Archive for the ‘Celebritiana’ category

Comic Art Friday: Cons, commissions, and connections

September 8, 2017

One of the things I enjoy most about attending comics conventions is connecting in person with the people who create comics, and more specifically, who create the original comic art that I collect. It’s easy to forget, when commissioning a piece of art via email and the Internet, that there’s a real live human being putting the pencil, pen and/or ink brush to paper to bring these images into existence.

At a con, you can look into the eyes of an artist and see the passion for his or her work; hear the thoughtfulness in her or his voice as they talk about drawing, favorite characters, and the business of comics; and watch the deft skillfulness of their hands guiding the instrument across the once-blank surface as something appears from nothingness.

I was reminded of this during the pre-Labor Day weekend, as I attended the second annual San Francisco Comic Con. Over the three days of the convention, I had several opportunities to connect personally with artists whose works have graced my collection for many years.

Among the first pieces I ever bought when I started collecting in 2004 was a pinup of Spider-Man drawn by longtime Spidey artist Alex Saviuk, who penciled a phenomenal seven-year run on the Web of Spider-Man series beginning in 1988. At the time of the purchase, Alex and I corresponded briefly via email, and he also included a lovely handwritten note — which I’ve kept with the art to this day — when he shipped the piece to me. I recall my surprise when I opened the package and discovered that Alex had hand-colored the drawing (which had been a plain ink sketch when I bought it) before sending it.

Now, thirteen years later, I finally had the chance to thank Alex in person for his kindness. Better still, I got to chat with him about comics and media — we had fun discussing the relative merits of the Spider-Man feature films, as well as the Marvel/Netflix series — and commission a new entry into my Common Elements theme. (More about the latter in an upcoming Comic Art Friday.) I was thrilled to finally put a face and voice to the note Alex had written to me back in the day.

Alex Saviuk, San Francisco Comic Con 2017

Rags Morales was another artist whose work had entered my collection more than a decade ago. In 2006, I commissioned Rags through his representative at the time for a Common Elements pairing of the Falcon and Lady Blackhawk. When I showed the drawing to Rags at SFCC, he remembered it vividly eleven years after the fact. Mostly, he recalled his dissatisfaction with how the piece had turned out — he felt that he’d nailed the depiction of Lady Blackhawk, but that his Falcon didn’t represent his finest work. (To my non-artist eyes, they both look spectacular. I’ve loved the piece since the day it arrived.)

In addition to some lively conversation, Rags also took time to create a dynamic new drawing for my Taarna gallery. Again, I’ll talk more about this artwork in a later post.

Rags Morales, San Francisco Comic Con 2017

When I checked my records after the show, I was surprised to see that it had been 10 years since I’ve added a new commission by the artist known as Buzz. At WonderCon 2005, Buzz drew the very first piece I ever commissioned in person at a convention — a striking image of Vixen that remains a favorite of mine. Over the next couple of years, I became a regular at Buzz’s table when he attended both WonderCon and Super-Con (which later morphed into Big Wow ComicFest). After WonderCon moved south, though, I’d lost track of Buzz until this year’s SFCC.

Amazingly, not only did Buzz remember my name (first and last!) after all this time, but he also recalled several of the pieces he’d drawn for me — the Taarna I got at WonderCon 2007 in particular. I was pleased at how beautifully his newest creation — this drawing of Mantis, whom I don’t believe Buzz had ever drawn before — turned out. She’ll be in excellent company alongside the other Buzz masterpieces in my gallery.

Buzz, San Francisco Comic Con 2017

Alas, I don’t have a novel story to share about Mike Perkins, whom I’d never met or communicated with before this show. Knowing, however, that Mike had done splendid work on the Captain America series some years back, I knew that he’d be a perfect choice for this Cap-connected Common Elements pairing of the U.S. Agent and Golden Girl. And of course, Mike rocked it.

