Archive for the ‘Hero of the Day’ category

Comic Art Friday: Let’s make some REAL news

August 11, 2017

I’m just back from my annual junket to the Trivia Championships of North America (TCONA) in Las Vegas, and man, is my brain fried.

I’ve attended every TCONA since the first one in 2011, and it seems as though it’s even more of a blast each successive year. It’s my one opportunity every summer to interface in person with fellow quizzers (including many other former — and some yet future — Jeopardy! champions) from all over the continent (and in a few cases, from other continents), amid the diz-busting, face-melting heat of Vegas in August.

Once again, I managed to keep my six-year medal-winning streak alive, with a bronze in the Team Trivia Championship (shared with five of the nicest and smartest people you’d meet anywhere). When you can’t be the brightest bulb in the room, it’s good to be one of the luckiest.

Best of all, the Pirate Queen joined me as usual at the end of the convention for a few days of Vegas-style R&R, as we are wont to enjoy.

But you’re here for the comic art, aren’t you?

All righty then.

Starman and The Creeper, pencils and inks by Tom Derenick

Today’s featured artwork is this tremendous effort by Tom Derenick, a leading contender in the Why Isn’t This Artist More Famous? sweepstakes. Our latest dip in the Common Elements theme pool matches The Creeper, one of Steve Ditko’s less prominent creations, with the Golden Age hero Starman. What in the wide world of DC Comics might these two have in common, you ask? Perhaps more than you’d think.

When we first encounter the man who would become The Creeper in Showcase #73 (March 1968), he’s Jack Ryder, an obnoxious blowhard TV personality. Starman in civilian life is Ted Knight, who shares his name with an actor (sadly, no longer with us) best known for playing… wait for it… an obnoxious blowhard TV personality. There’s your first common element.

I say “first” because sometimes when I devise a new Common Elements concept, I’m so focused on the idea I have for the project that I miss entirely plausible alternate connections between the characters involved. My good friend and colleague, the legendary commission collector Damon Owens, was quick to point out one here that I didn’t even think about.

The alter egos of these two characters go together to form “Knight Ryder,” a title differing only in spelling from that of a popular action-adventure program from the 1980s. That series, coincidentally, starred David Hasselhoff, a man who also fits the description of… wait for it… an obnoxious blowhard TV personality.

(Incidentally, any additional connection, real or imagined, to an obnoxious blowhard TV personality currently in national public office is 100% serendipitous. *cough*)

So, there’s another common element — one you’d suppose that a self-professed trivia maven such as your Uncle Swan would have picked up on from Jump Street.

Alas, no. Therefore, my thanks to Damon for sweeping the glass and snatching the uncontested rebound.

Back to our spotlight heroes for a moment. As noted previously, The Creeper sprang from the fevered imagination of Steve Ditko — probably best known as the artist co-creator of Marvel’s Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, but also the source of such characters as The Question, Hawk and Dove, and Shade the Changing Man.

In his debut adventure, Jack Ryder becomes The Creeper through the most unlikely of circumstances. In his capacity as a security expert for the television network that recently fired him from his talk-show-hosting duties, Ryder hunts down the subversive agents who kidnapped a famous scientist. While tracking the kidnappers, Ryder crashes a high-society masquerade ball wearing a costume he threw together from random items — the costume that later becomes The Creeper’s signature look. When Ryder finds the missing scientist, the man gives him a serum that speeds healing from injury, along with a device that enables Ryder to transform his apparel from his everyday clothes to his Creeper garb in the blink of an eye. The scientist is soon murdered, leading Ryder to devote himself to battling evildoers.

Starman’s history dates back to Adventure Comics #61 (April 1941), wherein astronomer Ted Knight invents a device he dubs a gravity rod. This handheld implement allows Knight to fly and to fire blasts of energy at his opponents. Almost a year later, in All-Star Comics #8 (January 1942 — the same issue in which Wonder Woman makes her debut appearance, although in a separate story), Starman and blind crimefighter Doctor Mid-Nite join the Justice Society of America, the original superhero team.

