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Archive for the ‘art’ Category

The Stack-5/31/17

In art, new books, rants, reviews on June 1, 2017 at 1:04 pm

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This week in comics: Saga returns, with some of its darkest humor yet, Jeff Lemire ends his remarkable run on Moon Knight, and I come clean regarding my feelings about Rob Liefeld and his body of work. But first, before it gets too late, I’d like to congratulate this year’s Eisner Award nominees (The full list can be found here):

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Fifth Wednesdays are unusual little beasties. They tend to be filled with annuals, books that don’t have a hard monthly release date, and other outcasts that don’t get much love normally. This time around there was a fair amount of storyline endings and changing of creative teams, which lent a bittersweet feel to things. Change is in the air. Let’s get into it.

Saga #43 (Fiona Staples, Brian K. Vaughan, Fonografiks-Image): The crew on this book wastes no time whatsoever; From the opening splash page you’ll be alternately laughing and gasping. It’s a truly admirable thing they shoot for: to address big issues like women’s reproductive freedom and health, and perception of the transgender community, but to do so with a lighter overall tone, presenting it with dark, inappropriate humor. This special jumping-on point story was only twenty-five cents, so there’s very little risk involved in discovering if this fan favorite phenom is your sort of jam. Believe me, you’ll know pretty much right away, not unlike with the very first issue.

Moon Knight #14 (Jeff Lemire, Greg Smallwood, Jordie Bellaire, VC’s Cory Petit-Marvel): Time for the final showdown, between Marc Spector/Steven Grant/Jake Lockley and Khonshu/human madness. It’s a satisfying, cathartic conclusion, balancing acceptance and peace with a remaining sense of ambiguity. Take note, comics creators: this run has been a master class on craft, blending theme and content with pacing, panel usage, color, and general art style. These fourteen issues, along with titles like The Vision, are some of the best that Marvel has offered up in recent memory, and show that it’s coming from the fringes of the company, from talent unfettered by event continuity and business-as-usual guidelines.

Motor Girl #6 (Terry Moore-Abstract Studio): There’s not really another comic out there right now like this one. Terry Moore always has that symbiosis of big ideas and down-to-earth drama in his work, and his latest is no exception. There’s a wild backdrop of alien abduction and experimentation here, while in the foreground the heart of the book is the struggle of a woman deeply wounded in combat overseas, carving out a life beyond the armed forces, guided by an imaginary gorilla. It vacillates in tone from silly to disturbing, similar to something like Twin Peaks. This issue reveals to us how Sam got hurt, and it’s profoundly heartbreaking.

Doctor Strange #21 (Dennis Hopeless, Niko Henrichon, VC’s Cory Petit-Marvel): Here we have a comic with not one, but TWO aspects that bring me outside of my comfort zone. First, it’s an event tie-in, getting us caught up with what is happening now that Strange and many other New York-based heroes are trapped in a Darkforce bubble created by the higher ups at Hydra, from back in the zero issue of Secret Empire. Second, we have a new creative team guiding the ship in writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Niko Henrichon. The verdict? It’s really good. Hopeless covers a lot of ground here, and does it with all of the aplomb he showed making his recent run on Spider-Woman so good, and Henrichron brings his full crayon box of demonic texture and color to the party. It’s good to see that this will remain a quality flagship title going forward.

So recently, a friend of mine shared a post that announced Rob Liefeld as Wizard World Philadelphia’s first ever Hall of Legends ceremony guest. He did this knowing that it would get some sort of angry, eye-rolley reaction from me. And it did. But let’s rewind a bit and explain, just in case you haven’t already chosen a side in this ongoing debate.

Twenty-five years ago, Rob Liefeld, along with some other hotshot superhero comic artists of the era, left Marvel and founded their own company, Image Comics, soon finding themselves awash in cash and notoriety in our small corner of the world. As their chosen name implied, this solidified the importance of the art over other aspects in a comic book’s creation, a notion that prevailed until after the industry pulled itself from the wreckage of the collector’s boom, and focus shifted to writers.

