Archive for February 2017

Comic Art Friday: Three faces of Taarna

February 24, 2017

If you’ve ever browsed my online gallery showcasing my comic art collection — and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for? go have a look around, already — you’ve probably noticed that my collection falls into three general categories:

  • My theme galleries, Common Elements (matchups of unrelated characters who share some feature in common) and Bombshells! (pinups featuring Golden Age heroines in the style of bomber nose art), which we’ve considered frequently in this space.
  • Character galleries, which contain multiple images of some of my favorite comic book heroes and heroines (mostly the latter), drawn by a wide spectrum of artists.
  • Miscellaneous art that doesn’t fit into either of the preceding buckets.

The character galleries sometimes baffle visitors. “Why would you want a lot of pictures of the same character?” they ask. “Isn’t that kind of boring?”

Not to me, obviously. Let’s see whether I can illustrate the appeal.

Several of my character galleries focus on familiar characters with lengthy histories in the comics. To cite two examples, I hold extensive collections of Wonder Woman and Supergirl drawings. Both of these heroines have been around for a long time — Wonder Woman celebrated her 75th anniversary last year, while Supergirl debuted in 1959, almost 60 years ago. Both have changed costume and/or hairstyle numerous times over the decades. In my collection, you’ll find images reflecting many of the looks each heroine has employed, so there’s a good deal of stylistic variety there. Plus, because plenty of other collectors also focus on either Wonder Woman or Supergirl or both, you can find a lot of artwork to compare and contrast.

But I also maintain character galleries that are more or less unique. For instance, I have a collection of art featuring Isis, the heroine of the 1970s Saturday morning TV series The Secret of Isis, who also appeared in DC Comics during that period. I know of only one other major collector — “Little John” Nacinovich — who owns a significant number of Isis pieces. And I believe I’m the only comic art collector with an ongoing commission theme spotlighting Taarna, star of the 1981 animated film Heavy Metal.

Taarna’s a good character to consider for our present discussion. She made only one appearance in popular media — the “Taarna” segment that takes up the final third of Heavy Metal‘s running time. (Although the segment is based on the Arzach stories by legendary French cartoonist Jean “Moebius” Giraud, Taarna herself was designed specifically for the film by comics artist Howard Chaykin.) She’s depicted in only a single costume (unless you consider nudity a costume), and that costume is composed of only a few simple elements. So there’s not much variety to work with in terms of her visual portrayal.

And yet…

Below are three artworks I commissioned for my Taarna gallery. The first features pencils by Michael Dooney, whose best-known published work appeared in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with inks by Bob Almond, who by now needs no introduction to Comic Art Friday readers.

Taarna, pencils by Michael Dooney, inks by Bob Almond

Next up: Noah Salonga, who’s worked on such titles as Red Sonja and Xena: Warrior Princess for Dynamite, and Grimm Fairy Tales for Zenoscope.

Taarna, pencils by Noah Salonga

And last but by no means least, Tone Rodriguez, who’s drawn everything from hardcore action books like The Snake Plissken Chronicles and Violent Messiahs, to the broad comedy of Futurama and The Simpsons.

Taarna, pencils and inks by Tone Rodriguez

All three artists capture the visual essentials of the character. Each one nails Taarna’s signature costume, her sword, and her flowing white hair. There’s no doubt that they’ve all clearly drawn the same character.

Now, notice the differences.

Tone Rodriguez’s Taarna is the most like the movie version in attitude. That scowl, the warrior stance — those could have been lifted right off the screen. Tone perfectly delineates that double curl across Taarna’s forehead, and remembers to add the shading of slightly darker gray hair that frames her face in the original. But did you catch the subtle details Tone adds to the costume? The laces on her boot covers, the ridges on her kneepads, the gorgeous filigree pattern on her shoulder armor and glove, the bracelet on her left wrist — that’s all Tone. No other artist would put all of those touches in there, because they aren’t in the original. Tone takes a very straightforward approach to the character, but finds ways to make his depiction of her uniquely his own.

