First impressions

February 25, 2010

As I stated in a previous post, Gil Kane was a huge influence, and almost single handedly responsible for my professional pursuit. Recently, I discovered he’s even more at fault, than I first thought. In addition to this, I uncovered why I lean toward the styles, and artists, that I do. For that, you can blame Power Records.

These “read-along” comics were packaged with a 45 rpm record (that’s a small vinyl disc that we old people placed on a gramophone to listen to), and were probably my first experiences ever with comic books. Basically, they were just comics that sync’d up with a recorded radio play of the same story. Most were either based on comic characters or popular movie/television properties of the time. The biggest of these were Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Six Million Dollar Man, and Space 1999, but there were others, even Kojak. The last of which I’m not so sure was really that interesting to 6 year olds, but hey- who am I to judge.

Who loves ya, baby?

As a kid I owned several of these “Power” records, and my brother had some as well, but I think I stole most of his, so really they all ended up being mine. We had Star Trek, Space 1999, Frankenstein, Hulk, and Captain America, but the ones I loved most were my copies of Batman “Stacked Cards”, and my two Spider-Man stories “Mark of the Wolf-Man” and “Invasion of the Dinosaur Men”. Having recently found some blogs that are dedicated to these old “read-alongs” I’ve discovered that a lot of the covers were drawn by Neal Adams. For those that don’t know, Mr. Adams was one of the most important comic artists in early 70s for a lot of reasons; some to do with the rights of artists in the comic industry, but a lot to do with his dynamic page layouts and his, almost, photo realistic style.

Other stories were drawn by the great Ross Andru, and one of the Spidey comics was at least partially drawn by – you guessed it- Gil Kane. So from my earliest days, these gentlemen were influencing my tastes and approach on comics, without my even knowing it. They established my love, and affinity, for more realistic comic art. From proper anatomy, perspective, establishing shots, facial expressions, camera angles, and composition, to simple body posturing. It didn’t stop there, as the others comic records I had were also drawn in realistic styles because they were based on shows with specific actors. Star Trek, Space 1999, and the Bionic Man all had to achieve some level of realism because of the likenesses they had to maintain. No one wanted to see Star Trek without Shatner as Kirk and Nimoy as Spock…

I'm sick of your half-breed interference!

or Martin Landau as Commander Koenig…

Anyone else wonder what happened to Earth's oceans when we moved?

or Lee Majors as Steve Austin.

A man barely alive- but still singing "Sweet Jaime"

So a lot of how I thought comics were supposed to look were a direct result to these comic/records. It didn’t hurt that a lot of them were being illustrated by some of the best in the industry, like Neal Adams. One of my favorite heroes back then was Batman. Over the years that waned, but at the time he was the biggest for several reasons…

A) He was in my favorite cartoon- The Super Friends

B) His utility belt- wanting to like what my dad liked, Batman was the kid friendly version of James Bond- (who my dad thought was super-cool)

C) There was a live action Batman TV show- reruns, but I didn’t know that then.

D) My brother liked Marvel– so screw that- I loved DC!

Needless to say, when I got this Batman Power Record– I listened to it about 50 billion times!

In the game of life- the Joker is WILD!

I examined the art in it over, and over, and over. I burned it into my brain. It was awesome, and so many of the images are still rattling around in the back of my head. Anyone who knows my work can tell you I love backgrounds, and I never shy away from establishing shots. Overhead angles, worms eye shots, subtle facial expressions, anatomy, and hand gestures are all things that I got, unknowingly, from Neal Adams. Later I would come back to him with a more discerning eye, and I would study his page layouts from his runs on Deadman and Green Lantern. The way he directed an eye around a page is still something I aspire to. In this book though, he kept it simple, elegant, and amazing.
Establishing shots, worms eye, close ups, overhead angle- all of it- perfect.

