Archive for the ‘Comic Art Friday’ category

Comic Art Friday: It’s all gonna be a stone gas, honey

August 17, 2018

Moonstone_Darna_Santamaria

If you’re a regular here, you know that I grew up as a military brat. My adoptive father served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, and I was around for the last 15 of those years. As a result, I spent a fair chunk of my childhood living on islands — specifically Oahu, Crete (that’s Greece, but you knew that), and Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines.

During our two-year stay in the latter island nation, I became acquainted with Darna, who is to Filipino komiks what Wonder Woman is to the American genre. I didn’t understand much Tagalog, but even without knowing the language, I could appreciate the character. Darna is a young girl named Narda who swallows a magical white stone and transforms into a superpowered woman warrior. (And to answer the question I know you’re thinking: She regurgitates the stone when she wants to change back into her normal self. It’s like Mary Marvel or Isis, only kind of gross.)

Since her debut in 1950, Darna has enjoyed a significant presence in Filipino pop culture even beyond komiks, starring in numerous films and TV programs. When we lived in the Philippines in the mid-1970s, Darna was being portrayed on screen by a popular actress named Vilma Santos. Posters and pictures of Vilma in her Darna costume were everywhere. Vilma became so well-known that she parlayed her show business success into a prominent career in politics.

Darna_Vilma

I’ve long wanted to feature Darna in a Common Elements scenario, and was fortunate to commission a talented Filipino artist, Michael Sta. Maria, to do the job. Michael pairs Darna here with Dr. Karla Sofen, a.k.a. Moonstone, another character who obtains her superpowers from a rock… albeit with less swallowing and upchucking. Which, you know, is probably a good thing.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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Comic Art Friday: Death Race Infinity

July 27, 2018

Black Racer and Silver Surfer, pencils by Keith Pollard, inks by Bob Almond

It’s fair to say that no single individual had a greater impact on the medium of comics — specifically, that species of fantasy comics into which superheroes and their related subgenres fall — than Jack Kirby.

As an artist and storyteller, Kirby created the foundation for what we would today call the Marvel Universe. Most of the classic Marvel heroes from the Silver Age — including the Fantastic Four, Hulk, Thor, the original X-Men, Iron Man, Black Panther, Silver Surfer, Ant-Man, and the Wasp, as well as the Avengers and Inhumans — were all created or co-created by Kirby. (Not to mention Captain America, whom Kirby co-created with Joe Simon in 1940 and revived at Marvel in 1964.)

After a falling-out with Stan Lee and Marvel in the early 1970s, Kirby moved on to DC Comics and created a whole raft of new characters in what came to be known as the Fourth World saga. Prominent among these were Mister Miracle, the Forever People, and the New Gods.

I could go on naming characters Kirby dreamed up, but we’d be here all day. The man was that prolific.

Today’s featured artwork spotlights two Kirby creations who are, in a way, different spins on the same general concept. On the right, we have the Silver Surfer, whom Kirby introduced as a minor character in a 1966 Fantastic Four story, but became — due to Stan Lee’s enthusiasm (for years, he refused to allow other writers to use the Surfer in their stories) — one of the icons of classic Marvel. On the left is the Black Racer, who zoomed onto the scene in New Gods #3 (July 1971).

The Surfer began his career as the herald of the planet-eating space giant Galactus; the Racer is the avatar of Death in the Fourth World tales. And, yes, both guys fly through space on what looks like sporting equipment. (I never understood why the Black Racer needed ski poles to steer. In space, what would he dig them into? But I’m not going to argue with The King.)

Black Racer and Silver Surfer, pencils by Keith Pollard

The base image here was penciled by Keith Pollard, one of the finest (and in my opinion, most tragically underappreciated) artists of Marvel’s Bronze Age (the 1970s and early 1980s). Inking superstar Bob Almond took Pollard’s pencil sketch and embellished it to a whole other level, adding a gorgeous deep-space background in addition to enhancing the characters themselves.

About Keith Pollard: During his career with Marvel, he proved himself a workhorse of titanic proportions. Pollard drew lengthy runs on Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four (twice), and Thor — for a time, he was working on all three titles simultaneously — as well as penciling issues of numerous other titles. Frankly, I don’t know how the man slept or ate during those years. Perhaps he didn’t.

In the early 1990s, Pollard penciled (with Joe Rubinstein inking) dozens of character model sheets for the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Master Edition. I own a couple of these, having purchased them from Keith via his art representative more than a decade ago.

