Tag Archives: comic books

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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Herb Trimpe, The Hulk, And Another Great Cover

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September 1973

It really was an excellent pairing of artist and character, when Herb Trimpe drew the Hulk. During his run as artist on Marvel Comics’ The Incredible Hulk, Trimpe was at the peak of his powers. It’s difficult to define that certain magic that comes from the perfect pairing of artist and character, but when it happens it’s awesome.

Jack Kirby and the Fantastic Four; John Buscema and the Silver Surfer; Neal Adams and Batman; John Byrne and the X-Men; are just a few of explosive combinations. (Yes, yes. Each artist produced brilliant art on other titles, but those are the best examples that come to my mind.) And, we can add Herb and Hulk to the list of great combos, because they certainly rocked together.

So, I return to the Trimpe/Hulk pairing once again (I first featured a great cover with that pairing in June, 2016). This month’s great cover, drawn and inked by Trimpe, is from issue number 167 (September, 1973) and it’s a doozy!

There’s the “Dutch Angle” applied to add drama and tension. There is speed involved in the crushing stomp the big baddie is trying to drop on our hero. I mean, look! Those are sparks jumping from Hulk’s right hand, aren’t they?

I’m not sure how impressive of a villain Modok normally is, being mainly a giant head, but, with the addition of that over-sized robot body, he looks pretty damn formidable. Obviously, the Hulk is struggling mightily with a bad guy who declares he isn’t afraid of our great, big, green hero. (But, I’m guessing the Hulk triumphs in the end.)

This is such a great, eye-catching cover. It gives Gil Kane a run for his money and his covers were consistently fabulous. There was just something about Herb Trimpe and the Hulk.

Incredible!

Packing Peanuts!

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It’s The Man’s 95th Birthday!

Stan-Lee.jpgThere is a podcast that my friend Douglas hosts, it’s called the Assault of the Two-Headed Space Mules. It’s a pop culture podcast examining music, television, movies, and all sorts of things from a Baby Boomer and a whatever that generation after the Baby Boomers is called perspective. From time to time, Douglas will gather a few contributing opinion-holders to have round table discussions on a given topic. He calls this group the “Gang Of Occasional Guest Hosts” or the GOOCH Squad. I count myself honored to be a member.

Earlier today, the GOOCH Squad, which for the purposes of this blog will include Douglas even though he’s the host and not a guest host, was chatting through Facebook, when I discovered today is the 95th birthday of a giant.

The Man.

Stan Lee.

I asked the fellows if they had any thoughts about the man who had such an influence on all of us. Each member of the squad is a life-long fan of comic books. And all of us were Marvel kids. I asked for their help in capturing just how important Stan Lee was to each of us and to several generations of comic book creators and fans.

Superhero comic books weren’t much of a thing in 1961. DC Comics pretty well had the market cornered. Their characters (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and others) were selling well, but other comic book publishers just weren’t making much headway. Until, as he tells it, Stan Lee, a frustrated writer working for Atlas (formerly Timely) Comics, decided to quit. But, as a last hurrah and at the suggestion of his wife, he decided to take a chance and write something he wanted to write. Not some romance, jungle, western, crime, monster, etc. story, but a superhero story.

Atlas hadn’t done superheroes since the cancellations of Captain America, Sub-Mariner, Marvel Boy, and Human Torch in the early 1950s, closely coinciding Timely’s transformation to Atlas.

Stan’s last hurrah produced The Fantastic Four, created with more than a little assistance from artist Jack Kirby. With that publication came the birth of Marvel Comics. And the world was changed forever.

Now, that’s Stan’s version. But we’ve heard that Atlas publisher Martin Goodman had assigned Lee and Kirby to create a superhero group to compete with DC’s Justice League of America, which debuted a year before the FF. Curious how that detail doesn’t make it into Stan’s version of history.