The things he drew looked like their real-life counterparts, not overly stylized, chrome plated boxes pretending to be tanks or buildings (the difference I often couldn’t decide) unlike other artists. No, you knew when Neal was drawing a car, lamp, office furniture, plane, suits, or anything for that matter. His street scenes told you if you needed to carry a gun, or go for a picnic. His people were real, and you knew their heritage at a glance, not by the color of the skin, but from their facial features. He could capture likenesses quickly, and still keep the energy or their personalities. This made their acts of heroism believable, even when you would normally be screaming “No way!”.  After all, he even drew Superman fighting Muhammed Ali !

Float like a Kryptonian!

That’s another post. No, back to the point, he established those artistic appreciations in my head for the rest of my life. Even when I got out of comics for those few years, until Gil Kane pulled me back in, it was Neal’s basis in realistic drawing that kick started my appreciation for the comic arts. However, it’s true that I didn’t know Neal from Norm for years to come. The seeds were planted, but I didn’t know the names, and Ross Andru is just as responsible if we want to be honest. Really though, the culprits are the people at Power Records; those comics, with the whacky sound effects, melodramatic voice acting, and catchy stock music tracks, were adventures that kept me busy for hours. I’ve grown since then, I feel like I can love stylized images as well as realistic ones, but those Power records were the foundation. It’s always amazes me how things we see and love as kids creep out in our adulthood. The stuff that became the focus of our childhood changes how we see the world from then on. I know those Power records were a huge influence on me, as I still have mine today. Granted I don’t have a record player anymore, but thanks to the wonderful guys at Power Records Plaza I’m able to listen to them again. It’s embarrassing, but I still know all the words, and can even tell you where the skips were in my old 45s. I can’t remember crap from high school chemistry, but I can tell you that the Joker was the captain of the swimming team at Arkham. Wanna race? Here goes! (If you catch that reference- you’re a geek too.)

Oh Aquaman you have no Gil

February 11, 2010

Kane that is.

If there is anyone (besides my mom) who is thankful about my meager attempts to illustrate comics, then they have to thank the late Gil Kane for that. Like a lot of boys I was into comics when I was little, but then my interest changed. Some might say I grew out of it, but I think what really did it was Star Wars and Atari. After that, comics just never won the battle for my time.

That all changed one year when I was stuck at home for about a week, sick as a dog. I was bored out of my mind, so my mom went to a store called the Great Escape. They sold second hand records, books, magazines and comic books. She picked up a stack of comics to help keep me entertained at home, but I can’t remember any of them except this one…

Sword of the Atom - Gil Kane

This book amazed me, and I spent hours looking at the artwork. The figures, the design, the anatomy of the characters, details, compositions of panels, everything… kept me occupied for hours. Gil Kane’s dynamic figures amazed me, and even today I find myself repeating his shots without even knowing it. It’s only when I go back and look at his work again, that I realize how much of an influence Gil Kane has been on me.

For years I copied art from his books, looking for the things that made his artwork so exciting for me. I talked in a previous post about how copying images can open your eyes to the decisions an artist makes in a piece. One of the biggest things I enjoy about Kane, although I wouldn’t dare to claim to be as proficient at it, was his use of camera angles to build dynamics into a shot. I’m not claiming he invented these, but he used them more effectively than other comic artists, and at the moments in the script which provided the biggest impact. Simple solutions like placing the camera on the ground at the feet of the figures, shooting upward into the action, gave the hero a grandeur that they deserved. After all, they are heroes, and should appear larger than life.

Sword_of_Atom: Interior page

One of his most famous tricks was to have figures flying at the viewer, making the reader feel as if they were part of the action and caught up in the melee. Extreme foreshortening, and spacial relationships between hero and villain gave his panels depth, and a heightened sense of motion.

Ka-POW! In your FACE!

Some of his most amazing work appears on the covers of Green Lantern, a character he had a huge impact on. For years, he was to that title what Curt Swan was to Superman, Steve Ditko was to Spiderman, and What Kirby was to… well, whatever Kirby was drawing. Kane’s covers had a strong sense of composition, leading the eye through it, and forcing the attention onto the most important elements. Additionally, his always had an emotional level that few artists brought to their covers. While others seem to always need the aide of “in your face” action, but Gil Kane was able to bring the same level of energy with body language and design.

