Comic Art Friday: Omakase

Posted July 29, 2016 by swanshadow
Categories: Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

I rarely commission an artist with the words, “Draw whatever you want.”

Now, I don’t script my commissions the way some collectors do — I know several people who provide excruciatingly detailed scenarios for artists to work from — but I’m just enough of a control freak that I don’t want to risk handing someone a fistful of cash and getting back a drawing of a character I detest. The rare instance when I’ve given an artist absolute free rein has occurred at a convention, usually with a talent I’ve commissioned before and have at least some rapport with.

Phoenix, pencils and inks by Tom Raney

This past spring at Silicon Valley Comic Con, I took one such flier with Tom Raney. Tom had done a terrific piece for my Common Elements gallery some time back, and I really like his work. On this occasion, I had several possible ideas for him, but couldn’t settle on one particular character. So I just said, “Draw whatever you want,” and hoped for the best.

Tom did not disappoint, rewarding my trust with this lovely pinup of X-Man Jean Grey in her Phoenix phase. Given that Tom was the regular X-Men penciler for a stretch, I’m thinking that he has an affinity for Jean that comes through in his work. I love Tom’s delicate linework here, and the beautiful manner in which he incorporates the Phoenix Force that Jean manifests.

Of course, my comics-reading tenure trails back well before Jean acquired the code name Phoenix. I can recall when she was the only female member of the original X-Men lineup, and used the moniker Marvel Girl. (Geof Isherwood paired Jean in Marvel Girl garb alongside Mary Marvel in this early Common Elements commission.)

Mary Marvel and Marvel Girl, pencils by Geof Isherwood

Jean was far less powerful in her Marvel Girl incarnation than she eventually became, transforming over time from a simple telepath/telekinetic to an almost godlike being capable of destroying an entire planet, as she did at the climax of the Dark Phoenix saga. Since her death at the end of that storyline, and subsequent resurrection some years later (because no one ever stays dead in comics), Jean’s powers and prominence have fluctuated. She remains, however, a landmark character in the Marvel pantheon.

Raney and Isherwood draw her very nicely, too.

As for the title of this post: Omakase is a Japanese word that translates roughly into English as “I trust you.” In sushi restaurants and other eateries featuring Japanese cuisine, omakase signifies that the diner will eat whatever the chef wants to serve. The idea is that the itamae (chef) knows what ingredients are freshest and of the highest quality on that particular day, and will present the patron with the very best the kitchen has to offer.

Perhaps I should order omakase more often.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: You’re my best friend

Posted July 22, 2016 by swanshadow
Categories: Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, Soundtrack of My Life, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

Throughout the long history of my Common Elements commission theme, the overwhelming majority of its concepts have sprung from my own fevered imagination. Not to be all egocentric about it, but it’s my theme, after all. There’s a certain undeniable kick that comes from looking at an artwork and knowing that the scenario depicted therein only exists because I thought of it. It’s for that reason that, although numerous people have suggested Common Elements ideas to me over the years, only three pieces in the gallery represent someone’s combination of characters other than my own.

This is the second one that someone else even paid for.

Green Arrow, Captain Marvel Jr. and Max Mercury, pencils by John Heebink

Damon Owens is a fellow comic art collector residing in the Houston area. (Yeah, I know — unfortunate. But I can’t get him to move.) As is true of my own collection, Damon’s focuses primarily on commissioned pieces (the majority of comic art collectors hone in on published pages). And, also like my own, Damon’s galleries often revolve around themes. He’s probably best known in the collecting community for The Brotherhood, a series of artworks depicting various African and African-American superheroes as an Avengers-style team of Damon’s own devising. Damon’s other themes include teamups involving (in separate themes) Black Panther and Juggernaut; Cage Matches, a series of reenactments of great battles in the career of Luke Cage; and perhaps most notably, two themes centered around obscure heroes from comic book history: Operation Obscura (mostly solo pinups) and The Dead Universes Project (in which characters from various comics publishers that no longer exist find themselves inhabiting the same fictional universe). All clever, all amazing in scope, and all well worth a look.

In addition to being an inventive and prolific collector, Damon is also well known as a genuinely nice guy, revered by artists and fellow collectors alike for his generous, supportive nature. Proof of his generosity stands before you in this incredible Common Elements artwork that Damon commissioned from comic artist John Heebink and gave to me, for no other reason than… well… Damon’s just like that.

