Comics, Concept Art, Creative Ideas...
Saturday, August 9, 2008
The Amazing Spiderman #39 pg. 1
I've posted this image before but the design wasn't complete until now. The first thing that Spider-Man enthusiasts might notice here is that it reads "The Amazing Spiderman", without a hyphen separating the words "spider" and "man". This was very much intentional, for two reasons.
The most obvious reason is that the use of the hyphen really limits the way you can present the typography. If you take the character Batman, he started out as "The Bat Man", then became "Bat Man", and then finally "Batman". And now, with the latest animation cartoon show, he's "The Batman". Well, for some reason there is more flexibility in a character like Batman. We've seen him dark, we've seen him as a respectable role model, and we've seen him campy. In some versions a man named Joe Chill killed his parents. In other versions his parents killers remain faceless and uncaptured. In some versions his adversary, The Joker has an origin and he even has a name in a few. In others the Joker in an enigma, whom you never know how he became what he was. That flexibility has allowed Batman to remain popular throughout many generations. As popular as Spider-Man is, his precise identity and continuity is held very sacred, which I think makes Spider-Man more difficult to take in different directions.
Which brings us to the underlying reason for the change. As much as I'd love to just ignore the hyphen for aesthetic reasons, I would not dare make the change for that reason. Amazing Spider-Man #39 is one of my favorite comics. In fact, a reprint of the issue that's featured in Marvel Tales is the very comic that hooked me into becoming a collector. In that issue The Green Goblin had unmasked Spider-Man which was unheard of at the time and he revealed himself to be Norman Osborn. It was an amazing two part story that featured the debut of John Romita doing the art. John Romita's art was beautiful. He popularized the look of Spider-Man that my generation grew up with and he drew some gorgeous girls. It was an amazing issue.
But there was something else about about that issue, it's only deficit; it was the first the first issue of Amazing Spider-Man that wasn't produced by both of Spider-Man's original creators. And it is an urban myth that artist Steve Ditko had left Spider-Man because he disagreed with writer Stan Lee on who the Green Goblin should be revealed as (I'm sure that there's more to it than that but Steve Ditko is a very private man who refuses to discuss Spider-Man). Well, it occurs to me that Steve Ditko was more than just the artist. In the 1960s Spider-Man comics were done in "Marvel-Style", where Stan gave his writers a brief description of what was to occur in the comics (and he's admitted that sometimes it was no more than a sentence or two), then the artist would draw the book with only that to go on, with Stan filling in the balloons and captions after that. There's no doubt about Steve Ditko had a huge role in the storytelling process and in the direction and style of the book. And after he had left, there was a definite continuity shift, with Romita's clean, more mainstream style becoming the lasting template. The book has never since had the pulp flavor that Steve Ditko brought to it.
One of the elements that forever changed, was the Green Goblin. While Amazing Spider-Man #39 and #40 together are one of my favorite Spider-Man/Green Goblin stories, the rest of those favorites are Ditko's Green Goblin stories and what made those stories different than any that came later, was that the Green Goblin was a character whom nobody knew who he was. That was the main appeal in the character. The Green Goblin had his own personality, independent of the man under the mask. His face was always shown in shadows. The anticipation and mystery is what made him so cool. But no new story could ever capture that quality before. The Green Goblin became Norman Osborn, and Norman can be portrayed as an interesting character. But he's never been the same impish, devilish, elf-like, mysterious gangster he was before the unmasking. Even retrospective stories told to take place in that time period featured the Green Goblin as Norman Osborn. The Green Goblin of that time period is lost, along with a lot of the qualities of Ditko's stories, underneath layers of continuity and decades of stories that have come since. And many of those stories are brilliant in their own right. But it's a shame that new stories cannot be told in the same vein as the classics. There are generations whom are growing up whose only sense of these stories is the retroactive continuity that has been added since.
So what do you do, if this is the kind of story you want to tell? How do you bring things back to remind people, where things were at when Stan and Steve did the definitive Spider-Man. Well, I know better than to tweak with Marvel Continuity. The Marvel Zombies would never tolerate such a thing, let alone Spider-Man fans in particular. And I don't want to make up my own universe, or "imaginary stories" featuring Spider-Man, because in my opinion, if it doesn't start with Stan and Steve, it isn't Spider-Man. But what if, and granted, this is just a dream project, but every dream has the possibility to become real, I was allowed to tell a story that took place right after Ditko's last issue. What if that story only followed the continuity of those original Ditko stories that came before it. It still wouldn't be Stan and Steve, but it would bring things back to where Stan Steve were at and go a direction not dictated by everything that's been established since. It would be a different take, a different continuity, but if it can be done with Batman, why not with Spider-Man?
So what do you call it. The first title that popped into my head was also the boldest. Calling it Amazing Spider-Man #39, even with another label attached to it, probably isn't going to fly considering that the real Amazing Spider-Man #39 is one of the greatest Spider-Man stories ever told. So names like "Spider-Man Pulp" or "Spider-Man Noir popped into my head, but, because I'm seeing a total retro design to the book and I wanted it to be clear that it's a continuation of Ditko's stories, I kept seeing the first issue as having a pulp style cover with "#39" on it. And at the same time I found myself drawing playing with the typographic logo, sketching out different type styles that I felt would make it look vintage, classic, retaining the same look, but in a totally new way. But that damn hyphen, what a pain in the ass it is to have to work around that. So it occurred to me that to fanboys the hyphen is significant, perhaps significant enough to distinguish a different continuity. Why mess around with titles like "Ultimate" Spider-Man.
So in my perfect hypothetical reality the first issue of my dream project is The Amazing Spiderman #39, with the #39 being marketed. In a slightly less perfect version, the title and numbering could be tweaked, but perhaps the shift in continuity could still justify the loss of the hyphen. It opens things up, without totally breaking the rules.
So that's the long story behind my Spider-Man portfolio I've been working on. Each page of the portfolio features a different character from this story. This serves to purposes for me, it introduces the story and the characters and, because each character in the story is very distinctively different from the rest, it shows my range and my ability to stretch genres. This splash page is designed to capture the feel of 1960s Marvel Comics and Ditko's Spider-Man in particular. I did almost everything in this page by hand. That is in part because of my appreciation for people like Robert Crumb, whom even renders the logos of each new cover of his comics as part of the original art. It's also used because there are some qualities that digital art on it's own had a difficult time achieving on it's own. I certainly took advantage of the digital process in finishing the page, including the fine fonts by Comicraft in the byline, but as little as I felt necessary.