By contrast, Michael Dooney doesn’t alter Taarna’s familiar costume even the tiniest bit. And his posing preserves the battle-ready physicality we expect. But Dooney’s Taarna seems softer, more subdued emotionally than Tone’s, despite the fact that her muscularity is tense and sharply defined. Her expression is more wary than defiant, and with her hand against the boulder behind her, she appears to be gathering strength, perhaps in anticipation of an oncoming foe yet unseen. Her hair swirling in the breeze gives the scene a sense of movement and life.

Noah Salonga’s Taarna varies the most from the film character. While her costume is spot-on, Salonga takes some liberties with her facial features, and especially her hair — her twin forelocks have been swept away, and the gray highlight has disappeared. Most notably, there’s the faintest tracing of a wistful smile across her lips, where the movie Taarna never looks remotely cheerful. Salonga places his Taarna in a posture of rest and repose — again, something we rarely see in her film appearance. I like the way she holds her sword back, almost as if she’s about to yawn and stretch.

In none of these three instances did I suggest to the artist how he ought to depict his subject. All three worked from the same static model sheet image of Taarna that I always offer when I commission a new portrait of her. I have no idea how familiar with the film any of the artists were. (I vaguely recall Tone remarking that he’d seen it once on late-night TV.) And yet each brought something special to his creation that makes his drawing stand apart from every other Taarna artwork in my collection. It’s very much the same character, no doubt. But each artist found a way to make her his own.

That’s why a character gallery never becomes boring. At least, not to me.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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Comic Art Friday: On the Arctic Express

February 3, 2017

We’re at the midpoint of winter, more or less, here in the Northern Hemisphere… although I feel a trifle embarrassed about admitting this on a day when it’s sunny and 62 degrees outside in my cozy corner of California.

Still, the astronomical calendar is what it is, so it’s a perfect day — weather aside — to feature this Arctic entry into my Bombshells! theme gallery.

Meet Nelvana of the Northern Lights.

Nelvana of the Northern Lights, pencils and inks by Ben Dunn

When we discuss the earliest superheroines in comics, we dive into some murky waters. Most casual fans would assume that Wonder Woman, easily the most prominent and iconic heroine introduced during the dawning days of the genre, preceded all of her sisters. In fact, quite a number of distaff derring-doers hit the printed page before Princess Diana the Amazon exploded onto the scene in All-Star Comics #8 (December 1941). The very first superheroine to see publication — Fantomah, a weird mystical character with the face of a skull — debuted in February 1940. Other noteworthy female crimefighters, including Lady Luck, Phantom Lady, and the original Black Cat, quickly followed.

About the first Canadian superheroine, however, there’s no mystery. Not only was Nelvana the original costumed female from the Great White North, but most genre historians mark her as the first uniquely Canadian superhero of either gender. As an Inuit character, Nelvana also stands as one of the earliest non-Caucasian heroes in comics.

Nelvana’s creator, Welsh-born artist Adrian Dingle, was primarily an illustrator and painter. Inspired by stories told by a well-known artistic colleague named Franz Johnston, Dingle set out to devise a comics character who truly represented the spirit of Canada. Nelvana — in the tradition of classical mythology — was born the offspring of an Inuit deity, Koliak the Mighty, and a human woman. Drawing on her father’s mastery of the aurora borealis, Nelvana could fly at the speed of light and become invisible. She used as her primary weapon a heat ray sufficiently powerful to melt metal.

Although she never made much of a splash south of the Canadian border, Nelvana managed to influence American comics decades after her debut. When writer-artist John Byrne created Snowbird as a member of Marvel’s Alpha Flight team, he made his new Canadian heroine the daughter of Inuit goddess Nelvanna (note the slightly different spelling), with an origin story that in many ways echoed that of the earlier character.

To this day, the Canadian entertainment company Nelvana — producers of numerous popular animated series ranging from Babar and The Magic School Bus to Cadillacs and Dinosaurs — keeps its native heroine’s name alive.

Our Bombshells! version of Nelvana springs from the pencil and ink brush of Ben Dunn, best known as the creator of Ninja High School. Ben does a brilliant job of bringing our Arctic avenger to life.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.