Best of all, Damon totally nailed my Common Elements theme. It took me a few minutes of puzzled staring before I tumbled onto the common element: Freddie (Freeman, a.k.a. Captain Marvel Jr.); Mercury (speedster Max Mercury); and Queen (Oliver Queen, that is; better known as Green Arrow). So it’s both a perfect — and perfectly sly — example of my signature concept, and a tribute to one of my all-time favorite musical acts.

Damon, when it comes to the many good folks I’ve come to know through my collecting hobby, in the immortal words of Freddie Mercury and Queen — you’re my best friend. Seriously.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Tigra, Tigra, burning bright

Posted July 15, 2016 by swanshadow
Categories: Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

Within the superhero community, there’s a tiny subset of characters who’ve had the unique opportunity to be two different superheroes at various stages of their careers.

I’m not speaking here of, say, founding Avengers member Henry “Hank” Pym, who’s been essentially the same superhero for decades, but has periodically changed his code name, costume, and the manner in which he used his powers — going from Ant-Man to Giant-Man to Goliath to Yellowjacket, and even becoming the Wasp (a nom de guerre more closely associated with his wife/partner Janet van Dyne) for a time.

No, I’m specifically thinking of someone like Greer Grant Nelson, who began her crimefighting career with one identity and skill-set, and later transformed into something else entirely.

When first we meet Greer, she’s a neophyte vigilante calling herself the Cat. Debuting in Beware! The Claws of the Cat #1 in November 1972, Greer was among the first Marvel Comics heroines to headline her own eponymous series, beating Shanna the She-Devil to the spinner racks by a month. As the Cat, Greer possessed superhuman strength and agility, plus heightened senses and intuition (all as the result of a laboratory experiment), and wore a yellow and blue bodysuit with built-in claws on the fingers and toes.

The Cat #1, cover art by Wally Wood

Alas, the Cat’s campaign against evil ended abruptly, a victim of the most powerful enemy in comics: lackluster sales. Her title was cancelled after a mere four issues. A fifth issue was written (by series scribe Linda Fite) and penciled (by legendary artist Ramona Fradon, one of only two projects she ever worked on for Marvel), but never completed (a handful of pages were inked by Jim Mooney) or published. (An excellent article by Dewey Cassell in Back Issue #46 chronicles the trials and tribulations of the “lost” The Cat #5.)

The fact that Greer’s adventures were written and drawn by women (Marvel stalwart Marie Severin penciled the first two published issues; Paty Greer Cockrum drew the third) was supposed to be the series’ marketing hook, with special appeal to young female readers. Sadly, that hook proved insufficiently hook-y, and the Cat fell into the Marvel background for a year or so.

Tigra, pencil art by Edgar Tadeo

Then, in the summer of 1974, Greer resurfaced, transmogrified by sorcery (or maybe some kind of arcane science — in the Marvel Universe, it’s not always easy to distinguish the two) into a part-human, part-feline hybrid known as Tigra the Were-Woman. (That moniker never made sense to me. If a werewolf is a man who transforms into a wolf, shouldn’t a werewoman be a man who transforms into a woman?) In her newfound condition, Greer’s body was covered with striped fur, and equipped with razor-sharp teeth, retractable claws, enhanced night vision and other senses, and a catlike tail. Abandoning her Cat costume, she opted instead for a scanty black bikini… you know, like you would. (Tigra appears above, in pencil art created by the talented Edgar Tadeo.)

Following a short run in her own series in an anthology horror book entitled Marvel Chillers, Tigra (who eventually ditched the silly “Were-Woman” business) embarked on a career as an itinerant team player. She hung out with the Fantastic Four for a while, joined the Avengers briefly (a rite of passage for pretty much every Marvel character), then became a charter member of the West Coast Avengers (later Avengers West Coast). In recent years, Tigra served for a stretch as an instructor at Avengers Academy, a training facility for up-and-coming superheroes.

Incidentally, Greer’s old Cat suit didn’t go to waste when she abandoned it for perpetual swimwear. Patsy Walker, formerly the star of her own teen-romance title, eventually picked up the yellow and blue threads and began her own crimebusting career using the name Hellcat (seen below in a Common Elements scenario drawn by Star Wars artist Thomas Hodges). Patsy — or Trish, as she’s known on television — makes a noncostumed appearance in a supporting role in the Marvel/Netflix series Jessica Jones.

