Archive for the ‘Comic Art Friday’ category

Comic Art Friday: Who ghosts there?

May 12, 2017

We begin today’s Comic Art Friday with a salute to my beloved Pirate Queen, who joined me on the marital path five years ago today. She is the superheroine in my everyday comic book story. May we continue to enjoy a long and memorable run.

The occasion seems the perfect opportunity to feature this lovely portrait from my Common Elements gallery. Superstar artist Ryan Sook created this masterpiece at this year’s Silicon Valley Comic Con, and a beauty it is indeed. Ryan can do more with a few well-placed lines than many of today’s artists can accomplish with fusillades of hyperbolic detail. He proves that here, showcasing a pair of favorites from the Golden Age — The Spirit and Phantom Lady, each of whom makes their second Common Elements appearance here.

Spirit_PhantomLady_Sook

At first blush, the common element between these characters seems obvious. Their code names each contain a word synonymous with “ghost.” The real “ghostly” connection, though, runs a layer deeper than that.

Both of these legendary heroes began in the studio of one of comicdom’s all-time greatest creators: Will Eisner. (So great, in fact, that the industry’s annual awards are named after him.) Eisner himself created The Spirit, whose stories originally appeared not in comic books, but in a full-color tabloid insert distributed with Sunday newspapers. During the 12 years that The Spirit Section ran (1940-1952), Eisner edited all of the stories featuring his two-fisted detective, and both wrote and drew the majority of them. Several of the strips, however, particularly during World War II (Eisner served in the U.S. Army from 1942 through ’45), were ghosted — created anonymously under Eisner’s byline — by other writers and artists.

Eisner’s primary ghostwriter was Jules Feiffer, who would eventually become one of America’s most renowned cartoonists — creator of an eponymous newspaper strip, as well as author of hundreds of editorial and panel cartoons for many of the country’s leading publications. Feiffer also wrote plays and film scripts (including Robert Altman’s live-action Popeye, starring Robin Williams) plus numerous books, including the classic The Great Comic Book Heroes — a copy of which is within arm’s reach even as I type. Other scribes who ghosted Spirit stories include comics industry veteran William Woolfolk, and fantasy author Manly Wade Wellman.

Among the artists whose uncredited work graced The Spirit were such notables as Jack Cole (best known as the creator of Plastic Man), Lou Fine (one of the great illustrators of the Golden Age, he drew most of the more familiar Quality Comics heroes — Doll Man, Black Condor, and The Ray, among many others), and a young Wally Wood, who would rise to stardom at EC Comics in the 1950s.

As for Phantom Lady, the details of her creation are sketchy… no pun intended. She was among several characters developed for various comics companies by the Eisner & Iger Studio, which Will Eisner co-founded prior to marketing The Spirit to newspapers.

Arthur Peddy was the first artist to draw the comely Sandra Knight for publication, but her original adventures were penned by a ghostwriter whose identity has not been firmly established. It’s a situation quite common when we look back at the early years of comics, when creator credits were rare and often pseudonymous when they did appear. Whereas it’s generally possible to examine uncredited art and hazard at least an educated guess as to the hand that drew it, writers can be more challenging — if not impossible — to identify. Sadly, we may never know the scribe who first gave life and voice to Phantom Lady.

Having spent a number of years ghostwriting articles and speeches credited to others, I appreciate the efforts of creators who toil behind the scenes without acknowledgment. In the immortal words of John Milton, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Advertisements

Comic Art Friday: A season for war

May 5, 2017

Art appeals to different people for different reasons. And often, different art appeals to the same person for different reasons.

In collecting comic art, I have many reasons for enjoying the pieces that I own.

A fair portion of my collection consists of drawings of my favorite heroes and heroines. These pieces appeal because I’m intrigued by the myriad ways that different artists will choose to depict a particular character.

When it comes to my Bombshells! theme, I get a kick out of reviving classic heroines from generations past, and seeing them rendered by modern talents. It’s also fun to appreciate how different artists will execute a highly specific and narrowly defined theme, while still bringing their own unique creative perspective and style.

In my signature theme, Common Elements, I find that the most effective commissions are the ones that cause me to say to myself, “Man, I sure would love to read that comic.”

So, take a look at this dynamic scene, created by the phenomenally gifted Tony Parker.

Cyclops_WinterSoldier_TParker

Aren’t you eager to read the story that finds Cyclops (a.k.a. Scott Summers) and James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes (a.k.a. the Winter Soldier — note the “seasonal” commonality there) in the heat of this particular battle?

Come on… you know you are.

