So, back a couple of years ago, I did a post on the art of Rafael Grampa, and I labeled it “Part One.” Then, as sometimes happens around here, I never got around to the follow-up. Kinda forgot about it, even though that folder full of Grampa art was still waiting patiently in the Dork Forty folder on my desktop. Then, I was looking at my blog stats over the weekend, and I noticed something:
The number of you sick bastards who’ve found this site through the search term “Gimli Porn” is appalling. Almost as appalling as the joke I made about it.
But that’s not the only thing I noticed. No, I also noticed that my original Grampa post is now the most-viewed article on the site. Well, damn. Now I feel like a putz for spending all that time analyzing Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. I could have just tossed up some pretty pictures, and had done with it. Ah, well. Consider that LESSON LEARNED.
That’s Grampa’s cover for the issue of Strange Tales he contributed to, and it’s chock-full of his usual hyper-detailed variations on the traditional super-suits. So we’ve got a weird deformed Hulk, and Thor with a wrestling belt, knee-high Chuck Taylors, and a lightning bolt tattoo. Pretty sweet. I’m just surprised his Captain America and Spider-Man are so on-model.
But it’s Grampa’s Wolverine that’s the fascination if you’re talking Strange Tales. On the cover, he offers up one of the better designs I’ve ever seen for that weird-ass mask of his. I like that he brought back the “whiskers” from John Romita’s original design, but made them look totally bad-ass, and the eyes are pretty awesome, too. Then you’ve got the short sleeves, the very practical elbow pads, the even-more-practical arm tape, the big trucker belt buckle (nice touch), and… NO PANTS!
Man. I don’t know why briefs on a hairy dude are so damn funny, but… There ya go.
The Wolverine story behind that cover is also kinda funny, playing as it does on Grampa’s love for over-the-top tough guys and sleazy biker-bar aesthetics. The premise is that Wolverine’s set up a sort of Fight Club for his fellow unkillable super-bastards, one part bloodsport, one part professional wrestling. And that’s as hysterical an idea as you might expect, coming from the guy who drew the cover above. But the jokes stop there, because the story’s actually a nasty bit of masochist noir, narrated through a letter from Our Hero’s most recent girlfriend. I don’t usually excerpt stories in large chunks, but in this case I’ll make an exception. Click to embiggen each page below, and read “Dear Logan.”
SO many nice things to say about that story. As I discussed, oh so long ago, Grampa is phenomenal at sequential art, melding traditions from Europe, Japan, and America with his own sensibilities. You get action, drama, cinematics, even some fine art stuff with the crowd shot on the bottom of the fourth page up there. It’s just too much to go into detail on, but I will point out a couple of personal favorite moments. I really love that moment on the second page, when we transition from Sophie in the crowd to her memory of the bedroom, the way her forlorn eyes in the now overlap her wide, crazy eyes in the memory. There’s also the sheer number of weapons sticking out of Logan at various points, and the fact that the announcers are a fat guy and a robot. But it’s all so good. The speed blurs, the composition, the fight choreography, the sound effects… I particularly like the way that font on Wolverine’s bedroom laughter makes it look brittle, like bones.
Then, of course, there’s the story itself to consider. Very few Wolverine writers have handled the character’s healing factor to its best potential (which is to say, kicking the crap out of him at every available opportunity). But even fewer have dealt with his relationship to pain in any real way. In fact, I think Grampa may be the only one. Now, I can understand that. Masochism isn’t really the sort of thing you deal with in your average piece of super hero fiction. But Strange Tales offered the chance to explore these corporate-owned characters in ways not usually possible, and Grampa delivered on that, in spades. The idea that he’d crave the thrill of the pain makes all kinds of sense for the character, to the point that this story has become canon in my head. This is what he does when he takes his little trips away from the X-Men. This is the catharsis he seeks from playing the hero, and the mentor to young mutant girls. I mean, I know I’d need to let off some steam if I was hanging out with Jubilee all the damn time…
Anyway. So far, we’ve focused on Grampa’s work-for-hire stuff. It’s what’s put him on most readers’ radar, after all, and he’s doing the kinds of things with those characters that I wish was more the rule than the exception. But he does have his own book out there, too, and it’s a real tour-de-force.
Mesmo Delivery is about all the things you would expect from Rafael Grampa: tough guys, ugly people, stylish graphics, horrible violence… Yep, it’s the whole Grampa aesthetic in one awesome package. It’s a story about two truck drivers, delivering a mysterious cargo and getting into trouble on the road. They get into an altercation with a couple of other tough guys at a truck stop, and it swiftly gets out of hand:
There’s nothing I don’t love about that panel. The cartoony poses, the sleazy women, the dynamic action, that one dude’s giant hand… And then, of course, the absolute bloody horrorshow of that punch. He was aiming for Big-Hand there, of course, who ducked it, heedless of the woman who’d just jumped on his back. And, my god, it looks like he’s killed her. And as if the momentum of it, the head snapping back and the gout of blood, wasn’t enough, Grampa’s also given us a great double sound effect there: the BOOM of the impact overlaid with the wet SPLAT of her face exploding. Horrible violence, beautifully drawn. You can’t ask for much more out of this sort of ugly pulp concoction.
The fight continues, and doesn’t go well for Our (nominal) Hero, which brings his laconic partner into the fray. And that brings us to another great Grampa action sequence, starting with this rather profane image of the hapless truck stop crown when he makes his presence known:
And continuing into a two-page sequence I’m just going to show you rather than trying to explain (click to embiggen the fun):
Now, that “into the mouth” beheading slow pan is pure demented genius, the sort of Grand Guignol inventiveness that elevates Mesmo Delivery above the crowd. But, as in “Dear Logan,” all this stylish sleaze and gore (sleazegore!) does have a point. I’m not going to tell you what that point is, mind you. But it’s got something to do one of my favorite images from the book (which I’ve cropped to make it as UN-SPOILERY as possible):
I’ve been waiting for Grampa’s second book for a few years now. It’s called Furry Water, and as yet there’s nothing but a few promo images:
I have no idea what it’s going to be about, but when and if it appears, I’ll be buying it. I’ve heard nothing about it in quite some time now, but I’m assuming that Grampa’s still working on it between cover work like this variant for Brian Wood’s The Massive that makes that book look a lot more exciting than it actually is…
…and this fine bit of Burlesque Grotesque from The Unexpected:
He’s also recently done a short film for Absolut Vodka, called “Dark Noir.” The story’s kinda cheesy, but the look of the thing has all of Grampa’s trademarks about it:
So there you go! The Seedy World of Rafael Grampa, Part Two! Only two or three years late! Hope you enjoyed it.