Category Archives: Comic Book Art

Bernie Wrightson – One Of The Masters

The world of comic books lost one incredible artist this past weekend. Bernie Wrightson, renown for his mastery of illustrating horror and the macabre, died too young at age 68 after a lengthy battle with brain cancer.

According to his obituary, he did take a correspondence course from the Famous Artists School, but otherwise he was largely self-taught through studying comic books. That astounds me. Well, some artists are just so good they don’t need that much in the way of formal training. I went to art school for three years and that made me a better artist, and I’m better today than I was right after my schooling, but I’d be flattering myself if I thought I could be a quarter as good an illustrator as Mr Wrightson.

Let’s look at some of his work.

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This witch illustration is the first image that comes to my mind when I think of Bernie Wrightson. He had a great sense of lighting in his work, which you can see here. He also could vary his inking technique to suggest different textures: flesh, hair, wood, the witch’s garment.

The next two examples show his brush technique in inking really well.

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I love the way the zombie’s tattered flesh, hair, and clothing flow downward into the ground as it emerges from its grave. And note how simply Wrightson renders the grave stones in the background and yet they still look so heavy.

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Probably Wrightson’s best known character, co-created with Len Wein, Swamp Thing is drawn here in such a way as to make him as much a part of nature as the tree behind him. He is a part of that swamp. Wrightson uses virtually the same texture when rendering Swamp Thing as he does with the tree.

Wrightson also worked in color. I’m including a piece from later in his career. It’s the cover for the third book of his Batman: The Cult series. The art within the books was good, but not quite at the same standard as his earlier work. However, the face of the bad guy being threatened by the Caped Crusader on this cover is fantastic!

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Finally, I’m including a piece from what must be considered Bernie Wrightson’s masterwork: his illustrated edition of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein. The artist worked on the 50 or so illustrations in this edition for about seven years. The quality is amazing. This one illustration demonstrates Wrightson’s brilliance with pen and ink. The textures and details he captures are incredible. There’s stone, wood, flesh, glass, cloth, water all in there and everything feels right.

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He masterfully directs the viewers’ eyes through that laboratory to the spot where Frankenstein’s creation demands to know why. Why did the doctor defy the will of God and bring him to life?

Bernie Wrightson was one of the masters and we can be thankful to have such a body of work to ponder and be humbled, amazed, and inspired by.

I’m feeling the itch to draw.

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Another Month, Another Great Cover

One of my favorite parts of my job entering comic books into Nostalgia Zone‘s online catalog is getting to check out some pretty cool comic book covers. I get to see books that I might not have sought out, because they aren’t part of what I’m interested in in comic books. I was never a fan of Archie comics. The Harvey titles never did anything for me. I’m just not into funny comic books. I’m a Marvel Comics kid and I like superheroes.

I have a running list of great covers from our catalog, so I have plenty of material for this monthly series. And this time? Dude! It’s a Dell.

Dell Comics didn’t do much for me as a comic book collector either. They did some superhero stuff in their wide range of genres, but those superheroes were…kinda lame. Dell did many movie and television show adaptations, along with science fiction and ghost stories, Westerns and war stories. But they mostly did the funny stuff. They believed in the comic part of comic books.

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This month’s great cover (see above) comes from Dell Comics‘ Four Color series. Each month, in the Four Color series would be a different featured character or genre even. Dell would rotate these characters and genres, so one month you’d get a Zane Grey Western, the next month would be an Andy Panda story, then there would be Donald Duck, and the month after that would be Bugs Bunny. The characters and genres would rotate, so a few months later readers would get a new book with Donald Duck or Zane Grey, etc.

From comic books’ Golden Age (1938 – 1955), I present Dell Four Color #200 (October 1948) featuring Bugs Bunny, Super Sleuth. The artist was Ralph Heimdahl and his work is terrific. These old school comic book illustrators really were masters at inking. Look at the weight variation of Heimdahl’s line work. Very expressive and disciplined.

I like Bugs‘ pose and the look on his face. Normally, Bugs was super cool and in control, but there were times when he would be affected by fear. This cover is one of those times.