Hellboy and Hellcat, pencils and inks by Thomas Hodges

A few years ago, I was loitering about at a local comics convention when I overheard two male fans arguing about the proper pronunciation of “Tigra.” One guy insisted that the name should be spoken “TIE-gra,” while the other insisted that it was “TEE-gra.”

Of course, the former was correct. After all, she’s a human tiger, not a human teeger.

Because teegers? Not a thing.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Oh, Bombshell! My Bombshell!

Posted July 8, 2016 by swanshadow
Categories: Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

Way back in 2008 — two entire election cycles ago, if we’re counting — I started a new commission theme designed to combine a pair of my favorite interests: superheroines, and aircraft nose art. (Longtime readers know that I grew up in a U.S. Air Force family, so I saw numerous displays of vintage military aircraft during my formative years.) The concept is simple: nose art-style pinups featuring classic comic book heroines.

I titled my theme Bombshells! — yes, with an exclamation point, just like Jeopardy! — as a play on both the pinup-girl motif and the other key design element in each image… a bomb. (Actually, there’s a third item in each Bombshells! piece: a tagline that in some way references the featured heroine. I often explain the concept to artists as “The Three B’s”: a babe, a bomb, and a bad pun.)

Superwoman aka Lois Lane, pencils and inks by Pete Woods

By arbitrary fiat, I decided that Bombshells! would depict only characters from the real-world nose art era — World War II through the Korean conflict (the late 1930s to the mid-1950s, for the history-challenged). I extended the range forward into the early Silver Age to encompass a few more favorites, making December 31, 1959 the cutoff line for a character’s first published appearance in comics. Basically, in order to be a Bombshell!, a heroine has to be at least a couple of years older than I am… which makes sense, in a weird way.

The fun of Bombshells! for me derives from showcasing the history of women in comics, and in the superhero genre in particular. It’s an opportunity to spotlight characters who represent historic milestones in the medium — Wonder Woman and the original Black Cat, for example — as well as nearly forgotten heroines of yesteryear (the Purple Tigress, anyone?). There are also several Bombshells! that might surprise the viewer who didn’t realize those characters had been around for quite so many years.

Yes, we’re using the motif of the nose art pinup to highlight that history. The artists I’ve commissioned have been uniformly excellent in depicting our heroines in a respectful manner — we don’t do salacious or overtly sexualized poses, or nudity. (Not that there’s anything wrong with the presentation of sexuality and/or nudity in art — it just isn’t what Bombshells! is about.) Our heroines are always shown in a way that’s either playful or powerful, and often is a celebratory blend of both.

All of which brings us to our newest Bombshell!, seen at the top of this post. She might be familiar, and yet not quite familiar, to the average reader. Lois Lane — yep, that’s her — first imagined herself as Superwoman in Action Comics #60, in May 1943. In a dream sequence, Lois saw herself receiving a blood transfusion from Superman that invested her with Kryptonian powers. Sure, it was only a dream, but it fits well within the Bombshells! timeline. Therefore, I’m thrilled to add Lois to our pantheon of historic heroines, courtesy of the tremendously talented Pete Woods.

By the way…

About a year ago, DC Comics debuted a new series entitled — wait for it — Bombshells. Set in the 1940s in an alternate universe, Bombshells the comic depicts several well-known DC heroines, including Wonder Woman, Batwoman, and Supergirl, battling evildoers against a wartime backdrop. All of the characters wear retro-designed costumes that give the book a cool, nostalgic, quasi-Rosie the Riveter feel.



WWII-vintage heroines in a series called Bombshells? Wonder where anyone might have gotten that idea.

All I know is, unless I inherited a time machine, I didn’t swipe it from them.

Bombshells! — established 2008. You can look it up.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Even an android can fly

Posted June 17, 2016 by swanshadow
Categories: Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, Reminiscing, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

Listing all of the comic book stories that left a lasting impression on the nascent Uncle Swan would prove an impossible task. But one of the tales from my youth that I recall most vividly, and that still resonates with me today, nearly half a century later, is the two-part introduction of the Vision in Avengers #57-58 (October-November 1968).

