Comic Art Friday: Connections

This is a story about connections.

The Black Panther, pencils and inks by comics artist Brent Anderson

The other night, I was surfing cable TV’s bounty when I stumbled across Man-Thing, the ultra-low-budget cheapie thriller based on Marvel Comics’ swamp monster character, on the channel now ludicrously named Syfy. I knew of this film only by its sullied reputation, which was at least part of the reason why I’d avoided it before now. On this particular evening, however, quality offerings proved to be in scarce supply, so I thought, what the heck — let’s watch a bit of this.

Before you ask: Yes, the Man-Thing movie is as wretched as you’ve heard. (And if you’ve not heard, well, consider your life charmed.) It did, though, spawn in me a desperate craving to read an actual Man-Thing comic book. Now, I haven’t had such an item lying about the house since, oh, 1978 or thereabouts. But my desire for oozy primordial goodness was not to be denied. I had to score me some Man-Thing.

(Okay… that didn’t come out quite the way I intended. Pressing on…)

A quick online search turned up a listing of every Marvel book in which Man-Thing had ever appeared. Lo and behold, the fetid forest-dweller pulled a guest shot in Uncanny X-Men #144 (April 1981). I turned to the rack beside me and snagged my DVD-ROM archiving 40 years of X-Men comics. Into the laptop went the disc, and within moments, I was savoring the tale of the merry mutants’ battle against the villain D’Spayre, with a special appearance by none other than — you’re way ahead of me — Man-Thing.

As I perused the story, it struck me that the artwork in this particular issue was markedly different from the style I normally associate with this period in X-Men history. Specifically, it wasn’t the work of penciler John Byrne and inker Terry Austin, who drew the X-Men’s adventures for more than three years, beginning in late 1977. I vaguely recalled that Byrne had been displaced in early 1981 by the return of Dave Cockrum, who co-created the modern version of the X-Men in 1975 and drew their series until Byrne’s arrival. But this definitely wasn’t Cockrum’s work, either. Both Cockrum and Byrne (especially Byrne as inked by Austin) had, at least at this point in their respective careers, distinctive styles that would be difficult to mistake for anyone else’s.

I paged back through the PDF file to the opening splash for a look at the issue’s credits. To my surprise, I discovered that the penciler of Uncanny X-Men #144 was Brent Anderson, in what must surely have been one of his earliest published jobs.

Although Brent’s first regular series (at Marvel, in the early ’80s) was the Tarzan knockoff Ka-Zar the Savage, he became a major star later in the decade illustrating one of the most unusual comics of all time — Strikeforce: Morituri, about an X-Men-like squad of manufactured superhumans who routinely died gruesome deaths as a result of the process that gave them their powers. (Morituri is a Latin word meaning “We who are about to die.” Spring that one on your buddies sometime this week.) Today, Brent is best known as writer Kurt Busiek’s artistic collaborator on the long-running series Astro City.

As I said at the start, this is a story about connections. Brent Anderson is a local guy. In fact, he lives just a few miles away, in the town where my wife KJ worked for the past several years. He also happens to be a friend of Kathy Bottarini, the beloved proprietor of my hometown comic book shop.

Brent’s Black Panther sketch, which adorns the opening of today’s post, was commissioned at WonderCon three years ago. Brent didn’t have time to complete the drawing until the last day of the con, after I had finished my sojourn there. He graciously dropped it off at Kathy’s shop a couple of weeks later, where she kept it safe until I called for it.

See? Connections.

On that subject…

Brent’s pencils in Uncanny X-Men #144 were inked by Joe Rubinstein, who would also ink the next several issues of the series as Dave Cockrum resumed his penciling duties. Joe has probably inked just about every major character — and thousands of minor ones — published by the Big Two comics concerns during his now-legendary career, beginning in the early ’70s.

In between comics projects, Joe takes on commissioned work, including several pieces for yours truly over the last half-dozen years. The very first piece Joe ever inked for me was this lovely portrait of Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, drawn by Dan Jurgens. It’s still a personal favorite.

Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, pencils by Dan Jurgens, inks by Joe Rubinstein

And yet another connection.

Thank you, friend reader, for connecting with me today. And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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