Archive for the ‘Comic Art Friday’ category

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.

Comic Art Friday: Things are about to get hairy

December 2, 2016

millionairelogo

Hey, did I mention that I’m going to be on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire on Monday, December 5?

Now I did.

I’ll have more to say after the show airs. But for the time being, make sure to set your DVR. (Check your local listings for time and channel.)

It’s fair to suppose that if I walk away from my latest foray into television gaming a millionaire, I will probably spend at least a few shekels on new comic art. (My art collection may even rate a mention on Millionaire… but you’ll have to wait and see.) In the meanwhile, I can still admire the pieces I already own — including this one, commissioned earlier this year at San Francisco Comic Con, by the talented Casey Jones.

The Cat and The Beast, pencils and inks by Casey Jones

On a Comic Art Friday a few months back, we discussed Greer Grant Nelson’s transformation from the costumed heroine known as the Cat into the half-human, half-feline Avenger Tigra. It occurred to me that Greer wasn’t the only character to undergo a similar makeover.

In March 1972, just a half-year before Greer first donned her Cat-suit, founding X-Men member Henry “Hank” McCoy — a.k.a. the Beast — was starring in his own feature in the anthology series Amazing Adventures. From his debut in Uncanny X-Men #1, Hank’s mutant abilities had manifested in overly large hands and feet, combined with superhuman strength and ape-like agility. Aside from his impressive appendages, Hank looked pretty much like a normal human.

But in Amazing Adventures #11, Hank’s self-experiment in hormonal therapy pushed his mutation to another level, enhancing his powers (making Hank even stronger than before, and adding a Wolverine-like healing factor), covering his body with fur (initially gray, later blue), and giving him a vaguely simian appearance. Subsequent changes would alter his image into a more cat-like mold. In time, Hank’s more feline attributes faded, and he morphed into something closer to a furry, blue approximation of his original self, albeit retaining the fangs and claws from his second mutation.

Amazing Adventures #11, cover art by Gil Kane and Bill Everett

As much as we’ve grown fond of Greer and Hank in their lovably hirsute forms, we still remember the way they looked when we first met them — and it’s those original appearances that Casey Jones enshrines for us in this fine Common Elements commission. Because they may be gone today, but hair tomorrow.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Remember: Catch me on Millionaire this coming Monday!

Comic Art Friday: Battle royal

November 18, 2016

We’ve been bingeing our way through Season One of The Crown on Netflix (capsule review: beautifully staged, solidly acted, flows slightly more rapidly than molasses in January). In light of this, it’s an opportune time to check out this royalty-themed Common Elements commission by Scott McDaniel.

greenarrow_wonderwoman_brainwavejr_mcdaniel

Clockwise from top center, we have Green Arrow (a.k.a. Oliver QUEEN), Wonder Woman (a.k.a. Diana PRINCE), and Infinity Inc.’s Brainwave Jr. (a.k.a. Henry KING, Jr.). If you look closely, you’ll notice that the background morphs from character to character — they’re all in the same scene, but also each in his or her own unique world. I’ll let the talented Mr. McDaniel explain in his own words what he had in mind:

“My thought was simply to feature the heroes doing what they do best, as a team springing into action. The concept: the background would be an amalgamation of each character’s natural environment. For Green Arrow, an urban setting. For Wonder Woman, an Amazon forest. For Brainwave Jr., a high-tech, science fiction laboratory. And since I felt the urban skyline would best visually capture Ollie’s world, I positioned him at the top. Given the POV with its slight angle counter-clockwise, I felt that Henry’s slick tech walls would transform into Ollie’s brick buildings best if he was positioned on the left, leaving Diana to occupy the right. I think it works pretty well!”

And I wouldn’t disagree with that even a tiny bit.

Scott McDaniel has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in comics. Although he first made his mark as penciler on Marvel’s Daredevil in the early 1990s, Scott’s probably best known for his work on several series in DC’s Bat-family of titles, including Nightwing, Robin, and the Batman book itself. I was especially fond of his 2006-07 run on Green Arrow — my favorite male DC hero — which prompted me to invite him to create this GA-starring Common Elements scenario. Scott’s strong linework and propulsive, energetic design sense display themselves powerfully here.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Who’s your Goblin King now?

October 14, 2016

We’re having our first truly grim, gray October day here in the Bay Area, which makes it the perfect time to continue the pre-Halloween theme we began with last week’s Comic Art Friday. Since our post on “Spectres” covered the traditional All Hallows’ Eve trope of ghosts, we’ll turn today to another staple of the season — goblins.

Kobalt and the Green Goblin, pencils by Arvell Malcolm Jones

Even the most casual comics fan will recognize the fellow about to get clobbered in the scrap depicted here. That’s the Green Goblin (a.k.a. Norman Osborn, although several other individuals, most notably Norman’s son Harry, have donned the costume), probably Spider-Man’s best-known foe. The Goblin and the Web-Slinger share a lengthy history, going all the way to the former’s debut appearance in The Amazing Spider-Man #14 (July 1964). Over the years, the Green Goblin has become to Spider-Man what the Joker is to Batman — his most frightening opponent, both because he’s the most mentally unhinged (and thus the least predictable) and because he’s the one who seems to know and understand his superheroic nemesis the most intimately.

