May 30, 2011

Comics Techniques and Tricks: Jim Steranko

Welcome to another edition of Comics Techniques and Tricks, in which we showcase techniques that only comics can do! Click here for the archive!

I bought a copy of MARVEL VISIONARIES: JIM STERANKO over a month ago, and I could have very easily picked just about any page from this book for this feature because Jim Steranko is a master of comics tricks. (See here for more examples.)



However, the comic I'll be focusing on is TOWER OF SHADOWS #1, which has the short story "At the Stroke of Midnight."

All scans here are from this site.

In this story, Lou and Marie, a married couple who do not love each other, go into Shadow House, Lou's ancestral home, to find something belonging to his grandfather. Steranko uses variations of a grid, laying out each page in three tiers of panels, all of the same height, but changing the widths to suit the mood necessary for the story. Here's the first tier of page 3.


Note how the first five panels are very cramped together, causing a feeling of claustrophobia for both Lou and the reader. You know it's Lou feeling hemmed in, even without reading the dialogue, because Marie has a black background behind her. And also because of their body language. The panels get slightly wider when Marie gets angry, giving her the sole red panel in that otherwise very steady palette of blacks and oranges, showing that she's not feeling afraid.

Finally, note how the last two panels are a polyptych — two panels that really form one big panel, with the gutter in between showing the passage of a small moment in time. Additionally, it shows a symbolic separation between the two characters.

Here's the next tier.


Steranko pulls back for the first panel and widens it to give us a semi-establishing shot. The light held by Lou causes more shadows (and frankly, just look at how well-drawn that panel is), heightening the atmosphere.

But the real kicker is the second to fourth panels, which is another polyptych, this time of Lou's face. It slows down time and once again hems him (and us) in. It's a sharp contrast with the fifth panel, which is about as wide as those three panels put together, really underscoring the differences between the two characters.

Jim Steranko was a master of mood and atmosphere, taking these Eisnerian effects to the next level.

"At the Stroke of Midnight" won the 1969 Alley Award for Best Feature Story. Grantbridge Street &other misadventures has the entire story scanned and uploaded here. If you want to own a copy for yourself, you can find it in MARVEL VISIONARIES: JIM STERANKO.

May 27, 2011

Easter Eggs in Comics: Captain America and Thor on Free Comic Book Day

Welcome to another installment of Easter Eggs in Comics! Click here for the archive!

On Free Comic Book Day (my experience is related here), one of the titles that came out was from Marvel's kids' line, called CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THOR: THE MIGHTY FIGHTING AVENGERS, by Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee.



This is a fun book and it plucks a World War II Captain America and a present-day Thor and puts both at some point in the past. In Cap's world, a fellow soldier calls for him.


And he responds with what is pretty much an incredulous "Really?"


The Fighting American is another patriotic hero, created in 1954 by the same creators of Captain America, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. Unlike Cap, Fighting American fought Communists, and was also more of a pastiche than a serious take on a patriotic character.


(Interestingly, the Fighting American was the subject of a long legal dispute between Marvel Comics and Rob Liefeld in the late 90s. You can read all about it here. I recommend it; it's pretty interesting and says a lot about using derivative characters.)

Moving on, we get to see Thor in the present day talking to Jane Foster. Jane says there's some trouble with her brother Hal.


Hal Foster is, of course, a legendary comic book creator, known mostly for creating and defining PRINCE VALIANT:


Prince Valiant is a knight in Arthurian times, making the reference even more apt because that's exactly where (when?) Cap and Thor get taken to!


As an aside, this was a really fun comic. I can understand why readers of THOR: THE MIGHTY AVENGER were riled up when it was canceled.

But there you go. Two Easter Eggs for the price of one today!

May 26, 2011

Comics Cube! Reviews: KIRBY: GENESIS #0

KIRBY: GENESIS #0 came out today. Well, actually, for me it came out yesterday, but I'll say it came out today because today is Wednesday. If you're unaware of the concept, it's basically that Dynamite Entertainment got Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, and Jack Herbert (from whose site all the following scans come) to write a story featuring all of the characters created by Jack Kirby and still owned by the Kirby estate. Meaning, simply, all the characters Kirby created that aren't for Marvel and DC. Everyone.

Well, I did say "everyone."

Going at only a dollar, KIRBY: GENESIS #0 is, narratively speaking, really just an introduction to the story we're about to get. It starts off, fittingly enough, with Jack Kirby himself, at his drawing board, illustrating an image for the Pioneer 10 Space Probe. Fittingly enough, Jack's even on the cover, with The Silver Star just almost literally popping out of his head.


The probe goes farther and farther into space, being encountered by Kirby creations along the way, such as Galaxy Green, Tiger 18 (who apparently was just a Kirby sketch and was never developed), and Captain Victory, so there's not much of a story in this issue. It's all premise and art. And how excellent the art is.

