Comic Art Friday: The tao of Steve

Big Wow ComicFest… the gift that keeps on giving.

In last week’s Comic Art Friday, we checked out the superfluity of goodness that came home with me from the Bay Area’s favorite comics confab earlier this month. That abundance did not yet include an additional item that I commissioned during the con for completion afterward.

Now it does.

Valkyrie and Taarna, mixed media art by Steven E. Gordon

When I first rolled up on Steven E. Gordon‘s table in Artist’s Alley on Saturday, his name did not immediately register with me. I did, however, admire the samples of his art that were on display. After chatting for a bit with Steve and his wife, I told him I’d return on Sunday with a commission project for him. Steve advised me that he probably wouldn’t be able to start the piece before the con ended, but that he would gladly take my information and send me the art when it was done.

At home on Saturday night, I Googled Steve to get a better idea of his style, with a view to choosing a Common Elements concept appropriate to his talents. I was astounded to discover that I actually knew Steve’s previous work quite well — I just didn’t realize who he was.

As it turns out, Steve Gordon possesses one of the most extensive and impressive resumes in the animation business. In film, he’s worked as an animator, designer, and animation director on numerous projects, ranging from Disney classics (The Black Cauldron; The Great Mouse Detective; Oliver and Company) to several directed by the legendary Ralph Bakshi (Lord of the Rings; American Pop; Cool World). In television, Steve has contributed his talents to a host of series, from Mighty Mouse to The Avengers.

With the light of giddy anticipation breaking over my mental horizon, I realized that I just met a key contributor to one of my all-time favorite animated features: Ralph Bakshi’s sword-and-sorcery epic, Fire and Ice — the product of Bakshi’s collaboration with the dean of fantasy illustrators, the late, lamented Frank Frazetta. Sometimes described (not altogether inaccurately) as “Conan the Animated Barbarian,” Fire and Ice melds Frazetta’s unmistakable design aesthetic with Bakshi’s storytelling and unique cinematic style, including ample use of the latter’s trademark rotoscoping technique. From a narrative perspective, it’s not the most original film Bakshi ever directed, what with veteran comics scribes Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway importing a bucketload of tropes they’d each previously employed writing Conan’s adventures for Marvel. But without question, Fire and Ice stands among Bakshi’s most visually appealing creations, thanks in large part to Frazetta’s input, along with background artists James Gurney (Dinotopia) and Thomas Kinkade (yes, that Thomas Kinkade), as well as Peter Chung, who would go on to create Aeon Flux for MTV. And of course, the work of animation director Steven E. Gordon.

Having made the Fire and Ice connection, I knew what Steve’s Common Elements assignment would be — two characters who would fit perfectly into Bakshi and Frazetta’s world of swordplay and mystical mayhem: Marvel’s Viking vixen, Valkyrie, and Taarna, the iconic heroine from my beloved Heavy Metal: The Animated Film.

Aside from the obvious “blade-slinging beauty” angle, Val and Taarna share two other, more subtle commonalities. Both have real monomymic real names — Valkyrie’s true identity is simply called Brunnhilde — and both are seen to be reincarnated in multiple persons. Over her career in comics, the spirit of Brunnhilde has been reborn in several women, most notably Barbara Norriss and Samantha Parrington. At the conclusion of Heavy Metal, we find Taarna’s spirit alive new in the young girl seen previously in the linking segments (titled “Grimaldi”) throughout the film.

Steve’s sensibility as an animation designer fits these heroines like an armored gauntlet. Who wouldn’t want to watch an entire movie of Taarna and Val wading into pitched battle against hordes of hostile foes? Sign me up!

Not only did Steve turn out his take-home commission assignment beautifully and speedily — I received a scan of the finished piece less than a week after Big Wow concluded — he also graciously autographed the cover of my Fire and Ice DVD. (He did seem a touch surprised that someone actually owned one.) Now if only I could run into Ralph Bakshi one of these days…

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

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2 Comments on “Comic Art Friday: The tao of Steve”

  1. chunk Says:

    Also, Taarna was a direct descendent of Taarak the Defender thus one could call her Taarna the Defender (avenger?) and Valkyrie was a member of the Defenders.
    When I saw this on his page I thought this pic could be called “Defenders”
    Excellent work, Steven is one of the great ones!


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