Archive for July 2016

Comic Art Friday: Omakase

July 29, 2016

I rarely commission an artist with the words, “Draw whatever you want.”

Now, I don’t script my commissions the way some collectors do — I know several people who provide excruciatingly detailed scenarios for artists to work from — but I’m just enough of a control freak that I don’t want to risk handing someone a fistful of cash and getting back a drawing of a character I detest. The rare instance when I’ve given an artist absolute free rein has occurred at a convention, usually with a talent I’ve commissioned before and have at least some rapport with.

Phoenix, pencils and inks by Tom Raney

This past spring at Silicon Valley Comic Con, I took one such flier with Tom Raney. Tom had done a terrific piece for my Common Elements gallery some time back, and I really like his work. On this occasion, I had several possible ideas for him, but couldn’t settle on one particular character. So I just said, “Draw whatever you want,” and hoped for the best.

Tom did not disappoint, rewarding my trust with this lovely pinup of X-Man Jean Grey in her Phoenix phase. Given that Tom was the regular X-Men penciler for a stretch, I’m thinking that he has an affinity for Jean that comes through in his work. I love Tom’s delicate linework here, and the beautiful manner in which he incorporates the Phoenix Force that Jean manifests.

Of course, my comics-reading tenure trails back well before Jean acquired the code name Phoenix. I can recall when she was the only female member of the original X-Men lineup, and used the moniker Marvel Girl. (Geof Isherwood paired Jean in Marvel Girl garb alongside Mary Marvel in this early Common Elements commission.)

Mary Marvel and Marvel Girl, pencils by Geof Isherwood

Jean was far less powerful in her Marvel Girl incarnation than she eventually became, transforming over time from a simple telepath/telekinetic to an almost godlike being capable of destroying an entire planet, as she did at the climax of the Dark Phoenix saga. Since her death at the end of that storyline, and subsequent resurrection some years later (because no one ever stays dead in comics), Jean’s powers and prominence have fluctuated. She remains, however, a landmark character in the Marvel pantheon.

Raney and Isherwood draw her very nicely, too.

As for the title of this post: Omakase is a Japanese word that translates roughly into English as “I trust you.” In sushi restaurants and other eateries featuring Japanese cuisine, omakase signifies that the diner will eat whatever the chef wants to serve. The idea is that the itamae (chef) knows what ingredients are freshest and of the highest quality on that particular day, and will present the patron with the very best the kitchen has to offer.

Perhaps I should order omakase more often.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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Comic Art Friday: You’re my best friend

July 22, 2016

Throughout the long history of my Common Elements commission theme, the overwhelming majority of its concepts have sprung from my own fevered imagination. Not to be all egocentric about it, but it’s my theme, after all. There’s a certain undeniable kick that comes from looking at an artwork and knowing that the scenario depicted therein only exists because I thought of it. It’s for that reason that, although numerous people have suggested Common Elements ideas to me over the years, only three pieces in the gallery represent someone’s combination of characters other than my own.

This is the second one that someone else even paid for.

Green Arrow, Captain Marvel Jr. and Max Mercury, pencils by John Heebink

Damon Owens is a fellow comic art collector residing in the Houston area. (Yeah, I know — unfortunate. But I can’t get him to move.) As is true of my own collection, Damon’s focuses primarily on commissioned pieces (the majority of comic art collectors hone in on published pages). And, also like my own, Damon’s galleries often revolve around themes. He’s probably best known in the collecting community for The Brotherhood, a series of artworks depicting various African and African-American superheroes as an Avengers-style team of Damon’s own devising. Damon’s other themes include teamups involving (in separate themes) Black Panther and Juggernaut; Cage Matches, a series of reenactments of great battles in the career of Luke Cage; and perhaps most notably, two themes centered around obscure heroes from comic book history: Operation Obscura (mostly solo pinups) and The Dead Universes Project (in which characters from various comics publishers that no longer exist find themselves inhabiting the same fictional universe). All clever, all amazing in scope, and all well worth a look.