With Alex Ross on layouts and paintings for selected pages and Jack Herbert doing the finishes for most pages, the pages are really dynamic. Are they as dynamic as Kirby's? Of course not — no one is as dynamic as Kirby, and more and more I'm convinced no one ever will be. But it absolutely captures the pure spirit of Kirby. Characters popping out of panels, varied and slanted layouts, the feeling that these characters are coming right at you, you name it, and Ross and Herbert do it. The climax of this book (if you can call it that) is a two-page spread just showing you exactly what it is you're in for.

The costumes for these characters also remain unchanged, and you get to see Ross and Herbert portray these guys in full Jack Kirby glory. This is perfect, because the Kirby designs are perfect. You even get to see some of them in the second half of the issue, where we go behind the scenes and see some of the original Kirby designs juxtaposed with these characters getting the Alex Ross treatment. And seriously, guys, it's a treat. Because seeing what is essentially pure Kirby juxtaposed with Alex Ross, well, it stirs up a feeling, and that feeling is wonder.

KIRBY: GENESIS #0 is only a dollar in comics stores. Go buy it, support the Kirbys, and watch two of our modern masters and a potential future master set the stage for what promises to be a very exciting story, and a very fitting tribute to The King of Comics.

May 23, 2011

Reclaiming History: Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

Welcome to a new installment of Reclaiming History, an ongoing series where the Comics Cube! tries to balance out what the history books say and what actually happened! Click here for the archive!

Today, we reclaim history in honor of Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, the most important comic book artist that everyone hasn't heard of!


Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, to more than just one whole generation of comic book readers, is DC Comics. He is the standard and the model by which everything is based.

But Duy, you ask, what works has he done that would give him that classification?

Well, you can see his stellar storytelling work on THE MANY WORLDS OF TESLA STRONG:

Click here for this installment of Comics Techniques and Tricks!


DEADMAN:


KAL, an Elseworlds story he did with Dave Gibbons, where Superman lands in medieval times:


THE METAL MEN segment of WEDNESDAY COMICS:


The SUPERMAN VERSUS WONDER WOMAN story he did back in the 70s:

Click here for this installment of Comics Techniques and Tricks!

But the work he is probably best known for is the original BATMAN VS. HULK crossover, which came out in 1981 and is available in CROSSOVER CLASSICS:



This one piece of work is an incredible showcase of layout, design, and figure work. For example, to this day, I believe that Batman can beat the Hulk by using sleeping gas and then kicking his stomach in. I know a lot of hardcore comics fans have problems with that notion, but Garcia-Lopez drew it so well and so convincingly.

This is from two separate pages, put together. I found it on Google.


Later on, the Joker gets ultimate power, and we get pages like this.


So Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez is a very dynamic storyteller. But it doesn't really say why he's so important, does it? Well, we're getting to that. And the most amazing thing is, I don't even have to say a whole lot. This entire story can be told in pictures.

You might also be thinking that Garcia-Lopez's figures look very default. Like maybe they're the versions that you see on lunchboxes and everything. Well, that's because they are.


Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez is the artist behind the model sheets for DC Comics. For much of the 80s into the early 90s, his drawings were the bases for the works of every. single. artist. working at DC Comics. He drew the style guide:


And he made sure that everyone knew how everyone was drawn. Check out these model sheets:






He also did a lot of promotional material. I know I've seen these images on lunchboxes, bags, and T-shirts before, and I'm sure you have too:







Plus, just look at the design work on those babies. Isn't that great?

In MODERN MASTERS #5, an issue devoted to Garcia-Lopez, Andrew Helfer makes it clear that Jose Luis was held for a long time as DC's secret weapon. Every editor in the business knew him, but few knew his name and much less his phone number. DC kept it abreast for so long because they were afraid that Marvel would snap him up with a better offer. They had every reason to fear that (if I were Marvel, I would have). And so, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez became the man who kept DC Comics consistent across all their books. The artists of DC Comics had it so much easier, because they had Garcia-Lopez to work off of.


Unfortunately, it's this "secret-keeping" that makes him a prime subject for Reclaiming History. In fact, in DC Comics' retrospective book, DC COMICS: SIXTY YEARS OF THE WORLD'S FAVORITE COMIC BOOK HEROES, he has all of three blurbs in captions accompanying photos, and only one mention in the body of an actual article. If you weren't familiar with him, you'd never have known he did the cover.


Garcia-Lopez's craftsmanship is unparalleled, and it's best illustrated by an anecdote told in MODERN MASTERS #5. Legendary European artist, Jean Giraud, also known as Moebius, was looking at Garcia-Lopez's work. He asked Helfer, "This Garcia-Lopez, he uses models, no?" When Helfer said, "No," with a smile, Moebius' only answer?

