Thursday, February 24, 2011

Slam Evil!

I really didn’t want to start off my first post in about two weeks with sadness but the news of Dwayne McDuffie’s passing really has me down. I don’t want to pretend that I knew the man or that he was something special in my life. That would be a lie. But he did make some damn fine cartoons and was, by all accounts, a hell of a fine man to know. I’ve read several interviews with him and he impressed me as an intelligent, thoughtful and talented guy. I find myself wishing that I had had the opportunity to meet him and tell him how much I enjoyed his work. That reminds me an awful lot of the sentiments I heard after Mike died. It seems to me that the comics industry has been losing a lot of really talented, really nice folks the last few years and losing them young. Mr. McDuffie was only 49 years old. The unfairness of that is staggering. And it’s a loss the comics industry can ill afford. There are some really nice remembrances on Newsarama (Tom Breevort’s almost made me cry) and Peter David said some really nice things about him on his blog. I can imagine what his family is going through right now and my thoughts and good wishes go out to them.

We’ve moved into our new space at work. It’s...not horrible. I can’t lie and say I wouldn’t prefer my old spot with three walls and a window. But the current situation is workable. Though there’s zero privacy, folks are seeming to be respectful of each other’s space and that includes keeping their voices down. It’s like study-time at the library. Oh, well. As I’ve said, they can put me wherever they want, as long as the checks find me.

I’d tried to rush out a drawing before I moved out and, as a result, it came out pretty disappointing. It was a full-color marker drawing of my latest obsession, The Phantom. For someone with such a simple costume, it’s nearly impossible for me to get a feel for him. I was torn between trying for the classic Sy Barry look and going with something more...”me.” The result was about 40 sheets of balled up paper in the recycling bin. I finally finished the full-color drawing after stinking up the agency with marker fumes and shook my head. Then, once we moved, I stopped worrying about it and started drawing and you can see the result above. I kind of like it.

Recently, the 1996 Billy Zane film came out on Blu-ray and I snatched it up. Suzanne and I were probably the only two people who loved the movie when it was released. I was disappointed that the marketing department at Paramount at the time had pumped up the magenta in stills of the suit for some reason. That’s probably what kept people out of the seats. Because it’s a hell of a fun movie. It was written by the late Jeffery Boam, one of my favorite screenwriters and, though the film has it’s problems, it’s so much fun that I find myself smiling every time I watch it.

The reason for that is Billy Zane. I’m not sure why people have such a problem with the guy. He’s been good in everything I’ve seen him in and in this film especially. He famously pumped iron for a solid year to win the part without the help of a padded suit (Lookin’ at you Michael Keaton!) and completely inhabits the role. No brooding dark knights here. Zane’s Ghost Who Walks is a grinning, unselfconscious boy scout having the time of his life. His aw shucks attitude is completely without irony and he’s a joy to watch. The film has built a cult following over the years and I suspect in this case “cult” is code for “gay.” Because, I’m straight as an arrow but lets face it, Billy Zane makes the purple tights work. The costume designer did a great job translating the suit into the “real” world, really only sacrificing the blue-and-black striped trunks. Those trunks look great in the comics but I imagine they’re rather inexplicable if you think about them too hard. The result was still a little shocking but Zane really looks great in the suit and never once behaves as if he’s not doing a serious movie. In fact, everyone in the film seems to be taking the material seriously. Well, almost everyone. I don’t think Treat Williams got the memo. He camps it up like he’s in the ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW.

I remember at the time Suze and I had been picking up the cheap Phantom skull rings at the 7-Elevens (I think) and I was just skinny enough that they fit. Suze would wait until a quiet moment when I least expected it and then stick her fist inches from my face and exclaim, “SLAM EVIL!” It was a ridiculous tagline that appears nowhere in the film but she would crack me up every time she did it. We had so much fun with those rings. Ah, back when we were so easily amused.

