Sunday, 28 September 2008

Walt Simonson

I'm having a bit of a Walt Simonson moment after reading the great Modern Masters book about him and went and picked up bits I didn't have; all his Star Wars issues with Tom Palmer inks, Orion for DC, his Star Slammers series for Malibu (finished at Dark Horse) and an old DC trade called The Art of Walt Simonson. It's a funny mix of stuff and really interesting to watch his growth. It's important to note, he's always been great.
I believe that beyond the the visual power and the solid storytelling that there's a certain conviction behind everything he does that makes it real. You never feel like he's phoning it in or taking the piss. He managed to write and draw three issues of Thor with Thor turned into a frog and keep it real. The Frank Miller written Robocop Versus Terminator had no reason to be as entertaining as it was but they pulled it off and while a lot of it is due to Miller's straight faced telling of the absurd (ref Miller's out put of this century) Simonson's ability in telling a story carries it all through and makes it a good comic as opposed to a marketing man's wet dream.
I kick myself upon hindsight for not picking up Orion when it was coming out. I remember thinking, working in a comic shop, that I could read it anyway and was jaded enough to believe that it couldn't last and we'd get so-so fill-ins and what not. He put out 25 issues of inventive storytelling with every issue demonstrating some new trick or page design or lettering element to keep you hooked. To the point of it being very difficult to highlight one page as exceptional as they were pretty much all exceptional.
His next big project (skipping past Just Imagine Stan Lee creating Sandman...brrrr) was Elric The Making of a Sorcerer with Elric creator Michael Moorcock. Though I've never read the Moorcock novels, I enjoyed the Roy Thomas, P Craig Russell, Michael T Gibert and George Freeman adaptations of the past. The concepts are nuts but well constructed and Simonson was once again an ideal choice to bring it to life. Simonson had long been a fan of Moorcock's writing (evidenced in his nutty Fantastic Four run of the late 80's) and had collaborated with him previously on the Michael Moorcock's Multiverse series for DC in the mid to late 90's. I found that series a bit of a mixed bag but loved this four issue mini, now collected in trade paperback. As if Simonson's art wasn't already incredibly intricate, he worked on particularly huge art boards to get everything in. (nice latter-day Steve Oliff colour job too!).
While Simonson is often likened to Kirby, his style doen't really show Kirby as much it shows Phillipe Druillet, Bernie Krigstein, Sergio Toppi. I'm certain, however that his influences go on and on but the end product is something completely unique.
I did look for a definitive checklist to link to but all I got was Wookiepedia (for his Star Wars work). In brief, as well as all the books mentioned above, look out for his Lawnmower Man (the novel) adaptation in Bizarre Adventures #29, Temple of the Spider, a samurai story with Archie Goodwin from Thrilling Adventure Stories #2 (nice bit of Toth in there too!). Also with Goodwin, Manhunter (of course) and the Alien movie adaptation. X-Men/Teen Titans is a great looking book too, though a little of it's time (Chris Claremont!).
One final mention to letterer John Workman who always manages to compliment the power, intestity and insanity of Simonson's work with the perfect effects.
Check out the Batman below from the Art Of Simonson book. I thought "Flicking hell! It's Miller's Batman!" Simonson says "The only change I had to make on the job was to alter the Expression on Batman's face...I had originally given Bats a grin, feeling (as I still do) that a grin in the wrong place is more fightening than a snarl".
Sounds like Miller's Batman too!

I'm not gonna call swipe but look at the two images below.

Miller's Absolute Dark Knight cover

Simonson's Batman in action from Detective Comics #450
I'll finish by saying only that Simonson's influence is felt far and wide and is always worth revisiting.

In brief

A hectic summer has kept me away from the blog but hasn't stopped me visiting the local shops (Freaks and Gigamesh).
I'll post some reviews over the next few days but first up I thought I'd share an illustration that my mate Guera gave me.
Guera's the artist on the fantastic Scalped, written by Jason Aaron. If you're not reading it your missing out on one of the best monthly books being published at the moment. It's a brutal crime story set on a reservation and has the feel of all the best collaborations, that of one voice, one vision.
Enough. The drawing...: