Tag Archives: Comic book art

The Transformation Of Four Artists

In comic books, if an artist is good (and maybe a little lucky) they can have long careers, sometimes decades. A lot of factors are at play. Can they draw? Can they convey the story visually? Can they meet deadlines? Do the fans like their work? Can they keep looking fresh?

Some artists change their style, which can cause some chagrin for some fans. Just a couple months ago, on a Facebook comic book fan group page, a member posted two images of the work of John Romita Jr. One was an early piece of his from an issue of The Dazzler, the other was a Superman cover from a few years later. The fan wondered what happened to Romita Jr.’s work. Why had it gotten so different and, in their opinion, so bad?

The thing about art is that it’s really subjective. It depends on what you like. The John Romita Jr. discussion fostered plenty of disagreement. Folks were arguing about which period of Romita Jr.’s work was better. There were lots of opinions attempting to justify each person’s position, making consensus difficult.

What do I think? Later John Romita Jr. illustration is better.

The answer to what happened to John Romita Jr.’s work, and I’m speculating here, is that he appeared to have decided to stop trying to conform to a formulaic comic book style and started drawing in his style. And, in my opinion, his work got so much more interesting.

Romita Jr. is one of four artists that come to my mind as examples of embracing their own style and achieving greater artistic heights. The others are Barry Windsor-Smith, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Mike Mignola. They are each examples of artists coming into the industry with a look that wasn’t especially interesting (not bad, just not interesting), and then developed into great and unique artists.

Barry Windsor-Smith

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So much Jack Kirby (and some Jim Steranko), but where is Barry Windsor-Smith?

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Some Windsor-Smith is beginning to break through.

Barry Windsor-Smith started working for Marvel in the late 1960s. His Jack Kirby-like style endeared him to Stan Lee. That got Windsor-Smith’s foot in the door, but then he began to adjust his style and moved away from producing work the looked like Kirby to work that had elements of Joe Kubert and Moebius, but was becoming more an more his own look. His progression in the ’70s and ’80s right through the 2000s is nothing less than astounding.

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Brilliant!

Bill Sienkiewicz

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It’s good, but very Neal Adams-ish.

When Marvel Comics’ character Moon Knight received his own title in 1980, Bill Sienkiewicz was the artist at the helm. He had done a few Fantastic Four issues as well and he had a decided Neal Adams style. As his work continued on Moon Knight, the Neal Adams influence began to fade and what Sienkiewicz began to produce would lead to a style that, although having similarities to illustrator Bob Peak’s work, really was all his own and very innovative in the field of comic books.

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Now that’s some Bill Sienkiewicz!

His work may not have pleased purists, but it brought comic book art into a whole new strata of illustration.

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Brilliant!

Mike Mignola

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It’s not quite right.

Mike Mignola started at Marvel in the early ’80s and I was buying Alpha Flight when he took over pencils after John Byrne left the book and I was… underwhelmed. Something just didn’t look right. Eventually, even while drawing superheroes, Mignola’s style began to come through. My whelmness increased. And when Hellboy debuted, I felt Mignola’s true style had fully revealed itself.

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Mignola’s uniqueness!

John Romita Jr.

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It’s not bad, it just doesn’t quite grab me.

This brings me to the artist I talked about at the beginning of this week’s blog. I think John Romita Jr.’s career has the benefit and difficulty of following in his father’s footsteps. The senior Romita cast a very large shadow. His influence on Marvel Comics in the ’60s and ’70s cannot be overstated. The man was a workhorse and he was a large factor in establishing the Marvel look.

So, I think, when Romita Jr. started he was pretty much locked in those giant footsteps of his father’s, but he began to allow his style to come out. His doing so, in my opinion, propelled his work beyond that of his father’s.

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Junior has emerged from his father’s shadow and I’m grabbed.

 

What these four artists have in common is they all started in the industry working in the style set down by their predecessors. They were all capable storytellers, but they lacked that certain something. When each artist shook off the establishment style and embraced they own way of drawing, their work became more fresh and exciting. They became innovators and they expanded the world of comic book art.

Packing Peanuts!

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Images used under Fair Use.

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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!

Packing Peanuts!

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Comic Con is still about the comics?