Before the movie came out, my only exposure to The Phantom was Mike’s collection of Charlton PHANTOM comics when we were kids. They were drawn by Jim Aparo and, after that, the great Don Newton. (Newton’s painted covers were SPECTACULAR.) The character has such an appealing, iconic look that the more outlandish aspects of his costume are easily overlooked. And his story and concept are so...neat. I can’t believe there hasn’t been more done with him outside the comic strip. No offense to Moonstone, but The Ghost Who Walks is an A-list character that deserves much broader exposure.

Since re-watching the film on Blu-ray, David Newman’s beautiful, underrated original score has been on heavy rotation on my iTunes. Like I said, it’s my latest obsession. If you’ve never seen the film, give it a try. And, if you don’t like it, I fear we may be cross.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


I had so much fun drawing Darkseid the other day, I thought I’d share some love for his Marvel counterpart, Thanos. I don’t know for sure if Jim Starlin was inspired by Kirby’s creation when he birthed this big bruiser but there are some similarities.

I think I’ve mentioned Mike’s love of all of Starlin’s work back in the Seventies. And how he used to practically trace Starlin’s work in the WARLOCK and CAPTAIN MARVEL series in his developing years. When we were dealing with Mike’s massive comic book collection back in ‘07, his Starlin CAPTAIN MARVELs were some of the very few books I kept that Mike didn’t work on. I already had my own copies but these were special books.

It took a while for Mike’s love of Starlin’s stuff to rub off on me because I liked the more accessible guys like John Romita, Sal Buscema, Gil Kane and Ross Andru. At my age, I knew the art was good but it was a little over my head. And the stories...forget it. Now, Do I love that stuff.

I had a blast drawing this sketch. I don’t think it’s wishful thinking to say I see a lot of Mike in there. It probably has less to do with me trying to emulate him as it has to do with the fact that he was so influenced by Starlin. As I was drawing this, I kept referring to scans of Starlin’s work to get costume details right. I think it’s just a case of shared influences.

I didn’t ink it because my penciling has been suffering because I’ve been doing most of the drawing in the inking stage lately. Since I’m going to start back drawing the PERHAPANAUTS pages I still owe Todd and Craig, I thought it would be nice to get in some practice doing more detailed pencils.

Speaking of pencils...recently, through Rich Woodall and Rod Hannah, I became aware of Ken McFarlane’s ink job over my Hunter sketch from a couple years back. Christian had already given me a beautifully inked version that he’d done. Finding out that someone else had done the same thing was pretty flattering. And, to be honest with myself, Ken really improved the drawing. This kind of thing doesn’t happen to me often and it’s the little things in life...

So, thanks Ken!

I’m hoping I can keep up the sketching but I just don’t know. Next week, we move into our new space at work and they’ve spent a lot of time and money removing as much comfort and privacy from our work environment as possible. We’re going from something like this:

To something more like this:

I’m hoping that, once I figure out my comfort zone, I can get my groove back. We’ll see.

Okay, that’s it for now. Later.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Pinch Me

By kickoff, my belly was doing flip-flops. To be honest, I hadn't thought much about the Superbowl until today. I've had a lot on my mind and it really didn't seem real. The Packers had not had a stellar season, plagued by injuries and prone to penalties. But something happened in the last couple of games of the season. The Pack won when they had to and squeaked into the playoffs the second-lowest seeded team in the entire NFL. And they played like tigers. I'd heard people throwing around phrases like "most dangerous team" and "a team to keep your eye on."

I thought, "Really?"

Don't get me wrong. I believed in Aaron Rogers from the beginning and thought the Packers defense was on the verge of greatness. But I figured our time would come next season. Every week during the playoffs I thought to myself that this was a pretty good showing for a team with so many injuries. Just wait till everyone's healthy next year. But they kept winning. And then, suddenly, they were in the Superbowl. I was in shock. In a good way, but shock all the same.

And the game itself turned out to be a microcosm of the season as a whole. The Packers lost 3 of their top players by the third quarter. And still, they persevered. The Packers are not a second-half team and I thought we were done for at the end but, against all odds, they held on to win.

