Sunday, October 12, 2014

Jane Shaw Artists (2): R. A. Branton

Most readers who have enjoyed the Susan books will recognize the leading character as she was portrayed in the illustrations by R. A. Branton. Some of his drawings in the books are not credited, but he does get a credit in all the Collins annuals. However, like other artists of his day, very little is known about him. Whereas Gilbert Dunlop's family continue to celebrate their father's work by holding exhibitions, no such tradition holds true for Mr. Branton. But my friend Elizabeth Lindsay set out to discover what she could about him, and I did a little investigating of my own. Elizabeth's inquiries were answered by Steve from Collecting Books and Magazines:

His full name was Robert Arthur Branton (1883-1961). He was originally a shipping clerk but later an artist who illustrated a number of children's books in the 1960s. Leslie Branton, his son, was the prolific comic strip artist from the 1950s to the 1970s, having started his career in advertising studios in the 1930s.

So, at least we know something about him. But Steve's reply reminded me of a message I received about a year ago from a woman called Jill Lamb, who said she was R. A. Branton's granddaughter. She claimed that the colour frontispiece for Susan at School was not drawn by her grandfather. It was actually drawn by her father. The illustrations in this book are not credited to anyone. The front cover is obviously by R. A. Branton, but Susan does look a little different in the frontispiece. I asked Ms. Lamb for more information, but received no reply. I did an internet search and found that she had posted a message about her father and another artist on a website. Her father had employed this other artist in his studio at one point. This led me to ask another question: why would an artist have to employ another artist? Could it be that, given the huge amount of work that some artists are credited for, they actually outsource some of their work or have people to help them in their studios? After all, if you search any database, like Goodreads, or any used book website, like Abe Books, for works illustrated by R. A. Branton, you turn up literally hundreds of results. Would it be possible for one person to produce all this on his own? Once again, I turned to Collecting Books and Magazines, and John Tipper informed me that such a situation is indeed possible and that he knew for certain of at least one case. Artists have assistants called stringers. He explained how it all worked:

Eagle comic used a team in the 1950s and it was commonplace among the bigger publishers, so no doubt it applied to children's book illustrators as well. The top man or woman would do the coloured DJ plus frontispiece and a 2nd stringer would do the line ilos.

So there we have it. As well as the Susan stories, R. A. Branton provided the illustrations for other stories of Jane Shaw that were published in the Collins annuals, including Family Trouble and Crooks Limited. That's two of the Jane Shaw artists taken care of. Now I have to find out more about Robert Hodgson, who illustrated the Northmead Books, and Thelma Lambert, who provided the illustrations for Anything Can Happen.