Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob: Torbett Sanatorium

One of the challenges of drawing a biographical comic strip is that, unlike a prose biographer, we not only have to know as much as possible about the who, what, when, and where of any given event, but we also have to know what things looked like. This can be particularly difficult when you're talking about remote, rarely photographed places that no longer exist.

A few days ago, Brian Leno made a great post over on the Two-Gun Raconteur site about Frank Thurston Torbett, a one-time collaborator of Robert E. Howard's.

Howard met Frank while taking his mother for medical treatment at Torbett Sanatorium in Marlin, Texas. Of special interest to us was this picture postcard of the Sanatorium that Brian ran with his post:


This picture caused us to remember an episode of The Adventures of Two-Gun Bob that we drew back in 2006. The strip featured the Sanatorium, and our reference for the buildings ultimately came from the postcard seen below (as much illustration as photograph), which bore a 1939 postmark (3 years after REH's death):


At the time, we also had a photograph similar to the one Leno posted, and in comparing the two, it was easy to see that several changes had been made to the buildings during the time between when the two photos were taken.

Most notably, the small structure in the foreground is made of wood in Leno's picture, but (what looks like) cement in the picture we had. Also, the building on the left had an upper floor added, and the hotel clearly changed its name from “Hotel Imperial” to “Hotel Majestic” at some point.

Since we didn't know the exact dates the pictures were taken, we agonized over which version to draw in our strip (which took place in 1935). We ultimately went with cement structure and extra floor, probably because of the general vintage of the automobiles shown in the later postcard.

Later, long after our comic strip had been printed (Conan #26), we discovered that at The Falls County TXGenWeb project, they'd posted a 1947 book written by Dr. J. W. Torbett, Sr. which features the illustration seen below — which, we were happy to see, clearly bears the date, 1928, and shows the cement structure in place, and the extra floor added to the building on the left (also notice that the hotel is named “Anne's Hotel”):


Of course, that picture is not a photograph, so it's possible that the illustration Dr. Torbett included in his book is just an architectural rendering imagining what a proposed new cement structure and extra floor would look like — but even if that's the case, it's likely that these changes were put in place before 1935, when our comic strip shows REH taking his mother there.

Below is the finished strip as it appeared back in 2006 in Dark Horse's Conan #26:

1 comment:

  1. Placing things in visual as well as historical context is always a fascinating journey, and one that frequently pits the knowledge and experience of the researcher against anyone else with an opinion.

    Just recently, I've been reading a book on The Rookery building in Chicago. One of the more interesting things about it is the way in which its described by laypeople. It's not uncommon to see people attribute the design of the light court to Frank Lloyd Wright. This couldn't be further from the truth. Twenty-ish years after the initial construction, Wright was contracted to modernize the court (not the entire building), which he did by basically skinning the whole thing in gold-leafed white marble, and replacing the baluster panels with ones of his own pattern -- but attributing the architectural design or concept to him just isn't accurate.

    Something else you see is people referring to the building as a great example of Art Deco architecture -- which is rather interesting considering the construction of the building preceded Deco by almost 40 years. It is true that there are Deco elements -- owing to a second remodel in the early-'30's -- but those elements (lights and elevator door grills) are few and far between. And certainly no one who actually knows anything about Deco would look at the rest of the building and think that there was anything even remotely Deco about it.

    In the '90's, when The Rookery was restored after decades of neglect and botched maintenance (like painting the atrium glass of the light court to prevent leaks -- and painting it black, of all things), the restoration architects faced a unique challenge: to what era should the building be restored? In the end, they decided to go with the FLW epoch, because there was apparently so little documentation, photographic or otherwise, that "restoring" the building to its original glory as designed by Burnham and Root would have involved a huge amount of "conjecture" (their term), rather than being based on evidence.

    It's always rewarding, as in the case of the Two-Gun Bob strip when your thoroughness and attention to detail pay off. If nothing else, it's a nice justification for the unappreciated hours that go into that kind of work.

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