Ernest Nordli

The first Thursday of each month I write about what I think is a great comic book cover. This month I’m going to do it a little differently. I’m going to look at three great covers by one artist: Ernest Nordli.

Ernest Nordli (1912-1968)

There isn’t much information on the internets about this artist, except what I was able to find on Wikipedia. He was born in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1912. He studied art at Santa Barbara School of the Arts and he worked for Disney and animator Chuck Jones. Some of his credits include Dumbo, Fantasia, Sleeping Beauty, and One Hundred And One Dalmatians for Disney; and Broom-Stick Bunny and Rocket-bye Baby for Jones.

In the 1950s, Nordli worked for Dell Comics painting covers for issues of The Cisco Kid and The Lone Ranger. (I have seen Red Ryder Comics listed as having some of his covers, but I’m not sure. I can find only one source crediting one of those covers to him, but I don’t think he did it. The style doesn’t seem right.) The covers are terrific examples of illustration and design. I’ve chosen three of his covers that show what a fantastic illustrator he was.

First up is an issue of The Cisco Kid (#4, July-August 1951). There’s a great sense of movement in this illustration. We can see how much the hero enjoys fighting the bad guys in that expressive face. I love Nordli’s command of clothing, which is not easy to draw. Nor are hands, but the hands in his illustrations are exceptionally good.

I have previously declared the cover of The Cisco Kid issue #3 great in this blog series, but my sources did not know who the artist was. Judging by the similarities of the two covers, I believe #3 was also painted by Nordli. Click here for that previous blog.

Next up is a cover of The Lone Ranger (#39, September 1951) and it is a very intense action cover. Tonto appears to have been wounded (or worse yet killed!) and the Lone Ranger is in a desperate gunfight. The Lone Ranger and his companion are pinned down in the wilderness, will they survive?

The perspective drawing of the hero is expertly done. And the simplicity of the rendering of the rocks is awesome. It’s easy to look past the background, but note how Nordli does just enough to get the point across. Good stuff!

And, finally, I give you The Lone Ranger #41 (November 1951). Obviously, Tonto survived the cover of issue #39, but he and the Lone Ranger are once again in a desperate situation. They are scaling a rather steep rock face while avoiding being hit by falling debris.

The cover has all the same great elements as the previous two. There’s the attention to facial expressions and how clothes fold and move over a body. And those hands. Oh! The hands! They’re incredible. Nordli uses all these elements plus the pose and the lighting to make it really look as though our heroes are valiantly clinging to that cliff.

Three great covers!

Ernest Nordli died young at the age of 55 in 1968. It’s been speculated that his death may have been a suicide.

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

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Two Great Covers For Independence Day

Alex Ross rocks! He is one of the most impressive artists of the modern age of comic books. And of all time. His work in watercolors is so real and yet fantastical at the same time. There are other artists who have followed his example, but to my eyes Ross is the best of them.

His approach to comic book storytelling is to make it real. It’s clear he uses models to create those beautiful pages and covers. His characters look as though they could really exist. Their costumes have creases and folds as they certainly would if actual people donned those outfits to fight crime. They aren’t essentially naked with their costumes painted on them as is the traditional approach of most comic book art.

Now, which of his many amazing covers do I focus on today? Well, today America celebrates its independence, so let’s look at the covers he produced for the two-part treasury edition series for DC Comics’ now defunct Vertigo line called U.S. (or Uncle Sam). Ross also produced the interior art and gave some plot assistance for the series written by Steve Darnall.

The first issue was infuriating to me as I read it when the series was released in 1997. The character Sam had forgotten his identity as he explored America’s dark history trying to regain a sense of who he is. I was infuriated by the focus on the terrible aspects of America’s history. I was uncomfortable being forced to face those ugly truths about America’s past and, sadly, its present. But that was the point. The reader was supposed to be uncomfortable.

With part two, Darnall and Ross explored what is good about America. The progress it had made and the hope of a greater future. The story embraced the message of Pres. Bill Clinton in his first inaugural speech when he said, “There is nothing wrong with America cannot be cured by what is right with America.” My fury dissipated. I realized the ugliness of my country needed to be confronted and fixed. America’s challenges are still there and our work is never done.

