Friday, 29 March 2013

Salmons 2

Posted in response to the Sidebar podcast's Shine On episode focussed on Tony Salmons, to be found here.  A great artist, I came across this interview from a magazine called Dragon's Teeth from '83 when I was completing my Toth stuff (the magazine features OohLala).
There's also an early Salmons 8 pager called First Impression which is very nice but I don't want to represent the thing whole cloth!  Seek it out!!!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Pause for thought...

Just a quick note to say I'm still here.  Have had a very busy few months moving country but will be back with "H". It'll be a bit of a cop out similar to the Cowboy Wally one as I struggle to think of an "H" creator who's significantly affected me.  What would anyone else put?

In the meanwhile, how beautiful are these Toth panels?

Sunday, 15 April 2012

G is for...Golden, Michael Golden

Golden's iconic cover to 'Nam #1 from 'Nam magazine
Once I started back issue hunting after my first superhero comic, X-Men #1, I was working my way back through Uncanny X-Men (watching Jim Lee get better as I went backwards).   Uncanny X-Men #273 is notable as an art jam issue with all top talent of the time.  I was new to comics and wasn't aware of, let alone able to to identify, most of the contributors.  Under a Jim Lee inked by Kevin Nowlan cover there was among others  Whilce Portacio, John Byrne, Rick Leonardi and also Michael Golden.
One of Golden's few pages from Uncanny X-Men #273
The Golden bit just looked wrong to me.  Looking back, like a lot of things which turned me off (exhibit a. Mike Mignola's X-Force #8), I love it.  As the time it was so out of place; angular and over sylised for my 15 year old self.  Nothing in common with the rest of the contributors.
The first time I saw Golden and realised what I was looking at was on the covers to some G.I.Joe which I was still collecting.  The dynamic composition, the vibrant colours and the sense of danger and action outshone what was going on inside the book.  Looking at that Uncanny X-Men issue I can convince myself that the context of the jam issue threw me off.
Great splash from Dr Strange #55
Once I found Avengers Annual #10 and Dr Strange #55, I was totally hooked.  Digging through back issue bins, opening comics to find the spectacular Golden cover was only that, and not worth picking up the book for wore me down.

I couldn't have been happier to find out that 8 pages of Action force weekly which I'd read years before was in fact from a G.I. Joe Yearbook that Golden had drawn all of was a treat.
In short, though I've been disappointed many many times to find that he only drew the covers, there are a small handful of books that together make up a chunk of my comic collection.
One the things I learnt from looking for his work was how important an inker can be for some pencillers.
Golden's work on the Batman Family, Detective comics, Mister Miracle and Batman show a breakout talent. Inking himself, Dick Giordano inking him, P Craig Russell inking him and Russ Heath, all showed him as a breakout talent.  His Manbat looks great and has weight, his layouts look like nothing else being published by DC in the period with Neal Adams long shadow still cast over everything they published.
Micronauts came next with Joe Rubenstein on inks and for many is entry level Golden, the first exposure to his art.  Aside from the covers, the work struggles a bit with Marvel house style for me was a step back compared to the work he'd done for DC prior.
The quality of the cover work did set him up for the rest of his career it would seem, enabling him to pick and choose interior work without needing to worry about the bills.
We get the great Marvel Fanfare #s1 & 2, the previously mentioned Doc Strange #55 and Avengers Annual #10, Star Wars #38, Batman Special #1 (with a "anti-Batman" dopey story), He created Bucky O'Hare with Larry Hama and then 8 years or so later came back for a never completed Jackie Chan comic; the varying 'Nam series, the G.I. Joe Yearbook and the fantastic Marvel Fanfare #48.

Marvel Fanfare #47, according to the editorial, was sollicited from Golden based on the success of #s 1 & 2 years earlier.  The book took forever but the result is fantastic.  With a wraparound cover, Golden pencils, inks and colours the whole story, a Spider-Man Vs. Hulk story with a backdrop of the S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier.