So WHO exactly IS Rob Liefeld? Well, chances are you’ve seen his work here or there. He rose to fame drawing many of Marvel’s mutant characters, creating a bunch of his own that have endured to this day, and then taking that formula over to his own publishing company with books like Youngblood and Supreme. He’s the guy who created Deadpool, a character now fully out there in the world thanks in no small part to the recent Ryan Reynolds movie, though there’s a whole argument behind just how original this character really is, and if Liefeld deserves any real credit for it, since other writers crafted the mercenary’s personality more into what is known and loved today.

He is a highly contentious and divisive figure in the comic book community, and it really all comes to down to this: His artistic methodology, endlessly dissected and copied, is the single best example we have for style over fundamentals. Rob loves what he loves. A child of the 80’s, he adores the action films of that period, and action in general. He loves giant, menacing weapons, cheesy one-liners, and big, bulging dudes. This informs his approach to genre comic book making. It’s action all the time, fights and gore and empty shells pouring onto smoky ruins. He has no time for subtlety. Everything is, like the namesake of his own studio, EXTREME. This is rendered on the page as a series of sharp, kinetic hatch lines and impractical (and sometimes downright impossible) poses, the details of the characters always taking precedence over the any detail in the background. It looks like this:

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And this:

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As you can see, very little time is spent on the basics: anatomy, composition, line weight and shadow, storytelling, etc. Here’s where fans and critics break off into two camps. You either prize what he achieves through glossy embellishment and excitement, or you see it as hollow and ignorant, nothing more than a popcorn movie on a piece of Bristol board. Both sides have their points, and we’re all certainly free to make up our own minds and enjoy what we please. It’s really about a perception of high art versus low art, and personal aesthetics.

And that brings it back to what I think about this guy, and the fact that he is being honored at a comic book convention (really more of a pop culture convention these days) nearby. I’m sure you can figure out where I land on this if you’ve been reading my blog. And look, I try very hard not to make it personal. I’ve seen Rob around, and I’ve heard his interviews. He’s a very pleasant, positive, and grateful fellow by most accounts. So I just focus on his work. I DO NOT like it. I’m a substance guy. I’m more of the nerdy, scholarly type of fan, and I’m big on always working towards improvement. Rob’s work is kind of stuck in amber, a frozen moment in time that is uniquely his. An embodiment of all of the stuff he treasures, and he’s not alone in his sensibilities. It’s just not for me. I love to see a variety of styles in the medium, but not at the expense of craft and form and content. You CAN do both. I’d wish him all the best, but he’s rich and has a legion of loyal fans, so he needs my well-wishing about as much as Cable needs a place to keep his car keys (got in the obligatory pouch joke-ZING!).

So that’s that. Thanks for reading, and for reading comics. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram at the links below, and feel free to comment and share. Be sure to support your local shops, be good, and I’ll see you in seven.

 

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Get Good (art edition): Part 3

In art on January 23, 2017 at 10:38 pm

Welcome back to what has now become a three-part series on some of the best informational tools for the aspiring comic book artist. This week I want to touch on a few more books that I have found to be enormously useful, as well as what is without a doubt the best resource of all (if you can afford the time and money involved): schools. So let’s dive right in, shall we?

Drawing Words and Writing Pictures by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden

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This is the definitive comics textbook. It’s structured in fifteen lessons, complete with homework assignments, extra credit sections, and even a companion website. It’s beautifully illustrated, easy to follow, and is thoroughly comprehensive to the point where it demonstrates proper use of tools and even stretches to do when taking breaks! I cannot recommend it enough. And when you’ve made it through this, it’s time to move on to Mastering Comics, which builds on those lessons and strives to elevate you to full-blown cartoonist status.

Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist by Stephen Rogers Peck

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This will always be my favorite anatomy book, which I realize is a strange thing to declare. You get the human body, from skeleton to musculature to gender and race distinctions. You get it all in detail that will make your head spin, both as photo and illustrative reference.

Rendering in Pen and Ink by Arthur L. Guptill

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It’s all here: tools, tone, shading, composition, and more. I know you crazy kids are all about the tablets these days, but if old school pen nibs and brushes is your jam, this is your new bible. As an added bonus, you get introduced to a gallery of insanely talented illustrators, designers, and architectural renderers. You will feel lazy and insignificant when gazing upon their work, so prepare yourself.

