Comic Art Friday: She shelled Bombshells by the seashore

Posted July 14, 2017 by swanshadow
Categories: Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

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.

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Comic Art Friday: Top Ten from the Temple of Diana

Posted June 23, 2017 by swanshadow
Categories: Cinemania, Comic Art Friday, Dead People Got No Reason to Live, Hero of the Day, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

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!”

Posted May 19, 2017 by swanshadow
Categories: Celebritiana, Cinemania, Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

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?

Posted May 12, 2017 by swanshadow
Categories: Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

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

Posted May 5, 2017 by swanshadow
Categories: Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, SwanStuff, That's Cool!, Uncategorized

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

Posted March 24, 2017 by swanshadow
Categories: Celebritiana, Cinemania, Comic Art Friday, Dead People Got No Reason to Live, Hero of the Day, Ripped From the Headlines, SwanStuff, That's Cool!

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

Posted March 3, 2017 by swanshadow
Categories: Celebritiana, Cinemania, Comic Art Friday, Hero of the Day, Reminiscing, SwanStuff, Teleholics Anonymous, That's Cool!, Uncategorized

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.