Oct 13, 2010

Ask Duy! Digital Coloring, Cartoony Art, Image, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, Gerry Alanguilan, and Where Are They Now!

Over on my Facebook page, Saiful Diana sent me a rather long message with some questions, and so I will try to answer his questions. There are essentially three questions, so I'll go with it one by one.

Hey man. I'll be brief. As I mentioned earlier, I just got back into comics after a long long hiatus. What I noticed on the current books are the awesome, realistic, digital coloring. But I also cant help noticing that it looks like all the hardwork are done by the colorists and not so much the pencillers/artists.

When I left the comic scene a decade and a half ago, I remember Todd McFarlane was the king, and Jim Lee, Silvestri et al came to a close second, while a certain Mr Stephen Platt was giving these fellas a run for their money.The art then was full of shading and IMO way way better than what we're having today.

The mid 90's saw a drastic change in comic artstyle. Just check out X-Men's Age of Apocalypse and its contemporaries (I'd be happy to lend you my paperbacks if only you weren't like a couple of thousand miles away) All the characters looked cartoon-ish (Even Adam Kubert's style changed) This happened not just in Marvel, but also at DC, Dark Horse and the other comic companies.

What was the driving force behind these changes in artstyle? I know Image was the first to use Digital Coloring and the rest just followed suit, and I have no qualm with digital coloring. But the art, I really miss the styles they used way back in the late 80's and early 90's. Well, except Rob Liefeld's art. No offence heh heh XD

I'd like to hear your views on this evolution of comic arts and coloring. Thanks!
Hi Saiful,

A fair question, and one, actually, that I was thinking of posting about. Before I answer it though, let me clear up a few things.

Undoubtedly, in my mind, the "big three" artists back in the day were - in order - Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, and Rob Liefeld. That's right, no matter how ridiculously I dislike the work of Rob Liefeld, I have to give credit where it's due here - these guys were so far and ahead of everyone else at the time when it came to hierarchy, that I don't even see their contemporaries debating this. When Image Comics formed, their debut issues of Spawn, WildCATS, and Youngblood were all record-breakers. That's why, in 1996, Todd McFarlane was so consistently number 1 on Wizard Magazine's top 10 artist list (which was voted on by fans) despite the fact that, at the time, he was an inker. He was the only inker on the list, and so Wizard decided that to make things fairer, the list would then only include pencillers and painters. Todd was just that huge. Where everyone else was making an empire out of multiple properties (Rob was running two companies - Extreme Studios and Maximage), Todd built an empire out of one, and that was Spawn.

Meanwhile, in 1996, Marvel decided to outsource four of their key properties. Jim Lee got control of Iron Man and the Fantastic Four.

Iron Man is drawn by Whilce Portacio

Fantastic Four is drawn by Jim Lee

While Rob Liefeld got control of the Avengers and Captain America. Yikes. Shudder. Wow.

(Unfortunately for Rob, and fortunately for those of us with eyes, his remakes didn't sell, and he left halfway through the project, and Jim's Wildstorm studio finished it off. Heroes Reborn also didn't get enough success to warrant a second year, which is great, because we then got Heroes Return with Kurt Busiek and Mark Waid coming on to write Avengers, Iron Man, and Captain America. What's that? Putting GOOD writers on key books is a good move? What a revolutionary idea!) And on art duties, we got Ron Garney on Captain America, Alan Davis on Fantastic Four, Sean Chen on Iron Man, and my favorite, George Perez on Avengers!

I also want it stated for the record that I'm not really a Jim Lee fan, and I always thought that of the Image founders, he and Rob were the weakest of the lot. (Although Jim was so far ahead of Rob, still.) And this ties into my answer to your question. According to Erik Larsen, the Image guys actually discussed who the best artist was, technically speaking. Unanimous consensus was that it was Silvestri. Whereas everyone drew a sitting person as if they were posing to sit, Silvestri drew them like they were actually sitting. I tend to agree; the face Wolverine makes in panel four is a face that not many of the other Image artists - not even Jim Lee - could really depict convincingly.

One of the reasons I was never a big Jim Lee fan is because I thought his work lacked expression and subtle emotion. He got the primary colors of emotion right - he could depict anger, sadness, happiness, and all the rest - but when it came down to the subtle emotions, the emotions of everyday life, I thought he was pretty flat. He could create dynamic, poster-worthy pinups, but in terms of telling a story using subtle emotions and storytelling techniques, I always thought he was lacking.