By the end of the playoffs, I sensed a lot of Packer fatigue in football fans and though the Packers are one of the most casual-football-fan-friendly teams around, I got the sense that a lot of people wanted them to lose. I just didn't get it and I was glad they were disappointed. They earned this victory, every step of the way, and I couldn't be more excited for Coach McCarthy and his young quarterback Aaron Rodgers. (Though I'm not too sure about his being named game MVP. I was thinking Jennings probably deserved it more.) I hope this doesn't go to his head.

And if the Steelers had won, my friend Paul and I joked that Packers receiver Jordy Nelson would have been named MVP for dropping 5 passes, including a sure touchdown.

I hope you enjoyed the game as much as I did. The Steelers are a great team and if you're a Steelers fan, don't feel too bad. They'll be back to the big game again soon. Tomlin is too great a coach for that not to happen. But this season, I say Mike McCarthy for Coach of the Year.

Okay, I'm pooped. Off to bed I go. Later.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Craig's Sketch

Despite my recent scheduling wows, I actually find myself in the rare position of having two drawings ready for posting. I’m going to be frugal and save the first of them for next week, in case I get bogged down again. The second, you can see posted above.

Craig Rousseau, PERHAPANAUTS and KORVAC SAGA artist extraordinaire, gave me his sketchbook to look at the last time I saw him at the Baltimore Comicon. Inside were some eye-poppingly beautiful Avengers-themed drawings by such comics luminaries as Richard Case, Howard Porter and Eric Canete, among others. There was even an awesome Hulk drawing by PERHAPANAUTS colorist Rico Renzi. While I was wallowing in awe and envy, I dimly heard Craig say something that sounded like he wanted me to add one of my drawings to it. Turns out I wasn’t hallucinating. Craig actually wanted me to add a Mafus Special to his collection. And he wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

I was incredibly flattered but also terrified. I spent more time trying to figure out how I could sneakily draw something on loose paper and glue it in than I did figuring out what to draw. Because I already knew what I wanted to draw.

Quite possibly my favorite issue of THE AVENGERS ever is Volume 1, number 160. Drawn by George Perez and Pablo Marcos with a story by Jim Shooter, it had everything a kid could want in a comic. Shakespearean melodrama, pulse-pounding action, costumed heroes actually in their costumes and, best of all, lots and lots of KIRBY DOTS! The story featured the reveal that the Grim Reaper was Wonder Man’s brother and was also the last time Wondy appeared in his classic costume. I was never sure what that strange design was on his abdomen but I fell in love with the character from the first time I laid eyes on him. He was always “my” Avenger. Well, until they gave took away his costume and gave him the ridiculous red safari jacket. In preparation for this drawing, I dug out an old copy and read it. Though some of the dialogue reads a little fan-fictiony, the story holds up and the art is as beautiful as I remember. There was something about the books Marvel put out back then that made even that single-issue story feel epic. If asked, I would have sworn that “The Trial” story was spread over three issues instead of the done-in-one that it was.

I tried to recapture some of the feel of AVENGERS #160 in this drawing. I was actually quite happy with the pen and ink drawing but I feel like it lost something when I colored it. There were some mighty fine color illustrations in Craig’s sketchbook and, to be honest, I was trying to live up to the standard set by some of those guys. I think I fell quite short but you can’t say I didn’t give it my best shot. I tried to get fancy, mixing colored pencils with markers. I probably should have experimented elsewhere. Thankfully, I stopped before I ruined it. I hope you like it.

This marks the last of my promised sketches and frees me up to wrap up the last few PERHAPANAUTS pages. After that...HAND ME DOWN HORROR!

And don’t forget to root for my Packers this Sunday. My stomach’s starting to turn over a little as we get closer to the big game. Thankfully, I’ve just found out I don’t have to work this weekend thanks to some meetings that got moved. So I’ll be watching with the rest of you.