The guy wielding the razor-spiked bat, however, is likely less identifiable, even to hardcore comics aficionados. He’s Kobalt, antihero and star of an eponymous series published by Milestone Media (under the auspices of DC Comics) in the mid-1990s. (Ah, the ’90s. A time when everyone in comics had a grimace on his or her face, a huge gun in his or her hand, and lots and lots of pouches on his or her costume.)

Typical of ’90s characters, Kobalt was a vicious, violent tough guy with attitude to burn. He was also a man of mystery — his true name was never revealed during his book’s 16-issue run, although readers did discover that he was of Cuban ancestry. (Milestone made a name for itself by developing an ethnically diverse range of characters. Its most successful creation was the teenage African-American hero Static, who went on to star in the popular animated TV series Static Shock.) Despite his aggressively antisocial personality, Kobalt often shared his adventures with a sidekick/partner, first a woman code-named Clover, then later a Robinesque boy wonder known as Page.

In case you’ve not yet tumbled to the Common Elements connection between Kobalt and the Goblin, it’ll help to know that the word cobalt (as in the chemical element most recognized for its vivid blue color) derives from the German kobold, meaning “goblin” (as veteran Dungeons & Dragons players are well aware).

Don’t feel badly if you missed that. I even had to remind Kobalt’s co-creator and the author of today’s featured artwork, Arvell Jones, where the name came from. (Arvell’s most familiar co-creation is super-detective Misty Knight, currently being brought to life by actress Simone Missick in the Marvel/Netflix series Luke Cage.) Arvell got a kick from revisiting his old friend in this commissioned drawing — it had probably been a couple of decades since he’d last drawn Kobalt. When I proposed this scenario to him at San Francisco Comic-Con 2016, Arvell grinned and said, “You know who’s going to get the best of that fight, now don’t you?”

I wouldn’t have planned it any other way.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: How do YOU spell Spectre?

October 7, 2016

With Halloween rapidly approaching — how did it get to be October already? — I thought it apropos to delve into the Common Elements catalog for this ghostly offering, beautifully designed and rendered by Mike Bowden.

"Spectres," pencil art by Mike Bowden

The commonality between these characters will become evident as we identify the dramatis personae, working clockwise from upper left:

  • Moon Knight, known in civilian guise as Marc Spector.
  • The Spectre, the spirit of vengeance-turned-superhero created by Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman.
  • Sally Jupiter, a.k.a. the first Silk Spectre, from the seminal graphic novel Watchmen.
  • Dr. Adam Spektor, the paranormal investigator who headlined the fondly remembered series, The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor.
  • Laurie Juspeczek, the second-generation Silk Spectre and daughter of Sally.

What I like best about this particular Common Elements commission — aside from Mike Bowden’s outstanding design and execution — is the fact that it unites heroes not only from different comics publishers and universes, but also from different eras. The Spectre debuted in early 1940, making him among the oldest continuing characters in the industry. Doctor Spektor’s original run spanned most of the 1970s. The mother-and-daughter Silk Spectres feature in one of the most important comics of the 1980s. And Moon Knight, although he first appeared in a 1975 issue of Marvel’s Werewolf By Night before graduating to his own book in the early ’80s, is probably best known to current readers from his ongoing series that ran from 2006 to 2009.

I’m especially pleased to have Doctor Spektor making his Common Elements debut here. The good doctor’s series was among a number of classic titles released by Gold Key Comics, the comic book subsidiary of Western Publishing — the people who brought you those Little Golden Books you probably read as a child if you’re of a certain age. Gold Key mostly specialized in comics based on existing properties licensed from other sources. They were the first company, for example, to publish Star Trek comics (among a seemingly endless horde of books based on then-current or then-recent TV series, everything from The Twilight Zone to Adam-12), as well as cornering the market on Disney and Warner Brothers cartoon characters for quite a few years. But Gold Key also maintained a nice stable of original properties, the best-remembered of which today is probably the science-fiction epic Magnus, Robot Fighter. Gold Key’s comics stood out on the newsstand because many of them — particularly those not licensed from animation studios — featured painted covers, decades before such artists as Alex Ross brought that style back into vogue.

The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor was co-conceived (with artist Dan Spiegle) and written by Don Glut, a screenwriter who contributed scripts to numerous TV series aimed at youth audiences. Glut also worked extensively for Marvel Comics in the latter half of the 1970s, including runs on Captain America, The Invaders, What If?, and Marvel’s various sword-and-sorcery titles. Prior to this, Glut wrote for Warren Publishing’s line of horror comics (Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella… who really needs to turn up in a Common Elements commission some day soon). All of the issues of Spektor’s regular series were drawn by the prolific Jesse Santos, who also worked on such Gold Key originals as Brothers of the Spear, Dagon the Invincible, and Tragg and the Sky Gods.