Schools. You just can’t beat what good schools offer you: hands-on instruction, an environment full of your peers, and challenges that will hopefully help you find your voice before you have to go out there and hack it in the real world as a professional. I’m envious of anyone who gets the opportunity, since I never made it there myself, and I’ve always wanted the experience. I have, however, done a bit of research and even visited a few places, and these are the ones that I think are worth going into crippling debt for.

The Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art-Dover, NJ

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Founded by one of the legends in the business, this school provides an intensive three-year program designed to produce professional cartoonists. The list of alumni and alumnae that have gone on to graphic greatness after attending this institution is beyond impressive. This is the place where the big publishers come to hire new talent, and the instructors are going to make you and that drawing table spend enough time together to ensure that you’re one of the lucky ones whose work appears on shop shelves every Wednesday. For more info, click here.

The Center For Cartoon Studies-White River Junction, VT

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Another school with a central focus on graphic illustration and design, with a faculty that’s a who’s who of indie creators and industry heavyweights, the CCS offers a one-year and a two-year program that provide students with the background and skill set which will set them on the path to being working professionals. The school also has the one-of-a-kind Schulz library, full of comics, instructional books, and rare Peanuts collections! For more info, click here.

So there it is. A jumping-off point for my fellow doodling dreamers and ink-smudged storytellers. I want to give the writing side of comics creation the same treatment in a future series of posts, but next week I have a feeling that I’ll be switching gears a little. Until then, keep at it. As much as you can. I’ll promise to do the same.

Get Good (art edition): Part 2

In art on January 15, 2017 at 11:19 pm

Hello again! I still have a bunch of recommendations for artistic inspiration that I want to get to, so it seems I’ll be stretching this post out juuuuuuuuust a bit longer. Hopefully you guys find it worthwhile. I don’t have time for much this week, as all of my energy has been spent on running Magic Prerelease tournaments and fighting off depression to the point where I can get out of bed in the morning and not just hiss at every person I see.

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Right now I’d like to briefly talk about something kind of new that I think has lots of learning potential. I have often wished that I’d luck into a situation where I could be a pro’s apprentice. You know, where I would come over to their studio a few times a week, and they’d show me the ropes and pass along all of their sweet, sweet knowledge and then introduce me to the inner circle when I was ready for a paying gig. Turns out that sort of thing pretty much doesn’t exist. BUT, the magic of internet crowd funding has given us opportunities that come close.

Because life is damn expensive and the world of comics is anything BUT stable and secure, more and more creators are looking to places like Patreon to give them a steady cushion of income while they’re out there pitching and producing and waiting for the checks to finally arrive. In exchange, many of them will share their process and a deeper look into the path that got them in the door. I’m going to get in on this action and see what happens.

My first victim will be Justin Jordan, creator of many awesome comics, like the Luther Strode series and Spread at Image, and Sombra at BOOM! Studios. At various tiers of patronage you can get everything from a complete script and pitch archive to lessons and essays about working in the biz to what will no doubt be a series of horribly awkward Q and A sessions each month. Now Justin is a writer, but there are plenty of creators at the art end who are offering similar experiences: Folks like Rafer RobertsMing Doyle, and Ben Templesmith. I recommend taking a good look around, as there are tons of talented people you can give a few bucks to in exchange for unique insights and helpful tips.

Next week, I promise to finish telling you about cool books, in particular ones that tackle subjects like anatomy and inking. I’m also going to take a look at schools which specialize in comic book art, and see what they have to offer. In the meantime, I will be doing all sorts of super important things, like making puppets based on Grant Morrison and playing board games about running a chain of fast food restaurants. And if you listen closely, you’ll be able to hear me on Inauguration Day, turning the word ‘fuck’ into a deadly weapon.

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Get Good (art edition)

In art on January 8, 2017 at 6:59 pm

When I was just a wee scribbler, I received the same advice from my teachers, my artistic heroes, and even my favorite TV shows.