Starman faded from the scene (like most Golden Age superheroes) in the late 1940s. In the intervening decades, several other DC characters have used the Starman identity — some connected by legacy to the original Ted Knight version, others completely unrelated. A cynic might opine that DC keeps creating new Starman types merely to keep its trademark alive… but we’re not cynics here, are we?

Returning to our artwork: Not only does Tom Derenick draw with classic style and razor-sharp precision, but he also employs a brilliant twist of perspective here. If you look closely at the background, you’ll notice that the “bottom” of the scene from a real-world point of view is actually the right-hand side of the frame (in other words, that’s where the “ground” is). Thus, in portrait orientation — which is clearly how Derenick expects the viewer to see the image — it appears that The Creeper is jumping down onto an upwardly rising Starman, in attack mode. But when we adjust the angle, and put the bottom of the frame where it would actually be, we observe that it is in fact Starman who has the upper hand, and The Creeper is leaping (or falling) backward, away from his opponent. (See the rotated image below.)

Starman and The Creeper, pencils and inks by Tom Derenick

It’s a masterful shot, perfectly designed and executed. When Tom sent me his preliminary sketch early on in the project, the background was merely suggested by a handful of lines. Only when I saw the finished piece fully rendered could I understand and appreciate what the artist envisioned. I was completely blown away. You might be too.

As with so many things in this life, it’s all in how you look at it.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: Grass queen

July 21, 2017

It’s no secret that my comic art collection focuses primarily on characters in the superhero genre. When it comes to reading, however, I’ve always enjoyed a broad range of comics — everything from Conan the Barbarian to Josie and the Pussycats.

One of my current jams is a series from BOOM! Studios called Grass Kings, written by Matt Kindt, and illustrated in pencils and watercolors by Tyler Jenkins. It’s difficult to describe what Grass Kings is about. In terms of genre, I suppose you could classify it as a mystery or suspense thriller, wrapped tightly in character drama. Tonally, it’s sort of like Twin Peaks meets The Walking Dead, only without the psycho-supernatural weirdness of the former or the zombies of the latter.

The series tells the story of a trailer-park community in the middle of the Western prairie (the “grass” of the title) that has set itself up as a more-or-less self-sufficient outpost of civilization under the leadership of three brothers (the “kings”). The inhabitants of the Grass Kingdom strive to avoid interaction with the outside world at all costs… until circumstances make that impossible.

Regular artist Jenkins contributes the cover art as well as the interiors. As is the way of things in the present-day comics world, however, most of the issues have been released with variant covers available as retailer premiums. When I talked with Ryan Sook at Silicon Valley Comic Con a few months back, I learned that he had just completed the variant cover for the then-upcoming Grass Kings #3. I was thrilled to score Ryan’s preliminary sketch for this cover, which appears below, along with the finished art as published.

Grass Kings issue 3 variant cover, preliminary pencil sketch by Ryan Sook

Grass Kings issue 3 variant cover, art by Ryan Sook

There’s a tiny niche gallery in my collection entitled Pin-Ups With Pistols (a spin on the Tommy Shaw 1984 album title song Girls With Guns) where this sketch fits perfectly. It’s a callback to all those noir films — and the femmes fatale who starred in them — before which I sat transfixed in my youth. They sure don’t make ’em like that any more.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: She shelled Bombshells by the seashore

July 14, 2017

One of the many things I enjoy about my Bombshells! commission theme is the opportunity to spotlight heroines from long-ago comics history who’ve either been forgotten or are simply no longer as prominent as they once were.

Case in point: Namora, cousin of Namor the Sub-Mariner.

Namora, pencils and inks by Tim Tyler

The late 1940s and early 1950s were something of a dark period for superhero comics. After World War II ended in 1945, superheroes — a mainstay of American popular culture during the war years — quickly faded in popularity. Many of the hundreds of costumed characters who’d sprung up in the first half of the decade disappeared, and relatively few new superheroes popped up until Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash, arrived in late 1956.

Namora made her debut appearance in May 1947, in Marvel Mystery Comics #82. She proved popular enough that she was promoted to her own title a year later, a book which lasted all of three issues. (I know what you’re thinking — three issues is not a very solid run. Still, it’s three more issues than either you or I have headlined our own comic book.) After her title was cancelled, Namora continued to appear as a regular supporting player in her better-known cousin’s adventures well into the Fifties.

