Archive for April 2014

Comic Art Friday: The art of “YES! AND…”

April 11, 2014

I’m taking a 10-week workshop on improvisational acting at the American Conservatory Theater. It’s an opportunity to expand my actor’s toolbox –learning to be more spontaneous and less patterned in my approach. Thus far, it’s been fun, enlightening, and a bit scary — in a beneficial way — as well.

One of the key tenets of improv is the acceptance of offers or gifts. No matter what the idea or inspiration your acting partner presents to you (that’s an “offer”), you receive it enthusiastically — you always say “YES!” to whatever the other actor throws at you. More than that, you have to take the offer one step further, adding something of your own to it. So, it’s more than merely saying “YES!” to your partner’s idea, it’s saying “YES! AND… here’s another idea to go along with that.” With each actor continually saying “YES! AND…,” the scene grows and builds, and takes on a life of its own. (Saying “NO!” either overtly, or through subconscious resistance to the offer, stonewalls the creative process.) In a nutshell, that’s what improv is — constantly accepting offers and adding something new, which in turn earns a “YES! AND…” from the next actor.

Comic art, it occurs to me, is a lot like improvisational acting.

Phoenix and Looker, pencil art by Dave Hoover

In a published comic, several artists contribute to the creation of what the reader sees on the printed page: the writer, who conceives the story and composes the dialogue and captions; the penciler, who draws the panels and the action that takes place within them; the inker, who refines the pencil art and finishes it in ink; the colorist, who colors the art; and the letterer, who drafts the words as they appear on the page. (Of course, some or all of these functions may be performed by the same individual. There might also be some overlap — for example, the writer and penciler may collaborate to a greater or lesser degree on the design of the page. But for the sake of our discussion, let’s suppose that each is a different person.)

If you think about it, this development process is a series of “YES! AND…” situations. The writer gives an offer or gift to the penciler in the form of a script. (If the writer is working “Marvel Method,” the script at this point may be little more than a plot outline. Or, if there’s a full script involved, the writer may verbally diagram the content of each panel.) The penciler takes the script and says “YES! AND…” adds pictures to visualize the story. The penciled pages go next to the inker, who says “YES! AND…” embellishes what the penciler has drawn. The colorist and letterer “YES! AND…” the inked art with their respective additions in turn. The end result is a composition of words, lines, colors, and letters that reflects each artist’s unique contribution, but is likely far different from what any one of them might have envisioned alone.

The same principle applies in commissioned art, although usually with fewer parties involved. The client gives an idea to the artist, who in this case will certainly serve as penciler, but may — depending on the agreement — also add inking, coloring, and perhaps even lettering. The artist says “YES! AND…” to the client’s concept, and adds the visuals. Other artists might be commissioned to add ink or color or lettering to the original pencil art as well, bringing even more “YES! AND…” into the mix.

I find this endlessly fascinating. As a collector, I’m the first offer-maker. The “YES! AND…” of the pencil artist takes my offer in directions I might never have anticipated. Sometimes, I’ll pass a penciled commission on to an inker, whose “YES! AND…” imbues the art with yet other unexpected dimensions.

Consider the series of images in this post.

Phoenix and Looker, pencils by Dave Hoover, inks by Bob Almond

I gave pencil artist Dave Hoover (who, sad to say, has since passed) an offer: What if Phoenix (a.k.a. Jean Grey) from the X-Men and Looker (a.k.a. Emily Briggs) from the Outsiders — two heroines with telekinetic powers who each underwent transformative changes at one point — got together to hang out?

Dave said, “YES! AND… what if they met in an old courtyard with painted brick walls, and potted plants as decoration? And what if they posed with Emily kneeling, and Jean standing hipshot behind her?” So, he drew that.

Then inker Bob Almond said, “YES! AND… what if the light on the courtyard fell from this angle, making the shadows cast by the women and the objects fall this way? And what if the wall was textured like this, and the characters’ costumes were textured like this?” Then he inked the piece to show all of that.

And then colorist Blake Wilkie (whose involvement was yet another “YES! AND…” on Bob Almond’s part) said, “YES! AND… what if the walls were painted this color, and beneath the paint the bricks were this color, and the plants and pots were these colors, and the light had this kind of effect on everything?” When he finished working his magic, all of that happened.