In addition to being an inventive and prolific collector, Damon is also well known as a genuinely nice guy, revered by artists and fellow collectors alike for his generous, supportive nature. Proof of his generosity stands before you in this incredible Common Elements artwork that Damon commissioned from comic artist John Heebink and gave to me, for no other reason than… well… Damon’s just like that.

Best of all, Damon totally nailed my Common Elements theme. It took me a few minutes of puzzled staring before I tumbled onto the common element: Freddie (Freeman, a.k.a. Captain Marvel Jr.); Mercury (speedster Max Mercury); and Queen (Oliver Queen, that is; better known as Green Arrow). So it’s both a perfect — and perfectly sly — example of my signature concept, and a tribute to one of my all-time favorite musical acts.

Damon, when it comes to the many good folks I’ve come to know through my collecting hobby, in the immortal words of Freddie Mercury and Queen — you’re my best friend. Seriously.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Tigra, Tigra, burning bright

July 15, 2016

Within the superhero community, there’s a tiny subset of characters who’ve had the unique opportunity to be two different superheroes at various stages of their careers.

I’m not speaking here of, say, founding Avengers member Henry “Hank” Pym, who’s been essentially the same superhero for decades, but has periodically changed his code name, costume, and the manner in which he used his powers — going from Ant-Man to Giant-Man to Goliath to Yellowjacket, and even becoming the Wasp (a nom de guerre more closely associated with his wife/partner Janet van Dyne) for a time.

No, I’m specifically thinking of someone like Greer Grant Nelson, who began her crimefighting career with one identity and skill-set, and later transformed into something else entirely.

When first we meet Greer, she’s a neophyte vigilante calling herself the Cat. Debuting in Beware! The Claws of the Cat #1 in November 1972, Greer was among the first Marvel Comics heroines to headline her own eponymous series, beating Shanna the She-Devil to the spinner racks by a month. As the Cat, Greer possessed superhuman strength and agility, plus heightened senses and intuition (all as the result of a laboratory experiment), and wore a yellow and blue bodysuit with built-in claws on the fingers and toes.

The Cat #1, cover art by Wally Wood

Alas, the Cat’s campaign against evil ended abruptly, a victim of the most powerful enemy in comics: lackluster sales. Her title was cancelled after a mere four issues. A fifth issue was written (by series scribe Linda Fite) and penciled (by legendary artist Ramona Fradon, one of only two projects she ever worked on for Marvel), but never completed (a handful of pages were inked by Jim Mooney) or published. (An excellent article by Dewey Cassell in Back Issue #46 chronicles the trials and tribulations of the “lost” The Cat #5.)

The fact that Greer’s adventures were written and drawn by women (Marvel stalwart Marie Severin penciled the first two published issues; Paty Greer Cockrum drew the third) was supposed to be the series’ marketing hook, with special appeal to young female readers. Sadly, that hook proved insufficiently hook-y, and the Cat fell into the Marvel background for a year or so.

Tigra, pencil art by Edgar Tadeo

Then, in the summer of 1974, Greer resurfaced, transmogrified by sorcery (or maybe some kind of arcane science — in the Marvel Universe, it’s not always easy to distinguish the two) into a part-human, part-feline hybrid known as Tigra the Were-Woman. (That moniker never made sense to me. If a werewolf is a man who transforms into a wolf, shouldn’t a werewoman be a man who transforms into a woman?) In her newfound condition, Greer’s body was covered with striped fur, and equipped with razor-sharp teeth, retractable claws, enhanced night vision and other senses, and a catlike tail. Abandoning her Cat costume, she opted instead for a scanty black bikini… you know, like you would. (Tigra appears above, in pencil art created by the talented Edgar Tadeo.)

Following a short run in her own series in an anthology horror book entitled Marvel Chillers, Tigra (who eventually ditched the silly “Were-Woman” business) embarked on a career as an itinerant team player. She hung out with the Fantastic Four for a while, joined the Avengers briefly (a rite of passage for pretty much every Marvel character), then became a charter member of the West Coast Avengers (later Avengers West Coast). In recent years, Tigra served for a stretch as an instructor at Avengers Academy, a training facility for up-and-coming superheroes.