The Namora series was part of a forward-thinking but short-lived initiative by Timely Publications (predecessor of what would become Marvel Comics by the early 1960s) to promote superheroines in their own eponymous titles. Two other female characters, Sun Girl (seen below in her Bombshells! appearance, drawn by Gene Gonzales) and Venus, also received ongoing series at the same time. Although Sun Girl, like Namora, only managed to eke out three issues, Venus sailed along for a total of 19, a run that lasted into early 1952.

Sun Girl, pencils and inks by Gene Gonzales

As for Namora, she’s still around the Marvel Universe in the 21st century. She turned up as a key member of the super-team Agents of Atlas a decade ago, and also played a role in the World War Hulk storyline.

Artist Tim Tyler, usually a horror specialist, turns in a nice nostalgic effort for Namora’s Bombshells! portrait. Tim’s style reminds me a bit of the EC Comics of the 1950s, so I thought he’d be perfect for an entry in my retro theme.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday for this Bastille Day.

Comic Art Friday: Top Ten from the Temple of Diana

June 23, 2017

Yes, I know this Wonder Woman tribute post is a few weeks overdue. I had intended to do something to coincide with the premiere of the film (which I loved, incidentally), but just didn’t get to it until now.

Wonder Woman has been one of my favorite comic book heroes for nearly half a century. She has also been a cornerstone of my comic art gallery since I began collecting in earnest 13 years ago. I own more artworks featuring Diana of Themyscira than of any other character — more than 60 pieces, at current count, which is twice as many as the second leading character in my collection (Supergirl). Aside from my Common Elements theme, Wonder Woman art represents the largest single segment of my collecting hobby.

Choosing among my Dianas proved no easy task, but here are my ten favorite (at least today) Wonder Woman images, listed alphabetically by penciler.

Diego Bernard

WonderWoman_Bernard

As classic as it gets — powerful, graceful, beautiful. When I close my eyes and think “Wonder Woman,” she looks pretty much like this.

Michael Dooney (Bob Almond, inks)

WonderWoman_DooneyAlmond

Michael Dooney is a pinup artist par excellence. His stylish take on Diana — with a couple of costume suggestions from your Uncle Swan — demonstrates that.

Adam Hughes

WonderWoman_Hughes

If I can only own one Adam Hughes original — and to date, that’s been the way that circumstances and budget have worked out — it might as well be his deft take on Diana. Hughes is most widely renowned for his rendering of the feminine form, but it’s the eyes that make this one.

James E. Lyle (Buzz Setzer, colors)

WonderWoman_LyleSetzer

I love seeing a unique take on a familiar character. James E. Lyle (“Doodle” to his friends) creates a winner here.

Peter Krause

WonderWoman_Krause

I refer to this picture as “Diana’s Day Off.” I love the idea of her just relaxing by a lake, dipping her toes into the cool water, and letting someone else battle evil for a day.

Geof Isherwood

WonderWoman_Isherwood

Geof Isherwood is one of the most underrated artists in the business, period. His approach to Diana here is simultaneously classic, ultra-modern, and just a tiny bit off-center… in a good way.

Alan Patrick (Bob Almond, inks)

WonderWoman_PatrickAlmond

A perfect setting for our Amazon warrior — a battle that might be taking place in ancient Greece a couple of millennia ago. Alan Patrick’s composition is outright stunning.

Jason Michael Paz (Geof Isherwood, inks)

WonderWoman_PazIsherwood

I often post this piece online to honor one of our traditional servicepersons’ holidays, Memorial Day or Veterans Day. Wonder Woman leads the charge into battle as only she can.

Brian Stelfreeze

WonderWoman_Stelfreeze

Few artists can convey as much with just a few perfectly placed lines as can Brian Stelfreeze. And his acting — the expressions on his faces, the body language of his figures — never fails to be anything but powerful.