Phoenix and Looker, pencils by Dave Hoover, inks by Bob Almond, colors by Blake Wilkie

To all of which I said, “YES! AND… that looks pretty darned awesome.” Because it did.

Sometimes, when I page through my art collection, I find myself wishing that I could draw as wonderfully as the artists I’ve commissioned. But then I realize that, if I did all of the drawing myself, then everything on each page would be mine — every concept, every character, every figure, every line. Every artwork would be exactly what arose from my own thoughts and talents — nothing more.

It’s far more interesting to me simply to make the initial offer, and let others surprise me with their special brand of “YES! AND…”

“YES! AND…” that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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Comic Art Friday: One mask is never enough

April 4, 2014

I’ve been pumping out these Comic Art Friday posts for so long — nearly a decade now — that it’s easy to lose track of when I featured certain pieces from my collection. Today’s premiere of the new film Captain America: The Winter Soldier inspired me to dig back into the archives for these two artworks by Bob Layton that I last showcased together seven years ago.

Heck, iPhones were just barely a thing then.

These two Layton creations stand apart in my Common Elements commission theme because they remain, to date, the only paired pieces in that theme that feature the same two characters — albeit under different guises and in different costumes, and matched together because of entirely different commonalities. In both works, we see the familiar characters Steve Rogers and Michael Jon Carter. Beyond that, things get a teeny bit weird.

Booster Gold and Captain America, pencils and inks by Bob Layton

In this first piece, we see Steve and Michael in their best-known identities — Captain America and Booster Gold, respectively. The title I’ve given this one — “Out of Time” — suggests one common element shared by these heroes: both are men who find themselves in a time-period not their own. Cap, of course, is the hero from the past, having been frozen in suspended animation from World War II until the modern day. Booster comes to the present timeline from the distant future; specifically, the 25th century. Part of the appeal of each character is watching his adaptation to his new temporal location.

Supernova and Nomad, pencils and inks by Bob Layton

The second piece once again presents Steve and Michael, only this time in costumes each wore only briefly. The erstwhile Booster Gold assumed the pseudonym Supernova during the events of DC Comics’ weekly publication, 52. (2006-2007). Steve Rogers, saddened by the political turmoil of the early-to-middle 1970s, temporarily abandoned his role as Captain America, taking on the nationally ambiguous title Nomad for several months (as chronicled in Captain America and the Falcon, issues 180-184). Thus, I’ve titled this drawing “By Any Other Name” to highlight the fact that its subjects were better known by… well… other names.

Needless to say — but I’ll go ahead and say it anyway — Bob Layton did some stellar work on both of these pieces, which he completed in June and October 2007. For me, Layton is one of the quintessential Marvel inkers of the late 1970s through the 1980s, most notably for his two lengthy runs on Iron Man during that period. You can see here that he’s also an outstanding penciler. Bob went on to pivotal roles in three comics publishers that he co-founded: Valiant, Acclaim, and Future Comics. Most recently, he’s been involved with several film projects as a writer and producer.

These two artworks remind me that none of us are just one person. We are each several differing personalities, or at least facets of personality,wrestling for control of a common body. I don’t mean that in a pathological sense. It’s simply that we’re all more than a single identifier can describe. Inside every Steve Rogers, there resides both a Captain America and a Nomad. Inside every Michael Carter, there lives both a Booster Gold and a Supernova. Every Jean Grey is both a Marvel Girl and a Phoenix. Every Janet Van Dyne Pym owns several dozen Wasp costumes, but is always uniquely herself no matter which outfit she wears.

If you ask me who I am, I’m many things. Professionally, I’m a writer, a voice actor, and a  public speaker. Personally, I’m both a husband and a widower; both a father and a bastard child; an American, and an ethnically diverse citizen of the greater Planet Earth. I’m a Jeopardy! champion, a pop culture geek, a sports fanatic, and a collector of comic art.

And even that multifaceted list is merely the tip of the all-too-human iceberg that is me. You have a myriad list yourself, I’ll imagine.

All of which keeps life –and ourselves — in continuous reevaluation and evolution.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.