Ink-Slingers Blog #8 - Mal Eaton

Eaton Mal Peter Piltdown 8 22 43 sig

Mal(colm) Eaton (1902-1974) was a New York-based cartoonist, most well-known for his comic strip, Peter Piltdown, which was created in 1935 and syndicated by Miller Services, a small syndication in Canada. The comic strip changed names a couple of times over the years, later winding up in the pages of Boy's Life, under the title of Rocky Stoneaxe. Peter Piltdown never made it into the upper echelon of comic strips, but I've always found it to be a sometimes silly, often charming strip. Eaton had a scratchy pen style, which gave a lot of life to the drawing. Combine the drawing style with his quirky characters, and you wind up with something very sweet.

In this example of Peter Piltdown, from August 22, 1943, you see Eaton plying his craft beautifully:

Eaton Mal Peter Piltdown 8 22 43 panel 3

Pookie is one of the main characters in Peter Piltdown, and often plays a price for his shenanigans.  After teasing a bird, said bird goes on the offensive.  Eaton’s figure work is deceivingly simple, using few lines and contrasting forms to help create movement.  You can see where the pen scratches the paper, giving movement to the line.

Eaton Mal Peter Piltdown 8 22 43 panels 6 7

In panels six and seven, Pookie gets the dog involved in the action and gets run over in the process.  You notice how Eaton has the action going in two separate diagonal directions, where the action is about to visually collide into each other.  Eaton maintains that scratchy line, using black areas to help create contrasts and draw the viewer’s eye.  And that goofy action and expressions.  He conveys a lot with very little means.

Eaton Mal Peter Piltdown 8 22 43 panels 12 to 14

In panels 12, 13, and 14, the compositions are more static, but Eaton plays off of the tightness of the space with the slapstick, diagonal movement of the action.  The lobster attacks, joined by the parrot.  Eaton incorporates more scrawling hatching, cross-hatching, and scribbling into the darker tones, creating an almost scratchboard effect in that last panel.

Eaton Mal Peter Piltdown 8 22 43

Finally, the entire Sunday page in all its glory.  While it may be sacrilege to some to say Mal Eaton’s name in the same breath as T.S. Sullivant’s, their work is related in some ways, especially when compared to Sullivant’s later work. Eaton used these somewhat awkwardly moving figures that still managed to convey action in his scratchy, animated fashion.  The same could be said of Sullivant’s work.  Now, make no mistake: Sullivant was an early master of the medium, and blazed the trails for guys like Eaton.  But still, I find them to be comic strip relatives.  Maybe first cousins, twice-removed. 

Whatever the case, Mal Eaton’s work always brings a smile to my face, largely due the Screwballist nature of his work, combined with that scratchy approach to drawing.  That’s enough for me.

Until next time!  Yers in ink-slinging goodness.

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