We collectors often say, “The scan doesn’t do the art justice.” That has never been more true than with this piece. Not only is Tony Parker’s linework spectacular and his inking sheer perfection, but I’ve never seen lighting effects as exquisitely realistic in practical comic art (that is to say, created with physical media as opposed to digital) as the ones Tony produces here. I know that it looks amazing on your screen, but trust me — it’s even more incredible when the paper and ink is before you in literal space. It looks like photographic light streaming from Cyclops’s visor and photographic flame bursting from the Winter Soldier’s pistols.

There aren’t words to explain how difficult that effect is to achieve. Most artists who’ve been in the business for decades couldn’t pull that off.

But as wicked awesome as Tony’s technique is, it’s applied brilliantly in service of his storytelling. This isn’t just a snapshot of two characters simulating action. It’s a scenario that implies a multitude of questions. How did these two characters from markedly different backgrounds wind up together? Who are the enemies — and clearly, there are multiple enemies — they are battling? And what’s going to happen next?

That’s the hallmark of the truly great artist: making you appreciate the work immediately before you, but also drawing you into the frame and making you yearn to see more. It’s the quality that separates a pretty picture from effective comic art.

If you’re not familiar with Tony Parker’s work, he’s probably best known for illustrating the graphic novel This Damned Band, written by Paul Cornell. It’s the pseudo-documentary tale of a 1970s heavy metal band that, unlike many bands of the era who merely dabbled in occult imagery, actually gets involved with arcane magic. (Imagine Spinal Tap as devil-worshipers.) Tony also both scripted and drew a critically acclaimed adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s sci-fi classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the book that inspired the film Blade Runner.

Rod Stewart famously sang, “Every picture tells a story, don’t it?” In comic art — indeed, in graphic art of any genre — the best pictures imply a far deeper story yet to be told, even if only in the viewer’s imagination.

Thanks to Tony Parker for sharing this story with us.

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: Three faces of Taarna

February 24, 2017

If you’ve ever browsed my online gallery showcasing my comic art collection — and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for? go have a look around, already — you’ve probably noticed that my collection falls into three general categories:

  • My theme galleries, Common Elements (matchups of unrelated characters who share some feature in common) and Bombshells! (pinups featuring Golden Age heroines in the style of bomber nose art), which we’ve considered frequently in this space.
  • Character galleries, which contain multiple images of some of my favorite comic book heroes and heroines (mostly the latter), drawn by a wide spectrum of artists.
  • Miscellaneous art that doesn’t fit into either of the preceding buckets.

The character galleries sometimes baffle visitors. “Why would you want a lot of pictures of the same character?” they ask. “Isn’t that kind of boring?”

Not to me, obviously. Let’s see whether I can illustrate the appeal.

Several of my character galleries focus on familiar characters with lengthy histories in the comics. To cite two examples, I hold extensive collections of Wonder Woman and Supergirl drawings. Both of these heroines have been around for a long time — Wonder Woman celebrated her 75th anniversary last year, while Supergirl debuted in 1959, almost 60 years ago. Both have changed costume and/or hairstyle numerous times over the decades. In my collection, you’ll find images reflecting many of the looks each heroine has employed, so there’s a good deal of stylistic variety there. Plus, because plenty of other collectors also focus on either Wonder Woman or Supergirl or both, you can find a lot of artwork to compare and contrast.

But I also maintain character galleries that are more or less unique. For instance, I have a collection of art featuring Isis, the heroine of the 1970s Saturday morning TV series The Secret of Isis, who also appeared in DC Comics during that period. I know of only one other major collector — “Little John” Nacinovich — who owns a significant number of Isis pieces. And I believe I’m the only comic art collector with an ongoing commission theme spotlighting Taarna, star of the 1981 animated film Heavy Metal.

Taarna’s a good character to consider for our present discussion. She made only one appearance in popular media — the “Taarna” segment that takes up the final third of Heavy Metal‘s running time. (Although the segment is based on the Arzach stories by legendary French cartoonist Jean “Moebius” Giraud, Taarna herself was designed specifically for the film by comics artist Howard Chaykin.) She’s depicted in only a single costume (unless you consider nudity a costume), and that costume is composed of only a few simple elements. So there’s not much variety to work with in terms of her visual portrayal.

And yet…

Below are three artworks I commissioned for my Taarna gallery. The first features pencils by Michael Dooney, whose best-known published work appeared in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with inks by Bob Almond, who by now needs no introduction to Comic Art Friday readers.

Taarna, pencils by Michael Dooney, inks by Bob Almond

Next up: Noah Salonga, who’s worked on such titles as Red Sonja and Xena: Warrior Princess for Dynamite, and Grimm Fairy Tales for Zenoscope.

