Monday, November 21, 2011

Alex Ross takes on the New Mutants!

Isn't that a nice cover?  I tend to hold Alex Ross somewhat responsible for the death of storytelling in modern comics, probably unfairly.  His rise to popularity seems to have coincided with an era of too much emphasis on photorealism, an over-reliance on photo reference or outright tracing, too many people getting hung up on cool individual images rather than thinking a page through as a sequence of panels arranged to express mood, movement and action.  I say "seems" because I might have the chronology completely wrong.

But even if I'm right, it's not really Ross's fault so many young artists start their careers telling themselves, "Hey, Ross does it and it looks amazing and sells even better than it looks, so why can't I?"  Blaming Ross is like blaming the Beatles for Strawberry Alarm Clock.  And yet I sort of do...  I just can't help it.

The static, awkward results probably also have a lot to do with artists using tools like Poser and various digital paint programs-- not that these things are in and of themselves negatives.  In the past, greats like Russ Heath, Al Williamson and Wally Wood used photo-reference-- Wood even advocated tracing.  According the Mark Schultz in his amazing and indispensable book Al Williamson's Flash Gordon:  A Lifelong Vision of the Heroic, Williamson relied on tracing at times during the middle stages of his career.  Photo reference, Poser, Photoshop, tracing.  These are useful tools, and artists shouldn't necessarily shy away from their use.   Mis-using might be a better term for what today's artists frequently do.

Williamson didn't just trace-- he would then adjust the drawing to match the heroic proportions of his original images and to fit the scene.  He achieved consistency in this way, something one frequently mocked comic book photorealist would do well to remember when he's so intent on making things "real" he forgets to make them believable.  Not that he gives a rip.

But I digress.  Whatever else you can say about the Alex Ross, he knows how to respect characters and put together an iconic image, then render the heck out of it.

Oh sure, Ross might have taken some photos to get a sense of the poses, to nail the anatomy and stage the lighting, but he manages here to sublimate the photo referencing and stay true to the classic look of the characters.  Dani Moonstar-- right up front, dominating the image where she belongs-- looks a lot like Bob McLeod's version, rather than a model in a bodysuit from a photoshoot in Ross's living room.  Unfortunately, the under-lit Sam "Cannonball" Guthrie looks disconcertingly middle aged.  Life must have been hard on him in the coal-mining regions of Kentucky before he met Charles Xavier.  This is the work of an artist moving away from duplicating photographs towards an artist justifiably confident in his ability to draw and paint anything he can imagine.  An artist who has finally put technique at the service of the artwork, rather than the other way around.

There's also the possibility Ross just made this all up out of his head.  I do believe he's just that good.

Well, however he achieved this cover, it's quite excellent.  A fitting tribute to my favorite of Marvel's super adventure teams.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How do people find this blog?

Overwrought and poorly written, I suppose.  But no, I mean what search terms do people type into Google, only to have this disaster of a blog pop up in their results?  Allow me to share them with you.

1.  alicia silverstone batgirl
2.  roddy mcdowall
3.  cassandra cain
4.  dani moonstar
5.  harlem globetrotters cartoon
6.  batgirl alicia silverstone
7.  batgirl boobs
8.  dave toschi
9.  heavyset girl body stocky big short nude sex pic movie
10.  claude akins

What can we learn from this?  Apparently, I write a lot about Batgirl, Dani Moonstar and Planet of the Apes.  That's true.  I think I mentioned Alicia Silverstone (256 hits) one time and one time only in one of my many Batgirl blog posts, and now her name is going to haunt me every time I check my traffic sources.  She's a popular woman.  I probably knock off some ill-informed rant about Cassandra Cain once or twice a month, and I know I've frequently criticized the way various artists have drawn her breasts.  Somehow I don't think that's what the "batgirl boobs" searchers (65 total, including 11 this month alone) have in mind when they go a-lookin' for that kind of stuff.

Actually, I get a lot of hits from people searching for things like "batgirl porn" (21 this month, but I'm surprised this isn't my search leader), "batgirl big boobs" (5 this month) or "bat girl boobies" (a semi-literate 2).

I honestly don't remember writing anything about the Harlem Globetrotters, but I probably did.  Maybe a shout out to one of their cartoons from the 1970s, of which I was a huge fan.  Roddy McDowall and Claude Akins starred together in Battle for the Planet of the ApesDave Toschi is a retired San Francisco police inspector whose unusual upside-down shoulder holster rig Steve McQueen copied in the movie Bullitt.  He later investigated the Zodiac murders and was portrayed by Mark Ruffalo in David Fincher's movie about the case-- which I highly recommend.  A modern classic and instantly one of my top 5 favorites of all time.

But number 9 on that list?  I'm guessing that's the result of a post I wrote about Xi'an Coy Manh when she briefly became morbidly obese.  Amazingly, 51 people typed in those exact same search terms.  Or else the same person typed them 51 times.

