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Saturday, September 17, 2011

L. Ashwell Wood: Behind the Scenes part 5

by Jeremy Briggs

L Ashwell Wood is best known for his 600+ cutaway illustrations produced for Eagle comic between 1950 and 1969 but the last series that he was associated with was the Inside Information series of children’s books published by Benwig between 1969 and 1971. These have been covered before on Bear Alley when Steve was trying to tie-up the biographical details of Wood himself and when Richard Sheaf proved the existence of the final four books in the series by providing scans of their covers.

Inside Information On Military Aircraft (1969 – SBN 901-798 096)
Inside Information On Modern Ships (1969 – SBN 901-798 07x)
Inside Information On Trains Today (1969 – SBN 901-798 088)
Inside Information On Civil Aircraft (1969 – SBN 901-798 061)

Inside Information On Space Travel (1970 – SBN 901-798 150)
Inside Information On Naval Ships (1970 – SBN 901-798 126)
Inside Information On Racing Cars (1970 – SBN 901-798 142)
Inside Information On Hovercraft (1970 – SBN 901-798 134))

Inside Information On Exploring Under the Sea (1971? – SBN 901-798 31 2)
Inside Information On Famous Steam Trains (1971? – SBN 901-798 32 0)
Inside Information On World Car Speed Records (1971? – SBN 901-798 33 9)
Inside Information On Tanks and Armoured Cars (1971? – SBN 901-798 34 7)

These 8 x 6 inch landscape format hardback books were aimed at children and were all written and illustrated by Wood who was also the owner of the company. Each book has 8 single page colour cutaways and 1 two page centrespread colour cutaway, plus 3 black and white illustrations, all newly produced for each book with one of the single colour pages being reused for the cover. The books were published in three batches of four as can be seen from the dates given and the first batch of four titles were also released in softcover under the same Standard Book Numbers with a generic cover design. Indeed some of the hardback versions of the first four books are softcover books with the hardback glued onto the softcover, while others were printed as hardbacks.

A selection of the illustrations for these books have recently come to light and with the recent ending of NASA’s Space Shuttle programme it seems appropriate that we use the L Ashwell Wood’s version of a space shuttle entitled “To Space Stations And Back” from Inside Information On Space Travel as an example of his work from this series of books.

This illustration shows a pair of manned spacecraft, a larger shuttle style vehicle designed to take its cargo into space and an additional smaller vehicle designed to take people from the main craft to a distance space station.

The original art for this spacecraft, which is painted on Fineline Drawing Board, is approximately 12 x 9 inches with the final printed version of the image being approximately 7.5 x 5 inches, so the original artwork is not quite the “half up” that Wood used for his Eagle centrespreads. Perhaps the most striking thing about this original is the brightness of the colours in comparison to the printed version, especially for the space background which is a strong purple colour rather than the blue of the book. The reason for this may be down to the technical limitations of reproducing the dark colours of a space background given the printing capabilities that were being used in 1970. Indeed artist Mike Noble had problems with reproductions of his space backgrounds when he was painting the Fireball XL5 comic strip in TV Century 21 comic in 1965. As he related in this interview on The Gerry Anderson Complete Comic History website, Noble had to use Prussian Blue for space backgrounds due to the infrared cameras that photographed the art for printing picking up any colour of paint that had any black mixed into it and printing that colour as black or grey no matter what colour it appeared to the naked eye.

In addition to the shuttle and mini-shuttle the image also includes an Earth-orbiting space station. While the painted station is less than half an inch across on the original art, as can be seen by the shadow-like lines in this close up, Wood obviously had decided that his original version of it was too big and had reduced the size of it, perhaps to give the impression that it was further away from the shuttle and the Earth.

As we know from his Eagle work, Wood painted the full illustration first and then the number circles were added afterwards with the numbers going on last. Looking at the original artwork used for this page we therefore see the white number circles added on top of the artwork. While this artwork has no attached notes giving the key to the numbers that would be added to the circles, it does have a semi-transparent overlay of tracing paper onto which those numbers have been written in pencil.

There is little in the way of writing on the art board itself although Wood does title the image as Space Shuttle-Ship as well as including his stylised signature.

This signature is unusual for two reasons; firstly it is not on the printed version of the image, suggesting that it was added after publication when the art had been returned to him from the printers, and secondly it is in biro. Wood normally painted this style of signature, of a capital lettered Ashwell above Wood with a large L to the left, on his paintings while his hand written signature was in more normal day-to-day joined-up script. Looking in more detail at this signature you can just make out the ruled pencil lines that he used to keep the heights of the letters consistent.

No one has seen the original artwork without the white numbers circles on it since before the book was published in 1970 and few, perhaps only Wood’s wife Florence, would even have seen it then. However with the use of modern technology it is possible to Photoshop the white circles out and provide an impression of what the original image looked like in its full glory before they were added.

L Ashwell Wood would not live to see a real shuttle spacecraft fly. He died in 1973, four years before Shuttle Enterprise glided from the back of its Boeing 747 carrier aircraft for the first time and some eight years before Shuttle Columbia blasted off from the Kennedy Space Centre into space.

The second part of this article will show the real world designs that L Ashwell Wood based this spacecraft on.

(* With thanks to Richard Sheaf.)

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