We should also note that The Man is a man and that there are some less seemly aspects to the history of Marvel Comics. Lee gets the lion’s share of the credit for the creation of the FF, the Hulk, Iron Man, and, or course, Spider-Man. But the talents of Don Heck, Steve Ditko, and the aforementioned Kirby in the visual creation of those and so many other characters cannot be understated. Especially, Kirby and Ditko. At times, it feels as though Stan wants the world to just remember him as the creator.

Maybe that’s not very fair. Stan would say that much of the mistreatment of artists, rampant in the industry, was out of his control. But, as Douglas points out, he needed the talents of Kirby, Ditko, Heck, Gil Kane, Wally Wood, Bill Everett, John Buscema, and many others to reach the creative heights together that couldn’t be achieved each on their own. Lee needed their drawing skills and they needed his words. (Although, as some comic historians have pointed out, it seems that Jack Kirby had a much, much greater hand in the development of storylines than Stan would like to admit.)

And to give Stan a little more credit, it was Marvel Comics that made certain readers saw the names of the writers, artists, inkers, colorists, and letterers in each issue. The other publishers would follow his lead and the creators would at least get some credit.

I think Stan Lee’s genius breaks in three directions: Creation, relate-ability, and promotion.

Of course there was his prolific ability to come up with so many fascinating and exciting characters, both heroes and villains. Seriously! Is there a better comic book bad guy than Doctor Doom? And he created a fantastic universe for his characters to inhabit. Yes, he used real locations, such as New York City, but he also gave us his version of Asgard and Hades. And completely new worlds such as the Negative Zone and the Dark Dimension, where lived the dread Dormammu. (Or, maybe not. It’s also been suggested that that universe creation was more the work of Kirby and Ditko.)

Stan also knew how to turn a phrase. “It’s clobberin’ time!” “Avengers Assemble!” “The Hoary Host of Hoggoth!” Whatever that was. And there was his sign off for his Stan’s Soapbox columns: “Excelsior!” (Which had a direct influence on how I sign off my blog. Look up the meaning of excelsior and Packing Peanuts will make sense.) It was also Stan’s practice to use words that might have been just a bit over the heads of us kids, so out would come the dictionaries. In fact, Douglas credits Stan’s use of such words as “ersatz” and “quixotic” with helping him pass his SATs.

The second branch of his genius was his desire to make his characters relate-able. DC’s readers might have enjoyed Superman and Batman, but they just weren’t quite like us when not out supering. Stan’s characters were human, even when being super. The FF was essentially a family with a special dynamic due to that relationship. Spider-Man had troubles at home, girlfriend problems, and homework. As GOOCH Squad member Michael so eloquently put it, “[Stan Lee’s]¬†signature brand of realism and foibles infused into the lives of The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and others set precedents and added a heretofore untapped dimension of reader identification that raised the industry bar.” Indeed!

The third bit of his genius is something obvious, but still overlooked or underestimated by most folks. Stan Lee was the greatest promoter and cheerleader the comic books industry ever had. Fellow GOOCHer, Brian, called Stan the “comic book ambassador for the masses.”

This cheer-leading is something all of us noted, but I will take it just a little bit further. Think of DC, Dell, Harvey, Charlton. What creative genius comes to mind? Comic book folks might come up with the name of an artist or writer, but not that one name. Think Marvel. You think of Stan Lee.

I will go still further. It may be different today, but not long ago if you were to ask someone who wasn’t a fan of baseball to name a player the answer you were likely to get is Babe Ruth. He was such a giant of the game that his name became synonymous with it. Inseparable. Babe Ruth is baseball.

In the world of comic books, Stan Lee occupies that same exalted ground. Ask a non-fan to name a comic book creator. The answer is Stan Lee.

Happy 95th to the Man.

Packing Peanuts!

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And a special thanks to the GOOCH Squad for their assistance.

