Welcome to the first installment of the top 10 most influential artists of all time! Click here for the archive!
Today's influential artist is Bill Sienkewicz!
Why Is He Influential?
Bill Sienkewicz is an artist that you may not take to at first, and it's actually quite possible that you may never really warm up to him. His style is an acquired taste, one that is a little hard to get into. He had a style that combined photo-realism with expressionistic distortions of figures that were not seen before in comics (at least not on a wide stage), and also introduced oil paints, mixed media, and other tools into the making of comics. Anyone who has ever made comics with something other than pencil and ink owes a debt of gratitude to Bill Sienkewicz for paving the way.
For Bill Sienkewicz, the name of the game is experimentation. He could turn a page - and all the panels, caption boxes, and everything - sideways to depict a character falling, like in this page from Daredevil: Love and War. Note, also, how the captions jumble together, giving a more immediate and urgent feel to the whole thing:
He could make a character like the Kingpin larger than life:
To Sienkewicz, realistic anatomy, which, in the 1980s, was the staple of the mainstream comic book industry, was a hindrance. What mattered was subjective portrayals; the notion that perception was reality.
Sienkewicz could certainly get abstract, but when he had to, he grounded the abstraction in photorealism, creating an even more powerful version of whatever it was he was portraying. Note this army drill sergeant from Voodoo Child: The Illustrated Legend of Jimi Hendrix.
A little-known fact about this book is that the legendary Will Eisner was the one originally tapped to do it, and you can actually see some of his layouts at work. But Will deferred it to Bill Sienkewicz, because he believed that Bill was the one who could properly depict the passion and emotion of the story.
And he was right:
More than just what he did, Bill Sienkewicz revolutionized comics with what he did it with. Name it: oil paints, digital painting, mixed media -- it's all fair game. There are even Sienkewicz originals that have broken glass on them. And the important thing is, whatever he was using, he just had an incredible design sense. This cover to The Dark Phoenix Saga remains my favorite edition, ever.
Bill Sienkewicz made it okay to put the pencil aside and try something else.
What Works of His Should I Read?
My favorite Bill Sienkewicz work really is Voodoo Child: The Illustrated Legend of Jimi Hendrix. It's the biography of a music legend who thrived on experimentation and distortion drawn by a comics legend who thrives on experimentation and distortion. It's perfect.
And Bill Sienkewicz is the only man on this list to work with Alan Moore on something. Unfortunately, Big Numbers was aborted before it even got a sixth of the way through, but it's worth reading the first couple of issues. It's about a small town and the interpersonal relationships and how the people's thoughts affect everything. The combination of photorealism and subjective abstraction made Sienkewicz the perfect guy for the project.
Sienkewicz made his name on runs of Marvel's Moon Knight and New Mutants, and worked with Frank Miller (Alan Moore and Frank Miller - there's a resume everyone should love) on Elektra: Assassin and Daredevil: Love and War, both of which you can actually read in their entirety on his official Web site.
Bill also recently did a Delirium story in Sandman: Endless Nights, meaning he's collaborated with Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Neil Gaiman (seriously, does anyone else have this kind of resume?), and, as usual, the story was perfect for Bill.
Where Can I See His Influence?
The influence of Bill Sienkewicz can be seen in the works of anyone who doesn't use just a pen as well as those who go for subjective portrayals and abstract depictions in their works. For example, there's Sam Kieth, of the Maxx:
Ted McKeever, of Superman: Metropolis:
Barron Storrey, who drew the Despair story in Endless Nights:
And, of course, Dave McKean, who drew all the Sandman covers and worked on Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth:
Where Can He Officially Be Found on the Web?
Bill Sienkewicz has an official Web site, which you can always find on my sidebar, and he also has a Facebook account.