Misty Knight model sheet, pencils by Keith Pollard, inks by Joe Rubinstein

Here’s the Misty Knight page. If you’ve watched Luke Cage on Netflix — and if you haven’t, what are you sitting here for? you have two whole seasons to catch up on! — you know all about this hard-hitting police detective who acquires a bionic arm.

Battlestar model sheet, pencils by Keith Pollard, inks by Joe Rubinstein

And this is the profile of Battlestar, who was Captain America’s partner for a short while in the late ’80s. Lemar Hoskins began his career as the newest iteration of Bucky (a sidekick role originally assumed by James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, now better known as the Winter Soldier). When legendary writer Dwayne McDuffie pointed out to Cap scribe Mark Gruenwald that the name “Bucky” took on problematic connotations when applied to an African American man, Gruenwald took a suggestion from artist Kieron Dwyer and renamed the character Battlestar.

Back to the Silver Surfer for just a moment. If you love great comic art — of course you do, otherwise you wouldn’t have read this far — you owe it to yourself to check out the two-part Silver Surfer: Parable, a 1988 collaboration between Stan Lee and the iconic French artist Jean Girard, a.k.a. Moebius. The story is classic Lee, and Moebius’s visuals combine beauty, grandeur, and emotion like no other.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Can’t touch this

July 13, 2018

I’m just going to put this out there:

I don’t think the Human Bomb gets enough love.

Rogue_HumanBomb_Derenick

Sure, there are many factors that contribute to the Human Bomb’s unfortunate situation.

  • He’s got a dorky name.
  • He wears what might be the least sexy costume in the history of superheroes.
  • He hearkens back to comics’ Golden Age, when heroes often had gimmicky, poorly thought-out superpowers — like those of the Human Bomb.
  • He was created by a second-rank publisher that went out of business 60 years ago (Quality Comics, also the original home of such characters as Plastic Man, Blackhawk, and Phantom Lady), and has been used only sporadically by the company that now owns his rights (DC Comics).
  • In the modern world, the term “human bomb” conjures up unpleasant associations with terrorist violence.
  • For a while during his original run, the Bomb had a comedic sidekick named Hustace Throckmorton, who made things explode with his bare feet. I kid you not.

Despite all of the above, I always thought the Human Bomb was kind of awesome. After all, who hasn’t fantasized about blowing up everything you touch?

Okay, maybe that was just me.

Anyway, here’s the Bomb’s deal. Roy Lincoln was a scientist who created, alongside his father, the world’s most powerful explosive. To keep the family brainchild out of the hands of Nazis, Roy swallowed the chemical — like you would — and as a result, developed the ability (or incurred the curse, depending on your point of view) of causing everything he touched to explode.

To keep from bursting his environment into smithereens, Roy had to live inside a cumbersome suit made from a special material that prevented his skin from accidental contact with things he didn’t wish to destroy (presumably, most everything). He would remove his gloves when he wanted to lay the smack down with his potent barehanded touch.

It’s easy to see the limitations of a character like the Human Bomb. For one thing, you can’t depict him outside of his costume very often, so he’s not terribly relatable — aside from his eyes, visible through the window in his helmet, what does his face even look like? Plus, it’s difficult to have normal human interactions and relationships when everything (and everyone) you come into contact with detonates like fireworks on the Fourth of July.

These very limitations, however, make the Human Bomb one of comics’ most tragically heroic figures — a man doomed to permanent isolation who finds a way to adapt his horrific personal circumstances to the benefit of others.

I can dig a guy like that.

I don’t know whether longtime X-Men guru Chris Claremont had the Human Bomb in mind when he conceived Rogue back in 1981, but the parallel is undeniable. Like Roy Lincoln, Rogue (who still doesn’t have a full name after all these years; we’ve been told since 2004 that her given name is Anna Marie, but her surname remains a mystery) is forced to cover her body to shield the world from her mutant power — she drains the life force from anyone with whom she makes skin-to-skin contact.

Of course, Rogue being an attractive woman and this being the comics universe, she manages to cover herself usually in clothes far more form-fitting and face-revealing than the Human Bomb’s containment suit.

In recent times, Rogue has either developed some degree of control over her powers or found an effective workaround, given that she’s enjoyed a handful of romantic relationships (most notably with Johnny Storm, better known as the Human Torch of Fantastic Four fame, and her X-Men teammate Gambit, whom she recently married).

If only she could have hooked up with Roy Lincoln.

That would have been — wait for it — the bomb.

