Recent Dorkiness

The Seedy World of Rafael Grampa, Part One

BATMAN!!

Now that I have your attention... One of the great unsung funnybook artists of the current generation is one Mr. Rafael Grampa. Hailing from Brazil, Grampa has sprung onto the American comics scene somewhat stealthily in recent years, most popularly lending his idiosyncratic vision to drawings of various popular super hero characters, like the one of our favorite flying rodent that we so shamelessly used above to trick you into reading this piece. Not that we feel the least bit bad about that: it's one hell of an illustration. There's lots to like here, from the Dynamic Duo's slightly creepy edge, to the great detail in the flow of Batman's cape, to the casual-but-superb composition, all the curves complementing and counterbalancing each other. Then there's the little details. The often-far-too-neat utility belt actually looks like a useful tool, for instance, made so by the simple expediency of hanging a couple of grenades off it. It's busy enough to seem real, but not too busy, and slung slightly to one side, as if he's just shifted it to get at one of his many wonderful toys. That Batarang in his hand, perhaps, with its crazy-long Bat-Rope coiled around his forearm. It's Robin that really grabs me here, though, and he does it with attitude rather than heavy detail. I mean, he's basically a cape with a head and a fist here, after all. But in spite of that Tintin haircut, and even though he's safely protected by the confines of Batman's all-encompassing cloak, the Boy Wonder's obviously ready to kick some ass. Chin band-aid, no-nonsense expression, weird-ass brass knuckles... That's a plucky kid you don't wanna mess with. Similarly, you probably wouldn't want to trade blows with Grampa's pugnaciously pugilistic Daredevil, either...

More fine attention to detail in this one, including the hooks on the dual billy clubs, and the insane amount of cord coming out of the one in his left hand. The thigh-strapped holster for the clubs is nicely realized, too. It’s there on the traditional costume, of course, but (much like Batman’s utility belt) it’s been cartooned down to something so simple and easy to draw that it’s not a major design element.

Of course, that kind of hyper-real detail is a hallmark of Grampa’s super hero drawings. Note the boxer/wrestler-style lace-up boots, for instance, or the slight gap between the mask and the neck of the sweatshirt. Hell, for that matter, look at the sweatshirt! That’s a genius piece of costume design, especially when paired with the red-brown tunic, which Grampa’s turned into a pull-over tank top. I’m digging on the long-shorts look, too, and the sewn-in knee pads. That kind of protection, along with those MMA-style gloves, makes a lot more sense to me as a part of super hero costume design than the currently-popular body armor look, especially for street-level martial arts characters who need some freedom of movement to pull off all the fancy fighting techniques they use. Grampa’s actually made the original Daredevil costume into something that looks functional and cool, and for the first time ever I actually prefer it to the all-red suit that replaced it.

There’s a lot more going on here than this uber-dorky concern over the practicalities of men dressing up in colorful tights to fight crime, however. This illustration also shows a mastery of body language and a talent for cartooning (because, for all its “realism,” that outfit is exaggerated in all the right ways). I really like the way the clouds circle around Daredevil’s head, too, making him the center of the composition and also kinda mirroring his radar sense. Grampa knows how to use that busy, “lines all over” style to actual good effect, as well, giving his already-meaty drawing style added weight and texture, and an even more visceral feel. Jim Lee and his legion of artistic hellspawn could learn a lot from this.

And judging by his Justice League redesigns, Lee could also learn a lot from this drawing thematically, from its ability to reflect a character’s background in his personal appearance. Because, while this “super heroes as fighters” thing has sort of become Grampa’s claim to fame (as we’ll get to later), it’s especially appropriate for Daredevil. Boxing is a big part of his origin story, after all, and Grampa’s crammed a lot of boxing references in here. The gloves and boots I’ve already mentioned, but the stance and build also kind of scream “fighter.” He’s even worked it into the mask, with the nose piece looking a bit like band-aid stretched tight over a broken nose.

It’s great stuff. But it’s not Grampa’s best work. Not even close. It’s just pin-up stuff, after all, and he’s even better at sequential art. His virtuoso performance came on his American debut, the OGN Mesmo Delivery Service. But we’ll get to Mesmo in part two. Right now, I’m just going to show you a sequence from a story Grampa illustrated for a recent Hellblazer anniversary issue. It involves John Constantine going into a bar to uncover some demonic shenanigans, finding this goat, and… Oh, hell. Just let these two pages do their work:

Hot damn! That’s good stuff. First of all, you’ve got Grampa’s own style to contend with, his afore-mentioned meatiness and superb cartooning ability. Grampa’s big on the tough guy aesthetic, seedy misshapen bastards and over-ripe biker babe types, so this barroom gives him the opportunity to indulge that fascination. So it’s all trucker hats and giant mustaches on the background characters, drawn in a style that’s just cartoony enough for them to pass for comedy relief while not feeling out of place in a world where John Constatine fights a demon with a broken liquor bottle.

