He had, in 20 short years, defined the look of adventure illustration. The pulp magazines would be full of his admirers. Fu Manchu and the other Eastern menaces were drawn from his design. J.R. Flanagan and the others who succeeded him sported their debt and their admiration proudly. When the pulps gave way to the comics, the next generation of fanatics discovered and learned from his pioneering work. Al Williamson, Roy Krenkel, Frank Frazetta, and hundreds more have felt the touch and "rightness" of his magic.
"Rightness" is the proper word. There were science fiction stories before The Lost World and The Messiah of the Cylinder, just as there were authors before Mundy and Rohmer who wrote horror and adventure stories. What there wasn't, before Coll, was the illustrative style and technique to match the literary ones. Coll invented that style, developed it, popularized it, and disseminated it to the coming generations of artists who saw it and knew that it was right.
Information supplied by: http://www.bpib.com/illustrat/coll.htm