Some amusing oddball searches:

1.  comic female quarterback
2.  sexy phyllis diller
3.  hayley kiyoko
4.  styx kilroy was here
5.  billy zabka red jacket

I have no idea where that first one comes from.  Number two is a "whatever floats your boat" kind of thing.  I love Phyllis Diller, but I'm not sure I've ever found her sexy.  Hayley Kiyoko is a multi-talented up-and-comer who played Velma in a couple of Cartoon Network live-action Scooby Doo movies and recently starred in a Disney musical called Lemonade Mouth, which I understand was something of a smash hit.  Ten of her fans found my lousy blog clogging up their Hayley Kiyoko Google stalking this month because I made an off-handed reference to someone's drawing of Cassandra Cain resembling her facially.  My apologies, Kiyoko-ites.  Or, if you prefer, Kiyokians.  Billy Zabka-- better known as William Zabka, better known as Johnny Lawrence of Cobra Kai-- I salute you!

Yes, I'm a fan.

Comic Report: Japan!

After a long break back in the States, I'm in manga heaven again.  Not that I'm a fan of manga in and of itself.  I enjoy a few titles, consider myself a fan of a few creators, but I don't separate Japanese comics and Western comics.  Comics are comics.  Sure you read Japanese comics right to left and that takes some getting used to, but with the borrowing and blending of elements over the past few decades, a comic story consists of drawings and word balloons arranged in a particular order according to the creator's intent no matter where it comes from or who wrote or drew it.

If you're a regular reader of various Western monthly comics, you have to work a bit harder to find them here in Japan.  There are online sources and if you happen to live in a large enough city, you might find a few odd titles in the English language section in a bookstore.  Just be prepared to pay three to four times the suggested retail price.  I haven't tried downloading any digital comics yet, but I'll give that a try later when I'm more settled and have my own Internet connection.

In the meantime, I'm making do with the comics I brought with me:  the superb Solo #7 (2005) by Mike Allred and family, and the award-winning Nexus: The Origin (1992) by Mike Baron and Steve Rude.

Solo #7 is one of the best things DC's published in the past ten years.  Maybe twenty.  It serves as the perfect antidote to all those gloomy, doomy negative portrayals of their own characters DC's dished up in the years since Identity Crisis, and it's a lot more fun than their similarly nostalgic Wednesday Comics.  Yeah, not every superhero comic should be this kind of poppy fun.  We like our supergods with a touch of realism these days.  But as Batman's faithful butler Alfred points out here, "Why is it the good things are never 'real life,' only the bad?"

Who can argue with Allred's winning cover depiction of Wonder Girl doing the batusi?

Nexus:  The Origin is a bit darker.  It starts with genocide, includes a starvation death and Nexus excusing his own killings by claiming self-defense.  This is the comic that hooked me on Horatio Hellpop, Sundra Peale and all the frog-like aliens and hairy Thunes that inhabit their universe.  Baron condenses the entirety of Nexus's early years into several poignant vignettes and Rude illustrates with his strong sense of anatomy and page design.  Inker Gary Martin perfectly complements Rude's pencils-- I've seen a number of inkers on the Dude, but Martin is far and away my favorite.  Rude "re-mastered" this book in 2007.

These are a couple of thick, meaty magazines that invite you to chew slowly and savor their delicious taste.  Which I suppose taken literally would mean you should eat them and enjoy some paper.  But you know what I mean-- read them over and over again.  Both were well worth dragging thousands of miles across an entire continent and ocean.

Well, I promised you a comic report, didn't I?  If you happen to be in Minami-Funabashi, Chiba prefecture, go to Vivit Square.  The Tsutaya there has a huge selection of Japanese comics, plus a teensy-weensy grouping of some translated ones in their English language book section.  Unfortunately, I can't remember which ones.  Probably Death Note and Vagabond.  The Japanese originals, though, boggle the mind.  So varied in genre and style.  Why aren't there comics about baseball and basketball teams in America?  Where are the simple stories of high school kids falling in love?

I guess they're in the manga section at your local Books-A-Million.  Which, combined with their Western graphic novel section, can't hold a candle to what they have at Tsutaya in Minami-Funabashi.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

More Cass Cain Batgirl fun times!

I drew this with my trusty Kuretake Fudegokochi brush pen. When I moved back to the United States from Japan, I brought a few of these with me because they're very fun to use. If all went well and we landed safely last Friday, I'm back in Japan but lack an Internet connection. So this was actually posted Wednesday before I left. Confusing, isn't it?

The clumsily constructed Kamandi figure is based on a panel from one of Jack Kirby's comics, but I added the wonky body and really went off-model on the futuristic pistol.  Peter Parker is fun to mock.  I love the character, especially during his glasses-wearing phase.  I based the Cassandra Cain Batgirl figure on a photo of a Japanese pop singer/actor.  And once again, I make fun of Batman.

I'm not sure when I'll have regular net access.  So talk amongst yourselves while I sort things out.

Friday, November 11, 2011

I don't know who this is!