Sincere thanks to Tom Derenick, who created today’s featured Common Elements artwork. Tom’s classic style represents everything I love about comic art — it’s clear, easily readable, packed with power and crisp in detail. If I were asked to identify an example of a contemporary comics artist whose approach would have been equally at home in the Silver or Bronze Ages, yet is totally fresh and relevant today, Tom’s art would be one of my first stops.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Between rock and a hard place

July 6, 2018

In my previous Comic Art Friday post about this year’s Silicon Valley Comic Con, I noted that artist Ryan Sook had taken ill during the show and was unable to start the Common Elements commission that he and I had discussed. I also mentioned that I hoped to approach Ryan with the same request at a future convention.

As luck would have it, Ryan was in attendance at San Francisco Comic Con (which is now being staged in Oakland, while retaining the previous name — even though “Golden State Comic Con” is not only available, but comes with reflected cachet) in June. He immediately recalled the project we had talked about previously, and quickly set to work creating it.

You can see for yourself that the end result was well worth the wait.

Tesla Strong and Valda the Iron Maiden, pencils and inks by Ryan Sook

While I always enjoy seeing favorite heroes appear in Common Elements scenarios, some of my favorite pieces in the series involve less prominent characters. Here, Ryan Sook brings together Tesla Strong, the daughter of Alan Moore’s science hero Tom Strong, and Valda the Iron Maiden, the companion of Arak, Son of Thunder.

Okay, so, a little background may help.

A pastiche of pre-superhero pulp characters such as Doc Savage and Craig Kennedy, Tom Strong grew up on the island of Attabar Teru, where he was raised to be the embodiment of human physical and mental perfection. Tom and his wife Dhalua, princess of Attabar Teru, have a daughter, Tesla, named for the famed inventor. Thanks to their partaking of the root of the mysterious Goloka plant, Tom and his family age extremely slowly. Tesla, although in her 60s during the time period in which most of the Tom Strong stories are set, still possesses the appearance and attitudes of a teenager. (Similarly, Tom and Dhalua are both well over a century old, but look as though they’re forty-something.) In addition to participating in a number of her father’s adventures, Tesla also starred in her own one-shot book, The Many Worlds of Tesla Strong.

Tesla Strong, pencils, inks, and markers by comics artist Phil Noto

Valda the Iron Maiden was a knight in the service of Charlemagne (and may also have been his daughter) before meeting the Native American hero Arak. Together, they set off on a series of fantastical adventures. Valda and Arak constantly ran afoul of sorcerers and their minions as they battled their way across medieval Europe. Written by Roy Thomas (who was instrumental in bringing Conan to comics) and drawn by Ernie Colon and later by Tony DeZuniga, Arak, Son of Thunder managed to avoid most of the embarrassing tropes assigned to fictional Native American characters, while offering a unique spin on the sword-and-sorcery genre. If you like that sort of thing, Arak is likely to be the sort of thing you like. Check out some back issues in your local comic shop’s discount bin.

Arak and Valda, pencils and inks by Tony DeZuniga

If you’re puzzling over the common element between these two stalwart heroines, both share their names — parts of their names, anyway — with hard rock bands: Tesla and Iron Maiden. I’ve never seen Iron Maiden perform live (they’re not my cup of tea, really), but I’ve experienced Tesla a couple of times, most recently six years ago when they opened for Scorpions. You can read my review of that concert, if you’re inclined.

TeslaBanner

One of the many qualities I appreciate in Ryan Sook’s art is the deftness with which he conveys so much with a few perfectly placed lines. In today’s featured piece, I’m especially pleased with the treatment that Ryan gave Tesla’s hair, and the way her features delicately but clearly denote her biracial heritage. Too often, comic artists draw women of color in exactly the same manner that they draw Caucasian female characters. How many depictions of, say, Storm (to cite one frequently egregious example) have you seen where, if you were looking only at the pencil and ink linework, you’d never know that she’s of African descent?

(Then again, how many comic artists are guilty of drawing nearly all their female characters, regardless of ethnicity, with the exact same facial features? You know who you are.)

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Redheaded queens

May 4, 2018

I have often contemplated the fact that women artists are severely underrepresented in my commission collection. My efforts to remedy this problem — and it is a problem — are complicated by the fact that women artists are underrepresented in mainstream comics in general, and in the superhero genre specifically.

Although this situation is improving ever so slightly — with the advent of such talented creators as Amanda Conner, Nicola Scott, Babs Tarr, Becky Cloonan, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Sara Pichelli, Joelle Jones, and Afua Richardson, among many others — there are still far too few women comics artists, and even fewer who are regularly available to do commission projects.

But I keep trying.