Part of that resonance is the iconic cover image from Avengers #57, drawn by the legendary John Buscema:

Avengers #57 (October 1968), cover art by John Buscema

Another part is this equally iconic image that concludes Avengers #58, as the android Vision sheds tears of humble joy at being welcomed into membership among Earth’s Mightiest Heroes:

From Avengers #58 (November 1968), art by John Buscema and George Roussos

Mostly, I think, the Vision appealed to me because here was a character whose identity was defined by his alienness. As a young person, I always felt “different.” Being biracial, I looked different from other kids, no matter what group of classmates I found myself in. (Even though my adoptive parents withheld the nature of my genetic heritage from me for many years, I always knew there had to be a reason for my ethnically ambiguous appearance.) Because I was usually — all right, pretty much always — the most intelligent kid in every class, I was often regarded as a curiosity by fellow students and teachers alike. Plus, my most obsessive interests were subjects of niche appeal — comics, for example.

The synthetic being Vision embodied all of those weirdnesses I felt. He looked, spoke, and even thought differently from his Avengers counterparts. He struggled to find acceptance among other heroes who couldn’t totally grok him — not necessarily because the other Avengers didn’t accept him, but more because he could never quite accept himself as one of them. When, some time later, he embarked upon a romantic connection with Wanda Maximoff — the superheroine known as the Scarlet Witch — their affair served as a metaphor for every loving relationship that challenged then-existing societal norms, whether interracial, interfaith, or gay/lesbian/queer.

I related to the Vision. Man, did I relate.

All of those thoughts flooded back to me as I welcomed the Vision, at long last, into the annals of my Common Elements theme. Michael L. Peters, an artist with a style as unique as the Vision himself, depicts the ethereal Avenger in an encounter with comics’ other well-known android superhero, Red Tornado.

Vision and Red Tornado, pencils and inks by Michael L. Peters

Michael’s previous Common Elements entry, featuring Adam Strange and the Rocketeer, hung for many years in the living room at the old Casa de Swan. I have no earthly idea why it took more than a decade for me to commission another piece from him, but I’m certain that the next one won’t be quite that long in the making. (If you dig Michael’s work, he’s always accepting commissions. You’ll find all the details at his website.)

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Uncaged in Vegas

Posted June 10, 2016 by swanshadow
Categories: Celebritiana, Cinemania, Comic Art Friday, Getting Racial Up In This Piece, Hero of the Day, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

If you know me well at all, then you know this: I loves me some Las Vegas.

Which might seem a trifle odd if you do indeed know me, because then you also know that I’m not much of a gambler (I enjoy playing poker and blackjack, but I enjoy them as games, not as vehicles for fiscal risk-taking) and I’m definitely not a partier (in any sense of the word), while Vegas is more or less the universal nexus for both activities. But I am a huge fan of over-the-top glitz and kitsch, particularly when it comes to decor and architecture (we should discuss my googie obsession sometime), and Vegas is the universal nexus for all of that as well.

It’s also one of the greatest people-observing venues on the planet. Every time I go to Las Vegas, I see something I’ve never seen before and would never have thought I’d see. That’s not always a good thing, but it’s usually interesting.

Interesting also is this Vegas-themed Common Elements commission by veteran comics artist Larry Stroman, who has illustrated such series as Marvel’s Alien Legion and X-Men.

Luke Cage, Power Man and Ghost Rider, pencils and inks by Larry Stroman

The idea for a Sin City setting for this piece came from Larry’s art representative, Jerry Livengood at Serendipity Art Sales. Jerry’s suggestion made perfect sense, given that the connection between our heroes, Luke Cage and Ghost Rider, is the actor Nicolas Cage, who famously chose his professional surname in honor of the comics’ Power Man, and also portrayed a version of Ghost Rider in two (execrable, in this critic’s opinion) films. Cage also starred in a pair of movies with “Vegas” in their titles: the cult comedy Honeymoon in Vegas (fondly remembered for its sequence involving skydiving Elvis Presley impersonators) and Leaving Las Vegas, the 1995 drama for which Cage won the Best Actor Oscar. (My fingers feel all weird typing “Cage” and “Best Actor Oscar” in the same sentence. But you can look it up.)

Cage and Ghost Rider each makes his second Common Elements appearance here. I’m a little bit surprised, frankly, to see that Cage hasn’t shown up in the series more often, given that he was a favorite of mine during my comics-reading youth. In fact, I can vividly recall the first time I saw him, in the summer of 1972. My family had stopped in the midst of a cross-country journey — we had just returned from two years in Greece, and were on our way to California — to visit relatives in Kokomo, Indiana. On a trip to the grocery store, I paused — as was my wont — to check out the spinner rack where the comic books resided. And there, resplendent in his open-chested yellow shirt and chain-link belt, was the man himself, on the cover of Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #1. I had never seen a black superhero with his own self-titled comic before. (Marvel was still a year away from installing the Black Panther as lead feature in Jungle Action, which even then was not quite the same thing. Because… Jungle Action? Seriously?)

