TAC Table of Contents
In 1951 the American public got to see a new version of the Man of Steel in action with the theatrical release of Superman and the Mole Men. The star of this feature was a talented and handsome actor named George Reeves. By early 1953, the Adventures of Superman hit the newest media, television and became an instant sensation to millions of children across America. The popularity of this show was strong throughout the 50's and 60's. However, by the time the 80's rolled around the Adventures of Superman faded from the minds of most, except for a small loyal following. Although, I suspect the appreciation of George Reeves and his version of Superman remained tucked away in the deep depths of their minds, never truely being displaced by the world's many other interest. And mention George Reeves to almost any person over the age of 40 and you'll find that person hard pressed to hold back a smile. Often the Adventures of Superman brings fond memories of a better time. Perhaps the resent release of the episodes on Warner Brothers boxset and the eve of a new film Superman Returns (June 30, 2006) is upon us, very often now one of those "millions" of children from the 50's - 60's decides it is time to see if the spirit of George Reeves still lives on. Most who revisit their childhood hero are startled to learn a lot information to been reserched, discovered and communicated for many, many years now. The "Magic of Knowledge" began in 1976, the year Gary Grossman's book Superman: Serial to Cereal was released. Because the Adventures of Superman had a tremendous influence over the few who remained interested long after the syndicated broadcast left the airwaves. These fans created books, calendars, fan magazines, magazine articles, celebrations, went to personal appearances, and televison segments over twenty-five years. "Land Sakes."
New names are e-mailing TAC almost daily and it seems the interest for George, Noel, Jack, John, Bob and all the wonderful character actors and directors, producers, writers who brought us the Adventures of Superman is on the rise. Imagine a legion of loyal fans once again like the 50's and 60's. Rediscovering the Adventures of Superman at an older age is a feeling that can't be discribed. Just ask newcomer Ron Gross. Ron is no stranger to television icons as he is well known in a community dedicated to the 1960's Lost in Space, starring Guy Williams, June Lockhart, Johnathan Harris, Mark Goddard, Marta Kristen, Angela Cartwright, Billy Mumy and Bob May. Ron is an artist in his own right and his site dedicated to Lost in Space is part of a host web site called "The Promised Planet" which is owned and operated by Barry Peters. His work includes designing the original box illustration for the Polar Lights Jupiter 2 model kit. In a style all his own, Ron applied his skills to create his own image of Superman - George Reeves. In Ron's own words, he discribes his illustration process with a series of photographs of his work in process. It is Ron's intent to share his love for illustration and his rediscovering of the Adventures of Superman with the readers of The Adventures Continue. Credit and thanks to Mike Dabney for photographing of artwork.
I have long wanted to do an "idealistic" rendering of George Reeves as The Man of Steel, in response to those who contend that other actors who have played the role were more faithful to the original DC character in terms of physical stature. I would invite them to take a good look at the early episodes of "The Adventures of Superman," when George's brilliant portrayal conceded nothing to his successors in this respect. But even as he began to show signs of age, George's warmth, wit, and very presence on film more than made up for the fact that he had inevitably fallen into the category of middle-aged Superman. The goal of this oil rendering was to pay proper tribute to George, while attempting to represent him at his very best.
Every illustration must begin with some kind of credible source material, which, in the case of a 50+ year old TV show, would almost have to be in the form of photographs and/or still frames. Since my interest in this project was rekindled with the recent release of the first two seasons of TAOS on DVD, I suddenly had an opportunity to scan every early episode in search of the ideal shot of George in the distinguished, stately pose that I had envisioned for my project. The search ended when I came across the scene in "Panic in the Sky" when George stood with Jonathan Hale on the perimeter of the observatory, looking skyward. Certain alterations would be necessary, of course, for the sake of originality and relevancy to my planned background. Since I had envisioned a spacescape setting, I could think of no better source material than the related scene from the opening credits of TAOS.
|After coming up with a rough composition with Photoshop on my PC, the next step was to transfer the outlines of all primary subject matter to my 18X16" primed illustration board. Given the relative simplicity of the background element outlines, there would still be plenty of room for spontaneity and original statement going forward.
|Since I knew that the background would have to be dark, I decided to aid my cause and eliminate the need for multiple layers of paint by utilizing a somewhat unorthodox shortcut. Using a small brush and standard india ink, I carefully outlined all basic subject matter, then proceeded to fill in the rest of the background.
|With the very basic light and dark areas now established, the next step involved the laying in of fundamental color. I decided to establish a quick, preliminary color array by applying standard wax pencils, aided by a suitable solvent and blending sticks. On a much smaller scale, the proper and more controlled use of this technique can produce very polished, finished results.
|Until this point, the project as described has sounded more like a drawing than an oil painting, but this is where the fun started. With basic color and value now confirmed, the time had come to get serious and break out the oil colors. I still prefer oil to acrylic because of the way the paint flows, and the fact that the drying is more controllable for the kind of blending effects that I prefer. I generally use a copal medium, and various amounts of cobalt drier depending on the effect desired.
|Final detailing involved giving George a slightly more youthful appearance in an attempt to capture his essence from the earliest episodes of the series. All traces of the "padded suit effect" were replaced with genuine musculature of the same proportions. Even George's "S" insignia was idealized to an extent, as I always felt that his taylor slighted him somewhat in this respect compared to the model insignia that served as a backdrop for the ending credits. Finally, I decided to lose the "Jupiter" effect on one of the background elements, as I thought that it was a bit distracting, and did not harmonize well with the rest of the composition. The final result is my personal tribute to the man who was my earliest childhood hero, and has left an indelible impression on me ever since. Perhaps Chuck Harter summed it up best during his narrative of "Crime Wave" on the DVD release when he simply said, "George Reeves IS Superman... and always will be."
Earlier I mentioned Ron's Polar Lights contribution. For those interested in model making Ron describes his experience.
My decision to scratch build my own model was born out of the fact that there hadn't been a really accurate offering of the J2 by any company at that point. In the 60's, The Jupiter 2 was often referred to as "the kit that Aurora (Plastics) forgot," as they found a way to cover just about every other contemporary sci-fi subject except this one. Aurora had the license for Lost in Space, and they did produce three kits on other subjects from the series, but the J2 was conspicuously absent. When I designed my prototype years later, I actually calculated the dimensions to be in scale with the LIS diorama kit that Aurora did release.
The company cropped the heck out of my box art and didn't process it particularly well, but somehow I didn't mind. If you can imagine what it must be like to finally have your name and artwork on the kit that you always longed for as a kid but couldn't have, well, it doesn't get much better than that. My box design was used for the first edition, which accounted for about 2/3 of all units sold. After that, Polar Lights had their regular artist do another one to better match the look of the rest of their line, and to rekindle interest after a long initial run.
Well, that's the story in a nutshell.
Thanks for your interest in the story, and for letting us get
together on the George Reeves project.
Ron, TAC thanks you for your interest and contribution. Lou
If you'd like to contact Ron to discuss his work, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for Watching.
Lou (May 6, 2006)