Archive for December 2017

Comic Art Friday: Common Elements Sesquicentennial

December 1, 2017

When I began my Common Elements commission series back in 2004, the thought never really seeped into my consciousness that one day I would own 150 of these custom artworks. And yet, 13 years later, here we are.

Mary Marvel and Isis, pencils and inks by Ramona Fradon

From the beginning, Common Elements has been a labor of love. (Or maybe obsession.) Not only has it afforded me the opportunity to interact with more than 100 individual comic artists — 111 at present count — but it’s also served as a unique testimony to my spider-web-like thought process.

People who know me in the real world will attest that I have a bizarre knack for mentally tying disparate things together. Mention a movie, a book, a song, or even just a word, and I immediately think of a dozen other items that connect in some way to whatever you mentioned. (If you want to know the secret to my dubious success as a Jeopardy! champion, that’s two-thirds of it right there.) Sometimes those connections are obvious. Sometimes they’re ties that almost no one else would identify. And that, of course, is Common Elements in a nutshell.

(Which reminds me: I really need to get Squirrel Girl into a CE. And yes, I already have a couple of ideas.)

When I realized that the next Common Elements piece I commissioned would be #150, I wanted to do something special to mark the anniversary. Then a note scrolled by on my Facebook feed indicating that Eisner Hall of Fame artist Ramona Fradon was celebrating her 91st birthday. Since I don’t know of any comic artists who are 150 years of age and still drawing breathing, I figured that the legendary Ms. Fradon was as close as I was likely to find. Toss in the fact that Ramona also penciled Common Elements #91 (featuring her co-creation Metamorpho alongside Hourman), and the appropriateness could not have been more clear.

Knowing the lovely lighter tone which with Ms. Fradon depicts characters, I assigned her the pairing of Mary Marvel and Isis. Those of you of a certain vintage will remember that Mary’s brother Captain Marvel (called Shazam in more recent DC comics, mostly due to trademark conflicts involving the several Marvel Comics characters known as Captain Marvel, all of whom postdate the Big Red Cheese) headlined his own live-action Saturday morning TV series in the mid-1970s.

Originally, Filmation — the studio that produced the program — wanted to pair Captain Marvel with his sister Mary. Depending on whose account you believe, either DC wanted more money in broadcast rights fees for the use of Mary Marvel than Filmation wanted to pay, or DC refused to offer Filmation Mary’s broadcast rights in order to keep her available for future TV/movie projects. Whatever the particulars, Filmation decided to proceed without Mary. Instead, they created a new character called Isis, who shared several of Mary’s attributes — an ordinary young woman (an adult schoolteacher, unlike the teenaged Mary) gained a costume and superpowers (based on figures from Egyptian mythology, whereas Mary’s derived from mostly Greco-Roman deities) by speaking a magical incantation (“O mighty Isis!” instead of “Shazam!”). Thus, The Secrets of Isis became the companion series to Filmation’s Shazam!

DC published, concurrent with the TV show, a comic book series featuring Isis. They didn’t hire Ramona Fradon to illustrate it, but as you can judge from our featured artwork, they would not have been wrong if they had. (No slight intended to the talented Mike Vosburg, who drew most of the Isis comics and did a fantastic job.)

Interestingly, a retooled version of Isis recently joined the cast of the TV series, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. The new character, played by actress Tala Ashe, goes by the code name Zari instead of Isis, for reasons that you can easily surmise if you’ve read or watched the news anytime in the last decade. And though she doesn’t transform, she does wear an amulet resembling the one originally worn by Isis.

In honor of Common Elements’ 150th, I’ll share a few random facts about the series to date:

Most prolific pencil artist: Ron Lim, with six Common Elements credits (CE #’s 48, 80, 100, 111, 118, and 124).

Most prolific inker: Bob Almond, who has inked 15 Common Elements projects thus far, and will doubtless ink more in days and years ahead.

Characters most frequently represented: Wonder Woman and Vixen, with four appearances each (although none together). Six characters have made three appearances: Storm, Valkyrie, Luke Cage, Ms. Marvel, Mary Marvel, and Black Cat (that’s Linda Turner, the Golden Age Black Cat; the modern-era Black Cat, Felicia Hardy, appears only twice, counting one commission that is currently in progress). A total of 39 characters appear twice each.

Characters who appear in multiple guises: Four Jean Grey (as Marvel Girl and Phoenix), Steve Rogers (as Captain America and Nomad), Michael Jon Carter (as Booster Gold and Supernova), and Greer Nelson (as Tigra and The Cat).

And the saddest list of all — the artists who have passed since contributing their Common Elements creations: RIP Herb Trimpe, Rich Buckler, Ernie Chan, Dave Hoover, Tony DeZuniga, and Al Rio. I’ll extend an honorary mention to Dave Simons, who was working on a Common Elements commission at the time of his passing. The concept Dave was assigned was later commissioned to, and completed by, Dave’s longtime collaborator Bob Budiansky (CE #92).

Questions I’m asked:

What’s your favorite Common Elements commission? I’d never be able to narrow it to just one. Even if I chose a Top Ten, I might pick an entirely different group if you asked me on another day. Thus, my standard answer: “The next one.”

If money were no object, who’s the “holy grail” Common Elements artist? It would be difficult to top a Common Elements piece by Adam Hughes, Alex Ross, or Mark Schultz. There are several others close to those three, but whom I realistically think I might be able to land someday.

Are there artists who are no longer with us whom you regret not commissioning when you could have? So many… but at the top of the list (limiting the scope to artists active since I began Common Elements) would have to be Mike Wieringo and Darwyn Cooke. My all-time dream would be Dave Stevens, but Stevens would have been unattainable even when he was still alive and working.

Name three artists from any period in history you’d resurrect to draw a Common Elements commission. Titian, Alphonse Mucha, and Albert Joseph Moore. Add one from comics history: Matt Baker.

How many Common Elements concepts are still on your to-do list? Probably another 150… and the list grows all the time.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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