These days, Luke Cage has burst out into the cultural mainstream, courtesy of his co-starring role in Marvel’s hit Netflix series, Jessica Jones. Played by actor Mike Colter, Cage made a powerful impression as Jessica’s off-and-on love interest and fellow crimebuster. Colter will again assume the role in Cage’s upcoming eponymous series this fall, as well as 2017’s The Defenders, which will band together all of Marvel’s Netflix stars — Cage, Jessica, Daredevil, and the yet-to-be-seen Iron Fist.

I don’t know whether there’s ever been a comics storyline in which Cage took on Bright Light City. But if there hasn’t, doggone it, someone needs to write that.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday. Viva Las Vegas!

Comic Art Friday: Sisters are doin’ it for themselves

Posted June 3, 2016 by swanshadow
Categories: Cinemania, Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, Soundtrack of My Life, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

The tricky part of developing my Common Elements themed commissions is rarely the concepts themselves. My brain just naturally takes the bizarre twists and turns that uncovers previously unseen linkages between otherwise unconnected comic book characters.

No, the difficulty often lies in finding the right artist for each concept — particularly when the concept screams out for an artist of specific style, or personal background.

Take today’s featured artwork. I came up with the idea of bringing these three ladies together several years ago. Let’s introduce them, from left to right:

Gogo Yubari, Nico Minoru, and Vixen, pencils by Adriana Melo

Gogo Yubari, the schoolgirl-bodyguard-assassin played by Chiaki Kuriyama in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, Volume 1. When Gogo first appears on camera, Beatrix Kiddo, a.k.a. The Bride (QT’s muse Uma Thurman), introduces her with this ominous observation: “Gogo may be young, but what she lacks in age, she makes up for in madness.” The Bride’s battle with Gogo and her meteor hammer (a chain with a spiked ball on either end) is one of the highlights of the movie. (If you have to ask why a character from a Tarantino film is being lumped in with comic book characters, you haven’t seen enough Tarantino films.)

Nico Minoru, sorceress leader of the team of superpowered youths known as The Runaways. Nico, who for a while went by the superhero sobriquet Sister Grimm (no relation), inherited the ability to wield magic from her villainous parents. In the Runaways, Nico partners with other offspring of evil metahumans to help right the wrongs done by the preceding generation.

Vixen, longtime member of various Justice League permutations, and before that, of Suicide Squad. The first black superheroine in the DC Comics canon, Vixen’s a longtime personal favorite of mine. She possesses the power to tap into a mysterious force called the Red, through which she can utilize the abilities of any animal on Earth. Her code name comes from the fox-headed Tantu totem she wears.

Okay, so you’re thinking, three butt-kicking women you wouldn’t want to trifle with — but what’s their common element? Those of you old enough to remember the popular culture of the 1970s and ’80s will recall these three all-female rock bands: The Go-Go’s (yes, I know; never use an apostrophe to create a plural noun — but that’s how they spell it), hitmakers behind such classics as “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat”; The Runaways, the “Queens of Noise” who introduced the world to future Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Joan Jett; and Vixen, the glam-metal rockers best known for their 1988 hit “Edge of a Broken Heart.”

The perceptive among you now understand the challenge I faced with this Common Elements concept: I couldn’t very well assign a piece featuring three female characters who share names with all-female rock bands to a male artist. That just wouldn’t do. But it also wouldn’t do to assign it to a female artist just because she was female. It had to be someone whose drawing style fit with the bold, tough, take-no-prisoners attitudes and attributes of the trio being depicted. And for the longest time, I couldn’t come up with an artist who seemed right for the role.

Then one day, Adriana Melo‘s commission list opened up.

Clouds parted. Trumpets blared. Angels sang. I knew I’d found the perfect artist at last.

Adriana is no stranger to drawing powerful women in action. She’s been, at various times, the regular artist on Birds of Prey and Rose and Thorn for DC, Witchblade for Top Cow/Image, and Ms. Marvel for… well… the other guys. I’d have been hard-pressed to come up with a talent better matched to this concept — and her finished creation proves it.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.


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