Comic Art Friday: If it ain’t broke, don’t Vixen

Back in the early weeks of 2005, I was still just beginning to get my head around the notion that actual comic book artists — people whose work I’d seen and admired on the four-color printed page — would draw pictures just for me, if I offered them money. My first visit to a comics convention boggled my mind with a fresh new dimension: comic book artists would sometimes draw pictures just for me, while I watched.

I suppose it’s not entirely accurate to say that WonderCon 2005 was my initial foray into the con scene. During my high school days in the 1970s, I was active in Star Trek fandom — shocking, I know, but yes, I was a hardcore Trekkie — and attended several Trek conventions here in the Bay Area. (I should tell some of those stories sometime.) I also went to at least one comics-focused con a few years after that, but memory blurs the details. It might have been one of the early iterations of WonderCon, when the event was still being held in Oakland.

WC ’05, however, holds the distinction of being my first con as a comic art collector. More specifically, it yielded the first artwork I ever commissioned in person: this gracefully brush-inked sketch of Vixen, by the comic artist known as Buzz.

Vixen, pencils and inks by comics artist Buzz

Thinking about it now, I don’t remember precisely why I chose Vixen –noteworthy as DC Comics’ first African American superheroine — as the character whose likeness I wanted to commission on this particular occasion. I think I had read somewhere that one might be more likely to get a drawing from an artist at a con if one asked for something out of the ordinary. I figured that Vixen, while not a completely obscure character, probably spawned fewer requests than, say, Wonder Woman. Plus, she looked cool.

I chose Buzz to draw her because… well… he was the first artist whose table I approached where there wasn’t a line ahead of me.

A serendipitous choice, in the end, because Buzz created a striking image. He also didn’t seem to mind my periodic hovering over his shoulder as the piece took shape over several hours. The process fascinated me. I’ve seen painters doing their thing — I couldn’t tell you how many episodes of Bob Ross’s PBS series I’ve watched — and I’ve observed artists sketching in pencil and charcoal, but I had never really watched anyone work with ink before. Even though I’d been looking at comics for decades by this time, I’d never given much thought to the idea that inking might be done with a brush. The word ink always suggested a pen to me, so I’d supposed that comics were inked with something along the line of a fountain pen. (Which I now understand is often the case. Some inkers prefer pen, others brush, and many use both, depending on the demands of the work at hand.)

Buzz’s finished Vixen image evolved from his second stab at the drawing. He spent quite a bit of time puzzling out exactly how he wanted to compose the shot — given the nature of the character, he wanted a look that read both beautiful and feral. He’d actually begun sketching out a pose before he decided to start over from scratch. Rather than erasing his initial rough, Buzz flipped the board over and resumed drawing on the opposite side. Which means, of course, that his first attempt remained intact on the reverse.

Buzz Vixen preliminary pencil sketch

Buzz didn’t ask me (at least, I don’t recall that he did), but I would have been perfectly pleased had he continued down his original path. Then again, I’m easy to please when it comes to the art I commission. As an artist myself — albeit in the very different milieus of writing and acting — I understand the compulsion to get the work right, according to one’s inner muse. When I write, for example, I hyper-edit. Unlike many writers, who will blow through a quick first draft just to get the ideas on the page (or screen), I dither over every sentence before I move on to the next. The fact that I’m a painfully slow typist* facilitates this; I have a fair amount of time to look at my words. The end result is that, although it takes me longer than most to get to the end of my first draft, it’s usually close to final product. I’ll do a sanity read-through to clean up typos and to fact-check, but I rarely need an extensive rewrite.

My intensively analytical creative approach is, on the other hand, sometimes crippling to me as an actor. But that’s a whole other post.

Buzz’s real name, in case you were curious, is Aldrin Aw. If you know your space exploration history, you’ll see where his nom de plume comes from.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

*Swan Factoid: I can’t touch-type. I’ve tried to learn, repeatedly — I took two typing classes in school, and I’ve tested several versions of typist-training software — but my brain and my hands just don’t work together that way. Although I know the QWERTY keyboard cold, I manipulate it mostly with my two index fingers, plus the middle finger of my left hand. My typing style has been described as “two crabs fighting.” It’s not terribly efficient or speedy, but it works.)

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

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