Comic Art Friday: Justice may be blind, but it can see in the dark

One of my personal projects for this year is building a database for my comic art collection. As astounding as this may seem, given that I’ve been collecting art for nearly a decade now, I don’t have a comprehensive catalog of everything I own.

My online gallery at Comic Art Fans showcases practically all of my art, but there’s no easy way from there to compile a simple list that contains every item. Plus, there’s information about each artwork that I’d like to capture, but that isn’t included in the CAF listing. My late first wife KJ helped me create an Excel spreadsheet many years ago, but spreadsheets and I don’t speak the same language — I’m a writer, not an accountant — so that document hasn’t been updated in, like, eons. The other night, I took a 12-part online tutorial in the basics of Access, Microsoft’s database program, and I believe I now have a tool that will accomplish what I need.

As I fill the database — which is going to take some time, since I have close to 400 individual pieces to catalog — I’m going through my portfolios and taking a fresh look at each physical artwork, as opposed to the digital images that reside in my computer and online. There are practical reasons for this: I want to (a) verify what I still own, because I’ve sold or traded some pieces over the years, and haven’t always been meticulous about noting that those items have moved on to new owners; and (b) document the dimensions of each piece, and I can’t tell what sizes things are from the scans.

There’s an even more important reason, though, for reconnecting with each piece in my collection, especially those that I didn’t commission personally. For the preexisting pieces, it’s nice to be reminded of why I bought them in the first place.

Both of the artworks we’re featuring today sprang from the hand of the same talented artist — James E. Lyle, who signs his work “jel” and is known to his friends as Doodle. I acquired both pieces in March 2005 from the same vendor, who if I recall correctly was selling them on Doodle’s behalf. Over the next several months, I commissioned three new pieces from Doodle directly, including two for my Common Elements theme. His work has many wonderful qualities that I enjoy — strong lines, expressive characters, exquisite costume detailing, and an old-school, retro feel that breathes and radiates the comics of my youth. He also uses shadows (or “spots blacks,” as they say in artist lingo) as effectively as anyone in the business, as you’ll see in a moment.

Black Canary, pencils and inks by James E. Lyle

Doodle titled this first item “Canary in a Coal Mine,” and it’s easy to see why. His juxtaposition of Black Canary against a solid black background make for a bold, arresting image, despite the relaxed posture of the subject. This piece has consistently ranked among the most-viewed items in my online gallery over the years.

For me, Lyle’s Canary reflects a humanity that we don’t often see in our superheroes. It reads to my eye as though Dinah Drake Lance has come home from a long, arduous night of fighting crime, and she wants nothing more than to just sit down and rest. She just walked through the door of her home and plopped down on the sofa. She doesn’t even have the strength left to completely remove her jacket. And yet, exhausted though she is, there’s a trace of a smile on Dinah’s lips as she reflects on the lives she’s saved and the evildoers she’s sent off to prison. It’s been a tough battle, but a job well done.

I also like that Doodle has given his Canary naturalistic proportions. Her figure is a bit fuller and softer than the typical mainstream comics artist would draw. She looks less like an idealized, male-power-fantasy caricature of a woman, and more like an actual woman. If there were a Black Canary in real life, she’d probably be closer to Lyle’s depiction than to that of whoever’s drawing her at DC this month.

Next, Doodle presents his take on Doctor Mid-Nite, a favorite hero of mine from comics’ Golden Age. In contrast to Black Canary, Mid-Nite finds himself in the heat of battle, facing down an unseen enemy. I think Doctor Mid-Nite’s original costume as seen here is one of the best superhero designs ever — the guy just looks like a superhero, and he also looks totally cool. (Credit Mid-Nite’s co-creator, artist Stanley Aschmeier — a.k.a. Stan Josephs — for his timeless style.)

Doctor Mid-Nite, pencils and inks by James E. Lyle

Lyle invests meticulous attention in the minute details of the good doctor’s outfit, taking care to get every crease and fold in Mid-Nite’s tunic, gloves, and boots exactly right. The smoke effect generated by Mid-Nite’s blackout bomb is also beautifully done. And, like his Black Canary, Doodle’s Doctor Mid-Nite is perfectly, realistically proportioned. He appears strong and sturdy, but his muscularity doesn’t brand him as a steroid junkie or a freak of nature.

I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of a blind superhero (which Doctor Mid-Nite is, for those not up on their comics lore). When I was a kid, Daredevil was one of my favorite characters. (I haven’t been able to stomach DD’s modern adventures since Frank Miller gave the character an unnecessarily antiheroic spin in the early ’80s, a trend that subsequent creators appear to have followed. But those Silver and Bronze Age Daredevil stories — including that early ’70s run where he’s partnered with the Black Widow — remain classics.)

Tangentially related: I was a major fan (come to think of it, perhaps the only fan) of CBS’s 1990s late-night TV drama Dark Justice, about a criminal court judge who moonlights as a vigilante, rounding up malfeasants who previously escaped punishment through loopholes in the legal system. The lead character in Dark Justice was not visually impaired, but he had a habitual quirk of telling his foes, “Justice may be blind, but it can see in the dark.” I always wanted to add, “So can Doctor Mid-Nite. And Daredevil.”

It’s been 20 years since that series last aired, but I still recall it vividly as a great concept. Someone should pick up the rights and resurrect it. (A bit of Dark Justice trivia: Although the show was set in an unnamed American metropolis, its first season was filmed in Barcelona, Spain, shortly before the 1992 Summer Olympics were held there. Part of the fun of watching those early episodes was trying to catch the instances when the production team failed in its efforts to make Barcelona look like, say, Los Angeles.)

But I digress.

Sometimes people ask me whether there’s a difference in my mind between the artworks I’ve commissioned and those I’ve purchased. To be frank, there usually is — I have a deeper, more visceral attachment to my commissions because they would not exist had I not hired an artist to create them. My theme commissions, especially, reflect my personal tastes and vision in a manner than no preexisting piece ever could. There are, however, some pieces I’ve picked up over the years that I absolutely love, as much as any I’ve commissioned, because they just speak to me in a special way, and at a unique level.

You’ve just seen two of them.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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

One Comment on “Comic Art Friday: Justice may be blind, but it can see in the dark”

  1. Thanks again for the coverage, Michael. I’m very humbled by your kind words on my behalf.

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