Little, or no, action- but filled with tension and drama

Kane was the first time I became aware of a comic artist by name, and although that seems like a small thing, it changed how I viewed comic art from then on. It made me more aware of what comics I liked and why. It wasn’t just enough to be “neat”, but now I had a gateway to the criteria on which I judged art. His work became the bench mark, and is still one of the main reasons I love, and ignore, other artwork I see today.

Why? Not who.

February 5, 2010

So in my recent interview I had to answer the age old question of “Who/what are (my) influences?”. Everyone asks that, it’s a standard question, and in most cases, I want to know the same thing about every artist I admire. Maybe it’s some daydream that if they like the same artists I do, then one day we’ll meet, and become the best of friends. OK, that’s not realistic, but I think secretly it’s what we all want to belive. I’ve been considering this over-and-over, but it seems that the real question ought to be, “Why are they influences?” So I decided to explain one of them.

Adam Hughes– huge influence. Why? There are a ton of reasons, and most people would assume it’s his ability to draw beautiful women. I’d be fibbing if I didn’t admit I’ve swiped… er, been influenced by that. Hair, eyes, lips, hands, fingernails, legs, heels, necks… I’ve studied it all. Yet, that’s not the reason I really go back to him as an influence. It’s more subtle than that, and the best way to explain it- is to show it.

One of his earlier works, the Star Trek graphic novel “Debt of Honor“, is a prime example of when, and why, he became a huge influence. I think a lot of his ability to capture likenesses was lost in process from pencil to final art, but Adam made up for any problems in that area with body language. His subtle use of posturing, how figures distribute their weight, and the way they carry themselves as individuals, are the real reasons I go back to his work constantly. A great example of this can be seen in two panels, almost identical, from different points in the story, set years apart.

It’s simply Spock and Kirk talking on the bridge, this one is obviously classic Trek. That’s apparent from the details, green Captain shirt, the classic red doors, Beatle boots, etc… The true beauty of it comes from how the body postures alone tell us which one is Spock and which is Kirk, heck you don’t even need the heads! Look at Spock’s board straight back in comparison to Kirk’s relaxed, but  always in command, stance. Kirk’s hands hanging at his side, ready to throw a punch at a moment’s notice, but Spock’s are tight behind him, ever stoic.

Classic Trek

The second panel is set during the film era, which we know from the uniforms and sleek bridge design. Again, you can tell instantly who is who just by how they’re standing, but if that weren’t enough, now he’s aged them. It’s not exaggerated with gray hair or big guts, it’s tweaks to their overall form. They still look like Spock and Kirk, they’re just obviously older.

Years later...

It’s handled so well, and it was that point I became a huge fan. So it wasn’t the curvaceous bombshells, sultry eyes, or luscious lips, rather it was the subtle grace he gave Starfleet. That’s one reason why he’s a major influence on me.

So in an effort to post more, and to get ready for the convention season, I’m trying to force myself to do a sketch (or at least a quick tight pencil drawing) every day -or so. This often leads to the trouble of picking subjects, but one thing helps with those decisions, the birthdays of my favorite editors. I’ve done several for my gang of compadres in the UK offices of Titan Books. When my wife and I were in London, that band of rabble quickly became good friends, something we’ve maintained since our return. Recently, Den’s lovely lady Philippa had her birthday, and  he mentioned he had purchased a beautiful Mucha print for her (as if Mucha did any ugly images?), so I decided to whip up a drawing for her. I had gone through a strong period of Mucha-envy after seeing an exhibit of his work in Tulsa (during my days of living in Oklahoma) and went to see it several times. I was more amazed by his pencil drawings than his paintings or posters, mainly for their delicate line work. That was something I tried to emulate in my own work for a long time, but I hadn’t tried a drawing like that in years. What the heck, I did my best. I must say that front hand was a total pain and garnered more time than I wanted to spend on it, but it ha(n)d to be done.

Philippa seemed to like it, and what guy doesn’t want a beautiful girl to consider his drawing of her to be flattering.

Or as I call it "Philucha"