Comic Art Friday: A long year’s journey into daylight

Given that we all survived the Zombie Apocalypse — we did survive, didn’t we? — I’ve decided to do something a little different with our Comic Art Friday posts to begin this new year.

The arrival of 2013 brings me almost a decade into my comic art collecting phase. I acquired my first pieces in 2004 — amazing to consider, but there it is. Who knew then that nine years down the road, I’d have amassed a gallery containing… well… even I don’t know exactly how many drawings, to be honest, but somewhere upward of 400. (One of my self-assigned projects for this year is a thorough inventory.)

So, I thought this might be an opportune time to walk back through my collection and revisit some of the key artworks that have brought this behemoth to where we find it today. I don’t know yet all of the twists and turns this narrative may take, but I’m envisioning this as less of a “greatest hits” or “favorite pieces” retrospective (because, frankly, I do that at the end of every calendar year) than as a thoughtful reconsideration of milestones — items that helped direct and define my collecting path. These posts will focus less on the who, what, and where of each artwork (not that we won’t touch on the subject matter; we will, certainly), and more on the why — why I bought or commissioned this piece, and why it has specific meaning to me. That means that some of these posts will end up being not so much about what you see in the picture, than about the man behind the curtain. Or behind the collection, if you will.

I’ll try to keep the flow more or less chronological, but I’m not going to enslave myself wholly to dates. Mostly because on a given Friday, a certain piece from a general time period might plead with me more vigorously to write about it than does one that arrived somewhat earlier. But I will avoid making large leaps backward or forward. And, although I might on occasion choose to spotlight a piece that I purchased preexisting, I’ll concentrate on artworks I’ve actually commissioned, both because that’s the category that makes up the majority of my collection today, and because my commissions hold a unique resonance for me, as I had some part in their creation.

We’ll see where this journey takes us. I wouldn’t be surprised if we all learn some incredible things. (And yes, I know it’s the Incredible Hulk, not the Incredible Thing. Then again, Aunt Petunia’s favorite blue-eyed nephew is pretty incredible in his own right. But I digress.)

2013 should be an interesting year.

Let’s begin with the first comic artwork ever drawn specifically at my behest — this pinup of Booster Gold, penciled by his creator, Dan Jurgens, and later inked by veteran embellisher Joe Rubinstein.

Booster Gold, pencils by Dan Jurgens, inks by Joe Rubinstein

Now, it’s important to note that this is not the first piece of art that I ever commissioned. That honor goes to the Black Panther drawing I ordered from Bob McLeod (co-creator of the New Mutants, and longtime Spider-Man and Superman artist) in early September 2004. However, between that date and late November of that year, when McLeod completed his masterpiece, I purchased a couple of sketches by Dan Jurgens via eBay from a comics dealer in Minnesota. As we were completing our transaction, the dealer mentioned that Jurgens might be stopping by an upcoming local comics convention. The dealer suggested to me that since I liked Jurgens’s work, he might be able to persuade the artist to draw a quick custom sketch for me, if I was interested. The dealer stressed that Jurgens wasn’t actually a guest at the convention, and therefore would not be drawing throughout the weekend for attending fans, but since he (the dealer) knew Jurgens personally, he felt confident that he could corral the artist into one sketch if the subject intrigued him.

For the first time in my nascent commissioning career, I actually had to think about the subject matter before I requested a commission. When I’d approached Bob McLeod, the choice of subject was settled in my mind before I even knew the artist who would draw it — I wanted a Black Panther piece, and I specifically sought out an artist who had worked on the character in one of his earliest incarnations. Plus, I was already a fan of McLeod’s work, and had fairly extensive knowledge of his background and clear expectations of what I wanted. With Jurgens, I hadn’t a clue. I liked the two sketches of his that I’d recently purchased (a Tomb Raider pinup and a fight scenario between Thor and the Hulk), but all I knew of his work beyond that was that (a) he was the creator of Booster Gold — significant mostly because Booster was the first major new character that DC Comics introduced after reshuffling its entire character universe in the 1985 miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths; and (b) he was one of the key writers and artists who created the 1992 Death of Superman storyline.

“Booster Gold might be fun,” I thought.

Apparently, Jurgens thought so too. He related to the dealer that it had probably been a decade or more at that time since he had last drawn the character he had designed, and he got a special kick out of revisiting the roguish time traveler after so many years. As established as Booster had become, no one asked Dan Jurgens to draw him anymore. Jurgens appreciated, and was perhaps even a trifle touched, that someone remembered his connection to Booster’s origin.

I learned a lesson from that experience that I’ve never forgotten through hundreds of subsequent commissions: Artists are people, too. Drawing comic book characters may be their livelihood, but they also want to enjoy the work, and to feel appreciated for their talents. As a patron, I try to keep that in mind. I make it a point to commission artists to draw things I believe they’ll enjoy drawing, and to be flexible enough to switch subject matter if the artist seems unenthused. I don’t overdirect the project — in fact, I rarely make any suggestion about the content of a commission beyond assigning characters (and I often offer a choice between Option A and Option B), unless the artist insists on additional input. (Some do.) And I do my best to let the artist know that I’m grateful for the time and skill he or she invests in my project.

It’s not uncommon for artists to tell me, once a commission is completed, “I really enjoyed working on this.” Indeed, several artists who’ve drawn pieces for my Common Elements or Bombshells! themes have said that the assignment was the most fun they’ve had in a while. I don’t think that’s an accident. I hope that as a patron, I help foster that enjoyment by being easy to work with, and by choosing subject matter that suits the artist’s style, tastes, and interests.

To me, that’s the very definition of a win-win.

One last note about today’s featured artwork. This piece was selected for publication by Back Issue magazine; it appeared in the May 2007 issue (#22) as part of a retrospective about Booster Gold and his frequent cohort, the Blue Beetle.

And that, friend reader, is your Comic Art Friday.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Comic Art Friday, Reminiscing, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

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