Archive for the ‘Comic Art Friday’ category

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.

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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.

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.

Comic Art Friday: Four divided by two

January 5, 2018

By any measure, superheroing makes for a tough lifestyle choice. You’re fighting bad guys all the time, you usually have a secret identity to protect, and the annual cost of replacement outfits alone must be astronomical.

Which is why I’m surprised more heroes haven’t taken up job-sharing.

Of course, having an identical twin would help.

That’s the unifying factor between the two heroines in today’s featured artwork from the Common Elements series — an artwork that is both the last commissioned piece I received in the just-concluded 2017, and the first to land its own Comic Art Friday post in the just-begun 2018.

Ladyhawk and Crimson Fox, pencils and inks by Sanya Anwar

Both Ladyhawk (standing) and Crimson Fox (crouching) are heroic identities shared by pairs of identical twins: the Morgan sisters, Rosetta and Regina, in the case of Ladyhawk; the D’Aramis sisters, Vivian and Constance, in the case of Crimson Fox. Ladyhawk made her/their mark primarily as an ally of Spider-Girl, the alternate-universe daughter of the amazing Peter Parker. Crimson Fox was best known as a member of the 1990s-era Justice League Europe.

Comics aficionados of a certain age will note that Ladyhawk’s costume bears a striking (and non-coincidental) resemblance to the original kit worn by Captain America’s longtime associate Sam Wilson, a.k.a. the high-flying Falcon. Before Sam gained the winged red-and-white uniform in which he’s most familiar, he wore a green get-up trimmed in orange that had no wings, aside from the ones on the falcon medallion he wore around his neck. Ladyhawk’s gear precisely matches the old Falcon design, right down to the medallion, because of course it does.

Sadly, both halves of the Crimson Fox duo met with untimely ends relatively early in their crimebusting career. Vivian D’Aramis was murdered by the supervillain Puanteur; three years later, Constance was done in by the female version of Mist. More recently, another woman (presumably just one) has taken up the Crimson Fox mantle. One hopes that her long-range prospects end more favorably than those of the D’Aramis twins.

Our heroines are drawn in this scene by Canadian artist Sanya Anwar, who — so far as I am aware — is not an identical twin. Although it would be awesome if she was.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

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.

Comic Art Friday: I’m tho Thor I can’t even potht

November 10, 2017

Have you seen Thor: Ragnarok yet? In a word: Go!

The two previous Thor films were my least favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe entries — that is, aside from The Incredible Hulk, for which I give Marvel Studios a pass because they were still figuring things out at that point. (Also, Edward Norton.) But Thor: Ragnarok totally makes up for its two predecessors by abandoning their ponderous tone and going all-in on fun, humor, and visual bombast. I hope director Taika Waititi gets to make a few more Marvel movies, because he hammered this one out of the park.

My Ragnarok afterglow had me looking back at Thor’s representation in my comic art collection. One of the very first artworks I purchased — I think it’s the fourth or fifth longest-tenured piece in my entire collection — was this dazzling portrait by Geof Isherwood, later inked by Bob Almond.

Thor_IsherwoodAlmond

Purely by coincidence, the very next piece I bought also featured Thor, this time alongside his Ragnarok costar, the Hulk. Dan Jurgens penciled this one, and again, I commissioned Bob Almond some time afterward to complete the piece in ink.

HulkThor_JurgensAlmond

Thor has made, to date, two appearances in my Common Elements theme. In Common Elements #12, penciler Trevor Von Eeden and inker Joe Rubinstein pit the Odinson in a “Showdown!” against another hammer-wielder, Steel.

ThorSteel_VonEedenRubinstein

And in Common Elements #82, Thor meets his fellow demigod-turned-superhero Isis, under the creative auspices of the great Steve Rude.

