Through study of album covers, television program title artwork, and common illustrations used in everything from health booklets to instruction manuals from the 1950s, author/designer Gary Scott Beatty created recent Xeric Foundation grant winner “Jazz: Cool Birth,” a jazz club murder mystery. The comic will appear in September’s Previews preorder magazine under Aazurn Publishing.
“I hope to pull readers into the late night clubs of 1957, feeling the music through the visuals,” Beatty explained. Ignoring paint and ink magazine illustration, a style left over from previous decades, he said he concentrated on the combination of flat and painterly used by artists working with T-squares and triangles, tracing paper, ruling pens and brush. “What ’50s designers lacked in modern printing methods they made up for in raw skill with their tools,” he said. “I’m still in awe over what they were able to accomplish by hand.
“Jazz album typography fascinated me at an early age,” said Beatty, “and album graphics are some of my earliest memories. I always loved the type, hand drawn and typeset, carefully kerned and arranged by hand. My mother still has many beautiful jazz albums and cool jazz was the soundtrack to my young life.”
Beatty said he found a font that approximates the famous Steinweiss Scrawl appearing on ’50s album covers, named for designer Alex Steinweiss. “My typefaces are passable, but, like typographers predicted with the rise of desktop publishing in the ’80s, the fonts don’t have quite the grace and balance of their ’50s counterparts.”
Some influences on “Jazz: Cool Birth” are Steinweiss, Jim Flora, illustrator Lou Peters and Disney designer Tom Oreb, as well as Mark Rothko and the rest of the abstract expressionists. “But the look of Jazz: Cool Birth comes, mostly, from unknown, uncredited artists working in a beat style in a decade where nearly every printed piece contained some kind of drawn graphic,” said Beatty.
The author/designer realized right away his methods of drawing were not loose enough to come close to the spontaneity he was studying. “I took to drawing preliminaries with a thick Sharpie marker so I wouldn’t tighten up,” he explained. “I then imported scans into Illustrator and redrew with abandon, experimenting with brush strokes and flat solids without restraint.” Beatty said his drawings have always been detailed and his painting has always been impressionistic, so none of this art experience was useful working on “Jazz: Cool Birth.” “The section of my brain I’ve developed through decades of printing project prep, surprisingly, took over. Balance and imbalance, emotion with color, storytelling with graphic symbols and type as art all sort of changed my view of what comic book art should be.”
What emerged, and what must have impressed the Xeric Foundation Selection Committee, was a cohesive whole, where graphics, writing style, slang, typography and more screamed, “1957.” The Xeric Foundation is a private, nonprofit corporation established by Peter A. Laird, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Planet Racers, that offers financial assistance to committed, self-publishing comic book creators in the United States and Canada.
Beatty’s tools are modern and digital, but he said the process of pushing things around on the page remains the same as 1957. “What I learned from studying craftsmen of 50 years ago is to never let the tools dictate where something lays on a page. The modern computer typesetter’s practice of distorting type rather than adjusting the letter spacing and kerning is lazy, uninformed and unattractive. Typography is a line-by-line art, dig?”
“Jazz: Cool Birth” can be ordered through your local comic book shop from September’s Previews order magazine under Aazurn Publishing. To find your local comic book shop call the Comic Shop Locator Service toll free at 1-888-COMICBOOK (1-888-266- 4226) or go online to http://csls.diamondcomics.com .
Aazurn Publishing and “Jazz: Cool Birth” information, including an informative blog detailing the steps behind starting the company, can be found at Aazurn.com. Other stuff is at GaryScottBeatty.com.