Incidentally, Greer’s old Cat suit didn’t go to waste when she abandoned it for perpetual swimwear. Patsy Walker, formerly the star of her own teen-romance title, eventually picked up the yellow and blue threads and began her own crimebusting career using the name Hellcat (seen below in a Common Elements scenario drawn by Star Wars artist Thomas Hodges). Patsy — or Trish, as she’s known on television — makes a noncostumed appearance in a supporting role in the Marvel/Netflix series Jessica Jones.

Hellboy and Hellcat, pencils and inks by Thomas Hodges

A few years ago, I was loitering about at a local comics convention when I overheard two male fans arguing about the proper pronunciation of “Tigra.” One guy insisted that the name should be spoken “TIE-gra,” while the other insisted that it was “TEE-gra.”

Of course, the former was correct. After all, she’s a human tiger, not a human teeger.

Because teegers? Not a thing.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Oh, Bombshell! My Bombshell!

July 8, 2016

Way back in 2008 — two entire election cycles ago, if we’re counting — I started a new commission theme designed to combine a pair of my favorite interests: superheroines, and aircraft nose art. (Longtime readers know that I grew up in a U.S. Air Force family, so I saw numerous displays of vintage military aircraft during my formative years.) The concept is simple: nose art-style pinups featuring classic comic book heroines.

I titled my theme Bombshells! — yes, with an exclamation point, just like Jeopardy! — as a play on both the pinup-girl motif and the other key design element in each image… a bomb. (Actually, there’s a third item in each Bombshells! piece: a tagline that in some way references the featured heroine. I often explain the concept to artists as “The Three B’s”: a babe, a bomb, and a bad pun.)

Superwoman aka Lois Lane, pencils and inks by Pete Woods

By arbitrary fiat, I decided that Bombshells! would depict only characters from the real-world nose art era — World War II through the Korean conflict (the late 1930s to the mid-1950s, for the history-challenged). I extended the range forward into the early Silver Age to encompass a few more favorites, making December 31, 1959 the cutoff line for a character’s first published appearance in comics. Basically, in order to be a Bombshell!, a heroine has to be at least a couple of years older than I am… which makes sense, in a weird way.

The fun of Bombshells! for me derives from showcasing the history of women in comics, and in the superhero genre in particular. It’s an opportunity to spotlight characters who represent historic milestones in the medium — Wonder Woman and the original Black Cat, for example — as well as nearly forgotten heroines of yesteryear (the Purple Tigress, anyone?). There are also several Bombshells! that might surprise the viewer who didn’t realize those characters had been around for quite so many years.

Yes, we’re using the motif of the nose art pinup to highlight that history. The artists I’ve commissioned have been uniformly excellent in depicting our heroines in a respectful manner — we don’t do salacious or overtly sexualized poses, or nudity. (Not that there’s anything wrong with the presentation of sexuality and/or nudity in art — it just isn’t what Bombshells! is about.) Our heroines are always shown in a way that’s either playful or powerful, and often is a celebratory blend of both.

All of which brings us to our newest Bombshell!, seen at the top of this post. She might be familiar, and yet not quite familiar, to the average reader. Lois Lane — yep, that’s her — first imagined herself as Superwoman in Action Comics #60, in May 1943. In a dream sequence, Lois saw herself receiving a blood transfusion from Superman that invested her with Kryptonian powers. Sure, it was only a dream, but it fits well within the Bombshells! timeline. Therefore, I’m thrilled to add Lois to our pantheon of historic heroines, courtesy of the tremendously talented Pete Woods.

By the way…

About a year ago, DC Comics debuted a new series entitled — wait for it — Bombshells. Set in the 1940s in an alternate universe, Bombshells the comic depicts several well-known DC heroines, including Wonder Woman, Batwoman, and Supergirl, battling evildoers against a wartime backdrop. All of the characters wear retro-designed costumes that give the book a cool, nostalgic, quasi-Rosie the Riveter feel.

DC_Comics_Bombshells_Vol_1_1_Variant

Hmm…

WWII-vintage heroines in a series called Bombshells? Wonder where anyone might have gotten that idea.

All I know is, unless I inherited a time machine, I didn’t swipe it from them.

Bombshells! — established 2008. You can look it up.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.