Isis_Thor_Rude

The Valkyrie makes her cinematic debut in Thor: Ragnarok, portrayed with grit, grace, and swagger by actress Tessa Thompson. Here’s the comics version of Val with her trusty winged steed Aragorn (who also makes a brief cameo in Ragnarok via a flashback sequence) as envisioned by Geof Isherwood.

Valkyrie_Isherwood

Just for good measure, one more Valkyrie image, this time by Phil Noto.

Valkyrie_Noto

Again, if you haven’t seen Thor: Ragnarok already, I highly recommend it. Pro tip: It’s worth the extra few bucks to see it in IMAX 3D (or just regular 3D, if the IMAX option isn’t available in your neck of the woods), for the astounding visuals.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: All those who oppose this Shield must yield

October 20, 2017

I’ve noted many times in this space that I don’t collect much published comic art, preferring to focus on pieces I commission for my various themes. But there have been occasional exceptions to this policy. Case in point: today’s featured artwork.

The Shield, issue 2, original cover art by David Williams

Archie Comics, best known for the comedic adventures of its namesake character and his teenage friends, has over the years made periodic forays into the superhero genre. Most of these efforts have been short-lived and nonimpactful. That’s not to say that they haven’t been good comics; only they haven’t left much of a mark against the more familiar lines published by Marvel and DC.

The parent company of Archie, then known as MLJ Comics, began offering superhero stories way back in 1939, when the genre first exploded onto the scene. Their most successful character was the Shield, a patriotic-themed hero who preceded the ultimately more famous Captain America to the newsstands by several months. The Shield was ostensibly the star of the MLJ line until Archie Andrews and pals arrived in December 1941, at which point the Shield and MLJ’s other costumed crusaders (including the Black Hood and the Wizard) got shuffled off into the dustbin of oblivion.

When superheroes became popular again in the late 1950s — the beginning of the Silver Age of Comics — the Archie folks launched a new version of the Shield in a series titled The Double Life of Private Strong. The revamped Shield sprang from the imagination of Joe Simon, co-creator (with the now-legendary Jack Kirby) of Captain America. By the mid-’60s, the Shield had teamed up with a motley assortment of other heroes — including the revived Black Hood and new characters like the Comet and the Fly — to form the Mighty Crusaders, a team intended to compete with DC’s Justice League of America and Marvel’s Avengers. The series lasted less than a year.

In the 1980s, Archie took another stab at its superhero properties, launching the Red Circle Comics brand. Red Circle brought back most of the Mighty Crusaders: Black Hood, the Fly, and the Comet, along with both versions of the Shield — original flavor (real identity: Joe Higgins) and the ’50s-’60s update (a.k.a. Lancelot Strong). As happened previously, sales lacked staying power, and the Red Circle heroes vanished once again.

These characters’ most lasting effect was inspiring the initial concept of Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Moore’s first Watchmen pitch to DC involved using the Mighty Crusaders as the leads in his dark vision, which would later morph into the former Charlton Comics heroes that DC had recently purchased (Blue Beetle, Peacemaker, Thunderbolt, et al.) before DC editorial prevailed upon Moore to create all-new characters for the project. Still, Watchmen‘s Comedian retained some of the patriotic iconography first associated with the Shield.

Most recently, in 2015, Archie once again dusted off its superheroes under the Dark Circle imprint. The latest iteration of the Shield, now a young woman named Victoria Adams, starred in her own four-issue miniseries subtitled “Daughter of the Revolution.” The book was written by Adam Christopher and Chuck Wendig, with interior art by Drew Johnson, Al Barrionuevo (issue 2), and Greg Scott (issue 4), and covers by David Williams. You can see David’s original cover art for The Shield #2 at the beginning of this post; the published version (with digital colors by Kelly Fitzpatrick) appears below.

The Shield, issue 2, published cover art by David Williams with color by Kelly Fitzpatrick

It remains to be seen whether the Shield and his/her cohorts will merit any additional love at Archie Comics. Perhaps, as has been the case previously, they’ll disappear for a couple of decades before resurfacing once more.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.