Archive for March 2018

Comic Art Friday: Foster children

March 30, 2018

I’ve made the observation numerous times that ideas for my Common Elements commissions are sometimes triggered by the least expected stimuli. Today’s featured artwork makes a prime example of this principle.

Beautiful Dreamer, Jean Grey, and Ultragirl, pencils and inks by Carlos Rafael

Several years ago, I was channel-surfing late one night when I happened upon a documentary about composer Stephen Foster on the local PBS station. Foster, for the benefit of the non-history-buff segment of our audience, was perhaps the first American popular songwriter to achieve major commercial success. Many of his compositions quickly became staples of American music and remain familiar today, more than 150 years after Foster’s untimely death at age 37.

To the extent that I ever thought much about Stephen Foster, it was in the context of the not-terribly-subtle thread of racism laced through many of his lyrics. Foster wrote a considerable number of songs intended for minstrel shows, in which performers wearing blackface presented mocking caricatures of African Americans. These caricatures, and the epithets associated with them, find a home in such Foster songs as “Camptown Races,” “Old Black Joe,” “Old Folks at Home” (more commonly known as “Swanee River”), and “My Old Kentucky Home,” although these elements are frequently altered when the songs are performed today. (One of the most surprising facts I learned from the Foster documentary was that, although Foster’s oeuvre is filled with ditties about life in the antebellum South, Foster was born and raised in Pennsylvania and lived much of his adult life there, as well as in Ohio and New York. He may have actually visited the South only on a couple of brief occasions.)

As I viewed the documentary, though, it occurred to me that Foster also wrote quite a few songs that fall into a less controversial category: romantic ballads. This class includes some of Foster’s most enduring works — i.e., “Beautiful Dreamer,” “Jeanie (With the Light Brown Hair),” and “Oh! Susanna.”

That observation set off a lightbulb in my comics-attuned mind. Legendary creator Jack Kirby appropriated the name Beautiful Dreamer for the female member of his Forever People. One of the most enduring superheroines since the Silver Age is original X-Man Jean Grey. (I know, I know… Jean’s hair is usually depicted as red, not light brown. But that’s nothing a bottle of Miss Clairol couldn’t fix.) I had to ponder a while before I recalled that the adopted human name of Ultragirl, Marvel’s short-lived Supergirl riff, is Susanna Sherman, but with that realization, the picture was complete.

Or would be, maybe a decade later, when I finally got around to commissioning this project from Brazilian artist Carlos Rafael, best known for his work on such Dynamite Entertainment titles as Red Sonja, Dejah Thoris, and Battlestar Galactica.

Thus, another Common Elements concept wings in from left field.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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Comic Art Friday: Panthers and Tigers and bucks, oh my

March 16, 2018

I’m going to presume that if you have even the remotest interest in comics and comics-related media, you’ve seen the Black Panther film by now. Because, you know, it’s grossed over one billion (with a B) dollars in worldwide box office to date, and I’m guessing that you’ve contributed to that staggering total just as I have.

As a fan of the Panther for nearly a half-century — I don’t remember the first T’Challa-featured comic I read, but it would have been one of his appearances in The Avengers sometime in the late 1960s — I never would have dreamed in my most fevered moments that we’d someday be talking about a big-budget, major-studio, live-action Black Panther movie raking in a billion bucks. Maybe, back in 1992 when Wesley Snipes was pumping the idea of playing the King of Wakanda himself, I might have hoped that we might someday get a modest, in-and-quickly-out-of-theaters Panther flick, something on the level of that terrible Elektra movie with Jennifer Garner that followed Ben Affleck’s pitiful cinematic turn as Daredevil.

But this? I honestly never saw it coming.

And if you’d told me it was, I’d have told you to lie down with a cool compress on your forehead until the demons went away.

Yet, here we are. Black Panther is headlining marquees in metroplexes around the world, the hottest property in motion pictures. People who mere weeks ago couldn’t have distinguished Wakanda from Walt Disney World are tossing words like “Dora Milaje” around in casual conversation, and T’Challa’s super-smart little sister Shuri is America’s sweetheart. And I’ve lived to see it.

Pardon me while I grab a tissue.

So, there couldn’t be a better time than now to showcase a Common Elements artwork starring everyone’s favorite heart-shaped-herb eater.

WhiteTiger_BlackPanther_DiVito

That’s the Black Panther himself stalking another big-cat themed superdoer, the White Tiger, in this jaw-dropping creation by Italian superstar artist Andrea Di Vito, who not exactly coincidentally can be seen at this very moment drawing T’Challa’s adventures in Marvel’s Black Panther: The Sound and the Fury. Check it out at a comics retailer near you (or on your favorite digital device, if that’s how you roll with your comics in this tech-savvy age).

The White Tiger identity has an interesting legacy all its own. The Tiger shown here, Angela Del Toro, is the fourth of five discrete characters to have worn the code name White Tiger in the Marvel Universe. Angela is the niece of the original White Tiger, Hector Ayala, who in the 1970s was one of Marvel’s first attempts at a Latino hero. After Hector was killed, Angela, an FBI agent, inherited Hector’s amulets that imbued the wearer with the White Tiger’s powers. Angela’s adventures formed the basis of a six-issue miniseries in the mid-2000s. (The fifth and current White Tiger is Ava Ayala, Hector’s younger sister.)

Aside from the obvious feline-plus-color thematic element, there’s an additional link that ties the Black Panther and the White Tiger together. Both superhero identities were assumed at different times by the same character — Kevin Cole, better known by his nickname Kasper. Late in his run on the Black Panther comic book in the early 2000s, writer Christopher Priest transferred the Panther’s mantle from T’Challa to NYPD officer Kasper Cole, whom Priest envisioned as a satiric spin on Peter Parker’s Spider-Man. When the Black Panther series ended, Priest moved Cole to his new project, a superhero team called The Crew, and gave him the White Tiger identity.

You know, all this Black Panther talk has me hankering to see the movie again.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.