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.


Bazzer said...


Simonson has long been one of my favourites, Star Slammers GN for Marvel was one of the most satisfying GN's they put out. And Simonson did one of the best Joker storys ever.

The guy has such a wonderful sense of perspective and draughtmanship skills that put most of his contempories to shame.

I will always be greatful to him for putting together a run on Thor that lifted it way above anything that had been done with the character since the Kirby days, always looked forward to the next issue and he was obviously having fun and we were along for the ride.

As was often the case Marvel were content to stick any inker on anybody just to get the product out and Simonson suffered from several butcher jobs, but when left to his own devices gave us bright spots in several hum-drum titles. Notably Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Fate, Superman & Hercules to name a few.

A real testament to how good he is quite simply is that I will pick up any book he does regardless of whether I'm interested in the title/character or not.

Simply one of the best....

David N said...

Ah I love Simonson too. Hes one of those creators who always always seems underappreciated, at least commercially. When he starts on a book its generally a matter of time before its cancelled with sluggish sales, no matter how great it is. Orion is a good example.

My favourite work of his - the obvious Thor and Manhunter aside - was his amazing run on Fantastic Four in the early 90s. Inventive, cosmic, brilliantly paced, lovely art - it was the best run on that title since Byrne in the 80s, and I don't think its been equalled since (though I'm loving the Millar-Hitch stuff at the moment). He even gave Deaths Head (in his superior, original form) a guest spot before he started popping up all over the Marvel Universe.

The Kirby comparisons are all about sensibility - its all widescreen, eye-popping, punch you in the face stuff. JRJR seems obviously influenced. Simonson and Chaykin always seemed like creative soulmates in that their art is so similar, their attention to lettering and fx is so detailed and ingenious - did they share a studio? Who influenced who?

anyway, great post.

Will Shyne said...

Wow. Battle Star Gallactica. Never occured to me to pick those up (probably as I've not seen the new series everyone's so hyped about).
I was tempted to put Simonson in the unsong heroes category but the truth is that everyone I know who knows, knows that he's great. He's obviously survived through a career of good intentions so someone must like him.
I think he's due a big comeback (on something that isn't Superman).
Check out that Toppi link if you haven't. Flicking glorious!!!!

Bazzer said...

Followed the Link to Toppi


What a draughtsman.

Makes me wanna spit.

Bet he knocks these out just coz he feels like it, they look that effortless, sublime

Anthony Hope-Smith said...

HELL YES! And YES and YES and YES!
He's too good.
Now that I finally have a complete run of the Thors, i'm ready for a re-read. My read of the Orion run a few months back was pure pleasure, especially in light of the Kirby Fourth World collections DC put out recently. Which brings me to the Kirby comparisons. You hit the nail on the head about the look of the art, but the intensity and power is pure Kirby, filtered through those other guys, and indeed Simonson himself.
And as for my favorite lettererererer, John Workman...he too comes from Toppi, or rather Simonsons love of Toppi.
Great stuff, Billy! Keep it comin'!

ps.Thanks again for the birthday prezzies - 2 gorgeous Toppi books for any wondering. Beautiful!

Will Shyne said...

David, just reaised I never addressed your comment.
Simonson's FF was great, and reread just recently here too. Gorgeous and nuts.
Chaykin and Simonson did share a studio. Chaykin comments, in the introduction to the best of Simonson book I mentioned, that Simonson came fully formed and so professional from the get go.
Be interested to see where he tuns up next. Been a while since Elric.

Will Shyne said...

Oh...and the Millar Hitch FF is good??? I've been curious but I never expected.
Don't like Hitch's Thing much, which is a big part of the FF for me. Don't know why people try to do a realistic Thing. Wieringo's was the best in a long while, Pacheco's was the closest I've seen to a decent realistic thing but the story was cack.