Mike Perkins, San Francisco Comic Con 2017

About San Francisco Comic Con: This event, the first of its kind in San Francisco proper since WonderCon abandoned us for southern California a few years back, is still finding its footing, but seems well on its way to carving out a niche as an outlet for Bay Area fans to get their con on.

If I have a quibble, it’s that I’d like to see the organizers doing more to court the local comic artist community. Most of SFCC’s artist guests come from outside northern California, while few of the sizable number of comics creators who live and work here have a presence at this show. One of the factors that made WonderCon and our other late, lamented local convention, Big Wow, so much fun was that most of the Bay Area-based name comic artists turned out for these shows. SFCC (which is owned by a company based in the eastern U.S.) doesn’t yet have that homegrown feel, and I miss it.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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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 Darkhölme) 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: Princess forever

March 24, 2017

It’s rare that a commission that turned out so lovely would stir emotions so bittersweet.

Princess Projectra, Princess Leia, and Princess (Jun the Swan), pencils and inks by Diego Bernard

I’d had this concept on my to-do list for quite a long time. Bringing together three sci-fi/fantasy princesses — Princess Projectra of the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Star Wars saga’s Princess Leia Organa, and Princess of Battle of the Planets‘ G-Force (or, if you prefer, Jun the Swan from Gatchaman, although that alternate identity doesn’t quite fit our theme) — makes for a perfect Common Elements scenario. And when the opportunity happened along to commission Diego Bernard, whose deftly detailed work has graced the pages of such series as X-O Manowar and Witchblade, I figured it was a match made in comic art heaven.

With great excitement, I commissioned this piece on December 15, 2016.

Twelve days later, Carrie Fisher died.

There have been a couple of instances where the death of an artist impacted one of my art projects. I’ve related the story of how Dave Simons had begun work on a Common Elements piece teaming Batgirl and Ghost Rider shortly before his untimely demise. (Bob Budiansky, Dave’s artistic collaborator on the Ghost Rider series, later accepted the commission that Dave tragically did not live to complete.) And I’ve mentioned that Tony DeZuniga and I had discussed a Jonah Hex-Scarlet Witch Common Elements just prior to Tony’s passing. (Pete Woods eventually completed that assignment.) But never before had the living inspiration for one of my projects died while an artist had the job literally on the drawing board.

I knew that some who saw this piece when completed would think, “That’s a nice tribute to Carrie Fisher.” It felt important to note that I didn’t intend the project that way. I would much rather for Ms. Fisher’s family, friends, and innumerable fans that she were still here to breathe life into Princess Leia — now General Organa in the current Star Wars sequels — for many years to come.

On film, and on this page, she’ll remain our Princess forever.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: The girls most unlikely

March 3, 2017

I occasionally sit in awe of how far the superhero genre has risen in popular culture in the past few years.

Back when I was a wee lad, we felt incredibly lucky to see our favorite comics heroes live out their adventures on television in dreadfully animated, clunkily voice-acted cartoons, like the tragic Grantray-Lawrence Marvel Super Heroes series or the only mildly dorky Super Friends. On the rare occasion we got to see these characters in live-action, the gamut ran from the campy Batman and Wonder Woman to the embarrassing Marvel efforts of the 1970s (the Nicholas Hammond Spider-Man series, the ghastly Captain America TV movies, the WTF-inducing Doctor Strange pilot). Even the more credible attempts bore only passing resemblance to the stalwarts we knew and loved (I’m looking at you, The Incredible Hulk). But we were glad to have them.

Fast forward to the present day, and we’re living in Superhero Nirvana. Not only do we see the major players from both Marvel and DC comics explode from the silver screen on a near-constant basis (the latest Wolverine feature film, Logan, is premiering at your local cinema even as I type), but our television viewing hours are chock-full of real live superheroes 24/7, from the DC-based series filling The CW’s nightly schedule (Supergirl, Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow) to Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD and the outstanding slate of MCU series on Netflix (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and the forthcoming Iron Fist, The Defenders, and Punisher). Even C-list characters like The Inhumans (cast list announced today!) and Cloak and Dagger have live-action series in the works.