Bugs also feels as though he is in a place, a setting. There is a real feel to our hero standing on stairs and heading into a scary house. Most covers featuring cartoon characters such as Bugs are more character focused, with little or no background. This one deviates from those typical covers by giving Bugs a place to inhabit.

The composition is excellent. The rendering and dark coloring of the wall, stairs, and banisters, along with our hero’s expression and pose, give a feeling of mystery and danger. The motion lines at the bottom of the bright yellow door indicate Bugs is opening the door quickly so as to possibly catch someone in the act. Just what does he see inside that house?

It’s a great cover.

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Gil Kane Strikes Again

For the third time, Gil Kane makes an appearance in my monthly look at great comic book covers series. And how could he not? Mr Kane was one of the greatest comic book illustrators of all time and his covers were consistently fantastic. And this month’s installment is just another example of why he was the master of the comic book cover.

In 1971, beginning with the cover date of November, Marvel Comics decided to change the layout of their covers. Instead of an illustration framed by the edge of the book itself, it was decided to draw a box or a frame on the cover in which the illustration would be placed. It was an experiment that lasted a little over a year. From what I can find, the art-in-a-box cover design went for, at least, a 14 issue run, but some titles went longer.

I didn’t find any reason given for why Marvel’s editors decided to try this experiment. I’m just speculating here, but I think was to be able to break the frame and make the art pop off the page. After all, you can’t break the frame if it is the edge of the comic. Although not all did, most of the covers that I looked at took advantage of this design element.

And, boy! Does this month’s cover break the frame!

It’s the March 1972 issue of Creatures On The Loose (#16). Take a look:

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Isn’t that awesome?

Not only does the cover benefit from Kane’s drawing mastery, but his design takes full advantage of breaking the frame. However, he is doing more than just giving the illusion of three dimensionality, as in the case of Gulliver Jones’ arm and the handle of the bad guy’s spear at the top of the frame. His blue baddie at the bottom of the page elevates this cover to a masterpiece by expanding the scene to what is going on off of the page itself. The viewer has become immersed in the scene.

Kane does this by using the look over the shoulder pose and the appearance of the blue baddie giving a battle cry. This gives the indication that there may be a whole horde of baddies charging in to do battle with our hero. Just maybe not all blue.

It is so awe-inspiring when I see an artist do such great story-telling with simple placement, pose, and the direction of a character’s eyes.

Absolutely brilliant. Gil Kane scores again.

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This Month’s Great Cover

I have to admit Steve Ditko isn’t one of my favorite artists. He was very good, but his style just didn’t speak to me. In my opinion, his style didn’t work all that well in the superhero genre. It was better suited for the monster/horror and sci-fi/fantasy genres. But he did find his niche when he drew Doctor Strange stories. He could freely combine his weird and unique style to its fullest effect in those books.

But, despite my somewhat non-fondness of his art, Ditko certainly belongs in the company of the great and influential artists of comic books. Why his design of the Spider-Man costume alone puts him in the Comic Book Hall of Fame, if there is such a thing. (There should be a Comic Book Hall of Fame.)

As I said, I never really warmed up to his style, but dawgoneit! I dig this month’s cover!

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I love it!

It’s the first issue of Charlton‘s monster/sci-fi/horror/fantasy series Haunted, first published in 1971. See? The genres for which Ditko was best suited. Am I right or am I right?

I think this is one of the most eye-catching covers in all of comic bookdom. This is due mainly to the use of negative space. There’s so much white on the cover. The masterful use of line weight, the varying thick and thin, is so simple and yet so dramatic. And the whole effect has me thinking of those masks worn by the unknown wrestlers of yore.

Also, using the eyes and mouth to preview the three stories to be found within, all of which were penciled and inked by Ditko, is a terrific use of design.

I think this cover is a brilliant combination of cartooning and design, and it must have jumped off the newsstands.

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Here’s this month’s great cover…

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Look at that! Isn’t it wonderful?

This month’s great cover in comic book history comes from the September 1991 issue of Marvel Comics Presents (#84) featuring one of Marvel Comics’ premiere superheroes: Wolverine. The artist behind this masterpiece is Barry Windsor-Smith. He did everything on it – pencils, inks, and color.