The story's good fun, not dissimilar to what Dan Slott's doing now.  All the tech has the level of detail lavished by Wally Wood, with Golden then going in with the colours and  obscuring the majority of it.
Photoshop used to drop the colour out for a B&W to colour comparison
This has become one of his signature stylistic touches.  He'll put in enough accurate detail to make Geof Darrow feel like a piker and then put a flat dark green or red on top so you can barely make it out in print.
You could make it out if you could see the originals but the story goes that after getting pissed off with people flipping his art for silly money, combined with a belief that the drawing is just part of the process and holds no intrinsic value, he's said to destroy his originals.  I hope it's not true but there certainly seem to be very few pieces around.
Golden's influence can be seen all over modern comics, directly or otherwise;  Art Adams, John Byrne, Jim Lee, Jason Pearson, Todd McFarlane, Chris Bachalo among many.  It would not be a stretch to call him one of the most influential/trend setting comics artists of all time, in a group that would also include Eisner, Kirby, Neal Adams.

The slightly tragic side of his carrer is how little work of more than superficial value there is.  There's a Superman annual Chris Claremont wrote which I guess could have been his masterpiece, getting so close to being published as to being talked about in 'this month's highlights' in DC titles of the time but never seeing print.
Golden himself jokes about being antisocial and cumudgeonly and has been the subject of online controversy for his handling of comissions.
He seems to me to have a strong work ethic and little time for the comics world and fandom. For me, if nothing else it would be nice to see a well designed, well thought out retrospective of his career and time will tell if we get such a thing though with his work being spread out over so many licensed properties and corporate titles it seems unlikely.

Recommended Reading:
Batman Familys
Micronauts #1-12
Star Wars #38
Avengers Annual #10
Batman Special #1
Dr Strange #55
GI Joe YearBook #1
Marvel Fanfare #1&2
Marvel Fanfare #47
Nam #1-12
Spartan X #1-4
Birds Of Prey #66

Golden gets his Kirby on
The computer enable Golden to take his use of colour to extremes

