Comic Art Friday: Common Elements turns 100… with a story

I believe it was Rod Stewart who once said, “Every picture tells a story, don’t it?”

Rod’s tenuous grasp on English grammar aside, he has a point. Every picture does indeed tell a story, especially in the realm of comic art. And often, the story being told isn’t in the picture itself. That’s the case with today’s featured artwork. (Be sure to click the image below, and get a closer look.) This superlative creation marks a significant milestone in my comic art collection: It’s the 100th entry in my Common Elements theme.*

But that isn’t the real story.

Ghost Rider and Batgirl, pencils and inks by comics artists Bob Budiansky

Back in September 2008, I received an e-mail from Dave Simons, a veteran comic book artist who worked most notably for Marvel, but also found his way into various DC and Disney comics. Dave had seen my Common Elements galleries on Comic Art Fans, and proposed an addition to the theme that would feature Ghost Rider, the character with whom he was most closely associated. I told Dave that my art budget was low at that juncture (I actually used the phrase “tapped out”), but that I would gladly consider him for a future project.

In February of the following year, I became aware, as did many other comics fans, that Dave was in perilously ill health due to cancer. I also learned that Dave, like many freelance creative professionals, had no health insurance, and was experiencing difficulty in paying for the medical care he needed. Recalling our earlier correspondence, I contacted Dave and asked whether he would be interested in drawing the Common Elements commission we had talked about months before. He was indeed interested, and we quickly came to an arrangement for him to draw a piece pitting Ghost Rider against the original Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, in a motorcycle race.

Dave — an avid motorcycle enthusiast in real life — immediately went to work, searching the Internet for reference images he could use to draft Batgirl’s custom bike. After conferring with me, he decided to use a design based on the cycle ridden by actress Yvonne Craig in the 1960s Batman TV series.

Sad to tell, Dave’s cancer took a serious turn almost simultaneously with our renewed correspondence. The news that filtered out from people close to Dave over the next several weeks grew increasingly grim. For a brief period that April, it seemed that Dave had turned a corner somewhat. The improvement didn’t last.

On June 9, 2009, Dave Simons passed away at the age of 54.

From the day of Dave’s death, I knew that in time, I would commission another artist to complete the work that Dave had barely begun. The perfect opportunity surfaced more than a year later, when I received a note from art representative Jeff Jaworski announcing that Bob Budiansky was available for commissions. Recalling that Dave Simons had inked Bob’s pencils on a fondly remembered run of Ghost Rider issues, I immediately contacted Jeff to ask whether Bob would like the opportunity to take over Dave’s uncompleted commission. A series of e-mails between Jeff, Bob, and me sealed the deal, and Bob set to work.

Bob decided — with my complete agreement — to start the artwork from scratch, rather than attempting to recreate Dave’s original concept. Bob noted that a recent vacation trip had taken him through the Vermillion Cliffs of southern Utah, and he chose to use that dramatic setting as the backdrop for his drawing. Bob also elected to use a more modern style of motorcycle for Batgirl than the ’60s-vintage vehicle Dave intended as his model.

When I saw Bob’s completed artwork, the first thought that came to my mind was, “I’ll bet Dave Simons would have loved this.” Bob Budiansky loves it, too — he confessed in an e-mail that of all the commissions he’s done in recent years, he’s the most pleased with this one. As well he should be.

For my part, I can’t envision a more powerful image — or a more powerful story — with which my Common Elements theme could reach the century mark.

Thanks to the prodigiously talented Bob Budiansky for an incredible creation, and to his art rep Jeff Jaworski, who kept me regularly informed of Bob’s progress as the project took shape.

Thanks also to the late, great Dave Simons, who started it all. I’ll always be a little sad that Dave never had the chance to complete his drawing, but in his absence, Bob pulled off a stunner that would be tough for any artist to match.

Oh, one more thing… I hate cancer. I’ve said that before in this space, but it bears repeating.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

*To clarify, this isn’t the 100th piece I commissioned for Common Elements. It’s actually the 92nd in commission order — and the original commission (see the above story) was issued well before that. But it’s the 100th Common Elements artwork to be completed and delivered by the pencil artist.

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