Like several other contemporary titles, Doctor Spektor seized upon the Comics Code Authority’s early-1970s loosening of its restrictions on horror elements in mainstream comics. (This same rules change ushered in such series as DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Tomb of Dracula and Ghost Rider.) Spektor busied himself battling every kind of monstrous foe you might imagine, from vampires and reanimated mummies to Frankenstein’s monster and werewolves. The doctor even became a lycanthrope himself for a couple of issues in the middle of his book’s run. In most of his adventures, Spektor benefited from the support (I’ll leave it to you, friend reader, to speculate on exactly what that entailed) of his personal assistant, a comely Native American woman named Lakota Rainflower, as well as other aides who appeared with less regularity.

In contrast to the similarly named Doctor, neither Silk Spectre has an occult connection — nor indeed, any supernatural or superhuman ability. Both mother Sally, whom Watchmen presents as having battled crime in its universe’s 1940s, and daughter Laurie, who assumes her parent’s legacy in the 1960s and ’70s, are merely skilled hand-to-hand fighters and martial artists. Most comics-savvy readers know the Watchmen backstory: writer Alan Moore intended to use superheroes from the then-defunct Charlton Comics canon (characters whose trademarks had been purchased by DC Comics, which published Watchmen) as the leads in his opus. When DC editorial balked at Moore using these characters (for which they’d paid good money, and hoped to use in the future) for the dark tale he intended to tell, Moore instead devised new heroes to replace those from Charlton, incorporating attributes of the originals. The two Silk Spectres combined elements of Charlton’s Nightshade with aspects of other nonpowered heroines, including Black Canary, Phantom Lady, and the original Black Cat.

Both Silk Spectres are depicted here in costumes matching those used by artist Dave Gibbons in the Watchmen graphic novel, as opposed to the redesigned versions seen in the motion picture. Comics is comics, and movies is movies.

As for Moon Knight and The Spectre… well, they’ve each appeared in a previous Common Elements scenario. Moon Knight was featured alongside Moon Girl in Common Elements #18, drawn by James E. Lyle. The Spectre can be seen in tandem with Ghost in Common Elements #67, drawn by Greg LaRocque. You can follow the links to check out those pieces, if you’re inclined.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Lords of Atlantis

September 23, 2016

I read today that Atlantis Resorts, the company whose commercials for its rather awesome-looking tourist destination in the Bahamas run frequently on TV here, is planning its first U.S. property in Hawaii. The new resort will be built in Ko Olina, the beachfront community on the northwest point of Oahu where Disney’s Aulani Hotel and the popular Paradise Cove luau reside.

None of which means anything, really, except as an excuse to feature this Atlantis-themed Common Elements commission by artist Stephen Sadowski. (Like Captain Sternn in Heavy Metal, I’ve always got an angle.)

Namor the Sub-Mariner and Arion, Lord of Atlantis, pencils and inks by Stephen Sadowski

When I first had the idea for a “Kings of Atlantis” Common Elements matchup, I was determined to avoid the obvious pairing of Namor, the Sub-Mariner, and Aquaman — mostly because that connection is such a no-brainer I was sure that a lot of other people had thought of it already. And I was correct — searches on Comic Art Fans for “Namor and Aquaman” or “Sub-Mariner and Aquaman” reveal more than a dozen existing artworks featuring those two heroes together.

So, in the immortal words of Robert Frost, I chose the road less traveled by. Which, in this instance, has made all the difference.

Although he’s far less well-known than Aquaman, DC Comics has another Atlantean ruler in its arsenal. Arion, Lord of Atlantis, debuted in his eponymous series in 1982, toward the tail end of comics’ decade-long fascination with the sword-and-sorcery genre. Unlike the Atlantises (Atlantii?) of both Aquaman and his Marvel Comics opposite number Namor, Arion’s homeland was still very much above water, being set in a time period millennia before recorded history. Arion himself was a powerful sorcerer who used his magic to protect his fellow Atlanteans from enemies, chief among which was his own brother.

Perhaps Arion’s major claim to enduring fame derives from the 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths, during which Arion was retconned as an ancestor of Power Girl — heretofore always a Kryptonian, as the alternate-universe version of Supergirl. Like so many comics retcons, this one didn’t last, and Power Girl went back to being one of the last survivors of Krypton after a while. Thus, Arion faded back into the depths of obscurity, from which we’ve plucked him in order to provide him his Common Elements spotlight moment.

As for Namor, I always liked this stylish costume he wore for a brief (no pun intended) stretch in the ’70s, more than the green swimming trunks in which he’s most frequently been seen. You’d think the Lord of Atlantis would be able to afford a proper suit of clothes.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.