Sunday, 8 January 2012

F is for...Fegredo, Duncan Fegredo

A commision of Enigma & friends
When I started collecting comics it was with my mate Mustafa who lent me the X-Men #1 that got me started on superheroes after having bought the Beano and toy related comics previously.  My other friend who was into comics was Arunan who had other older friends who read comics and so was into stuff that wasn't normally on our radar such as Ostrander and Mandrake's Spectre, Warren Ellis comics and Preacher.  One of the comics he put in my hands that opened my eyes and nudged me away from the mainstream was Milligan and Fegredo's Face.
Opening page of Face
Face was the story of a a fairly typically flawed Vertigo/Milligan character, a self centred, neurotic plastic surgeon who, for example collects telephone numbers from strange women to get himself off on later, although in a long term relationship.  He gets hired to operate on a Picasso type who wants to look like one of his paintings.
The thing that most struck me about the book, aside from being a great creepy, human horror story, was that the art and story seemed to come from the same place.  The underlying humor that Milligan infused the script with is also felt in Fegredo's art.  The same is true with what was, pre Hellboy, Fegredo's largest body of work Enigma.  I struggle to think of anyone else who could have bought the screwed up tapestry of english silver age villains, their gay creator, lizards and white trash to life the way Fegredo did.
The art on both Face and Enigma has an art school sensibilty with overtones of Sienkewicz, Kent Williams, Bill Koeb to it.  What's there from the beginning is a constantly moving camera in even the most static scene so there's an energy to the work that's incredibly compelling.
For me, the most notable thing about Fegredo's next series, Millenium Fever with Nick Abadzis, was the absence of the frenetic inking style of Face and Enigma.  There's a lot more control in the inking; it all gets a lot more economical and the art benefits from it greatly.  This would mark the direction for the rest of Fegredo's comic work.
It's very pretty art but the colours are a little lively and the story's mental!
Vertigo Verité was a series of "realistic", non fantasy books about normal things like aids, class conflict and global conspiracy.  Milligan and Fegredo gave us Girl, a three issue mini series about an English teenager stuck in a desperately mundane life with crappy parents and friends. It's a great, funny, sad story which Fegredo gets to animate a very pedestrian setting to life.
DC's fifth week event New Year's Evil, with great covers by Jason Pearson, included a Grant Morrison Prometheus story, introducing the character prior to his JLA appearance but more importantly for me, Scarecrow: Mistress of Fear by Milligan and Fegredo.  This is the story that gave me an unhealthy appreciation for the Scarecrow and the psychosis that drives him.  The colours are by Teddy Kristiensen's collaborator and painter on Superman: For All Seasons, Bjarne Hansen.  With a limited palette of what feels like predominantly greens, the Gotham City of Fegredo is creepy and perfect for the Scarecrow to muck about in.  As he attacks the Gotham suburbs, terrifying people into attacking each other with irons and Hoovers over their fences, the Scarecrow comes across a girl with seemingly no phobias, who of course, must be his so he sends his goons, the Blues Brothers, to get her.
After "directing" the bridging story between Chasing Amy and Dogma with Kevin Smith in glorious zip-a-toned black and white Fegredo jumped around quite a bit.  X-Force (with Milligan), Tom Strong with Ed Brubaker, Ultimate Adventures (a funny Batman cypher with Ron Zimmerman), Reed Richards with Peter David  (an Indiana Jones style pre FF story), a Marvel Monsters one shot with Steve Niles and various Vertigo fill ins and short stories.
While all the above were great (with the possible exception of the Reed Richards book), Fegredo found a home for his sensibilities with Hellboy.
One of Bermejo's completed Hellboy pages
The first choice to replace Mignola on the art for a while was Lee Bermejo (Batman/Deathblow, Joker, Lex Luthor, Batman Noël) who I like quite a bit.  I honestly can't imagine the last three books of Hellboy with such an agressive, dark style.  While Mignola's universe is a dark place it's also fun.
Glen Murakami of the WB Superman and Batman cartoons suggested Fegredo for the job, which I have to say, I would have too!
Dark Hellboy
Fegredo got to do the Empire Strikes Back arc of what is set to be one massive trilogy with Mignola returning to illustrate what I hope isn't the Return of the Jedi arc (yub,yub).
Hellboy has forced a kind of restraint on Fegredo's style that makes it simmer in all the quiet moments. While almost everything in Fegredo's published career leading up to it has been overtly humorous and kinetic, his Hellboy run was full of quiet moments that made the punching and the leaping and the running all the more frantic.  Dave Stewart used the same palette for colouring Fegredo's Hellboy as he had on Mignola but in a more lush, painted style so while it was consistent with what had gone before it was also fresh.
In all my years collecting comics everyone recognised how much talent Fegredo has but it's taken Hellboy to really put him on the map of the general comics readership.  We understand there's more Hellboy to come from him and I can't wait.

Fegredo to seek out, in a vague, top of my head chronological order:
Kid Eternity (Vertigo)
Face (Vertigo)
Enigma (Vertigo)
Absolute Vertigo (Vertigo)
New Years Evil: Scarecrow (DC)
Weird War Tales 3 (Vertigo)
House Of Secrets 6 (Vertigo)
Batman Chronicles #9 (DC)
The Dreaming 26 (Vertigo)
Winter's Edge #1 (Vertigo)
Chasing Dogma (Oni Press)
Flinch #6 (Vertigo)
Spiderman Tangled Web 5-6 (Marvel)
Ultimate Adventures 1-6 (Marvel)
Tom Strong 29 - 30 (DC/ABC Comics)
Monsters on the Prowl (Marvel)
Hellboy: The Wild Hunt (Dark Horse)
Hellboy: Darkness Calls (Dark Horse)
Hellboy: The Storm & The Fury (Dark Horse)
Also check out the twenty something brilliantly inventive covers on Shade the Changing Man from 42 onwards.

