Archive for February 2012

Comic Art Fans: Did someone call for a Doctor?

February 24, 2012

In recent years, many (indeed, too many) of my longtime comics-artist heroes have shuffled off this mortal coil, never to draw again. The advance of age and ill health has deprived us of many of the greats — Gene Colan, Jim Aparo, Jim Mooney, Dick Giordano, Dave Simons… the list goes sadly on.

Others have left us suddenly, at the height of their powers, and far too soon — Mike Wieringo and Al Rio come immediately to mind.

Still others have retired from commission work, and are thus no longer available to create new treasures for their fans.

Too often, I find myself ruing missed chances to commission these legendary talents. That fact has made me acutely aware of opportunities to connect with my favorites while I can.

When fellow comic art collector Michael Dunne announced the retirement of Frank Brunner some time back, I found myself again kicking myself for not getting a commission from Frank sooner. Luckily for me, Michael passed along a comment I made to him describing the Common Elements scenario I’d have obtained from Frank if I’d acted in time. Frank was intrigued enough by the concept that, though still enjoying his retirement, he accepted my commission.

Am I ever grateful that he did!

Doctor Strange, Doctor Mid-Nite, and Doctor Druid, pencils by comics artist Frank Brunner

Frank designed and drew this power-packed scene depicting his old friend Doctor Strange — whose series Frank drew and co-scripted for a fondly remembered run in the mid-1970s —¬† alongside colleagues Doctor Mid-Nite and Doctor Druid. Frank also came up with the title of this Common Elements entry, which was so much more clever than the one I’d devised that I’m refraining from mentioning the latter out of sheer embarrassment. (As always, you can click the image above for an enlarged view.)

Both Doctor Strange and Doctor Mid-Nite make their second Common Elements appearances in this masterpiece. The Sorcerer Supreme previously joined the party alongside the Green Lama in James Ritchey III’s Tibetan-themed tableau, while the original sightless superhero duked it out with fellow blind crusader Daredevil in a stunning creation penciled by Ron Wilson and inked by Bob Almond. You can check out both pieces by following the links to my Comic Art Fans gallery.

The newcomer, Doctor Druid, is by far the least well-known of these three physician crimebusters, but he comes equipped with a rather interesting history. He’s one of a handful of Marvel Comics characters (a handful that also includes Captain America and Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner) whose career predates what we traditionally think of as the Marvel Age of Comics, beginning with Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961). He’s also among an even smaller handful of modern Marvel characters (the only other I can think of right off is the giant dragon called Fin Fang Foom) who were co-created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby before the FF went to press.

Originally called Doctor Droom (eventually renamed to avoid confusion with Marvel’s later, but far more famous, supervillain Doctor Doom), Druid is a psychiatrist turned mystic warrior against the supernatural forces of evil. He briefly joined the Avengers in the 1980s, and later led another hero team, the Secret Defenders. Marvel has killed Doctor Druid off a time or two, but you can always count on him coming back, because (a) no one ever stays dead in comics, and (b) you can’t keep a good Druid down.

My sincerest thanks to Michael Dunne for facilitating my introduction to the great Mr. Brunner, and to Frank himself for adding a page to my theme gallery that won’t be topped for some time. If ever.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Two hawks, no doves

February 17, 2012

Darkhawk and Blackhawk, pencils and inks by comics artist Tod Smith

For my birthday a couple of months back, the Pirate Queen gave me a fistful of cash to put toward new art commissions. That’s what you get for the guy who has… well, not everything, but pretty close.

Wanting to stretch my windfall as far as possible, I turned to fellow collector Damon Owens for counsel. Damon, in addition to boasting a collection that makes me weep every time I compare it with my own, is a master at discovering artists who offer budget-friendly commission rates. Damon responded to my inquiry with a list of artists with whom he’d enjoyed positive commission experiences recently.

At the top of the list was Tod Smith, a name I recognized from his lengthy stint drawing Marvel’s Darkhawk series in the early 1990s. Immediately I thought, Who better than Tod to execute a Common Elements pairing of Darkhawk and the high-flying aviator hero known as Blackhawk?

No one better, as it turns out.

I’ve always had a fondness for teenage superheroes. In the ’90s, Darkhawk represented Marvel’s latest contribution to that long-standing comics tradition. Young Christopher Powell discovered a high-tech amulet that enabled him to switch spatial location with an animated suit of superpowered armor, with which Chris shared a telepathic bond. (If that sounds suspiciously like a pseudoscientific riff on Captain Marvel… well, I didn’t say it was the most original concept ever.) When Chris reclaimed his place in the universe after a fight, the Darkhawk suit beamed to an alien spacecraft, where any damage it incurred was repaired.