Medusa and Mera, pencils by Cross (Lori Hanson)

I’m especially intrigued by the concept of women artists drawing female characters. Not because I wish to fence women artists into a virtual ghetto where women only draw “girls’ comics” (whatever that implies), but because the objectification and hypersexualization of female characters in mainstream comics is real, and I find it refreshing to see these characters depicted by artists who view them through a more personal filter. (In the same way, I don’t want to see African-American comics creators limited to writing and drawing black characters, but I often find something unique in the mix when they do.)

Which brings us to today’s spotlight artwork. The pencil-wielder behind this beautiful piece is the artist known as Cross (a.k.a. Lori Hanson). When I first saw the graceful, swirling lines that typify Cross’s work, I immediately thought of hair. (The body accessory, not the Broadway musical.) I also observed a certain regal quality in the way Cross portrays people. Putting those two characteristics together brought me to this Common Elements concept matching a pair of royal ladies with distinctive red hair: Medusa, queen of the Inhumans in the Marvel universe, and Mera, queen of Atlantis in the DC universe.

Speaking of Medusa… man, that Inhumans series Marvel ran on ABC last year was terrible, wasn’t it? It was shocking to see a creative enterprise that has succeeded beyond expectations at almost everything they’ve attempted fail so spectacularly. Almost nothing about the show worked, from casting (I felt sorry at times for Iwan Rheon, who was so compellingly evil in Game of Thrones, but here seemed to be constantly looking for the exit) to scripting (did any of the writers actually read any Inhumans comics?) to general concepts (what’s the point of having a character whose superpower is prehensile hair if you’re going to shave her head in the first episode?).

Fortunately for us, we always have comic art to come back to. Cross reminds us of the glory and greatness that Medusa’s hair was meant to embody.

And just in case we needed an additional post-TV-bomb palate cleanser, here’s a nifty portrait of Attilan’s royal family — Queen Medusa, King Black Bolt, and their faithful canine companion Lockjaw — by animator Steven E. Gordon that restores our faith in Inhumanity.

Medusa, Black Bolt, and Lockjaw, pencils by Steven E. Gordon

Hopefully, Mera will fare sufficiently well in the upcoming Aquaman feature film that we’ll have no similar need for catharsis. Then again, it’s a DCU movie, so I’ll trust it when I see it.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: The Mystery of the Suspicious Surnames

April 13, 2018

I didn’t decide to attend this year’s Silicon Valley Comic Con until the week before the event. Having kept an eye on the show’s website for guest announcements, I didn’t see much opportunity to acquire new art commissions. But when artists Ryan Sook and Matt Haley were added to the guest list shortly before the show, I decided to bite the bullet and go, just to get pieces from those two talents.

As it turned out, Ryan took ill on the second day of the show, and didn’t get around to the piece he and I discussed on Friday. (It’s a fun Common Elements concept that I hope to revisit with Ryan at a future con.) But Matt — an entertaining guy I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and chatting with — completed his assignment in the waning hours of the show: this pairing of Jessica Drew, the original Spider-Woman (there have been three others introduced since Jessica made her debut in 1977), and the modern-era Black Cat, Felicia Hardy.

Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew) and Black Cat (Felicia Hardy), pencils and inks by Matt Haley

I’ve long wanted to match these two characters in a Common Elements scenario because of their surnames, which reminded me of those classic detectives of juvenile literature, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. I had always supposed that the names were purely coincidental, but a random conversation at SVCC revealed that they are not.

As Matt Haley was finishing up this artwork, I stopped by the table of longtime comics writer and editor Barbara Kesel, another guest at SVCC. I wanted to show Barbara my recent Stephen Foster-themed Common Elements by Carlos Rafael, which features Ultragirl, a character Barbara co-created. Barbara was intrigued by the Common Elements theme and asked what other pieces I had in the works. I explained the pairing that Matt Haley was working on just a few tables down the row, with its related-surname connection.

At that point, Marv Wolfman, the veteran comics scribe who’s written everything from Tomb of Dracula to Crisis on Infinite Earths — and who happened to be sitting at the table next to Barbara’s — chimed in: “I named both of those characters, and that’s the reason why I gave them those names.”

Which makes this, I suppose, a particularly historic Common Elements.

Speaking of history, when it comes to comics characters named Black Cat, I’ve always had a fondness for the original. Artist Steven E. Gordon had this appealing pencil drawing of the Golden Age Black Cat, Linda Turner, in his for-sale portfolio at SVCC. She somehow managed to follow me home. Cats will do that if you’re not careful.

Black Cat (Linda Turner), pencils by Steven E. Gordon

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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.