P.S.Vertigo have 48 pages of Face, 3 issues of Girl, a Weird War Tales 8 pager (War & Peas), a Weird Western Tales 8 pager sitting there desperate for a nice collection.  Come on!  Get on with it!
Unfettered Shade cover

Wedding present from a friend

Return to Enigma

Love to Halo Jones

Love to Shigs Miyamoto


Sunday, 11 December 2011

E is For...Eisner

Eisner by Eisner
While I'm by no means an Eisner completist, I have a particular affection for one particular period of his work and recognise his influence in other creators I love.
Back when my first comic shop in London was floundering and I'd read everything on the shleves that I wanted to, the local Islington library which was ably supplied (by us) through a lovely lady called Sue with all kinds of good stuff (or certainly had been).
It's where I read Sandman (out of order) but more importantly Cowboy Wally, Will Eisner's Space Spirit and Will Eisner's Contract with God.  Space Spirit was an exposure to Wally Wood's brilliance rather than Will Eisner.
Contract With God was the first time I encountered such pathos and deep human story telling in comics.  In the years since it might feel a little melodramatic compared with the work of Chris Ware, Clowes, Seth and Pekar but as a dyed in the wool super hero kid, branching out it had a massive impact.
The page layouts, fantastic lettering, and time period (30s New York) are so personal to Eisner in comics along with the hand wringing, lip bitting and wailing which you might only see in Jeff Smith's Bone.
The Super, not concious of impending doom...
The story of the Super lulled into looking at a little girls knickers by the awful little girl who then goes on to kill his dog and ends up driving him to suicide was pretty fucked up.  You have to wonder how much is based on and inspired by his own growing up in the period.
What's generally grouped together as being his Dropsie Avenue work is such a pleasure to read, full of hyper real characters an lush, innovative storytelling.
Eisner's Comics and Sequential Art book was very instructional as a reader to help understand what I was looking at and for, why some comics succeeded in grabbing me and others not.  I honestly feel that along with Understanding Comics (and to a lesser extent, How to Draw Comics The Marvel way) should be required reading for anyone with more than a passing interest in comics.  They certainly aren't the only books on the subject but for me they laid a solid foundation for my passion for great comics.
Lovely little hard cover with nice essays and an ecclectic collection of Eisner work.
I recently picked up the PS magazine articles collection which has his work showing soldiers how to maintain their jeeps and guns which is also very nice stuff but goes further to demonstrate his skill as a teacher.
I've never managed to get into his Spirit work but now that DC has finished publishing it all in 24 x $50 books, perhaps I'll start at the last one and go back as far as it's interesting to me.  I could do with a nice collection of just the splashes to be honest but I understand the last volume contains a lot of work done for Kitchen Sink Press' Spirit Magazine so it sounds up my street.
Eisner continued producing comics until he died and there was still a lot of good work there but, for example, Family Matter in particular, I was enjoying until a number of pages in someone whips out a mobile phone and for the first time I realised it wasn't a period piece.
I have my Eisner and I'm certain it's not everyone's.  I haven't even touched on the massive impact he had on comics at several stage of his life, including the above mentioned Contract With God being a contender for the first original graphic novel and the massive impact of his storytelling in the Spirit on all kinds of storytelling, not just comics or the Eisner/Iger studio which was so important at the birth of comics as we know them.  All that's out there.  Look it up.
Eisner was great, with a massive library of work but for me it doesn't get any better than Dropsie Avenue.

All images grabbed from a facile google search.
One of the several Dropsie Avenue books.

Exemplary Eisner setting just the right tone...

A typical Eisner relationship from Life on Another Planet

One of the most famous Eisner Spirit splashes
The other most famous Spirit splash