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So, let’s look at those covers:

Part one shows a down and out Sam. His clothes are tattered. He looks as though he’s been beaten down. And he’s being walked over by Americans who are just ignoring his plight.

Sam is reaching out to the reader, pleading for help. There appear to be a few coins indifferently dropped by the passersby. “Oh, look at the poor old fellow, down on his luck. Here’s a couple pennies.”

That gesture might assuage some of their guilt, but will it do any more than that? The people will shrug. “I gotta get to work. I’ve done what I can. He can get a job.”

But is that what the reader will do? Sam is reaching to you, he’s looking you right in the eyes. Can you casually pass him by?

239642Issue number two has Sam finding his way, his purpose again. He’s ready to face the challenges that beset America, both external and internal.

Ross uses flames to show the power and passion renewed in Sam’s heart. Sam is once again looking the reader in the eye. Do we feel charged with the same passion to do all that we can? Or do we feel the accusation that we as Americans haven’t done our part? That we haven’t done enough? Can we brave the flames as Sam is doing?

Both covers have that soft watercolor look of which Alex Ross is a master. It’s subtle and lifelike. And he challenges the reader by having Sam looking unflinchingly directly at the “camera”. Sam is looking right at us. He’s challenging us.

He’s not about to blink. Will we?

Happy Fourth of July!

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

Wait! Don Heck Drew This?!

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I checked two sources to confirm that Don Heck provided the pencils to this month’s great cover – Captain Marvel #5 (September, 1968). It’s his work. And it’s great.

It just doesn’t look like his style. It looks more like Gene Colan’s work. Colan had drawn the first four covers and interiors of the series, then Dandy Don Heck took over with this issue. My guess is that Heck was instructed to draw like Colan. It’s my understanding that that was a common practice in those days. A new artist would be instructed to draw like the previous artist so as to keep the continuity going, but then the new artist would be allowed to gradually let their own style come through.

Don Heck’s work gets knocked by some comic book fans as not being as dynamic as Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko. And I think that is a somewhat fair criticism, but what Heck brought to the comics he drew was a stronger sense of realism. His characters may have seemed a bit stiff and static, but his anatomy drawing was much more accurate. And his action sequences were good. Just maybe not as page popping as Kirby and Ditko.

This is why I was surprised to learn that Don Heck had drawn this cover. I had assumed it was Gene Colan. But, when I was entering stock into the online catalog for Nostalgia Zone and I was adding information about the issue, I saw it was Heck who was given the credit for the drawing. And that’s why I had to check a second source.

It is his work.

And this page pops! It shows that Don could produce some quite dramatic and dynamic art. There’s the straining muscles of our hero, the stretching blue goop or whatever that stuff is, and the joyfully malevolent expression on the Metazoid’s face that all add up to a really great cover. I also like the coloring of the page, even though I was never very impressed with Captain Marvel’s original white and green costume.

Don Heck really cooks on this great cover.

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

How To Make A Great Cover, Unless Under Deadline

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In 1978, Stan Lee and John Buscema published How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way in an effort to teach young aspiring comic book artists how to draw comic books. It is an excellent, if dated, tutorial covering all aspects of creating exciting, pulse-pounding action that will leap off the page. How to draw figures, how to draw faces, how to make objects look real are covered along with page layout, composition, inking techniques, and how to create drama and the best action sequences. All in less than 160 pages.

My copy, acquired from a local library (I don’t remember if it was purchased or taken out and never returned – I hate to think what the late charges might be), has been well-thumbed, I can tell you.

I will focus on one chapter of this book in particular. I have a reason for this focus which will become apparent later.

It’s chapter eleven – The Comicbook Cover!

As an example, Stan and John focus on a cover of Nova (#12 – August, 1977). It was drawn by Buscema and, of course, it’s pretty damn good. (Hey, it’s by John Buscema. He was one of the masters.) Still, there were a few steps to go through before settling on the final design. A few quick sketches were produced using all the elements called for by the editor: Nova and guest-star Spider-Man are about to do battle in a library, in which we can see an incapacitated civilian.