My favorite was always Todd McFarlane, because Rob Liefeld was too... uh... Rob, Jim Lee was too static, I didn't think Marc Silvestri was that much better than Jim (though I do think he was better), Erik Larsen didn't have as much punch (though he was probably the best storyteller among all of them), Jim Valentino's style was a little too generic, and this probably makes me a bad Filipino, but I didn't really appreciate Whilce Portacio's work back then - it was a little too scratchy for my taste, but I grew to appreciate him later on. Todd had a gritty realism to his artwork, but it's like he knew he wasn't actually good enough to be subtle, so he was also cartoony at the same time. I think, because of that, he was really above the other Image guys when it came to expression. He had an exaggeration to his work that was like the classic cartoons, but then a detail to it that would attract someone looking for detail, which fit me to a tee. And whatever problems I had with his figurework, his Spider-Man was great.

And with that comes the rest of the answer to the question. Yes, once these guys got too involved with the business side of things, a new generation of artists came along and started getting everyone's attention. They were cartoonier than what people were used to, with less detail, but you can't take away from them the fact that their work looked like it moved. This movement was headed by Joe Madureira, of Uncanny X-Men and Battle Chasers:

J. Scott Campbell of Gen13 and Danger Girl:

And Humberto Ramos of Impulse and Crimson:.

In fact, Battle Chasers, Danger Girl, and Crimson were all printed under the same banner, Cliffhanger, which was at the time hailed as the "new Image" in terms of being an artist-centric imprint.

Now, you ask, where did this change of style come from? Simply put, most of it came from Japan.

These new guys - and this wasn't even all of them - were so influenced by Osamu Tezuka, manga, and anime that they implemented Japanese techniques into Western comics. That's when I realized that I didn't really have any particular leanings toward one artistic movement in comics. A perusal of my 15 Artists in 15 Minutes (and its sequel) will show you that my tastes are very eclectic. I do in general prefer detail and realism, but sometimes, that is a hindrance, since there tends to be a lot of comics so focused on looking cool that they simply end up not moving.

Yeah, at the end of the day, I'll take someone's ability to express emotions and tell a story over looking cool. If he can do both, then yay, all the better. Neal Adams got it right.

For example, I really, really liked Steve Skroce and the way he drew Spider-Man, as it was animated and quirky. It was like a cartoonier version of Ditko and McFarlane, which I thought was really cool. Skroce went on to storyboard The Matrix and work on all of two issues of Youngblood with Alan Moore. Those were good, if protracted.

But then, I was never a  fan of Madureira or Humberto Ramos, simply because I think they went way too far with the exaggeration. It was always too distracting for me, and I'm hoping that when Ramos gets to work on Amazing Spider-Man in November, I can put it past me, because I'm really looking forward to Dan Slott's run.

Another artist in this generation that I could never really get into was Pop Mhan. They put him on Ghost Rider (can you imagine a cartoony, exaggerated style on Ghost Rider? Geez.) and The Flash, and I won't lie - in a stellar run from Mark Waid to Grant Morrison and back to Mark Waid and then Geoff Johns, it was just the Mhan-drawn issues I couldn't get into. Seriously, this could have been drawn way, way better.

For more on the influence of anime on Western comics, read my Osamu Tezuka article! Figure drawing is not the only technique lifted from Tezuka and company; even Mark Bagley was influenced!

At the end of the day, though, looking cool is necessary to grab attention, but you have to be able to depict expressions and motion in order to depict a story. That's why Will Eisner's The Spirit is so much better later on (when it got cartoonier) than it was in the beginning. And even more so at the end of the day, I think it's about if the art style suits the story. I wouldn't really want Marcos Martin, an experimental, idiosyncratic artist who's perfect for Spider-Man, to draw Superman, just like I wouldn't really want Gary Frank, a more classicist artist who draws iconic heroic poses who's perfect for Superman, to draw Spider-Man. Or, to drive the point home even more, I wouldn't want Todd McFarlane's gritty style on a wholesome and whimsical book like Shazam, and I wouldn't want C.C. Beck's wholesome and whimsical style on a gritty book like Wolverine.