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Last month saw the pop culture extravaganza that is the San Diego Comic-Con or, as it is more often referred to, simply Comic-Con. And, as has been the case for the last few years, there was the grumbling that Comic-Con was barely about comic books anymore. Some disgruntled voices decried the turning over of the convention to movies, television, and video games. Well, I’ve never been to Comic-Con, so I have no first hand knowledge of whether or not those complaints are warranted. I reached out to my friend and previous guest blogger at Warehouse Find, Michael Noble, who lives out at that end of the country and has attended his fair share of Comic-Cons to weigh in on this situation. Is it true that Comic-Con is giving comics the short end of the stick?

Here’s what Michael had to say:

Jim sez: “I’ve been hearing a lot about how Comic-Con almost completely lacks the presence of comic books … I thought you might have an opinion on that …”

You betcher Bippy I have an opinion on it.

I’ve heard this sentiment/concern/statement/chide countless times over the years. Over and over and over and over and over again.

Well … here’s the bottom line on it: It’s simply not true. Not in the least. I’ll elaborate in a moment.

First though, I’m going to pepper you with a little Comic-Con history to bring you up to speed.

Comic-Con International (better known as “San Diego Comic-Con” or “SDCC”) has been around since the 1970s when a merry little band of San Diego comic enthusiasts decided to put on a dry run mini convention (coined as the “Golden State Comic-Minicon”), a comic and multi-genre entertainment event, in the hope it would attract enough attention to launch a larger, longer event thereafter. And it worked. That one day get together in March of 1970 boasted 145 attendees and drummed up enough enthusiasm to fuel a 3-day, 300+ attended event in August of the same year. Each year thereafter, attendance swelled. It topped 1,000 just a few years later in 1973, ballooned past 10,000 in 1989, grew to 100,000+ in 2005 and currently fills the halls of the San Diego Convention Center and surrounding venues and hotels annually with more than 167,000 attendees.

The idea of Golden State Comic-Minicon featured comic books and science fiction/fantasy related film and television primarily. Since, the convention hosts a huge array of popular culture elements spanning a wide swath of genres which include horror, animation, anime, manga, toys, collectible card games, video games, webcomics, and fantasy novels.

But its tenet, its mission statement, has never wavered. In part its declaration states a dedication to “… creating awareness of, and appreciation for, comics and related popular art forms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contribution of comics to art and culture.” Note that “comics” is the first and foremost item featured in that credo and continues throughout. And guess what? Comic-Con has never let that aspect of its being falter.

Now … it’s elaboration time as promised.

To be certain, San Diego Comic-Con – monster of a multi-day event that it’s become – is filled to the brim with all things popular culture, not just comics. There’s no doubt about that.

I’ve attended SDCC since the 1980s. I know of what I speak. I’ve seen its change and progression first-hand, from participation in the mere thousands to the hordes who now populate its halls, panels, seminars, workshops and exhibitor floor space. The days of being able to walk up to a kiosk to purchase tickets for next year’s event and be on your way without jumping through hoops? Long gone. A distant and fond memory.

But if you’re of the mind that the comic aspect of it has been lost to (or overwhelmed by) all that surrounds Comic-Con’s Mission Statement, you’re either: 1) lazy, or 2) obtuse.

Comic books, comic art, comic artists and writers and their ilk, comic related materials, instructive panels and workshops, artwork reviews, ad nauseum are the backbone of Comic-Con. Part of the fun of attending the show is delving into it head first to find that sought-after issue of Fantastic Four to pad your collection. It’s the discovery of a once-out-of-reach original Superman cover surprisingly within your grasp after all those years of admiration. It’s that illusive artist (like Mike Ploog who I’ve written about previously) waiting around the corner to sign an autograph, snap a photo with or commission a sketch from.

All you have to do is delve in and not be seduced by the glitz and glamour of the ever-present Hollywood machine or the scantily clad cosplayers. Stay mindful of what The Con is about and you’ll see, plain as day, Comic-Con hasn’t lost its comic book roots in the least.

Michael Noble blogs regularly at Hotchka.com and can often be heard on the Assault of the Two-Headed Space Mules podcast.

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Another excellent cover…

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In this installment of my monthly look at comic book covers I really like, I’ll be looking at the cover of Fantastic Four #263 (Feb. 1984). The cover was illustrated by one of my favorite comic book artists: John Byrne. When he drew this cover, he had already been both drawing and writing a substantial run of the Fantastic Four series, starting with issue #232.