Taarna, pencils by Noah Salonga

And last but by no means least, Tone Rodriguez, who’s drawn everything from hardcore action books like The Snake Plissken Chronicles and Violent Messiahs, to the broad comedy of Futurama and The Simpsons.

Taarna, pencils and inks by Tone Rodriguez

All three artists capture the visual essentials of the character. Each one nails Taarna’s signature costume, her sword, and her flowing white hair. There’s no doubt that they’ve all clearly drawn the same character.

Now, notice the differences.

Tone Rodriguez’s Taarna is the most like the movie version in attitude. That scowl, the warrior stance — those could have been lifted right off the screen. Tone perfectly delineates that double curl across Taarna’s forehead, and remembers to add the shading of slightly darker gray hair that frames her face in the original. But did you catch the subtle details Tone adds to the costume? The laces on her boot covers, the ridges on her kneepads, the gorgeous filigree pattern on her shoulder armor and glove, the bracelet on her left wrist — that’s all Tone. No other artist would put all of those touches in there, because they aren’t in the original. Tone takes a very straightforward approach to the character, but finds ways to make his depiction of her uniquely his own.

By contrast, Michael Dooney doesn’t alter Taarna’s familiar costume even the tiniest bit. And his posing preserves the battle-ready physicality we expect. But Dooney’s Taarna seems softer, more subdued emotionally than Tone’s, despite the fact that her muscularity is tense and sharply defined. Her expression is more wary than defiant, and with her hand against the boulder behind her, she appears to be gathering strength, perhaps in anticipation of an oncoming foe yet unseen. Her hair swirling in the breeze gives the scene a sense of movement and life.

Noah Salonga’s Taarna varies the most from the film character. While her costume is spot-on, Salonga takes some liberties with her facial features, and especially her hair — her twin forelocks have been swept away, and the gray highlight has disappeared. Most notably, there’s the faintest tracing of a wistful smile across her lips, where the movie Taarna never looks remotely cheerful. Salonga places his Taarna in a posture of rest and repose — again, something we rarely see in her film appearance. I like the way she holds her sword back, almost as if she’s about to yawn and stretch.

In none of these three instances did I suggest to the artist how he ought to depict his subject. All three worked from the same static model sheet image of Taarna that I always offer when I commission a new portrait of her. I have no idea how familiar with the film any of the artists were. (I vaguely recall Tone remarking that he’d seen it once on late-night TV.) And yet each brought something special to his creation that makes his drawing stand apart from every other Taarna artwork in my collection. It’s very much the same character, no doubt. But each artist found a way to make her his own.

That’s why a character gallery never becomes boring. At least, not to me.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: On the Arctic Express

February 3, 2017

We’re at the midpoint of winter, more or less, here in the Northern Hemisphere… although I feel a trifle embarrassed about admitting this on a day when it’s sunny and 62 degrees outside in my cozy corner of California.

Still, the astronomical calendar is what it is, so it’s a perfect day — weather aside — to feature this Arctic entry into my Bombshells! theme gallery.

Meet Nelvana of the Northern Lights.

Nelvana of the Northern Lights, pencils and inks by Ben Dunn

When we discuss the earliest superheroines in comics, we dive into some murky waters. Most casual fans would assume that Wonder Woman, easily the most prominent and iconic heroine introduced during the dawning days of the genre, preceded all of her sisters. In fact, quite a number of distaff derring-doers hit the printed page before Princess Diana the Amazon exploded onto the scene in All-Star Comics #8 (December 1941). The very first superheroine to see publication — Fantomah, a weird mystical character with the face of a skull — debuted in February 1940. Other noteworthy female crimefighters, including Lady Luck, Phantom Lady, and the original Black Cat, quickly followed.

About the first Canadian superheroine, however, there’s no mystery. Not only was Nelvana the original costumed female from the Great White North, but most genre historians mark her as the first uniquely Canadian superhero of either gender. As an Inuit character, Nelvana also stands as one of the earliest non-Caucasian heroes in comics.

Nelvana’s creator, Welsh-born artist Adrian Dingle, was primarily an illustrator and painter. Inspired by stories told by a well-known artistic colleague named Franz Johnston, Dingle set out to devise a comics character who truly represented the spirit of Canada. Nelvana — in the tradition of classical mythology — was born the offspring of an Inuit deity, Koliak the Mighty, and a human woman. Drawing on her father’s mastery of the aurora borealis, Nelvana could fly at the speed of light and become invisible. She used as her primary weapon a heat ray sufficiently powerful to melt metal.