She's lovely and fashionable. Another sketchbook page, another Kuretake Fudegokochi brush pen ink job!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Another Batgirl-based sketchbook page...

I drew this with that same Kuretake Fudegokochi brush pen I used for the previous Cassandra Cain/Batgirl sketchbook pages, but I colored it with Copic Ciao art markers.  The paper didn't fit on the scanbed, so Batgirl's legs got cut off.  But the Hulk still has his Charles Bronson pec/shoulder tattoo.  That's something, isn't it?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Happy Birthday, Steve Ditko!

Steve Ditko is 84 years old today.

The first Ditko artwork I remember seeing came to me inside Dr. Strange Master of the Mystic Arts, one of those Marvel trade paperbacks featuring Marvel's "Sorcerer Supreme" in a selection of memorable tales from the 60s and early 70s.  This was sometime in 1979, or maybe 1980.  I greatly preferred the Barry Windsor Smith's story to any of the Ditko-drawn ones, but something about Ditko's rendering of Spider-Man felt right to me. I also enjoyed the way Ditko drew all the magic radiation coming out of Dr. Strange's hands whenever he cast a spell.  No one bought the book and it ended up on the clearance table.

As soon as I saved enough money (from picking up pine cones in the yard and digging in the sofa cushions), I snagged Dr. Strange for myself-- along with its companion volume Captain America Sentinel of Liberty-- and read it over and over again, usually while eating cornbread. So even now I associate Steve Ditko's artwork with the delicious taste of my father's country cornbread, baked in the oven and covered with butter.

Sometime that same year or the next, I bought Micronauts Annual #2 at a small grocery store across the highway from the beach down in Florida one year and felt appalled by the interior artwork, which was by Steve Ditko again!  I'd been hoping for more of the Pat Broderick/Armando Gil team or a return engagement from Michael Golden.

Ditko's work was not a love at first sight kind of thing for me.  Clearly, at age 12 I had a lot to learn about art.  As I grew older and supposedly more sophisticated in taste, I came to appreciate Ditko.  His run on the early issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, his punchy graytone work for Warren's horror titles-- Ditko's take on human form is as idiosyncratic as Jack Kirby's, but more down-to-earth, no matter how strange the setting.

Peter Parker is a skinny little worm, Flash Thompson beams with misplaced confidence and egotism, the Vulture is a gnarled old man.  The back alley thugs Spidey fights look muscular and slow-witted.  There's a nitty-gritty feel that adds weight and believability to their soap opera antics.  Ditko's Dr. Strange is slender but with a hauteur befitting his magical prowess.  He journeys through Escher-esque worlds and dimensions where he might find the lovely Clea reclining on a floating island made up of some kind of magical or quantum particles, or engage in a mystical duel with the Dread Dormammu!  And then it's home to Greenwich Village and a cup of hot cocoa whipped up by his old pal Wong.

Ditko made the Marvel Universe feel more like our own.  And he did it his way, and continues to do so.  It's difficult to understand someone like Steve Ditko.  He's like comics' answer to J.D. Salinger, although their worldviews are probably as different as the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak are from the Eye of Agamotto.

More of the same Batgirl!

Another version of the same ol' Batgirl. My theory is she had so little regard for protecting her secret identity, she would often leave her mask at home. I enjoy drawing Batman acting like a freak almost as much as I enjoy drawing Batgirl and Supergirl. Poor Robin. If you look closely, there's a Todd McFarlane-era Spider-Man picking lice out of a Neal Adams Superman's hair. Todd McFarlane-era Spider-Man loves to groom his friends!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Back when she was Batgirl...

Here's another sketchbook page.  I seem to draw Cassandra Cain, Supergirl and the Hulk pretty often. I did this freehand with a Kuretake Fudegokochi brush pen on a sheet of marker paper.  Batgirl on the left is apparently pitching some kind of fit; she's really angry about something.  The center Batgirl shows a zen-like calm, but I'm not sure about the weird feathery line I gave her shadowed areas.  What inspired that?  The Hulk looms overhead like something she's dreaming.  The way I attached his hand to his beefy wrist isn't really working.  And then there's a cheerful, freckle-faced Supergirl with goofed-up shoulders.  All that modeling I did on her right side (left to us!) was my attempt at emulating the awesome Nick Cardy; it came out vaguely Dr. Seussian, though.

Cass is in her DC Batgirl suit rather than the one I made up for her.  Slap a pointed mask on her and she's practically Black Bat.  I'm happy DC has their sales up, and I'm pretty pleased Cass will "appear in Batman, Incorporated in a very big way" along with Stephanie "Spoiler/Robin/Batgirl" Brown.  Whether or not I'll bother to read it is another story.  The overall aesthetic of what they're doing these days just doesn't interest me and I find I can't really get excited about it, and we're always a year or two away from a new universe-changing Crisis.  I'll be in Japan where American monthlies are hard to come by, but maybe I'll download a digital copy of Batman, Incorporated from DC when Cass reappears.  Then again, maybe I'll forget.