Bryne was given the task of revamping Marvel Comics‘ signature super-hero family: The Fantastic Four. Some of what he did was to bring the group more in line with their original look. He did away with the super-buff Mister Fantastic and made him thinner, less super-hero, more super scientist. He reworked the look of the Thing, he would even return our ever-lovin’ blue-eyed monster to the lumpy, Jack Kirby original version for a time. The groups’ uniforms no longer appeared painted on, there were folds and creases again as when Kirby designed them.

Byrne even explored the potential of the Invisible Girl. He had her go evil for a time, which seems to be his thing. He was involved with the Dark Phoenix of the X-Men series and her going evil. And he had the Scarlet Witch give into the temptation of evil during his writing and drawing stint on the Avengers. He must really like ELO’s Evil Woman.

Once he was done making the Invisible Girl far more powerful than she had been and put her through her evil phase, he rechristened her the Invisible Woman. Progress! Did I mention this was 1984?

This stint drawing the FF was not Bryne’s first go ’round. He had done the breakdown pencils and layouts for a while earlier. Joe Sinnott, the great inker from the Golden and Silver Ages of comics, but this was the Bronze Age and his inking seemed… meh, did the finished art for those issues. One could barely tell Byrne had anything to do with the art of those stories.

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Sinnott’s inks, not helping.

Be that as it may, when Byrne took over the FF writing and drawing, he churned out some intriguing and entertaining stories and some excellent art. I will say this wasn’t the height of his art, which he achieved on the X-Men with the help of inker Terry Austin, but still very good stuff.

This month’s cover (see above) is very dramatic. The Thing is desperately trying to find Johnny (the Human Torch) in some kind of inferno of debris. I’m not sureĀ  Johnny can be burned, he is the Human Torch, after all. Still, the Thing is determined to rescue his little “brother”.

The high contrast inking and color, using mostly orange and yellow with white highlighting, makes this cover feel very hot. And it makes Ben Grimm’s desperate search more desperate. I also like the dry brush inking (or maybe it’s charcoal) to create the texture of the burning debris and smoke.

It’s a terrific cover. Worthy of high praise. Which I just gave it.

Packing Peanuts!

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A great cover by Herb Trimpe

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Herb Trimpe provided the pencils and inks on this fantastic cover dated March, 1974. I may have never ranked Trimpe among my favorite comic book illustrators, but his run on The Incredible Hulk was outstanding. I think it is his best work. His very Jack Kirby influenced style fit so well with this series.

And I think he was really cookin’ on this cover.

To start with, the tension built by the sharp angle of the seriously challenged ship sets the tone for this cover. The angle gives this shot so much movement and action, it doesn’t feel static at all.

The sailors are in deep trouble and the big blue guy and the green behemoth couldn’t care less. They have a beef to settle. Their Roman knuckles battle may be burning our hero’s hand, but he will not let go. Cobalt Man is just going to have to kill the Hulk to loosen that epic grip.

A particularly dramatic touch is the sailor who has gone overboard and is being overwhelmed by the waves. He even has water getting into his gaping mouth. That was some pretty intense stuff for my ten year-old eyes.

This is the kind of tension and excitement that certain artists over there in the DC Comics world just couldn’t muster. cough cough Curt Swan cough cough!

OK, to be fair, DC had plenty of excellent artists working on their covers and stories. I will feature them in the future. It’s just that I’m a Marvel kind of guy and I think their comic books (covers and stories and characters) were just consistently more interesting and exciting to me.

Until Frank Miller.

Anyway, this cover caught my eye when I was a kid and still catches it today.

Packing Peanuts!

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Far be it for me to criticize, but…

This is a pretty good computer-assisted illustration of our favorite villain The Joker, but I must take issue. Back when I was in art school, oh, a couple hundred years ago, there were drawing instructors who would remind their students to keep a count on the number of fingers and toes we were drawing. It could happen that a student would be so intent on drawing a model that he or she might not notice they added a digit or two.

I would say that goes for teeth, as well. How many to you think there are in Joker’s mouth?

“My dentist bills would be through the roof, but when she tries to make me pay I threaten to kill her, her assistant, her family, her dog, her neighbors, and a few random, unrelated people. That usually settles it. Hahahahahaha!”

By my estimation, I get 46 teeth: 24 up top and 22 lower. Joker must be part shark.

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