Archive for May 2017

Comic Art Friday: Quoth the Raven: “Nevermore!”

May 19, 2017

As much as I enjoy concocting convoluted connections between otherwise unrelated characters for my Common Elements commission series, quite often the simpler and more obvious matchups produce equally fine results.

Case in point: this pairing of long-time X-Men nemesis Mystique (real name: Raven Darkh├Âlme) and Raven from the Teen Titans, drawn by veteran comic artist Ron Randall.

Mystique_Raven_Randall

The later films in Fox’s X-Men series cast Mystique as a member of the heroic superteam, which in my opinion doesn’t serve the character well. I’m perfectly cool with versions of comics characters in live-action media diverging somewhat from their comic-book counterparts — I think Marvel Studios has, for the most part, done a decent job of tweaking characters to fit the needs of its big-budget blockbuster movies — but I just don’t think Mystique works as a heroine. She’s much more compelling as a villain.

(And yes, I understand why Fox took the turn they did. When Mystique was recast from C-lister Rebecca Romijn to Oscar-winning superstar Jennifer Lawrence, Fox made Mystique a “good guy” because J-Law’s Millennial fans won’t pay to see her playing a “bad guy.” Such are the realities of Hollywood.)

In addition to switching sides mid-series, the movie Mystique also lost one of the key distinctions that made her backstory unique. In the comics, the ancient and ageless Mystique is the birth mother of the X-Man Nightcrawler, and the foster mother of another X-Man, Rogue. Because Mystique begins the cinematic narrative as a young girl, she doesn’t have these familial connections. Again, I understand why the changes happened, but I think the comics character’s history is much more interesting.

Speaking of interesting histories, Raven comes equipped with one — she’s the spawn of the dimension-hopping demon Trigon and a human woman named Angela Roth, who later calls herself Arella. As a teenager, Raven joins the Teen Titans to combat her father and ultimately defeat him. Her hybrid parentage endows Raven with a variety of superhuman powers, ranging from empathic sensitivity to the ability to cast a “soul-self” — a sort of astral projection — that usually takes the form of a (wait for it…) raven.

Today’s artist, Ron Randall, has been drawing comics for the major publishers for more than 35 years. Beginning his career with a healthy run on DC’s classic war comic Sgt. Rock in the early 1980s, Ron has illustrated significant stints on such series as The Warlord, Arak, Son of Thunder, Dragonlance, and both Justice League International and Justice League Europe for DC, Star Trek Unlimited and Venom for Marvel, and his own creation Trekker (no relation). Most recently, Ron’s work appears alongside that of other outstanding artists — among them Steve Rude and Evan “Doc” Shaner — in DC’s entertaining Future Quest, which weaves together the adventures of several Hanna-Barbera animated heroes from the 1960s, including Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, and the Herculoids.

Back to Ravens for a moment. Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven has been one of my favorite poems as long as I can remember. It’s a flawless blend of atmosphere, wordplay, and desperation. These days, I frequently read it aloud as a warmup when I have character voice work — particularly narration — on my work agenda for the day. Every time I perform it, I find new twists and nuances in the words and rhythms. Well done, Mr. Poe.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Who ghosts there?

May 12, 2017

We begin today’s Comic Art Friday with a salute to my beloved Pirate Queen, who joined me on the marital path five years ago today. She is the superheroine in my everyday comic book story. May we continue to enjoy a long and memorable run.

The occasion seems the perfect opportunity to feature this lovely portrait from my Common Elements gallery. Superstar artist Ryan Sook created this masterpiece at this year’s Silicon Valley Comic Con, and a beauty it is indeed. Ryan can do more with a few well-placed lines than many of today’s artists can accomplish with fusillades of hyperbolic detail. He proves that here, showcasing a pair of favorites from the Golden Age — The Spirit and Phantom Lady, each of whom makes their second Common Elements appearance here.

Spirit_PhantomLady_Sook

At first blush, the common element between these characters seems obvious. Their code names each contain a word synonymous with “ghost.” The real “ghostly” connection, though, runs a layer deeper than that.

Both of these legendary heroes began in the studio of one of comicdom’s all-time greatest creators: Will Eisner. (So great, in fact, that the industry’s annual awards are named after him.) Eisner himself created The Spirit, whose stories originally appeared not in comic books, but in a full-color tabloid insert distributed with Sunday newspapers. During the 12 years that The Spirit Section ran (1940-1952), Eisner edited all of the stories featuring his two-fisted detective, and both wrote and drew the majority of them. Several of the strips, however, particularly during World War II (Eisner served in the U.S. Army from 1942 through ’45), were ghosted — created anonymously under Eisner’s byline — by other writers and artists.

