Comic Art Friday: Black (Panther) Friday

For those of you out there battling the mob scene at your local mall or big box store, I have no sympathy. Your choice, your scars and high blood pressure. I’m relaxing comfortably in my new office chair with a mug of freshly brewed coffee and a slice of leftover Thanksgiving apple pie, thank you very much. Shopping is the reason God invented Amazon.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the Black Friday thing, I’m brim-full of excitement about something else Black — specifically, the Black Panther, my favorite superhero of all time. (Okay, maybe he’s #1 with Spider-Man at #1A. But still.) I’m especially excited about this astounding tableau, created by one of the true modern masters of the comic art form — Steve “The Dude” Rude.

The Black Panther, pencils and inks by comics artist Steve Rude

There are artists whom I commission because I know almost exactly what they will do with the assignment, and I’m commissioning them in part for their consistency of vision. There are other artists whom I commission knowing that I have no advance clue at all what they will do with the assignment, and if I try to guess, I will be incorrect. Steve Rude falls squarely into that latter category.

Because Rude’s bold style is unabashedly influenced by the late, legendary Jack “King” Kirby, who co-created the Black Panther (pretty much every comic book artist of the past 50 years has been influenced to some degree by Kirby, but Rude more directly than most), I might have supposed that, when asked to draw the Black Panther, Rude would give me a propulsive, energetically Kirbyesque take on the character — say, something along the lines of Kirby’s iconic cover to Black Panther #7.

Instead, Steve went in the opposite direction, drawing on another of his primary influences: Alex Toth, whose mastery of shape and minimalistic linework made him a much-in-demand designer for TV animation, a medium in which clarity and simplicity are essentials. (Among the classic cartoons Toth designed are Space Ghost, The Herculoids, and Super Friends.) Rude used a Toth-like contrast of deep shadow and blinding light to create a dense, moody, atmospheric scene. I was absolutely floored when I first saw it.

Actually, the second time I saw it.

The Black Panther, rough pencil sketch by comics artist Steve Rude

My first view of the piece came by way of Steve’s preliminary sketch, at which you’re now looking. You can see how, even though all of the key shapes, lines, and spaces are present in the rough, the dramatic impact Rude will ultimately introduce through skillfully placed shadow (it’s called “spotting blacks” in comic art jargon) is not only absent, but nearly impossible to anticipate. The prelim sketch suggests a very nice drawing to come. The finished, fully inked version goes light-years beyond “very nice,” into the realm of “jaw-droppingly stupendous.”

Now that’s a Black Friday I can get behind.

And that, friend reader, is your Comic Art Friday. (Remember: Avoid mob scenes; shop online. Just a tip from your Uncle Swan.)

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