Comics, Concept Art, Creative Ideas...

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Shadow Knows...

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

George W. Bu..., oh, I mean, um, The Shadow of course!

Finally a commission where I get to draw a face (well, at least part of a face). Not to say that I don't love drawing Spider-Man or any other masked character. I love finding personality in the way I draw the masks. But still, it's nice to show that I can actually draw pretty nice faces once in a while.

I was delighted that Rick Foster commissioned this The Shadow piece. I've written in a previous post how much I love the 1970s The Shadow comic by Denny O'Neil and Mike Kaluta. I also have quite a bit of interest in the classic pulps from 1930s. Part of that interest comes from the interesting continuity of the character. The Shadow's alter ego is presented in most media and even most of the pulps as Lamont Cranston. The Shadow, however, is a master of disguise and he takes on numerous identities, including that of his agents. In the pulps it is established early on that Lamont Cranston is not the true identity of of the Shadow, but is one of his agents whose identity he uses most frequently. His true identity is Kent Allard who was a World War I fighter pilot who waged a war on criminals after the war was over. Interestingly enough, very little of the other media out there uses this true continuity, almost always referring to the Shadow as Lamont Cranston. This of course, leaves a great source of material, that is largely untapped.

The Shadow is such a cool character. I am amazed that he isnt' more popular in the modern era, as the character's appeal is dark, broody, and violent, very much in the trends of today. Perhaps it's the timeline in the past that is harder for some to pick up on. I for one would rather The Shadow remain a character of the 1930s, as there is so much style and fodder for great fiction in that very interesting era.

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.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Crime-Master takes aim at Spider-Man!

This is one of the two paid commissions I'm doing for Rick Foster, or as he's known on the internet "Grandpa". Rick has been very supportive and enthusiastic about my art. We have similar tastes in comics (we both love this obscure 1960s Spidey villain, The Crime-Master, and the next piece I'm doing for him is The Shadow!!!).

I really appreciate the opportunity to do make a little money while getting my feel for these characters. Like I said, The Crime-Master is a favorite of mine, but I came to understand the character more through this drawing. I've always seen him as a gangster, but what really came through to me as I drew him, is that he's a blue collar gangster. He's not The Rose, whom is a Spider-Man villain from the 1980s whom also is an underworld character who wears a suit and a mask, but whom is rich, stylish, and powerful. The Crime-Master wears drab colors. For some reason I'm seeing him as old school Irish-American. He's a small time gangster, muscle, with bigger ambitions; hence the mask. I also think he's smart. He's been in the trenches, he's a survivor and there's blood on his hand. He has perspective. If he had been allowed, he could lead the mobs and he's brutal enough to do what it takes to hold power. Unfortunately for him, because of this social class and ethnic background, that's not a role open to him through the mobs. Hence the mask, which allows him to grab for power without becoming a target.

And here are my original pencils, which I thought I'd show so people can see how my art evolves. Sometimes it's not apparent to me what's working and what's not until the piece materializes in ink. I'm disappointed to lose sight of Spidey's right arm, but the perspective just wasn't working on that and I think the piece is stronger without it. These are actually really tough poses to draw. There are still a few decisions I'm not sure I made the right choice on, but there is a time when an artist needs to step away so he can meet his deadlines.

Please show Rick your support by shopping at his comic shop, if you're in his area. I spent some time with him on the phone this week and he's a really nice guy. Rick's store is:

Grandpas Comics
34161 RT.45