ron turner + early 20th century propaganda posters

on the subject of ron turner’s dalek art for tv century 21 (see previous article: digital vs hand drawn comic strips), most of it looks closer to early 20th century political poster art than late 20th century sequential art, implying he may have chosen to import into it techniques used in propaganda.  the daleks are clearly based on or intended to represent totalitarian societies which have actually existed, so perhaps he decided to make the style of the artwork fit the content.  soviet propaganda in particular also frequently featured the same sort of epic machinery + industrial landscapes daleks tend to be found in, + has a few other points of similarity as well (see below)

three quick notes

a) the following images have been selected because of their aptness to the theory + are not necessarily representative of the whole of soviet propaganda posters (turner could still have been influenced by a subgenre or an untypical style)

b) also note most of the examples cited in this article date from the 80s: although similar posters exist back to the 1920s jpgs of them were not close enough to hand at the time it was composed

+ c) it isn’t necessary to read the whole of the previous article before reading this but you will have to keep referring to it (the text link above opens a new window) to look at the artwork


1    the posters reproduced below are all constructed along diagonal lines + use 3 or 4 colours in large blocks, most of which are triangular (for the obvious reason)

the point that ron turner used diagonal lines in his layouts has already been made: the fact that this tends to create blocks of the same colour probably ought to have been mentioned then as well

the following images are panels of his with one main colourron-turner-colour
2    as promised: industrial landscapes.  in the images below note the relative size of buildings, machines + people, what that implies about the power of the larger picture elements + the inter-relationship between them + the smaller elements.  the third image is a detail of one of the ones designed along the diagonals reproduced above, showing more clearly a collage of b+w photographs of faces getting larger in perspective, superimposed over the interior of a machine (a loom) receding towards the back of the image.  the similarity in the way these components have been represented + arranged is metonymic – the parts of society shown (industry, people) in the relationship they have in the image (balanced by the composition) imply something about the whole society outside of the poster.  the previous two posters are intended to perform the same function – to represent a society, as per the fundamental purpose of propaganda, thus the individual elements are still intended to be viewed as a continuum even though one aspect of that society (the industry or the people) is dwarfed by the other in each picture.  the colossal size of the larger elements is an explicit visual statement about the strength of the society of which they are a component

see previous article again for the daleks with their giant telescopes or the vehicle sticking out of the page at us for ron turner’s version of societies made powerful by technology which the citizens are indivisible from

3    + while you’re there try + find the text that goes with that about dramatic camera angles, then compare turner’s ones with the egs below

the poster on the left is a composite of two main images – lenin seen from a low angle (camera close, bottom right) superimposed on a hammer + sickle emblem, distorted presumably because it’s being viewed from an acute angle (the camera could be any distance depending on the size of the emblem, bottom left, with the emblem at < 45 degrees to it).  the objective of this juxtaposition may be for the hammer + sickle to be read as a shadow being cast

the second poster has a coherent perspective: with the camera bottom centre relative to the picture elements, but with the whole image rotated slightly to get the composition full in the frame + make it more interesting to look at

4    note the lighting used in the poster below on the left – sharp shadows tend to make the shape of the objects represented crystal clear – this is typical across most of the egs reproduced here as can be seen again in the details of two of them on the right.  note also the extra speech balloon which has been grafted on to the top one, visually making the point that these posters incorporate written text as part of the image + thus communicate in much the same way that comics do (which did not necessarily need spelling out verbally in this paragraph)

turning to the other poster detail on the right above note the ‘3’ is lit from the top left, the shadowy figures on the right are lit from the top right (+ the various smaller images on the interior of the 3 are also lit from a number of different directions).  this poster was (presumably) drawn from photo reference images + is basically another photographic composite.  the artist has kept the shadows where they were in the reference material (denoting them as drawn from different locations) as a visual hint that the propaganda message applies to the whole society while only fragments of it appear in the image

the lighting on the middle poster would be photographically impossible – shown clearly in the detail below on the left – except maybe with some sort of negative or by replacing the colours used, especially the whites

the fact that the figures are lighter than their environment attracts the eye + traps it for a while as it works out what looks odd about the image, which is nevertheless perfectly legible at first sight as well.  this is the same function as lenin + his emblem have, + the composite of different camera angles in the same space in the loom image, where the viewer has to work out that it incorporates different perspectives in its detail (cf cubism presenting different views round a 3d object in a 2d painting)