 

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Stan breaks down the reasoning why the first three sketches were rejected before accepting the fourth design. One had the characters of Nova and Spider-Man too small in the design. Another had the star of the book with his back to the reader. And the third, would have also been nice to not have Spidey’s back to the reader.

Ugh! Editors. So hard to please.

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Eventually, a design was agreed upon and Buscema got to work, along with inker Frank Giacoia, producing the final piece.

The intent of this chapter is to show how important it is to create an exciting, engaging, and eye-catching cover. As Stan puts it:

“As you can imagine, the cover is probably the single most important page in any comicbook. If it catches your eye and intrigues you, there’s a chance you may buy the magazine. If it doesn’t cause you to pick it up, it means one lost sale.

“Consequently, more thought and more work go into the cover than any other page.”

It’s true. As a kid, I would mainly buy comic books based solely on their covers.

Well, the other day I was working at the comic book store (Nostalgia Zone in Minneapolis), going through inventory, seeing which books were needed for the online catalog. I came across a cover that made me pause. I stopped and showed it to the store manager. I asked, “What the hell happened here?”

Now, let me be clear. I mean no disrespect to the artists involved: Ed Hannigan and Klaus Janson. Both have produced plenty of fine comic book art, including many covers.

However, The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #17 (1983) looks… Well, it looks dashed off. It’s almost as though the cover wasn’t even thought about until just as the book was going to press.

Editor: “Oh, crap! We need a cover! Ed! Klaus! Draw Spidey! Stat!”

Five minutes later…

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“Ummmm. Sigh… Well! That will have to do. Run it.”

I can’t imagine this cover went through any of the process that cover of Nova went through. My guess is they were hard up against deadline and just needed a drawing of Spider-Man for the cover. Which seems strange as it’s an annual. I was always under the assumption that annuals, since they only come out once a year, have more time to produce.

But you know the old saying about assumptions. “When you make an assumption you make an ass of you and… mption?”

That can’t be right.

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

The Avengers Are So Hot Right Now, So Here’s This Month’s Great Cover

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I had to go with an Avengers cover for this month, didn’t I? How could I not? Disney’s Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame is in theaters and is doing monster business. Well, I’m more than willing to jump on that bandwagon, so I picked an issue of The Avengers as an example of a great cover.

This one is a little different than what one might think of as a great comic book cover. There’s no pitched battle. There’s no image of our hero or heroes about to be or having been defeated. There’s no super-villain or group of super-villains.

It’s just our heroes gathered around their conference table. They are being dressed down by a lone man, normal, no superpowers, holding a file marked “Top Secret”. He’s Peter Gyrich and he’s from the US National Security Agency, which I suppose could be considered a super-hero or a super-villain, depending on your feelings toward government.

The Avengers’ organization has gotten too big, too unruly, and too lax in their security for the US Government. They are becoming more of a risk than an asset. They need to be more tightly controlled and to do that many of them had to go. Earth’s mightiest heroes may not have started out as a government sanctioned group, but since their founding they had acquired certain privileges and clearances and funding. If they wished to continue getting those favors, they would have to follow the rules.

The greatness of this cover starts with its excellent execution by artists George Perez (penciler) and Terry Austin (inker). It’s hard to go wrong with that artistic team-up. Perez does a fantastic job of drawing and design here. It’s not easy to incorporate so many characters, 24 in all, in such a limited space and make them all appear as though they are all standing on the same floor and have their own space. They may be a little cramped, but Perez handles it beautifully here. And he didn’t even try make it easier on himself by drawing two of the characters in their miniature states, as he could have with The Wasp and Yellowjacket.

I also like the little connections between the couples of the group. The Vision is gently caressing Scarlet Witch. The Wasp is holding Yellowjacket’s reassuring hand as he places it on her shoulder. Captain America’s hug of Iron Man… Well, maybe that’s not technically a hug.

Gyrich’s arrogance and self-confidence is on full display. He boldly stands before a gathering of super-powered beings, any one of whom could easily reduce him to a quivering pile of human flesh, and dictates the government’s terms. He shows no sign of being intimidated, at all.