In addition to battling evildoers on his own, Chris and his android alter ego hung out on occasion with a team of fellow juvenile crimebusters, the New Warriors. If I recall correctly, Darkhawk was also a member of the Avengers — or was it Avengers West Coast? — for a brief period. (Then again, who hasn’t been in the Avengers?) He was also befriended by Spider-Man, Marvel’s best-known take on the teenage hero theme (although Spidey had long since matured into adulthood by the time he met Darkhawk).

Blackhawk holds the distinction of being one of a handful of characters to leap from the comic book page into other media. At the peak of his popularity during comics’ Golden Age in the 1940s, Blackhawk starred in his own radio drama, as well as a film serial. Pretty impressive, for a guy who’s basically just a fighter pilot in a fancy outfit.

In his original incarnation, Blackhawk was the leader of an international squadron, whose members were portrayed as a colorful collection of ethnic stereotypes. The writers could never quite agree on whether Blackhawk himself was American, or Polish, or an American of Polish heritage (the character was identified as each of the above at various points in his career). After World War II, the squad busied itself combating various non-military threats. During the 1960s, in a misguided attempt to keep the characters relevant, DC temporarily transformed Blackhawk and the boys into superpowered heroes, with such lame code names as “M’sieu Machine” and “Dr. Hands.” (Yikes.) In the most recent reboot of DC continuity (a.k.a. “The New 52”), the Blackhawks have been reinvented as a crack modern-day commando unit (think GI Joe). Me, I still prefer the original.

Tod Smith — who, in his post-Darkhawk career, probably is best known as the longtime artist of the Elvira: Mistress of the Dark comic book — seemed to get a kick out of being reunited with his old friend Darkhawk after a couple of decades. I love it when a plan comes together.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.


My funny Valentine

February 9, 2012

For those of you who’ve expressed an interest in my burgeoning voice acting career, here’s a little something I voiced recently.

It’s a promotional video for a Bay Area men’s chorus that delivers Singing Valentines. NIA Creative, an awesome marketing and production company, produced the project.

Fun stuff…

…and if you decide to purchase a Singing Valentine for your beloved, please tell ’em your Uncle Swan sent you.

Comic Art Friday: RIP, Al Rio (1962-2012)

February 3, 2012

Superman and Supergirl, pencils by Al Rio, inks by Bob Almond

I was shocked and saddened on Tuesday morning — as were many of my fellow comics fans and comic art aficionados — to receive the news that artist and former Disney animator Al Rio had passed away in his native Brazil, the result of an apparent suicide.

Wonder Woman, pencils by Al Rio, inks by Geof Isherwood

Those of you who have followed Comic Art Fridays over the years know how greatly I appreciated Al Rio’s art. He is among the most well-represented artists in my collection; I own 15 of his original works — six of which I commissioned personally, plus several I’ve had inked by other artists. I’ve also enjoyed receiving the lovely postcards Al made available to his fans every holiday season. Al’s art representative, Terry Maltos, has always been one of my favorite vendors with whom to transact business. More than once, Terry has given me a price break on a purchase, or thrown in a little something extra in gratitude for my frequent custom.

Elektra, pencils by Al Rio, inks by Geof Isherwood

Al first came to prominence when he followed J. Scott Campbell as the regular artist on Wildstorm’s Gen13 and DV8. Although many people saw him as a Campbell clone, particularly in his early comics projects, his style continued to evolve. He worked on a variety of series for both of the major comics publishers and numerous second-tier labels — everything from Spider-Man and Captain America to Grimm Fairy Tales.

Mary Marvel, pencils by Al Rio, inks by Bob McLeod

As you can see from the pieces I’ve chosen for this memorial post, Al drew some of the most beautiful women in comics. Because of this, he was sometimes dismissed as “just a cheesecake artist.” That’s a bit like saying that Michelangelo, Titian, and Rubens weren’t great artists because they painted a lot of naked people. Without question, Al knew his way around the feminine form, but he could also draw heroes and backgrounds with the best in the business, and his sequential work shows that beyond his pinup talents, he was a brilliant storyteller. I was especially fond of his work on Marvel’s Heroes for Hire and White Tiger a couple of years back.

Batman and Catwoman, pencils by Al Rio, inks by Geof Isherwood

Since I didn’t know Al personally, I can’t really say much about him in that regard. I’ve always heard¬† him described as a nice man who extended extraordinary kindness to his fans and to other artists, and who frequently donated art in support of charitable causes. In fact, his Superman and Supergirl piece — seen at the top of this post — began as a preliminary sketch for a drawing Al created in support of victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Wanda, the Scarlet Witch, pencils by comics artist Al Rio

You can see my entire gallery of Al Rio’s art by following this link. Please go take a look at the beauty and dynamic range of this talented creator’s gifts.

Spider-Man and Mary Jane, pencils by Al Rio, inks by Bob Almond

Al Rio was 49 years old. He leaves behind a wife, three children, countless friends, and a legion of fans who admired his unique abilities.

Supergirl, pencils by Al Rio, inks by Joe Rubinstein

And that, sadly, is your Comic Art Friday.