Of course, Grampa’s attention to detail helps ground things, as well. While he’s obviously been influenced by Geoff Darrow, Grampa’s details are generally in service to the storytelling, rather than being the whole point of the drawing as it often seems with Darrow. That first panel, for instance, serves to establish the bar as a set. And the later inset panel of Constantine being knocked into the liquor rack is a classic filmic long shot, a showy display of the artist’s talent for perspective, certainly, but also getting across how far Our Hero flew after getting clocked by the demon. It also allows Grampa to work in crowd reactions without wasting a panel on it and thus taking the focus away from the fight, which is the real story here.

And it’s in that fight that we see exactly how wide a grasp of storytelling technique Grampa really has. We start off with a pretty classic horror comics moment of extreme violence kept off-camera. As Constantine cuts the goat’s throat, all we see is the bottle raised high, with a blood trail behind it to tell us what’s just happened. That trick of using things from the environment in place of speed lines to indicate motion is something Grampa’s particularly good at, in fact; we’ll see it again in this very sequence. At any rate. The next panel of the goat transforming is a bit confused (nobody’s perfect), but it’s followed by a big splashy Image-style reveal on the demon. And I say “Image-style” specifically because… Look at that thing! It’s all giant and weirdly proportioned (correctly proportioned, unlike most Image-style designs, but weird nonetheless), and its gigantic horns bleed over the panels above. Rather than interfere in those drawings, though, they’re tucked away in the corners, where they complement the angles and serve to funnel the reader’s eye right on down to the money shot reveal at the bottom of the page. And what a reveal! That thing fills the entire bottom half of the page, dwarfing Our Hero and making it look about as bad for him as it can be.

So of course, Grampa follows that at the top of the second page with a great cinematic freeze-frame moment of Constantine smirking like the cocky bastard he is. The cartoony clouds of dust and smoke behind him, and his flapping tie, capture movement, and we’re still reminded of the giant danger in the foreground by the demon’s huge hands framing the panel. But it’s still a perfect hero moment, bravado in the face of adversity, caught in the split-second before everything goes completely off the rails.

And when the action picks back up in the next panel, Grampa goes all manga with it! The starburst of the punch’s impact, the motion-distended demon arm, even the cartoon clouds, are all right out of the Japanese funnybook playbook, and used to good effect. This is a very cartoony panel in general, in fact. Constantine’s pose as he goes flying is especially cartoony-looking. It doesn’t put me in mind of manga so much as it does Tintin, though. Something in the arc and angle of his body, and the way that one pants leg is creeping up over his shoe just kinda screams Herge to me. We also see the puffs of smoke serving to replace speed lines again, this time tracking Constantine’s trajectory off-panel. Ditto (if you look real close over at the edge of the page) a trail of blood coming from Our Hero’s unseen head. So that’s Japanese and Belgian influences on a collision course with Looney Tunes, all in the same panel. And somehow, Grampa boils all that down to a coherent whole.

True 21st-Century funnybooks right there, people. Gotta love it.

We’ll look further into Grampa’s sequential flair next time, with close-ups on both his afore-mentioned magnum opus Mesmo Delivery, and on the story that put him on most mainstream fanboys’ maps, his Wolverine story from the second Strange Tales anthology. In the meantime, though, here’s a couple-three more stunning Rafael Grampa pin-up illustrations to whet your appetite…

Traditional Japanese print influences for a Werewolf by Night cover? Why the hell not?

An appropriately slick approach for a spot illustration on cybercrime.

Mike Allred’s Madman retains his funky retro-cool edge while somehow also coming off completely bad-ass.

 

Click here for Part Two!

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About Mark Brett (431 Articles)
Shaved Yeti. Alien. Writer of stuff. Read my fiction at http://reportsfromthefieldblog.wordpress.com/. Read my thoughts on comic books and other dork culture ephemera at https://dorkforty.wordpress.com/.

2 Comments on The Seedy World of Rafael Grampa, Part One

  1. for the record, the original Batman & Robin illustration wasn’t colored. I colored this piece last year.

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  1. The Seedy World of Rafael Grampa, Part Two « Dork Forty!

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