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


David N said...

Hell yes, I love Golden. MY favourite is a 70s Batman Ras Al Ghul story - no idea what issue or even series - but I read that GI Joe stuff in Action Force, just like you, and loved it. Micronauts, too, as a kid.
Amazing artist, and you're spot on about how influential he is.

Will Shyne said...

Will check for that Ra's Al Ghul story. He did one Batman and loads of Batman Family. I saw Kevin Nowlan post once about how Golden's work has no corrections and is just jaw droppingly gorgeous. As much as I love the perfect later stuff there's some real charm in the very early work. I hope he's still got a full comic in him sometime. Too good...

Anthony Hope-Smith said...

Lovely stuff!
As incredible as his cartooning is when it comes to his figures, I also think he is one of the best (if not THE...) when it comes to drawing vehicles. The way he uses his cartooning skills to really bring these inanimate objects to life whilst still preserving all the details that give them such authenticity, is remarkable and no mean feat. I guess this made him ideal for material such as The 'Nam and G.I.Joe. But pity the poor artists who had to follow him...

Anthony Varicelli said...

Golden's work was sheer genius. His influence by Ditko is apparent in his Dr. Strange stuff. Arguably the greatest comic artist ever.