Update 1-19-18: I recently watched the excellent documentary series Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics, the first episode of which examines the beginning of Marvel Comics. After watching that episode, I feel I may have been a little unfair toward Stan by suggesting he wanted all the credit. He lauds praise on Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and he’s more nuanced about the creation of the Marvel Universe. He also acknowledges his editor assigning him to create a super-hero group to compete with the Justice League of America.

It’s a very good series. I highly recommend it.

 

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Here’s Another Great Cover

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This is a great cover!

Yes, I know. I’ll get to the elephant (or should that be elephants?) in the room soon enough. First, I want to heap praise on Adam Hughes, creator of this month’s featured cover. His work is amazing. He and, fellow comic book artist, Alex Ross have brought an incredible sense of realism to comic book art (elephants notwithstanding). The work Hughes and Ross do is top level illustration that can set along side such great illustrators as Norman Rockwell and NC Wyeth.

The design and composition of this cover (Catwoman #45, September 2005) are perfect. Hughes’ color choices make clear it is night, but not just night. A moonlit night. This is shown brilliantly through the use of the sheer window treatments reflecting the blue/silver glow cast by the moon. Batman being in almost total silhouette displays one of his greatest weapons: the dark of night. Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot, so using darkness enhances their fear, making them more vulnerable. Hughes’ use of color and shadow add so much to the drama of the scene.

But what has Catwoman in such a state of shock?

Her pose suggests that she was doing her typical flirting with Batman, but something has interrupted her. Her right hand on his face indicates the flirtation, but the look on her face and her dropping her mask shows the mood has been unexpectedly broken. Is it, in fact, not Batman?

Perhaps her shock doesn’t involve the Caped Crusader. Look at her eyes (they’re up here, fellas). She’s not looking back at our hero. She’s looking off to her right. What is she seeing?

It’s breathtakingly brilliant.

Now for the, shall we say, ample breasts that are impossible to not notice. Yeah, let’s say that.

I know there are people who object to the objectifying of women. And they’re right, it can be dehumanizing. I don’t mind seeing sexy looking people whether real or just drawn that way. Sometimes, it gets more than a bit much, though. Tone it down a little, eh?

This cover approaches the line, but I don’t think it crosses it.

However, as I stated at the beginning, Hughes’ sense of realism in his illustrations is one of his greatest attributes. The way he depicts clothing fitting these super-beings looks right. I forget which comic book artist said it, but he said when drawing superheroes the artist draws them essentially naked (the superheroes, not the artist). Well, Hughes and Alex Ross don’t take that approach, not fully anyway. The costumes have creases and folds and really look as though they are inhabited by a body. A hot, sexy body.

In the interest of realism, though, how realistic is it for a cat burglar to be as stealthy, elusive, quick, and flexible as Catwoman while carrying around two elephants¬† on her chest? (Why do I keep calling them elephants?) I would think they’d just get in the way. Well, she is a super, so it appears she can handle them.

Yes, I said handle them. I didn’t mean it that way. Settle down.

Packing Peanuts!

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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.

Packing Peanuts!

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Moms – Increasing The Rarity Of Valuable Items Since…

The other day, while waiting in the check-out line at Walgreen’s, I became part of a conversation about the ways people would light their Christmas trees back when we were kids. Back in the Stone Age. Actually, one way in particular. The cashier was describing the lighted, rotating color wheel that would project colors on the tree or house or whatever you would aim it at. They still exist, but the customer ahead of me had never heard of them.

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I chimed in to say that I was pretty sure I had one at home. One from the Stone Age that used to belong to my wife’s parents and was in the basement somewhere. I should maybe see it I can dig it out and set it up for some bonus lighting on Christmas Eve.

The conversation continued as it became my turn to make my purchases. The cashier marveled at all the things we got rid of over the years. “If only we’d kept them. We’d be millionaires,” she lamented wistfully.

Um, well, unless we got rid of those Matisse originals stuffed in the back of the closet for so long, being potential millionaires would be a stretch. Perhaps she meant we’d feel like a million bucks to be able to still connect with an object from our past. Yeah, I don’t think she meant that either.