It’s a grand time to be a superhero fan.

Mantis and Gypsy, pencils by Robb Phipps

If you’d asked me before the present boom times to name the least likely former members of both the Avengers and the Justice League ever to see the light of live-action film or television, the two heroines depicted in today’s featured artwork (created by penciler Robb Phipps a full decade ago, in 2007) would have landed near the top of both lists.

Mantis — a half-Vietnamese, half-German martial artist and former prostitute raised by the alien Kree to be the Celestial Madonna (hey, I don’t make this stuff up, I only report it) — was a peculiar addition to the Avengers lineup even in the freewheeling, anything-goes Bronze Age of the ’70s. Gypsy — a one-time teenage runaway with illusion-creating powers — typified the mid-’80s Justice League era that many fans consider the most forgettable period in the team’s storied history.

And yet, here they are, living and breathing before your very eyes. Gypsy is now a recurring guest star on The Flash, played by Sleepy Hollow veteran Jessica Camacho. Mantis (played by the charmingly named Pom Klementieff) is the newest member of the Guardians of the Galaxy, whose second blockbuster motion picture arrives in May at a theater near you.

While it’s true that the live-action versions of both characters differ substantially from their comic book counterparts — the TV Gypsy, in particular, shares little in common with her printed predecessor besides the code name — it’s also true that I never thought I’d see the day when either of these remarkable superwomen would be portrayed in any form by a flesh-and-blood human being in a big-budget Hollywood production.

As I said before… it’s a grand time to be a superhero fan.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Uncaged in Vegas

June 10, 2016

If you know me well at all, then you know this: I loves me some Las Vegas.

Which might seem a trifle odd if you do indeed know me, because then you also know that I’m not much of a gambler (I enjoy playing poker and blackjack, but I enjoy them as games, not as vehicles for fiscal risk-taking) and I’m definitely not a partier (in any sense of the word), while Vegas is more or less the universal nexus for both activities. But I am a huge fan of over-the-top glitz and kitsch, particularly when it comes to decor and architecture (we should discuss my googie obsession sometime), and Vegas is the universal nexus for all of that as well.

It’s also one of the greatest people-observing venues on the planet. Every time I go to Las Vegas, I see something I’ve never seen before and would never have thought I’d see. That’s not always a good thing, but it’s usually interesting.

Interesting also is this Vegas-themed Common Elements commission by veteran comics artist Larry Stroman, who has illustrated such series as Marvel’s Alien Legion and X-Men.

Luke Cage, Power Man and Ghost Rider, pencils and inks by Larry Stroman

The idea for a Sin City setting for this piece came from Larry’s art representative, Jerry Livengood at Serendipity Art Sales. Jerry’s suggestion made perfect sense, given that the connection between our heroes, Luke Cage and Ghost Rider, is the actor Nicolas Cage, who famously chose his professional surname in honor of the comics’ Power Man, and also portrayed a version of Ghost Rider in two (execrable, in this critic’s opinion) films. Cage also starred in a pair of movies with “Vegas” in their titles: the cult comedy Honeymoon in Vegas (fondly remembered for its sequence involving skydiving Elvis Presley impersonators) and Leaving Las Vegas, the 1995 drama for which Cage won the Best Actor Oscar. (My fingers feel all weird typing “Cage” and “Best Actor Oscar” in the same sentence. But you can look it up.)

Cage and Ghost Rider each makes his second Common Elements appearance here. I’m a little bit surprised, frankly, to see that Cage hasn’t shown up in the series more often, given that he was a favorite of mine during my comics-reading youth. In fact, I can vividly recall the first time I saw him, in the summer of 1972. My family had stopped in the midst of a cross-country journey — we had just returned from two years in Greece, and were on our way to California — to visit relatives in Kokomo, Indiana. On a trip to the grocery store, I paused — as was my wont — to check out the spinner rack where the comic books resided. And there, resplendent in his open-chested yellow shirt and chain-link belt, was the man himself, on the cover of Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #1. I had never seen a black superhero with his own self-titled comic before. (Marvel was still a year away from installing the Black Panther as lead feature in Jungle Action, which even then was not quite the same thing. Because… Jungle Action? Seriously?)