Now, as for digital coloring, I'm not so sure of the history, but Malibu Comics was using cutting-edge digital coloring techniques, which is why Marvel purchased the company in 1994. My reactions to digital coloring is pretty much the same reaction I have to CGI in 2-d cartoons. People overused it when it started, and I think it's appropriate when it enhances the story and distracting when it doesn't. While I'm glad it makes things easier for them (George Perez once noted that they no longer need to draw clouds, since the colorist can do actual clouds now), it's still the onus of the penciller and the inker to tell the story as well as they can. For example, JH Williams III on Batwoman, with Dave Stewart coloring him? This stuff is good. It enhances the story.

This piece of crap from Iron Man, where the colorist does most of the work, while the pencils are ridiculously shoddy? Not so much. It's distracting, and it looks butt-ugly.

One thing that makes me sad about digital coloring is that things that attracted me to the medium when I was younger are no longer being done. Ron Lim would never have to work this hard now to get the Silver Surfer to shine. He could just draw the Surfer's outline and the colorist would handle the shininess.

And of course, just because you can doesn't mean you have to do things like recolor Jack Kirby. A huge portion of the appeal of older comics to me are the flat colors. I really don't need the colors to look realistic when the figure drawings aren't realistic themselves!

I think some artists these days are a lot like what you're looking for. If you look for Ivan Reis, Ethan Van Sciver, JH Williams III, and a bunch of other folks, I think you'll find styles reminiscent of the ones you fell in love with!

I think that answers that. Onto the next question!

p.s. I know Jim Lee is now with DC, McFarlane is busy with his companies, Quesada sticking with Marvel. But what happened to Whilce Portacio, Mark Bagley, Sal Buscema, Art Thibert, Greg Capullo and all the big hitters from the old days? Are they still around? Or sidelined by this "advancement" in comic art?

Fellow Filipino Whilce Portacio recently did a story in Fractured Fables. He also recently finished up a pencilling run on Spawn (inked by McFarlane) and will be drawing an issue of Uncanny X-Men soon.

Former Spectacular Spider-Man artist Sal Buscema retired in the mid-90s and then came back later on to ink Ron Frenz on Spider-Girl. I think both artists will be remembered forever for their Spider-Man contributions, which is both a blessing and a shame.

Mark Bagley pretty much became the ultimate (no pun intended) Spider-Man artist of this generation, not only by finishing up his run in Amazing Spider-Man, but also by working with Brian Michael Bendis on Ultimate Spider-Man, the reimagining of Spider-Man's origin and stories for the new generation. He and Bendis worked on it for 110 issues - the longest run by any creative team on any mainstream comic, ever (beating out Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on Fantastic Four by about 8 issues). Bagley stood out so much because of his punctuality that when his Marvel contract came up, DC snagged him to do the weekly series Trinity with Kurt Busiek. He drew a half-issue each week (so that's about 2 issues per month) without missing a deadline. He's DC-exclusive right now without a regular book, which really just means he draws whatever they tell him to draw. He just finished up a run on Justice League of America and Justice Society of America, drawing the annual JLA/JSA crossover.

Art Thibert inked Bagley on Ultimate Spider-Man and Trinity. He's still around.

Greg Capullo went on to draw The Creech, his own creator-owned series under Todd McFarlane's imprint. Recently, he just drew some issues, again, of Spawn - popular consensus has it that he really is the best Spawn artist ever (I agree). Todd just released a new series called The Haunt, which kind of looks like Spider-Man and Venom as a horror character. Greg Capullo recently took over full pencilling duties.

and if its not too much to ask, can you shed some light on this filippino comic artist called komikero (sp?).

Komikero is Gerry Alanguilan, a Filipino komiks (that's our local word for comics) artist (which is really what "komikero" means), who is most famous for inking over Whilce Portacio and Leinil Francis Yu in titles such as Wetworks, Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine, Superman: Birthright, and more. Locally, he writes and draws a bunch of indie komiks, and he's also the leading authority on all things Filipino komiks, in terms of its history and its evolution. Want to know something about Filipino comics? He's the man to ask. If you go to his website, you'll see informative and thoughtful discussions on a variety of topics, including censorship, the government's plan to revitalize the komiks industry, and why superheroes don't really work in the Philippines.

In November, his local self-published Elmer, a story about a world in which chickens gain sentience, will be released by Slave Labor Graphics.

You can read the entire first issue of Elmer here.

Most importantly, Fox News called him the most handsome man in the world, and with his viral video, can you really argue? Enjoy!

Got questions for Duy? Send 'em over through e-mail at comicscube(at)gmail(dot)com, or ask it over on Twitter or the Comics Cube's Facebook page!

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