Although she never made much of a splash south of the Canadian border, Nelvana managed to influence American comics decades after her debut. When writer-artist John Byrne created Snowbird as a member of Marvel’s Alpha Flight team, he made his new Canadian heroine the daughter of Inuit goddess Nelvanna (note the slightly different spelling), with an origin story that in many ways echoed that of the earlier character.

To this day, the Canadian entertainment company Nelvana — producers of numerous popular animated series ranging from Babar and The Magic School Bus to Cadillacs and Dinosaurs — keeps its native heroine’s name alive.

Our Bombshells! version of Nelvana springs from the pencil and ink brush of Ben Dunn, best known as the creator of Ninja High School. Ben does a brilliant job of bringing our Arctic avenger to life.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: A drink of ink

January 27, 2017

I haven’t done a post like this in some time, but having recently received a pair of commissioned pieces back from master inker Bob Almond, this seemed an appropriate occasion to revisit the subject of inking in comic art.

Inking is a often-ignored and much-misunderstood facet of comic art, largely due to the fact that inking is unique to the art form itself. In pretty much every other area of popular art, the artist is a sole creator. The painter creates the image (although possibly from a reference photograph, which might involve a different artist) and does all of the work to bring the image to fruition. The sculptor sculpts. The potter… pots.

In comic books, however, creating the art one sees on the printed page often involves several hands. First, there is a pencil artist who drafts the initial image — sometimes in extensive detail, other times in a rough layout or sketch form. The ink artist then embellishes the penciled image in India ink, adding detail and shadow, as well as enhancing the overall linework so that it will photograph well for printing. A color artist adds all of the color — in modern comics, this process is usually done digitally, but for decades, colorists applied dyes directly to a print of the inked image. A letterer adds the dialogue and sound effects.

I don’t collect color art, and my commission pieces don’t generally involve lettering — aside from my Bombshells! theme, where a modest amount of lettering is done by the penciler. But I quite frequently commission artworks in pencil that will eventually wind up being embellished by an inker. I’ve employed a number of talented inkers over the years, but none more often than Bob Almond, who to date has completed more than 50 inking projects for my collection. I return to Bob time and again for several reasons, chief of which is that he’s extremely flexible, having a style that meshes well with almost any pencil artist.

To illustrate this point, take a look at Bob’s inking over two very different pencilers.

First, here’s an original pencil commission by Peter Vale, a Brazilian artist with a supremely detailed style. Peter’s approach is smooth, precise, and very nearly photorealistic.

Tyroc and Songbird, pencil art by Peter Vale

Now here’s that same drawing, as inked by Bob Almond.

Tyroc and Songbird, pencils by Peter Vale, inks by Bob Almond

In contrast, here’s a pencil commission by Kevin Sharpe. As compared with Peter Vale’s work, Kevin’s linework is less “fussy,” for lack of a better word. Kevin’s drawing style is bold, muscular, and less tightly controlled. His work shows the strong influence of Jack Kirby, perhaps the greatest of superhero comics pencilers.

Orion and Andromeda, pencil art by Kevin Sharpe

And here’s Kevin’s art, again with Bob Almond manning the inks.

Orion and Andromeda, pencils by Kevin Sharpe, inks by Bob Almond

You can see how in each case, Bob adapts his inking approach to the style of the penciler. When inking over Peter Vale, Bob’s ink line is tight and precise — and has to be, to capture all of the fine detailing in Peter’s drawing. (Just imagine having to outline every single one of those tiny glass shards!) When inking over Kevin Sharpe, Bob’s hand can be a bit more free, especially when filling in the shadows. There’s still a ton of detail in Kevin’s drawing as well, but those details are more loosely delineated, more suggestive and impressionistic than photographically realistic. Bob manages to capture that powerful quality in Kevin’s style as well as he enhances the gracefulness of Peter’s.

As is true of pencil artists, inkers come equipped with diverse approaches to their art. Some of the greatest inkers have their own idiosyncratic styles that tend to dominate the pencils beneath, whether that style is bold and weighty like that of Klaus Janson, or sleek and technical like those of Terry Austin or Murphy Anderson. Other inkers, such as Bob Almond, are chameleons who blend into the natural flow of the penciler. Still others, while skillfully adaptable, bring a distinctive flair to their inking that is unmistakable — I’m thinking especially of that legion of artists who came through Neal Adams’s studio in the early 1970s, guys like Bob McLeod, Joe Rubinstein, and the leader of that group, Dick Giordano.

The bottom line (no pun intended) is that without inkers, we wouldn’t have comic art as we’ve come to know it. And what a shame that would be.

That, friend reader, is your Comic Art Friday.