One of the world's most iconic comic book covers is Batman: The Killing Joke (right) which features the Joker holding up a camera in front of his eye in a classic ‘Smile!’ pose. What some may not know is that artist Brian Bolland drew the image based on a photographic reference of himself posing for the cover. Other famous mainstream artists like Jim Lee and Alex Ross also use photographic references for their work.
This is far from just a modern thing, with a very similar story for many Phantom artists including grandfather of pop Wilson McCoy, Moonstone cover artist Douglas Kluaba and current Frew artists Jamie Johnson & Paul Mason also employing the technique.
Ray Moore himself had a Phantom bust made up by Wilson McCoy that he would hold and rotate for a reference for the Phantom's face as far back as the 1930’s.
Of course today with modern gadgets it is simple and virtually instantaneous to use digital photography, but it has not always been that way. Back when Wilson McCoy and even Klauba and Bolland for his Killing Joke cover they used photographic references that needed to be developed and returned, which of course meant more time and more planning.
Douglas Kluaba has also graciously shared several examples of the photographic references he used for his famous and iconic Moonstone covers with us. We will show these next week and are also very proud to announce that he will also be special guest on an upcoming podcast – more details to follow.
However we need to take some time to focus on Wilson McCoy, who was doing the same thing back in the 1950's when it was far more tedious and costly to do.
In the 1996 Winter edition of the Friends of the Phantom newsletter (Patreon supporters can read it in our P3 section), Ed Rhodes published an article revealing the lengths that Wilson McCoy went to to ensure his work was authentic, including travels to Morocco, Egypt and the Belgian Congo.
He returned with photographs, slides and movies, as well as artefacts suck as bows, arrows, and drums. McCoy also brought back a lifetime of stories including: studying and befriending the Bambuti (Mbuti) peoples of the Ituri forest after being threatened by their poison arrows; being jailed in Cairo accused as a spy for unauthorized photography; suffering from acute food poisoning; having travelers cheques stolen; and he was even chased by rhinos and elephants in the wild.
Among his utilities for recording source material was a double camera he devised himself. This was used to photograph a scene from two vantage points simultaneously or to instantly make color and black and white references. Another tool was a full length mirror with a 35mm remote control camera mounted in its center, stationed in a small steam heated, air conditioned studio on his property at the McCoy Barrington estate.
His own house featured as Lily Palmer's country house. Below is an image of the McCoy's Barrington estate that was used in various stories, as well as a panel it featured in from the 73rd Daily story The Betrothal, which appeared on 28 March 1959.
But it didn't stop there. Whenever he needed human references, McCoy would plan a pose and use himself or his family for a photographic reference using a mirror or one of his other utilities. His daughter Carol was Diana, while his son Robert was often used as a model for the Phantom. His wife Dorothy (who often lettered the strips) also posed for Aunt Lily.
See here some samples of photographs Wilson McCoy took of his family and himself for panels in the Sunday story A Proper Husband from 12 February 1956. You can compare the full Sunday page with the source photographs he used for these panels.
Click on the images below for a closer look at each panel and the original source.
A huge thank you to all who have helped with this article: Jamie Johnson for the usage of his above photographic references; Paul Mason for the Brian Bolland reference; the Wilson McCoy references images were sourced from the Wilson McCoy website wilsonmccoy.com; and Ed Rhoades & Pete Klaus for their research into the artist for their Friends of the Phantom newsletters.