Al Rio (Geof Isherwood, inks)

WonderWoman_RioIsherwood

The first Wonder Woman piece I ever personally commissioned. The particulars of Diana’s costume were my suggestion. Everything else you see here sprang from the imagination of the now departed and deeply missed Al Rio. What a phenomenal talent the comic art world lost when he left us.

Let’s add one honorable mention. I don’t fully embrace the notion of a Wonder Woman / Superman romance for several reasons, but this piece is just so darned cute, it almost makes me a believer. Sadly, it’s the only original artwork I own by the late Mike Wieringo, whose work I absolutely love.

Mike Wieringo (Richard Case, inks)

WonderWoman_Superman_WieringoCase

If you’re interested in checking out my Temple of Diana in its entirety, pop on over to my gallery at Comic Art Fans. There, you can see every Wonder Woman artwork I own, along with a bunch of other amazing art that happens not to feature the Themysciran Princess.

And that’s your Wonder Woman Art Friday.

 

Comic Art Friday: Quoth the Raven: “Nevermore!”

May 19, 2017

As much as I enjoy concocting convoluted connections between otherwise unrelated characters for my Common Elements commission series, quite often the simpler and more obvious matchups produce equally fine results.

Case in point: this pairing of long-time X-Men nemesis Mystique (real name: Raven Darkhölme) and Raven from the Teen Titans, drawn by veteran comic artist Ron Randall.

Mystique_Raven_Randall

The later films in Fox’s X-Men series cast Mystique as a member of the heroic superteam, which in my opinion doesn’t serve the character well. I’m perfectly cool with versions of comics characters in live-action media diverging somewhat from their comic-book counterparts — I think Marvel Studios has, for the most part, done a decent job of tweaking characters to fit the needs of its big-budget blockbuster movies — but I just don’t think Mystique works as a heroine. She’s much more compelling as a villain.

(And yes, I understand why Fox took the turn they did. When Mystique was recast from C-lister Rebecca Romijn to Oscar-winning superstar Jennifer Lawrence, Fox made Mystique a “good guy” because J-Law’s Millennial fans won’t pay to see her playing a “bad guy.” Such are the realities of Hollywood.)

In addition to switching sides mid-series, the movie Mystique also lost one of the key distinctions that made her backstory unique. In the comics, the ancient and ageless Mystique is the birth mother of the X-Man Nightcrawler, and the foster mother of another X-Man, Rogue. Because Mystique begins the cinematic narrative as a young girl, she doesn’t have these familial connections. Again, I understand why the changes happened, but I think the comics character’s history is much more interesting.

Speaking of interesting histories, Raven comes equipped with one — she’s the spawn of the dimension-hopping demon Trigon and a human woman named Angela Roth, who later calls herself Arella. As a teenager, Raven joins the Teen Titans to combat her father and ultimately defeat him. Her hybrid parentage endows Raven with a variety of superhuman powers, ranging from empathic sensitivity to the ability to cast a “soul-self” — a sort of astral projection — that usually takes the form of a (wait for it…) raven.

Today’s artist, Ron Randall, has been drawing comics for the major publishers for more than 35 years. Beginning his career with a healthy run on DC’s classic war comic Sgt. Rock in the early 1980s, Ron has illustrated significant stints on such series as The Warlord, Arak, Son of Thunder, Dragonlance, and both Justice League International and Justice League Europe for DC, Star Trek Unlimited and Venom for Marvel, and his own creation Trekker (no relation). Most recently, Ron’s work appears alongside that of other outstanding artists — among them Steve Rude and Evan “Doc” Shaner — in DC’s entertaining Future Quest, which weaves together the adventures of several Hanna-Barbera animated heroes from the 1960s, including Jonny Quest, Space Ghost, and the Herculoids.

Back to Ravens for a moment. Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven has been one of my favorite poems as long as I can remember. It’s a flawless blend of atmosphere, wordplay, and desperation. These days, I frequently read it aloud as a warmup when I have character voice work — particularly narration — on my work agenda for the day. Every time I perform it, I find new twists and nuances in the words and rhythms. Well done, Mr. Poe.

And that’s your Comic Art Friday.

Comic Art Friday: 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.

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.