Archive for January 2012

Comic Art Friday: Somebody scream!

January 20, 2012

You ever have one of those days when you just wanna scream?

Tyroc and Songbird have those all the time.

Tyroc and Songbird, pencils by comics artist Peter Vale

A hypersonic scream seems like such a bizarre superpower that it’s actually rather amazing how many comic book characters possess it. In addition to the subjects of the dazzling panel above — commissioned from the pencil of Brazilian artist Peter Vale, whose work has graced such series as Superman, She-Hulk, and X-Men Forever — I can think of several others off the top of my head: Banshee, Silver Banshee (no relation), Angar the Screamer, and at least one version of Black Canary.

Of course, Tyroc had ample reason to scream. The creation of writer Cary Bates and artist Mike Grell, Tyroc’s 1976 debut in Legion of Super-Heroes marked one of the earliest introductions of a black superhero into the DC Comics pantheon. Both Grell and longtime Legion scribe Jim Shooter had lobbied to add a black character to the Legion for several years previously, but DC’s notoriously conservative editorial staff had prevented them from doing so. When DC management finally greenlighted a Legionnaire of African descent, “they did it in the worst way possible,” according to Shooter. Tyroc was assigned a lame superpower, a code name straight out of a blaxploitation film, a racially insensitive origin (a descendant of a black isolationist sect, Tyroc carved a niche as the Marcus Garvey of comics), a stereotypical “angry black man” persona (his debut story was entitled “The Hero Who Hated the Legion”), and (courtesy of Grell, who designed it in protest of everything else he didn’t like about DC’s vision for the character) one of the most ludicrous costumes of the time period — “somewhere between Elvis’s Las Vegas costume and something you would imagine a pimp on the street corner wearing,” as Grell bluntly described it.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), Tyroc’s tenure in the Legion proved relatively brief. He resurfaced only on rare occasion in the Legion’s periodic rebootings over the next several decades. Although I haven’t sampled the current version of the Legion, I understand that Tyroc is back as a full-fledged member. Hopefully, with a more competent tailor.

Songbird began her career on the wrong side of justice. Originally code-named Screaming Mimi, she debuted as a member of the Grapplers, a cadre of female wrestlers turned supervillains. Mimi and her cohorts battled Ben Grimm — a.k.a. The Thing — in a couple of fondly remembered issues of Marvel Two-in-One. After a subsequent stint in another team of criminals, the Masters of Evil, Mimi joined yet a third sinister enterprise, the Thunderbolts, and adopted her new fighting identity as Songbird. Over time, the Thunderbolts transitioned from bad guys to underground heroes, and they remain on the straight and narrow (more or less) to this day.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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Comic Art Friday: Heavenly creatures

January 13, 2012

We’re not fully two weeks into 2012, and already it’s been an exciting art year at the new Casa de Swan.

Here’s the first of several reasons why.

Halo and Angel, pencils and inks by comics artist Sean Chen

I frequently discuss with other comic art collectors our approaches to our theme commissions. Many of my fellow hobbyists present elaborately detailed scenarios to the artists they commission, to ensure that the end result matches the collector’s vision. I know of at least one collector who actually writes a script for each piece he commissions.

There’s nothing at all wrong with that approach. In fact, it greatly appeals to the obsessive control freak in me. Over the years, however, I’ve developed a far more laissez-faire tactic toward my commissioning. I generally prefer to simply give the artist reference images of the character(s) to be drawn, then stand back and turn the artist loose.

This works well on a number of fronts:

  • Since I don’t know in advance what the artist will draw, there’s an element of anticipation and mystery while I wait for the commission to be completed.
  • It eliminates back-and-forth argument with the artist: “No, that’s not what I wanted; do it this way.”
  • Creative people in general — and I consider myself one — dislike having their imaginative impulses constrained by someone else’s vision. (Imagine a patron standing over Picasso’s shoulder and kibitzing, “Shouldn’t her eyes be on opposite sides of her head? Why is everything blue? That looks like my five-year-old nephew painted it.”) Allowing the artist more freedom usually means that he or she enjoys the creative process more, which in turn means that he or she feels more inspired toward excellent work.
  • I’m not a visual thinker, so inventing pictures in my head doesn’t come easily to me. Artists being visual thinkers means that the pictures they dream up will invariably be better than my clumsy attempts.

The artwork above, drawn by the insanely talented Sean Chen — best known for his work on such comics as Iron Man and Wolverine — illustrates the advantages of my commission philosophy. (As always, you can click on the image — or on this link — for a larger, more detailed view. Go ahead. You know you want to.)

When I assigned Sean the Common Elements pairing of Angel (from Marvel’s original X-Men lineup) and Halo (from DC’s Batman and the Outsiders), I had no clue how he would utilize these two characters. In fact, our initial discussion about a possible layout revolved around a completely different scenario. Thus, when I first saw this beautifully executed riff on Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, I was blown away. It would never have occurred to me to suggest this concept. Furthermore, had I gone into the project with a tightly defined idea already in mind, Sean might never have presented this one.

Best of all, Sean had fun coming up with this scenario and bringing it to fruition, so both artist and patron love the result. I like it when the artists I commission are happy.

Again, there wouldn’t have been anything wrong with taking a more hands-on approach to this commission. I’d have still gotten a terrific piece of art from Sean had I instructed him exactly what to draw.

But I wouldn’t have gotten this.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.