When I first began commissioning artworks for my Common Elements series nearly a decade ago, I started a list of character matchups that I thought would make for interesting scenarios. Over the years, I’ve added to that list frequently.
The ideas come from a variety of directions. Sometimes, a pairing simply flashes into my mind from out of the blue, and I rush to the computer to note it before the thought fades from memory. On other occasions, I’ll run across a character in the course of reading some article about comics, and I’ll begin to think of other characters with whom that one might share a “common element.” Still other notions are spawned from a desire to see an artist formerly associated with a particular character revisit that hero or heroine in a whole new light.
It also happens from time to time that planned pairings change. Take, for example, the matchup featured in today’s spotlight artwork by the enormously gifted Steve Erwin. (Click the image above to get a larger and clearer peek at the drawing, in my Comic Art Fans gallery. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)
One of the earliest scenarios I added to my Common Elements “to-do” list involved DC’s Vigilante, the character seen at left above. I only read a handful of Vigilante’s adventures, but I always thought his costume — mostly solid black, with white highlights — was among the most striking in all of comics. I’d originally intended to put him in a scene alongside Marvel’s better-known Punisher, who’s probably comics’ most familiar vigilante antihero (and doubtless one of the inspirations behind Vigilante).
Then one day a few years ago, I happened across a picture of Judge Dredd in my Internet ramblings. For whatever reason, seeing Dredd with pistol in hand reminded me of another gun-toting character who carried the title “Judge” — Vigilante, whose secret identity was criminal court judge Adrian Chase. “Now that’s a cool Common Elements concept,” I thought to myself (because, without the gift of telepathy, I’m really the only person to whom I can think). Off to the CE to-do list I went, and swapped out Punisher in favor of Dredd in the Vigilante scenario. And there the idea sat for a few more years.
Until my good friend and fellow commissioned art collector Damon Owens recommended the services of Steve Erwin.
Steve’s diverse career in comics began in the mid-1980s, when he penciled several issues of Grimjack and Shatter for the late, lamented First Comics. He soon moved on to DC, where his initial assignment was the final three issues of Vigilante — a series which ended with the lead character’s death by suicide. (Hey, just because they’re called comics doesn’t mean they’re all fun and games.) Steve continued at DC with lengthy, well-reviewed runs on Checkmate and Deathstroke the Terminator, as well as several Star Trek licensed comics.
When Steve described to me his idea for this commission, I knew it would be amazing. The finished artwork lived up to the preview, and exceeded it. I’ll let the talented Mr. Erwin describe what you’re seeing, in his own words:
Imagine each character patrolling beside a building (old brick) and round the corner, only to bump into each other. They draw their weapons and aim at each other’s heads. Stalemate. They might each say something to the tune of, “You have been judged.” (Well, Dredd would say that. Chase would try to figure out who this guy is, but size him up quickly as being very dangerous.) Both are judges, so that’s my connection.
The visual is the pair in a Mexican stand-off. Splitting the image between them is the corner of the building. We are looking at the “V” of the corner of the building and can see the wall next to each character, in perspective as it recedes into the background, ending just behind each figure. Beyond that, we see the distant night cityscape of Manhattan (behind Vigilante) and Megacity One (behind Dredd).
I got the idea trying to figure out how they might encounter each other, and I tripped back to my early comics days drawing stories in Grimjack: The city of Cynosure, where dimensions/realities meet. The corner they meet is where their worlds join, at least temporarily.
As noted in the header of this post, Steve titled his creation “Double Jeopardy at Munden’s Bar,” the saloon in Cynosure that Grimjack used as his base of operations. Of course, any title with “Jeopardy” in it is a winner in my book. (For reasons which, by now, I ought not to have to explain.)
Some of my fellow theme commission aficionados think it peculiar that I rarely, if indeed ever, script a specific scenario for artists to follow when drawing a Common Elements piece. Today’s artwork is a perfect demonstration of the reason why I don’t. Would I have come up with an idea as scintillating as the one Steve Erwin devised? Not in a million dimensions. That’s why I prefer to leave the imagineering to the professionals.
But for collectors who choose a different path… hey, I don’t judge.
I leave that to the professionals, too.
And that’s your Comic Art Friday.