Eisner’s primary ghostwriter was Jules Feiffer, who would eventually become one of America’s most renowned cartoonists — creator of an eponymous newspaper strip, as well as author of hundreds of editorial and panel cartoons for many of the country’s leading publications. Feiffer also wrote plays and film scripts (including Robert Altman’s live-action Popeye, starring Robin Williams) plus numerous books, including the classic The Great Comic Book Heroes — a copy of which is within arm’s reach even as I type. Other scribes who ghosted Spirit stories include comics industry veteran William Woolfolk, and fantasy author Manly Wade Wellman.

Among the artists whose uncredited work graced The Spirit were such notables as Jack Cole (best known as the creator of Plastic Man), Lou Fine (one of the great illustrators of the Golden Age, he drew most of the more familiar Quality Comics heroes — Doll Man, Black Condor, and The Ray, among many others), and a young Wally Wood, who would rise to stardom at EC Comics in the 1950s.

As for Phantom Lady, the details of her creation are sketchy… no pun intended. She was among several characters developed for various comics companies by the Eisner & Iger Studio, which Will Eisner co-founded prior to marketing The Spirit to newspapers.

Arthur Peddy was the first artist to draw the comely Sandra Knight for publication, but her original adventures were penned by a ghostwriter whose identity has not been firmly established. It’s a situation quite common when we look back at the early years of comics, when creator credits were rare and often pseudonymous when they did appear. Whereas it’s generally possible to examine uncredited art and hazard at least an educated guess as to the hand that drew it, writers can be more challenging — if not impossible — to identify. Sadly, we may never know the scribe who first gave life and voice to Phantom Lady.

Having spent a number of years ghostwriting articles and speeches credited to others, I appreciate the efforts of creators who toil behind the scenes without acknowledgment. In the immortal words of John Milton, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: A season for war

May 5, 2017

Art appeals to different people for different reasons. And often, different art appeals to the same person for different reasons.

In collecting comic art, I have many reasons for enjoying the pieces that I own.

A fair portion of my collection consists of drawings of my favorite heroes and heroines. These pieces appeal because I’m intrigued by the myriad ways that different artists will choose to depict a particular character.

When it comes to my Bombshells! theme, I get a kick out of reviving classic heroines from generations past, and seeing them rendered by modern talents. It’s also fun to appreciate how different artists will execute a highly specific and narrowly defined theme, while still bringing their own unique creative perspective and style.

In my signature theme, Common Elements, I find that the most effective commissions are the ones that cause me to say to myself, “Man, I sure would love to read that comic.”

So, take a look at this dynamic scene, created by the phenomenally gifted Tony Parker.

Cyclops_WinterSoldier_TParker

Aren’t you eager to read the story that finds Cyclops (a.k.a. Scott Summers) and James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes (a.k.a. the Winter Soldier — note the “seasonal” commonality there) in the heat of this particular battle?

Come on… you know you are.

We collectors often say, “The scan doesn’t do the art justice.” That has never been more true than with this piece. Not only is Tony Parker’s linework spectacular and his inking sheer perfection, but I’ve never seen lighting effects as exquisitely realistic in practical comic art (that is to say, created with physical media as opposed to digital) as the ones Tony produces here. I know that it looks amazing on your screen, but trust me — it’s even more incredible when the paper and ink is before you in literal space. It looks like photographic light streaming from Cyclops’s visor and photographic flame bursting from the Winter Soldier’s pistols.

There aren’t words to explain how difficult that effect is to achieve. Most artists who’ve been in the business for decades couldn’t pull that off.

But as wicked awesome as Tony’s technique is, it’s applied brilliantly in service of his storytelling. This isn’t just a snapshot of two characters simulating action. It’s a scenario that implies a multitude of questions. How did these two characters from markedly different backgrounds wind up together? Who are the enemies — and clearly, there are multiple enemies — they are battling? And what’s going to happen next?

That’s the hallmark of the truly great artist: making you appreciate the work immediately before you, but also drawing you into the frame and making you yearn to see more. It’s the quality that separates a pretty picture from effective comic art.

If you’re not familiar with Tony Parker’s work, he’s probably best known for illustrating the graphic novel This Damned Band, written by Paul Cornell. It’s the pseudo-documentary tale of a 1970s heavy metal band that, unlike many bands of the era who merely dabbled in occult imagery, actually gets involved with arcane magic. (Imagine Spinal Tap as devil-worshipers.) Tony also both scripted and drew a critically acclaimed adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the book that inspired the film Blade Runner.

Rod Stewart famously sang, “Every picture tells a story, don’t it?” In comic art — indeed, in graphic art of any genre — the best pictures imply a far deeper story yet to be told, even if only in the viewer’s imagination.

Thanks to Tony Parker for sharing this story with us.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.