the point about ron turner lighting things inconsistently from one panel to the next or from a direction where there would be no light source at all was made in ‘digital vs hand drawn comic strips’ as well, at the end of section 2.  no quantitative research has been carried out into whether whole comic book pages of his dalek strip are unlikely to turn out to be lit from a consistent direction, but on balance they would be expected not to be – you might want to compare them with anything by will eisner which usually are

also note the function of both of the last two techniques discussed above (angles + light) on propaganda posters is to make the image stick out so it can be seen from a distance + taken in at a glance.  neither of those are necessary attributes for a comic strip (normally read up close, top left corner to bottom right), which is one of the reasons it looks like turner may be borrowing attributes from a source outside his medium.  although the reason suspected in the previous article – making daleks look more interesting – is perfectly valid on its own, the array of methods he has selected to implement that appears to be consistent with those used in propaganda + may have been imported wholesale rather than derived independantly

one last example which seems to have everything going on at once (diagonals, machinery, etc)

industrysovpostalthough this does feature more than one colour on everything + different shades of them rather than solid areas of the same tone

the daleks

the difference between comic strips + posters in general lies in the way the whole page is designed to be read – one way to demonstrate this with reference to daleks + propaganda is by looking at where the colour goes

points about ron turner’s use of colour within a panel + the fact that he frequently limits himself to a small number of colours have been made (mostly visually in section 1) above, compared with examples of soviet propaganda + hopefully seen to be similar

examining his distribution of colour across a whole page however, there appears to be little if any influence from the sort of posters reproduced here: in the examples below he is using areas of one colour alternated with areas of another, but these are spread about the page like sections of a comic strip intended to be viewed in a linear fashion, as opposed to the single frame image (meta panel?) of a propaganda poster where colour may be placed for the benefit of the whole composition, even when the poster consists of / includes smaller images (or panels again: posters which use collage are often divided up cf comic strip pages)
tvc21_96__67_b_cvrin the example above on the right the main colour of consecutive panels has been varied to differentiate eg the interior of the missile from the emperor’s control room

note the background colour of the space ship panels top right + bottom left is inconsistent, as is the colour of agent 2k himself (silvery blue in two panels, bronze on his third appearance), which implies turner’s choices about which colours to use on this page were, in common with the propaganda reproduced here, largely for compositional reasons, even if the arrangement of those colours was dictated by the sequence of the story

also the use of five basic colours (brown purple blue green + red) is a more complex colour scheme than those of most of the propaganda cited earlier, but note they have still been applied in blocks of one main hue

the page reproduced on the left above has been included because of its military content as well as its colour scheme, which is perhaps another clue to the influence of propaganda if you think the military characters represented are closer to those that appear on soviet posters than the usual characters in war comics.  this article will stick to its brief of describing similarities in the art style rather than specific content + refrain from investigating that issue

in summary

the reason ron turner’s artwork on the daleks looks closer to early 20th century political poster art than late 20th century sequential art (compare it with examples anywhere else on this site) is because it shares compositional + other techniques with it

although not all soviet propaganda posters employ the artistic traits identified in this post + neither does all ron turner’s dalek art the point being made here is that when they do both artforms use them to perform exactly the same function: make a loud clear statement about events taking place in / the attributes of an assertive industrial society

having said that, despite the evidence presented above it’s difficult to assume a causal link from 20th century propaganda to turner’s version of the daleks.  no style of art has ever been a one way street leading from high concept government issue artwork down to childrens’ entertainment.  the same techniques were widely used in mass communications + industrial artforms in general during this period, including paperback book covers like the eg below, unsigned but attributed to ron turner himself

volsted-gridban(c) scion 1953

so he could in fact have been influenced by techniques imported from modernist fine art movements into advertising (which is what posters, magazine + book covers are: the initial interface of a product with an audience) although as propaganda is basically advertising for a political system it probably equates to the same thing


if anyone is interested in dates + artist credits the posters reproduced above were sourced from the sites below

at the time of publication of this article the copyright on the propaganda had not been ascertained, possibly because it’s been overlooked somewhere in the source material or possibly because copyright in a communist country is a research topic in itself – post a reply if you know anything about that

all turner art is (c) city magazines 1966

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