Jun 17, 2019

Hey Archie, How About a Complete Works of Harry Lucey?

A while back on Facebook, Mark Waid said "You could argue with me all week that Harry Lucey wasn't the best Archie artist ever, but you'd be wasting your time." Even further than a while back, I called Harry Lucey the third most influential Archie artist in the company's history. And yes, I stick by that. But he is my favorite, and in this column, I'll show you why.

Reclaiming History: Harry Lucey
by Duy

After a stint in the war, Harry Lucey joined Archie Comics (or rejoined MLJ Comics, which was now going by Archie Comics) in 1948, regularly started drawing the Archie characters in 1956, and did so for 20 years. For those 20 years, he was one of two main Archie artists, the other one being Dan DeCarlo. For the sake of reference and comparison, here are the two of them drawing the classic Archie image, "Three on a Soda." That's Lucey on the left, DeCarlo on the right.



Who the better draftsman is is subjective, but I think we can safely say that Lucey's style is a bit more unique than DeCarlo's, whose clean, crisp style is the platonic ideal for anyone working at Archie. So I'm willing to give this one to DeCarlo since it's his style that everyone's based theirs off since.

But when it comes to comics, draftsmanship is only a part of it. There's a whole range of skills needed to succeed in the business. Some guys are great draftsmen but can't really convey motion and "acting." Some guys don't draw the best figures, but are great cartoonists and storytellers. I would call Harry Lucey a good artist, and I would call him a great storyteller.

Any look at Harry Lucey has to start with his mastery of gesture. In drawing, there's something called "The Action Line," which is a single stroke that defines where a body is going to go and the shape it's going to take. Here's a comparison from Stan Lee and John Buscema's How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way that shows how a more dynamic action line can affect how a picture is going to look.



With Harry Lucey, the action lines are always clear. This is true regardless of if someone is actually in action:


If someone's getting hit:


If the action line has to encompass a distance between two people:


And if someone is falling (Lucey's staple):

The key to this mastery of gesture? Take up space. Take up all the space.


If he needs to have someone stand perfectly still for contrast, he will:


No analysis of old-school Archie would be complete without us talking about the cheesecake factor. There's a whole conversation to be had about whether or not it's appropriate for such depictions in popular culture, especially since these characters are high school students, but for better or for worse, sex appeal and Good Girl Art was a backbone of Archie Comics, something that the Riverdale TV series perfectly understood and executed (albeit in a completely different way). Here is what I think is a drawing fairly representative of the skills and artistic process by Dan DeCarlo, feature Josie and Melody of the Pussycats, and Pepper.


And here is what I believe is a fairly representative drawing of Betty and Veronica that is fairly representative of the skills and artistic process of Harry Lucey.


DeCarlo's drawing certainly seems more realistic and anatomically correct and idealized — and that's what he was hired for, having worked in pin-up art prior to Archie — but in my opinion, Lucey's characters speak more. There's just more character, more life, and not just with the girls, but also with Archie. I'm not knocking on DeCarlo at all. I do think he's the better draftsman. It's just that Lucey is the better cartoonist.

For completion and reference, here's Stan Goldberg's take on the exact same scene:



Lucey is also a master of facial expressions, and a part of that is exactly because his style gives more creative freedom to interpretations. In classic Archie, most girls look the same — they'll just have different hair, and Sabrina will have freckles. In Lucey's world, Sabrina looks off-kilter. She's a witch, and you won't forget she's different.


Big Moose, likewise, isn't just one of the guys scaled up and bulked up. Under Lucey, he loses his neck and gets more rectangular, fortifying his position as the big guy.


Here's a sequence starring Fred Andrews, Archie's dad, whom the gang comes to when a book is banned from them. Look at the variety of facial expressions he goes through in only five panels.


Let's look at Fred again, trying to troll his wife Mary.


It's this simultaneous mastery of facial expressions and gesture that make Lucey so suited to silent stories, or stories with limited dialogue. Check out this sequence where you can absolutely tell what's going on, and there are only two repeating lines of dialogue throughout. (This is true of the entire story.)



Lucey also played around quite a bit with panels. Other Archie artists, most notably Samm Schwartz, did it too, mostly as a joke, but with Lucey it was almost always a problem solver. How can you emphasize that Archie's butt is getting pulled off a wall?



Or maybe Betty is on a table but you want to save some space?


Or how about Archie hitting the floor?


There's also this cutaway, which isn't really something I see Archie Comics do:



And while we're at it, this isn't from Archie Comics but is from Archie the publisher, can we just mention his wide range? He drew a series called Sam Hill, Private Eye, as gritty and moody as they come:


Harry Lucey was a very good artist. But he was a great cartoonist. I hope I've convinced you of the greatness of Harry Lucey. He's my favorite of all the Archie artists, and I find myself more and more just gravitating towards his stuff when I read Archies. I would want a whole collection of his works, digest-sized or in hardback, but for now these volumes will have to do. In the meantime, let me leave you with what may be my favorite Harry Lucey story, "Sssh!", which shows up in the Best of Archie Comics Book 4.



So how about it. Archie Comics? The Complete Works of Harry Lucey. Sounds pretty good, doesn't it?




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