Friday, March 25, 2011

Steve Rude talks process

There are a lot of art books about comic book artists. Most of them-- even the very best ones-- tend to dwell on biography, which is not something I'm all that interested in. Unless it's Jack Kirby who grew up in a rough part of New York City, co-created Captain America and then fought in WWII and then partnered with Stan Lee to invent almost the entire Marvel Universe. Even if his line had been insurance sales, Kirby would've still had a pretty incredible life.

What I want to know more about from my favorite artists are their process and tools. How do the greats make the art we love to look at so much and what do they use to make it? One of the great moments of my life was when I got to talk shop with another Jack-- none other than Jack Davis. He let me in on the kind of paper he uses, the brushes and little insightful tidbits such as how his initial sketches are a lot of "scribble-scrabble." That kind of info can be hard to find, probably because most books on comic book artists aren't written by artists but by fans who experience the work from an audience's perspective. Recently, Steve Rude completed a commission to recreate the splash to Captain America #34 from way back in 1944.

According to the Dude, the original is by Kirby himself, but the The Jack Kirby Museum website blog attributes it to Syd Shores. I have no idea what the truth is. Maybe it's Shores working over a Kirby layout. Or vice versa. The Museum says it was done "well after S[imon] & K[irby] departed Timely," and I have no reason to doubt their expertise-- but do you want to tell Steve Rude he's mistaken? I sure as hell don't!

Artist controversy aside, what's important here is Rude didn't merely copy the splash. He zoomed in the plane of vision, tightening the composition, and he gave it more depth of field. In Shore's original, everything takes place along the same plane, which flattens the perspective. Rude pushes the background farther back in layers. This means his version isn't as jumbled and frenetic, but no less action-packed. He also changed Bucky's pose from running along beside Captain America to leaping from the sky above him. Rude's colors are more naturalistic rather than the crude yet vibrant primary-and-secondary color scheme the original comic uses. Yellow sky, Nazis in yellow or green uniforms with purple helmets!

The resulting painting is fun. It captures the spirit of early Captain America without being a mechanical recreation. Whoever commissioned it is getting a beauty. And the rest of us are lucky enough to have been able to follow along as Rude posted his initial sketches, washes and the finished piece as he completed them. He's also posted a short step-by-step on working on this painting as well, complete with a mention of Alex Ross-- who, as Rude notes, "has made a career working in this method."

This is the kind of stuff that fascinates me. Rude goes into his thought process-- the things that go on inside the mind before an artist even touches pencil to paper. He had the original, but he says he's not one of those guys "who get off on this historical stuff." And besides, the image in his head and the one from the comic didn't quite jibe. So he gathered up all the photo reference he would need for uniforms, weaponry and the like. Then Rude started drawing.

Here's where Ross and Albert Dorne enter the story and I abruptly die and float away to art heaven.

The finished artwork looks like this


Richard Bensam said...

As a Jack Kirby Museum type, I'm obviously biased…but bear in mind that Harry Mendryk can check with Joe Simon personally if there are any questions about attributing a piece of Golden Age art. For this and a variety of other reasons, it's very unlikely that piece was by Kirby.

(Actually, in 1944 Jack was serving as an Infantryman in the Third Army under General Patton! National still ran some art by Kirby while he was overseas, but it was stuff he'd stockpiled in advance and left for them to parcel out over the duration. Anything Simon and Kirby left behind at Timely a couple of years earlier would have been used up by then.)

Joel Bryan said...

This comment makes my day for a number of reasons! First, it's a comment so YAY! And thanks!

Also it's informative. Kirby's military service was very much on my mind as I wrote this post. I think the cover date is January 1944, so I wondered about the dates of his enlistment. I assumed the art was done sometime in late 1943 but considering how fast these guys worked back then, it might have been done a few days before the book hit the printers. Didn't some of these guys churn out entire books over the weekend to meet deadlines?

Late the following summer, Jack was in France. While his creation faced off against wicked saboteurs and Nazi caricatures in silly punch-ups, Jack was overseas being shot at and shelled by the real thing. That blows my mind.

Joel Bryan said...

Anyway, yeah... Syd Shores.