Windsor-Smith started working for Marvel in the late 60s, because Stan Lee liked his Jack Kirby-like way of drawing. But, Windsor-Smith soon began to develop his own signature style. Like most comic book artists, he improved greatly upon his early efforts the more he worked. Unlike some comic book artists, he just kept getting better and better and better. Some of the great artists would reach a plateau and then their work began to slip. Not Windsor-Smith. At least not yet. This month’s cover was done more than twenty years after he started in the industry.

We see a blood-spattered Wolverine with his claws partially retracted. He looks peaceful, yet terribly weary. He seems to be, not just exhausted from the completion of a pitched battle, but totally done in by a lifetime of pitched battles. Has he had enough?

What also strikes me about this cover is its sophistication. This isn’t a typical cover of a super-hero heroically battling some super-villain or coming to the rescue of some citizen in imminent peril. This cover is deep with nuance and complexity. This ain’t just some kid’s throw away when finished reading super-hero fantasy. This is art.

I should note I hadn’t seen this comic book when it came out in 1991. I wasn’t buying this title then. I didn’t know this cover existed. In fact, I spotted it for the first time fairly recently when putting away inventory at Nostalgia Zone’s warehouse and I was quite impressed. I made note to include this cover in my great covers series.

And I was in for another surprise! When I searched for an image of the cover today, I discovered the artwork was a wraparound piece. When I spotted that I was even more stunned by the beauty Barry Windsor-Smith had wrought.

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This was the cover I was expecting to find. It’s still a powerful masterpiece.

Bravo, sir!

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This Month’s Great Cover: Fantastic Four 143

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Just look at it. What more could you want from a comic book cover?

You know, one thing I like about this first blog of the month for Warehouse Find is: I don’t really have to write much. The first week of each month I feature what I think is a great  (or, at least, important) cover from the world of comic books. All that pretty much needs to be done is post the image and say, “Ain’t it great?!”

Well, I’ll give you a little more than that. This month’s cover is the third Fantastic Four cover to be featured. The first was the premier issue of that vitally important comic book. It wasn’t a particularly great cover, but it was a good one by the King, Jack Kirby, and it changed the tone of comic books forevermore. The second cover depicted a desperate Thing searching through fiery debris for the Human Torch as drawn by John Byrne. He’s the Human Torch, why worry about him being in fiery debris? It’s a head scratcher.

This month’s cover is also the second entry drawn by the great Gil Kane. As I noted when I wrote about that other cover by Mr Kane, it is clear why he did so many covers in those days. His work was awesome!

So, we’ve got the First Family of Marvel Comics (sans the Invisible Girl, she may have been on maternity leave or something, so the Inhuman Medusa was filling in for her) battling their arch foe Dr Doom. Dr Doom just might be the greatest comic book villain this side of The Joker and he’s giving the Human Torch quite a blast. The Ever Lovin’ Blue-eyed Thing has just broken his chains and declared it’s clobberin’ time. Sure, he doesn’t say it, but we know he’s saying it. Mr. Fantastic is doing his stretchy thing, while Medusa has that snazzy red hair. All right, that last thing was a tad uncalled for, but I do like red hair. Kane includes a bit of the futuristic machinery Doom always employed. And just what is the button he’s pushing going to do?

“Get set for the greatest battle issue ever!”

What’s not to love?!

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Check Out This Month’s Great Cover…

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Well, it’s time to take a look at a cover by one of the undisputed great illustrators in the history of comic books. Neal Adams brought a sense of realism to comic book art that hadn’t existed before in the art form. Adams’ influence on the Silver Age (1956 – 1969) and Bronze Age (1970 – 1985) is undeniable. If only it had reached the 1990s and saved us from certain artists.

*cough cough cough Rob Liefeld cough cough*

Sorry. A little hack in my throat.

So, let’s look at the eye-catching cover of Batman #251 (Sept. 1973). It focuses on the looming terror of Batman’s archest foe the Joker. Look at that. One of the greatest  superheroes ever plus one of the greatest supervillains ever drawn by one of the greatest artists ever all combining to make one of the greatest comic book covers ever.

Hyperbole! I love it!

Adams also draws the story art, which includes the Joker throwing Batman to a hungry shark. It’s some really good stuff.

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