The cover of Avengers #181 (March, 1979) may seem an unusual choice, but I think it’s a great cover.

And Endgame? Fantastic! Bravo Marvel! Bravo Disney!

Oh! As a bonus. John Byrne and Gene Day produced what some might consider an even better version of the cover scene as part of the story. However, theirs has only 23 characters. Can you figure out which one is missing?

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It’s Yondu of the Guardians of the Galaxy who is missing.

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

Space… It Makes For A Great Cover!

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Before John Byrne teamed up with Terry Austin on The All-New, All-Different X-Men #108 in 1977, taking the comic book world by storm, he had been working for Marvel Comics since 1975. He had also been pulling double duty in those early days working for Marvel and Charlton Comics. And it’s one of his Charlton covers I’m declaring to be great this month.

Based on the short-lived, but influential, sci-fi television series, comes this cover of Charton’s Space: 1999. The cover shows lead character Commander John Koenig in a pretty dire situation. He’s adrift in the vacuum of space, his ship wrecked behind him, his helmet just out of reach ahead of him. Surely, he is doomed!

Well, probably not, but it is a dramatic and eye-catching cover. The use of the planet on the left and space on the right in the background gives a sense of scale as well as place. Byrne does a fine job of setting the drama.

This is from early in his career and his drawing had not yet reached its peak, but the roots of the greatest that would break out a year later (his X-Men run) can be seen. The details of the ship and spacesuit, the layout of the page, the natural urgency of the pose, the character’s expression, all show that John Byrne was going to be one hell of a force in comic books.

There’s one other aspect of this cover that I think makes it great: The coloring. Byrne penciled, inked, and colored this cover. Charlton had several covers in those days that had a more sophisticated use of color than even Marvel and DC Comics. There’s a wonderful flow and texture to the watercolor used to color this cover. It’s subtle, but it adds a depth to the art that the standard coloring of comic books lacked.

Collectors with a discerning eye in 1976 would have thought to themselves when seeing this cover, “This Byrne fellow is gonna go far.”

And, of course, they would have been right.

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.

Neal Adams Gets Another Great Cover

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This is the third time one of the all-time greats, Neal Adams, gets a great cover declaration by me. Adams was quite a force in comic books in the late 1960s into the 1970s. He brought a greater sense of realism to the look of comic art. Along with writer Denny O’Neil, he helped to bring Batman away from the campy influence of Adam West’s version as seen on the popular TV series. His Batman was more menacing and frightening. He was grittier. And much more dangerous.

But, it’s not a Batman cover that I’m looking at this month. As you can see, it’s the cover of DC Comics’ Strange Adventures #212 (June 1968) and it features one of the coolest looking characters in comic books (at least I think so): Deadman.

Deadman was created by Arnold Drake and Carmine Infantino. The character’s actual name was Boston Brand and he was a daring trapeze artist whose professional name was Deadman. Brand would wear the red costume and painted his face white for his performances under the big top. During a performance, an assassin known as Hook, whose missing hand had been replaced by a hook (what else?), murdered Brand. The acrobat became a ghost.

As a ghost, he kept the appearance of his Deadman trapeze artist persona. Deadman was determined to bring his murderer to justice. Using the power, given to him by the Hindu goddess Rama Kunsha, to possess the bodies of the living, he was determined to find his killer. Interesting character idea, don’t you think?

And look at that cover.

First off, it has a wicked Dutch angle. I like Dutch angles. It might be the influence of that campy Batman TV series on me, but I really do like them. And Adams gives us a darned dramatic one on this cover.

I think Adams also does an excellent job of using depth in this composition. Hook’s right arm and hook really look as though they are reaching off the cover toward the reader. It can be tricky getting that foreshortening just right. And Neal gets it just right.

And there’s the anatomy and poses of the characters that look real. This cover is a fine example of how Neal Adams made comic book art look possible in the real world while still being dynamic and exciting. This is also a good example of the grittiness this great artist was able to put across in his art. It’s so cinematic. This scene looks as though it resides in the same hard-bitten, dirty, grimy world as such film classics as The French Connection (1971), Midnight Cowboy (1969), and The Conversation (1974).

It’s a great cover.

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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.