These days, Luke Cage has burst out into the cultural mainstream, courtesy of his co-starring role in Marvel’s hit Netflix series, Jessica Jones. Played by actor Mike Colter, Cage made a powerful impression as Jessica’s off-and-on love interest and fellow crimebuster. Colter will again assume the role in Cage’s upcoming eponymous series this fall, as well as 2017’s The Defenders, which will band together all of Marvel’s Netflix stars — Cage, Jessica, Daredevil, and the yet-to-be-seen Iron Fist.

I don’t know whether there’s ever been a comics storyline in which Cage took on Bright Light City. But if there hasn’t, doggone it, someone needs to write that.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday. Viva Las Vegas!

Comic Art Friday: The Jackie Robinson of comics

April 15, 2016

Allow me to begin today’s festivities by wishing you a happy Jackie Robinson Day.

In the event that you’re not a baseball aficionado — in which case, I might think somewhat less of you, but we can still be friends — I’ll explain that April 15 marks the anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first appearance with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, becoming the game’s first black player since baseball banned participation by African Americans in the late 1880s. The integration of the national pastime led not only to revolutionary change in the sporting world, but in society as a whole. No less a civil rights champion than Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. credited baseball’s black pioneers with “making my job easy” by demonstrating that people of color could work successfully alongside their white counterparts, and even excel, when provided opportunity.

Variant cover for Black Panther #1 (2016 series), original art by Ryan Sook

It seems appropriate, then, to celebrate Jackie Robinson’s historic accomplishment with an artwork featuring the Black Panther, whose advent in Fantastic Four #52 (July 1966) represented to mainstream comics what Robinson’s arrival did to baseball. It’s Ryan Sook’s variant cover for Black Panther #1, the first issue of the new Marvel series that hit the stands last week. I acquired the original black-and-white ink art from Ryan last month at Silicon Valley Comic Con. I don’t usually have much interest in buying published covers or pages — my collection largely consists of commissioned pieces, as regular readers can attest — but I couldn’t pass up the chance to own this amazing cover. Thanks, Ryan! (You can see the published version, in full color, below.)

These are good days to be a Black Panther fan, which I’ve been since he began appearing regularly in The Avengers in 1968. Not only are we getting a fresh run of Panther stories in the comics — with scripts by award-winning author and social commentator Ta-Nehesi Coates, and art by the incredible Brian Stelfreeze — but T’Challa is also poised to make his big-screen debut next month in Captain America: Civil War. Portraying the Panther is actor Chadwick Boseman, who coincidentally also played Jackie Robinson in the film 42. Boseman will continue the role in a Black Panther solo film scheduled for release in July 2018. You’d best believe I’ll be among the first in line to see that one.

Black Panther #1 (2016 series), Ryan Sook variant cover

It’s worth mentioning that while the Panther was the first black superhero in mainstream comics, he wasn’t the first character of African descent to star in his own title. In December 1965, Dell Comics — best known for its licensed comics based on popular TV shows — published Lobo, a Western adventure featuring an African American gunfighter as its titular protagonist. The series, created by writer D.J. Arneson and artist Tony Tallarico, lasted only two issues. Not until Luke Cage, Hero For Hire arrived in June 1972 would a black superhero headline his own book. (The Black Panther took over the lead feature in Marvel’s Jungle Action comic beginning in July 1973. He moved to his own eponymous series in January 1977.)

I still remember the first time I stood in front of the spinner rack at the local supermarket and saw the Black Panther on the cover of a comic book. My younger self could scarcely have envisioned the day when the Panther would stand at the brink of multimedia superstardom, as he does today.

