So time and energy have been in short supply on the nerd farm lately. Allergies, taxes, busy days… We just couldn’t get the usual long-winded essay done. Which means it’s time to post up a bunch of pretty, pretty pictures. A lot of these are things we’ve shared over on the Dork Forty Facebook page, so folks who follow us there may have seen some of this before. But there’s other stuff mixed in, as well, so hopefully there’s something new for everybody here.
In fact, let’s start with something new: my recently-increased appreciation for the pencil work of classic Superman artist Curt Swan. Swan is primarily remembered for clean lines, superb storytelling ability, and… not being very exciting. I was always bored by him when I was younger, anyway. He represented the “Super-Dad” era of the Man of Steel to me and, young punk that I was, I just never liked his work. I came to appreciate the skill behind his work as an adult, but even then, he was never a particular favorite. But recently, I got my first look at some Curt Swan pencils, and…
…holy crap! Look at that shading! All those fine lines and nuances and tone and mood and depth! None of which, in the era Swan was working, would have ever made it to the printed page. Comics printing was just too cheap. Even if it could have been rendered in ink (and I don’t think most of it could), it would have still been swallowed up by the color. And, from what I hear, this wasn’t just something he did every once in a while, or just for cover illustrations like the one above. Every single page was like that.
The man absolutely drenched his boards in graphite. Then his inkers took it, and transformed it into that clean lined style he’s known for. Seems like a shame. Of course, I can’t blame them for it. I mean… to paraphrase Jerry Ordway on this subject… What do you do with that as an inker? Where do you even begin? So it’s probably for the best. But, man. I’m far from a Swan expert, but one of the only examples I can think of where something of the quality of Swan’s pencils came through in the final art is this Legion splash:
But I think you’d have to render every image as big as that Mordru head to really get his pencil style across, and that’s just not what comics do.
And as long as we’re on the subject of pencils that don’t always translate to the printed page, we should probably take a look at Gene Colan.
Like Swan, Colan turned in impossible pages with exquisite pencil work that the reader would never, ever see. Inker Tom Palmer was able to make his stuff work with deep blacks and a judicious amount of zip-a-tone. But Colan was also lucky enough to be considered a “quality” artist to the point that he had his pencils reproduced straight to the page in the 1980s, on a noir detective comic called Nathaniel Dusk. Of course, funnybook production still wasn’t really up to the task, and those pages often didn’t translate as well as they’d hoped. But at least they tried.
But, hey. If we’re talking pencils, I’m always up for posting some pencil work from Jack Kirby. Here’s something he sketched out one time to give a young artist some pointers on how to make his pages better:
Incredibly generous of him, and proof of how innately he understood his craft. Also in the realm of demonstration is this Frank Quitely production sketch, to demonstrate the difference between Clark Kent and Superman:
Also (and I think this one’s really cool), here’s one of Harry G. Peter’s early costume design sketches for Wonder Woman. The handwriting’s a little hard to read, but the back and forth between Peter and William Moulton Marston on this page is a cool peek into the process behind one of the most enduring super hero funnybook characters ever.
Not all sketches are planning work, though. Here’s something Bruce Timm did for a fan: Batman vs Dracula!
Meanwhile, Mike Mignola evidently does a lot of small drawings as warm-ups, some of which he then posts to social media. Some of them are originals…
…but, as he said of this one, “Sometimes, you just have to draw the Mole Man.”
Which brings us back to Kirby! Here’s a Darkseid sketch he turned out that really captures the arrogant majesty of that character:
But, hey! Did somebody say Darkseid? Here’s two more sketches of the God of Fascism, from Steve Rude and Chris Samnee. Rude captures the attitude a bit better, I think. But Samnee’s line drawing is too cool not to share.
Of course, Rude’s piece is a lot more than just a sketch. But that’s okay. Finished, full-process work is pretty great, too. Check out this trippy Jerry Grandenetti Spectre panel, for instance:
I also found this old Marvel horror cover, penciled by Marie Severin with inks by Bill Everett. This is exceptional work from both artists, with great mood and detail, and some fine cartooning on the faces, to boot.
And here’s a Robert Crumb illustration of a 19th Century Russian hobo. Kind of different subject matter than you generally expect from Crumb, but it does show you what a well-rounded (and talented!) artist he is:
No less fascinating is Rick Veitch’s cover for Swamp Thing #88, the unpublished story in which Swamp Thing met Jesus. Editorial approved the story, then rejected it after work on the issue was nearly complete. That ended Veitch’s run on the book, and kept big names off it for nearly 50 issues. Details on the background of this situation can be found here: https://popcultureuncovered.com/…/the-odd-and-true-tale-of…/.
Then there’s this Bill Sienkiewicz New Mutants cover. It’s kind of a famous image, I know, but I had a poster of it on my wall in college, so it’s always held a special place in my heart. I especially like how, in addition to the wild abstractions in the figures, he also did some mixed media collage stuff, literally gluing bits of computer circuitry onto the page.
Simpler is this freaking awesome Galactus piece from Italian artist Giorgio Comolo, who’s channelling Kirby via Jose Ladronn:
And of course, that brings us back to Kirby all over again. The King did a series of religious drawings in the 1970s (because producing three books a month wasn’t enough for him). I’ve posted his drawings of God before…
…but I recently came across this one, which I saw under the title “Jacob Wrestles the Angel.”
Shades of the Celestials there, I think.
I’ve also started looking back into Kirby’s Golden Age work of late. I don’t love all of it, but when the younger Kirby was on, he was REALLY on. Here’s a two-page spread from a 1951 issue of Boy’s Ranch that’s got all the power of Silver and Bronze Age Kirby, but also some illustrative flair in the shading that you don’t often see in his work.
Another thing that’s seldom seen in Kirby’s later work is his talent for cartooning, on display above with that lanky guy laying down in the middle foreground. That guy’s a cartoon character in the midst of an otherwise realistic (if exaggerated) drawing. And somehow, it all works. This page really gob-smacked me when I ran across it recently. Nice to know that there’s still stuff for me to learn about my favorite funnybook artist.
But speaking of Golden Age Kirby, let’s finish this nonsense out with the man himself, at some point in the World War II era, making time with his best girl Roz: