Archive for January 2014

Comic Art Friday: Mourning (over comics) becomes Elektra

January 31, 2014

I’ve long been on record as opining that Frank Miller singlehandedly ruined three of my boyhood comics heroes.

Miller ruined both Batman and Daredevil by forcing both characters down the road to inky-black insanity, a path that pretty much every writer who’s scripted either character since has felt compelled to continue. (And yes, I do understand that Batman — the 1960s TV series notwithstanding — has always been a “dark” character. But he wasn’t a psychopathic nutjob until Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns rendered him that way.)

Miller ruined Will Eisner’s The Spirit by shoehorning him into what stands as one of the most embarrassingly inept comics-to-film adaptations ever devised. Seriously, what WAS that movie?

And, through his potent influence, Miller shoved the entire superhero comics genre into the depths of grim-grittiness — a fall from which the medium has yet to recover.

Basically, with a few strokes of his pen, Frank Miller drained the fun out of comics.

Elektra, pencils by comics artist Noah Salonga

But he did create Elektra.

And for that, I have to give Frank Miller credit.

But not forgiveness.

Interpolation: SSTOL reader and Friend o’ Swan Ben Herman wanted some background on Noah Salonga, the artist responsible for the Elektra drawing seen above. I’ll share what I know.

Noah is among the veritable plethora of talented artists creating comics (or, as they’re known there, komiks) in the Philippines. His work has appeared in the U.S. in such titles as Dynamite Entertainment’s Red Sonja and Xena: Warrior Princess; Harris Comics’ Vampirella; and Marvel’s Mighty Avengers and Agents of Atlas.

Some years back, I owned another beautiful example of Noah’s art, that one featuring Lara Croft, Tomb Raider. I’ve always regretted selling that piece. I was thrilled recently to replace it at long last with this amazing artwork.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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Comic Art Friday: Double Jeopardy at Munden’s Bar

January 24, 2014

Vigilante and Judge Dredd, pencils by comics artist Steve Erwin

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.

Comic Art Friday: Transformers — adolescents in disguise

January 10, 2014

Captain Marvel and Mightor, pencils by Brendon Fraim, inks by Brian Fraim

It’s generally acknowledged that superheroes are a manifestation of adolescent power fantasy. What teenager doesn’t secretly wish to vanquish with a mighty blow all the people and things that cause one angst?

That being the case, I’ve always thought that Captain Marvel — the original hero by that name, not any of the legion of subsequent characters who have been and are so called — is the ultimate superhero. Not only is the Big Red Cheese powerful, but he allows young Billy Batson to skip the entire teenage trauma and advance directly to adulthood with a single word.

I’ve often wondered why there aren’t more superheroes like that. There have been plenty of adolescent heroes in comics, from Robin to the Legion of Super-Heroes, from the Teen Titans to the original incarnations of Spider-Man and the X-Men. But Captain Marvel’s vaulting from boyhood to manhood every time he suits up remains relatively unique.

Except for the mighty Mightor.

Those of a certain age will recall Mightor as the star of a popular Saturday morning cartoon back in the day. Set in prehistoric times, it’s the saga of an average teenaged caveman named Tor, who when he raises his magic club aloft transforms into Mightor, a brawny adult superman. At the same time, Tor’s pet dinosaur Tog morphs into a winged dragon. Mightor uses his superhuman strength, ability to fly, and energy-blasting club to battle all kinds of bizarre enemies, such as populated adventure cartoons in the 1960s.

Mightor is basically a Cro-Magnon version of another Hanna-Barbera character of the time: Space Ghost, who like Mightor was created by comics legend Alex Toth. (Space Ghost, however, was always Space Ghost, and had no apparent alter ego, adolescent or otherwise.) A persistent urban legend suggests that Mightor was designed as a riff on Marvel Comics’ Thor, which makes sense given the similarity in names (both Thor and Mightor are often adjectivally designated “the Mighty…”), costume (Thor wore a winged helmet and cape; Mightor sported a horned cowl and cape), and weaponry (Thor wielded a mystic hammer; Mightor, a magic club). Whether that connection is valid or not, it’s equally clear that Captain Marvel’s transformational ability also played into Mightor’s creation.

Captain Marvel, of course, also got his shot at Saturday morning television glory. In the 1970s, Filmation produced a live-action series entitled Shazam!, featuring the exploits of the studly guy in the crimson union suit. Actors Jackson Bostwick (season one) and John Davey (seasons two and three) played the good Captain, while the role of young Billy Batson was assayed by tween heartthrob Michael Gray. The show’s success led to the creation, in its second season, of its companion series, The Secrets of Isis — whose central character emerged after Filmation failed to secure the licensing for Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel’s sister, from DC Comics.

Our flash-aging heroes are depicted in today’s artwork by the Brothers Fraim. Brendon handles the penciling chores; Brian does the inking. The brothers’ clean, eye-pleasing style meshes perfectly with these classic characters.

Now if only there was a magic word that could instantaneously shave off a few years, and maybe a pound or several. But that’s more of a way-past-adolescence fantasy.

And that’s also your Comic Art Friday.