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I wear a similar jumpsuit when I hit the Bristol board.

Draw. Do it every day. It’s what Commander Mark up there told me. It’s what the legendary Jim Steranko told us when he visited my high school. It’s what the always awesome Carla Speed McNeil told me at a convention. You’ve probably heard it numerous times yourself. It’s easy to shrug off as a dismissive platitude, but it isn’t. It’s fundamental. It’s rule number one. You have to constantly practice in order to improve. You have to also be open to learning, and willing to step outside of your comfort zone. You know, unless you are satisfied with-and able to-make a living being, well… not so good.

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You have no idea how difficult it was not to go for the easy Liefeld joke here.

Recently, I was listening to the Freakonomics Radio podcast, and they ran a rebroadcast of an episode titled, How to Become Great at Just About Anything. It touched on, among other things, a book called Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise, by Anders Ericsson. This book presents the studies that informed the infamous ‘10,000 hours required to become an expert’ concept that was made famous in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success. There’s a common misconception that all you need to do is put in the actual time, and it’s here that Ericsson wants to clarify one very important point: To truly become better, that time needs to be spent on what he calls ‘deliberate practice’, which is characterized by setting well-defined, specific goals, and constantly striving beyond your current skill set, preferably with the assistance of experts who have refined those skills. Makes sense, right?

This got me thinking about the artwork I’ve done in the last year. I like a good challenge, but maybe I have not been challenging myself enough. Most of my sketches have been figure studies, which are of course vital to comic book illustration, and I feel that I bounce between various permutations of the human form regularly, but there’s been little else on those pages. The fact is that I’m a bit intimidated by drawing mechanical, man-made things, like cars and buildings. And they’re just as important, sometimes even MORE important, than the people in a comic. You need those details to establish a setting, otherwise it’s just talking heads, which doesn’t quite get the job done.

So I have set a goal in 2017, to spend some serious time on drawing the mechanical, and getting more familiar with some other tricky spots, like perspective and coloring. I’ll be scouring the internet for any good advice that I can find, doing some networking with those in the community who are open to sharing, and digging out some of the books that I’ve accumulated over the years. I thought it might be useful to mention some of the best sources of information here, and hopefully some of you will share recommendations as well.

First up: figure drawing classes and meet ups. As far as I’m concerned, this is fundamental, and you should never stop doing it (To be fair, this means ALL life drawing, not just the human form). Over the years, it has helped me with everything from anatomy to perspective to shading to speed, and allowed me to network with my local art community and make some lasting friendships, too. Most are inexpensive and ‘bring your own materials’, and last anywhere from three to five hours. My local group (which I urge you to hit up if you’re in my corner of Pennsyltucky), Lehigh Valley Drink n Draw, meets several times a month in locations all over the valley, and features a variety of both clothed and nude models. You are welcome even if you’re a teetotaler, we promise.

Books. If you’re a wacky, stubborn autodidact like I tend to be, you’re going to amass a collection of reference and instructional books, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Here are some of my all-time favorites, in no particular order:

Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner

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Eisner is one of the true legends in comics, and he deserves every last bit of adulation his extensive body of work receives. In this book he lays out the basics, explains the narrative devices, and elaborates on the unique language that has developed throughout its relatively brief history in the form we know and love today. This revered tome is where you begin, and then, while you’re at it, pick up Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative, too.

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud

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As Scott himself says in the acknowledgements, “Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art was the first book to examine the art-form of comics. Here’s the second”. He wastes no time getting under the hood to see what makes comics tick, and it’s fascinating. A lot of the book is devoted to breaking down the process behind how we read sequential art, going into detail about ‘closure’, or what happens between panels, the importance of line, and the relationship between pictures and the written word. Every fan of the medium should own and read this book, along with his follow ups: Reinventing Comics and Making Comics.

There’s more I want to tell you about, but the sad fact is that right now I have a strain of the flu that I’m pretty sure wants me dead, so we’ll pause here. After some medicine and fluids and offerings to deities that rule over white blood cells, I’ll post Part Two, and get the rest of this list out to you good people. Because you know it’s true, everything I do…

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I do it for YOU.