As I said earlier… good days indeed, for us T’Challa fans.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: You don’t have to be a star, baby, to be in my show

November 7, 2014

Gamora and the Black Panther, pencils and inks by MC Wyman

Those of you who have followed the development of my Common Elements commission theme know that I maintain a lengthy to-do list of Common Elements concepts. (And for those of you who are new: Common Elements is a series of themed original artworks, each of which brings together otherwise unrelated comics characters who share some aspect in… wait for it… common.)

Some of these concepts have been on my list for years, awaiting assignment to artists who will bring them to fruition. In fact, there are still a handful of unused ideas that date back to the start of Common Elements, nearly a decade ago.

The concept illustrated in today’s artwork by former Marvel Comics stalwart MC Wyman has been collecting dust for a few years now. Back in February 2011, the Black Panther took over the lead role in the monthly series that had belonged to Daredevil, a.k.a. “The Man Without Fear.” Retitled Black Panther: The Man Without Fear, the series continued — using the existing Daredevil issue numbers, beginning with #513 — for the better part of a year. Then, with issue #523.1 (November 2011, and no, the “.1” is not a typo), the series was again retitled, this time becoming Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive. The book carried on under its new moniker through issue #529, when the run concluded.

At the time the “Most Dangerous Man” title surfaced, it occurred to me that there was already a Marvel character with a similar tagline. Gamora, an interstellar assassin who first turned up in Jim Starlin’s Warlock series in the mid-1970s, then reappeared as a key player in the Infinity Watch/War/Crusade saga in the early 1990s, had long been known as “The Most Dangerous Woman in the Universe.” Recalling that fact, I made an entry in my Common Elements log entitled “Most Dangerous,” that would match the two characters who now had borne that description.

Little did I know that in just a couple of years, Gamora would become a major movie star as one of the leads in Marvel’s cinematic blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy. When the film was announced, I didn’t even know that the Guardians in question were not the team I associated with that name from my comics-reading youth.

I’ll explain. Back in 1969, the Guardians of the Galaxy debuted in Marvel Super-Heroes #18. This team of weirdly mismatched, far-future space rangers was co-created by writer Arnold Drake, who had a penchant for off-kilter characters. (Drake was also responsible for DC Comics’ Deadman and Doom Patrol.) The original Guardians crew consisted of Vance Astro, an Earthman who’d spent a millennium in suspended animation; Charlie-27, a being from Jupiter whose stout, powerful physique reflected his home planet’s intense gravity; Martinex, who hailed from Pluto and whose body was formed out of crystal; and Yondu, a bow-slinging soldier of fortune from Alpha Centauri. The foursome eventually added a fifth member, a mysterious mutant who went by the name Starhawk.

Like many of the peculiar super-teams Marvel cooked up during the Bronze Age (the Champions, anyone?), the Guardians popped up mostly as guest stars in other teams’ ongoing series (in particular, the Avengers and the Defenders) in and around brief runs in their own stories. They pretty much disappeared once the wild and wacky ’70s ended. Marvel resurrected the Guardians for a while in the early 1990s — because no property ever goes away permanently in comics — then once again allowed them to fade from view.

In 2008, Marvel restarted the Guardians, this time with a new collection of characters, including Gamora. Although I was aware that there was a new Guardians series on the market, I never read an issue, and was unaware that the team had been completely reimagined until news of the film began leaking out. And I was as surprised as anyone — except, obviously, the folks at Marvel Studios — when the Guardians movie exploded into theaters as a massive hit. Who’d’a thunk that a flick about a talking raccoon and a sentient tree would make megamillions?

Now, the once-obscure Gamora is a household name, thanks to the Guardians film. Even better, my longtime favorite Black Panther is finally getting his own big-screen presence, with a guest-starring role in the third Avengers movie to be released in 2016, and headlining his own motion picture in 2017. Chadwick Boseman, brilliant as baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson in 42, seems like a near-perfect choice to bring T’Challa of Wakanda to life. I can hardly wait until the aforementioned titles hit the silver screens in my neighborhood.

Until then, we have this pairing of the Most Dangerous Man and Woman Alive… two unlikely cinematic stars.

Ain’t Hollywood grand?

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.