Sunday, 7 October 2007

Love letters straight...from your arrrrrrt 1

Kevin Nowlan is generally referred to as an 'artist's artist'. It's a dubious compliment suggesting that one's popularity doesn't match one's ability. A bit like 'You're really good! Shame no-one cares apart from me and my half dozen enthusiastic friends'. This doesn't detract from the fact that his sense of design is boggling and his use of black is unmatched apart from maybe Mike Mignola. His lettering is elegant and inimitable (once you've seen one of his logos you can spot 'em a mile off, Hellboy being one and the early nineties Dr Strange another). His colours, only ever over his own work, complete the package and his work gets better and better relative to the ammount of the above talents he gets to apply.
In a roundabout way, this brings me the topic of this love letter, Secret Origins #39, generally in demand for the Grant Morrison Animal Man short at the back.
The secret origin we get from Nowlan and Jan Strnad is that of Manbat. The story is a great little story that shows the previously unknown role that Kirk Langstrom (Manbat) played in the creation of Batman and vice versa. For Manbat's part he 'blinded' a bat's radar so it flew through the window at Wayne Manor the night Bruce Wayne was sat wondering kind of image would help him against criminals, by all accounts a cowardly, superstitious lot. Batman later wanders in on Manbat and causes the loss of the only chance of an antidote to him being a giant bat. Great stuff!
None of which addresses how flicking gorgeous the story is. Illustrated with a fair bit of Alex Toth like economy and shadows you can stick your arm through, great use of zipatone and colours that make the absolute best of the technology available at the time, the story showed Nowlan to be a definitive Batman artist.
His influence is very much felt in the Batman Adventures cartoon, particulary the earlier episodes and Nowlan was responsible for the design of Manbat for the series as well as submitting designs for Killer Croc and the Joker.
This comic is one of those which is almost painful for me to look at with the, what, fourteen pages of near perfection it is. In the eighteen years since, all we've had from Nowlan that came close is the '5 x five pages is never enough' that is Jack B. Quick and 8 gorgeous pages of Batman Black & White. There were a couple of nice bits in Details Magazine and X-Men, Gen 13 and Goon shorts and tonnes of covers.
The style he uses for covers nownowadays is quite illustrative with big figures lots of his famous cross-hatching and quite often a combination of elements slapped in the middle of an empty space. However, as this relatively recent example shows, Gotham City still seems to bring out the best in him.
Generally he gets brought out to be slap his style over, mentioning no names, not-so-remarkable pencillers (which does not including great inking over Mignola, Gil Kane (Kane's favourite inker), Jon Bogdanove, José Garcia-Lopez and Joe Quesada). In a way I should be grateful for the scraps I get but I can't help but wish for the ideal world in which he would have drawn the Mignola Hellboy/Mermaid story that was planned, or wrapped up the Man-Thing graphic novel that he came so close to finishing.
Or drawing the 144 page Adam Strange mini he was to draw (drawn by Andy Kubert in the end).
How about an issue of Batman or Solo or Plastic Man or...?
The next time we'll see Nowlan's heavy handed team-work with a fantastic penciller is over Rick Leonardi on Witchblade #112. My curiosity is well and truly piqued!
Secret Origins #39 is rarely available at one of the few of the remaining comic shops, generally really cheap 'cos no-one knows any better or at mycomicshop for $4,80 and worth every cent.


Anthony Hope-Smith said...

Nowlan over Leonardi?!!!!!
Didn't know about this!!!!
My head is vibrating at the thought!
When is it out?
Going to buy it, take it home, read it, then top myself.

Nowlan over Leonardi!!!!!

Beezer B said...

Yes indeed. One of the greatest looking short stories evarrrr.

Maaan I'm going to have to go to N in my "by artist" boxes now to see what the hell else I have on that level. Wasn't that New Mutants issue of a similar standard? The Jack B. Quick is my favourite stuff of his I think but this is probably the best looking.

I don't understand the getting excited about Rick Leonardi thing. He always seemed... a good fill-in artist, rather than somebody to go in your "by artist" boxes :-0
Do I need my coat?

David N said...

Great designer, great line, effortlessly stylish storyteller...but I always had a problem with his faces. Something about them. Can't even really articulate it properly. His Batman, which is otherwise great, is almost ruined for me by the chin and mouth. Like how certain artists always made Judge Dredd look lame coz they gave him a slightly weaker jaw.

Maybe thats just me.

I didn't know he was responsible for those character designs but that makes sense. Quality work.

Will Shyne said...

Nowlan over Leonardi...on Witchblade... : O
I'm trying to avoid putting my foot in it online and badmouthing things that come back to bite me in the bum later so no further comment.
That Nowlan New Mutants is so loudly coloured I can barely bare to look at it: (
I nealy bought the double spread from it for $600 though.Mmmm... Leonardi's a wicked draftsman and cartoonist. I think he's one who probably had to draw something you were reading anyway at a certain time of your life for it to click in the way it does for many.
Nowlan's chins...? I can see what you mean, like some people complain about Travis Charest's feet (not me, mind). I used to know a madman who HATED Gil Kane, almost personally because of the way he drew noses...

Beezer B said...

I know what David means about the chins and mouths of Nowlan drawings. The mouths look like they're all saying "oooooh", even when they aren't saying anything, BUT I like them. Some artists you like their odd characteristics, some you don't Nowlan I do. Charest's feet I like too but, say, Neal Adams' fat necks I don't like.

Barry of the North said...

Kevin Nowlan,

From Dr Strange through Outsiders Annual (best illustration of explosion, ever)Dalgoda, and money spent on Comics for the cover alone, well worth every penny.

Just like Frazetta & Kirby, some of it doesn't look quite right but still beautiful regardless.

Leonardi & Nowlan, can't wait.

Anthony Hope-Smith said...

The colouring on that New Mutants was a real shame. Nowlan's simplified art style therein was fantastic! Don't know if he did that to save time or what, but WOW!

Nathaniel said...

The current Witchblade (#110) is Nowlan inking over someone I forget. Doesn't look great. Love Knowlan though. In my top five ever I reckon