Monday, March 21, 2011

Wonder Woman, Tom Strong and romance comics

Those are three things I like. The Wonder Woman image is from an Alex Toth sketch. The skaky line quality is all mine, as is the misplacement of her left arm-- it should be in a little closer. In the original sketch, she's playfully tugging on her magic lasso. The Tom Strong portrait is taken from the $1 Watchmen tie-in reprint of "How Tom Strong Got Started," a story that mixes some Tintin, Doc Savage, Tarzan, The Spirit and a few sly little Alan Moore touches all gloriously illustrated by Chris Sprouse and Al Gordon. I paid 190 yen for it and still consider it a bargain. Whereas my version of Tom Strong is strictly bargain basement. And then I threw in a B17 and some romance comic stuff. More Toth.

I'm working on a theory. And it's this-- romance comics and horror comics generally have the best art. Sure, the stories are pat in both genres. Cheating lovers murder someone, said someone comes back from the grave and kills them in some kind of gruesomely ironic twisty way, young woman leads perfect man to believe she's editor of a newspaper rather than its receptionist, it turns out he's not an auto company magnate, he's a mechanic in a garage. I forget which story goes with which genre; you figure it out.

The point is, ignore the scripts and focus on the artwork. If you've got artists like Toth, John Romita, Al Williamson, Jack Davis, George Evans, Johnny Craig, Graham Ingels and the like drawing the stories they're going to be visual treats. Horror comics have the advantage of being able to rely on shock, violent action and gore as well. With romance comics, there are a lot of panels of people merely talking or hugging and kissing, or fretting about lies. Artists have to rely on their rendering and storytelling skills to create emotional involvement and prevent the pages from becoming static even if there's not much physicality. Facial expressions, body language, backgrounds, mood all become substantially more important than panel-to-panel action.

Romance comics are mostly about inner conflict. Inner conflict and stolen kisses. Horror comics have that, too, but external conflict as well. A knife in the eyeball. Sure there was probably a lot of crap art during the horror-romance comic heyday, but who can argue with EC, Warren and the DC horror books Joe Orlando edited in the 1970s? Or romance books by people like Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, Frank Frazetta, Leonard Starr and Wally Wood?

What's Yazawa Ai's Nana but the perfection of the romance form? Glamorous settings, gorgeous cast of characters all in the latest fashions, emotional turmoil and cliffhangers practically on every page. Lushly drawn with an eye for detail and a strong fashion influence.

Okay, it's half-assed theory. But you've got to admit many of those old horror and romance comics had sweet artwork!

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