On the drive home, I got to thinking about how we lose our treasured items from our youth. Most of us simply outgrow the toys we prized so highly. We decided money would be more valuable at the moment and sold those items at garage sales. Maybe we were less monetarily motivated and gave our treasures to Goodwill. Maybe Mom got sick and damn tired of our room being such a mess…

Oh, yeah. The Great Toy Purge of 1976. (Or thereabout.)

I shared a room with my younger brother in those days. My brother was more of the unkempt sort than I was when it came to the cleanliness of our room. However, I wasn’t exactly Felix Unger. And one day, Mom had had enough. We hadn’t heeded her warnings to get that room clean or else!

“Or else what?” we shrugged to each other. “What’s she gonna do? Throw everything away? Riiiight.”

Well, that’s exactly what she did. She finally snapped and began scooping up our toys that had been so carelessly strewn about our room. Then out into the trash it all went. All of it. She really did it. Trip after trip, our collection of toys disappeared.

Then, she turned and eyed my box of comic books.

“NO!” I cried, “Not my comic books! Mom! Pleeeeaaase!

And, much like a soldier leaping onto a live grenade to save his comrades, I threw myself in harm’s way to save my precious comic books. My look of terror quickly turned into a sneer of defiance, “Do what you will with my toys, woman! But you shall not lay a finger on my comic books! Not one step closer if you value your life!”

Mom hesitated. The tension of this standoff could be cut with a knife.

She gave it some thought and finally capitulated, “No, your comic books shall not be touched. They are put away where they belong, which is what I wanted to be done with your toys. And I would suggest you bag and back them with Mylar bags and acid free backing boards, if you want to keep them in good condition.”

I’m not sure she actually said that last part.

Anyway, as the day waned with her boys still whimpering over the purge of their toys, Mom’s heart softened. “All right,” she said, “I may have overreacted a little, but I hope you boys have learned I’m serious when I say you need to put your toys away. You may go out to the trash and retrieve one toy.”

I don’t recall which item my brother rescued, but I grabbed out my Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces.

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Oh, he was a cool toy. He came with a wig, mustaches, warts, scars, two extra noses, sideburns, fangs, eyeglasses, etc. You could make him look so many different ways. Like a thousand different ways!

I cut a window in his box and covered it with plastic wrap, so that when he was boxed up he could still see out. I used put Hugo in his box, looking out the window I made for him, and I’d zoom him around as though his box was a rocket ship. Boy, did I like that toy.

Do I still have Hugo?

Nah. I gave him away.

Packing Peanuts!

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This month’s great cover…

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It’s time once again to write about another excellent comic book cover. This month we are looking at the cover of Sub-Mariner #6 (October 1968). It was drawn by the great John Buscema. I have written about Buscema and his work on The Avengers back in June, but I thought it was time to look at one of his covers. I think he, along with Gil Kane, Neal Adams, and Jim Steranko, was one of the Silver Age’s greatest comic book illustrators.

Beginning in 1968, Buscema was handling the covers as well as the interior art for the first few issues of one Marvel’s more complex characters: Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Namor had a love/hate kind of relationship with surface-dwellers. In his early appearances in the Fantastic Four stories, he could just as easily be the villain as the hero. He was complicated.

Of Buscema’s short run on this series there are other covers I could have gone with (and might in future), but I chose issue #6, because it is so dynamic. We find our hero in pitched battle with the villain Tiger Shark. We’re in close and we can see these combatants are evenly matched. The strain of their muscles is as obvious as the looks of determination on their faces. Each man feels he must triumph in a battle that looks to be to the death.

The cover doesn’t need the headline of Death to the Vanquished! The illustration alone tells us that. The use of color sweetens this fantastically dramatic image. As does the close-up view. It being a close-up is what had me pick this cover over the other Buscema Sub-Mariner cover creations.

Bravo! Mr. Buscema! Bravo!

Packing Peanuts!

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