"SON OF A BITCH!"

This may be the highest compliment another artist can give to another artist, but as a fan, I can give this guy the highest compliment I can give anyone. When I think about pretty much any character from DC Comics, the versions that I see in my head — even with Neal Adams' Batman, George Perez's Wonder Woman, and Gary Frank's Superman — are those of Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.


In my mind, he is DC Comics.

Some Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez works right here:

May 20, 2011

There's a Superman/Morrissey T-Shirt Going Around....

...and it looks like this.

Click here for where this originally appeared!

Now, the Superman part is drawn by Bob Oksner and is from the original cover of ACTION COMICS #454.


Morrissey and Sandie Shaw are drawn by Paul Cornish, who runs the blogs Last of the Famous International Fanboys and The Amalgam Age of Comics. I was first drawn to it while I was searching for Amalgams (that's mixtures of comics characters), and this particular image stuck out to me because I am a big Superman fan, Peachy is a big Morrissey fan, and we are both big hamburger fans.

Now, here in the Philippines, a local T-shirt manufacturer whom I won't name has been using Paul's Photoshopped image. I came across it on Facebook and asked them if Paul knew about this. They asked me for Paul's contact and asked him for permission, he gave it and jokingly asked for a free shirt, and then he never got a response.

Although Paul has no problems with it, because he's not really licensed for either part of the image, I still feel it's important to let people know: Paul Cornish did this; he drew Morrissey and Sandie Shaw, juxtaposed the Moz beside Superman eating a bunch of burgers, and had Morrissey say "Heaven Knows You'll Be Miserable Now" to Superman. It's not his characters, but it's his joke and his effort that took two disparate images and made them something that's T-shirt-worthy.

In this small little hobby of ours, credit is important. So if you see someone wearing that image on a T-shirt, remember: Paul Cornish did that.

And with that, I greet my fellow comics enthusiast, Mr. Paul Cornish, a very happy birthday! Go over to either of his blogs and wish him a happy birthday there.

Visit Last of the Famous International Fanboys for Paul's thoughts on comics.
Visit The Amalgam Age of Comics for more Photoshop jobs.


May 19, 2011

Easter Eggs in Comics: A Filipino Comic in ZOMBIES VS. ROBOTS: UNDERCITY

Welcome to another installment of Easter Eggs in Comics! Click here for the archive!

So out today (or yesterday, depending on where you are) is the second issue of ZOMBIES VS. ROBOTS: UNDERCITY, written by Chris Ryall and drawn by fellow Filipino, Mark Torres.

Can you spot the Easter Egg in this page?


Specifically, in these two panels?


That's right, kids, thaaaaaaaat's Trese, the Philippines' supernatural investigator!


Furthermore, doesn't that guy look like TRESE writer, Budjette Tan?

Right: Budjette Tan
Left: The reason he got a lot of hate mail from Filipino comic book fans.

To learn more about Trese, read my review here, and go to the official website here, where you can order the books via National Book Store!

May 16, 2011

BATHALA: APOKALYPSIS, the Interview, Part 1

This is PART 1 of an exclusive interview conducted with David Hontiveros, the writer of BATHALA: APOKALYPSIS. We discussed the comic book in all of its aspects, from its conception and themes to execution and the final product. The first part of this interview appeared abridged in BATHALA: APOKALYPSIS #3, which was released at the last Metro Comic Con, and will continue until the final (eighth) issue.



If you want to get yourself copies of the first three issues, kindly contact me and I will refer you to David Hontiveros or his artistic co-creator, Ace Enriquez.

Without any further ado, the interview:

DEVELOPMENT

After Gerry Alanguilan proposed the concept of "Superman vs. The Apocalypse," was there any more development on his end? Or was that it, and you took it from there?

In terms of the narrative, that was pretty much it. Gerry did do his own costume design for the main character, but as far as the story proper and script goes, that’s all me.

Much of the Book of Revelation is meant to be symbolic. (Such as creatures with seven eyes.) How did you decide which aspects to take literally?


Some of the guidelines I set for myself when I sat down to write Bathala were, I didn’t want to do what I’d seen a lot of in other interpretations of the material. I also wanted to depict aspects of the Book of Revelation that hadn’t really received much attention in the past, so there would be new things to see in “our” Apocalypse.

Can I ask which sources you were looking at for other interpretations of Revelation? Obviously, there is an existing "Superman vs. the Apocalypse" story in KINGDOM COME, but that wasn't really a work that took anything literally.

As a general rule of thumb, I read a lot, including non-fiction titles (which often serve as research material for my writing, as was the case with Bathala), and though I can’t rightly tell you all the titles I read for this (some were borrowed, and this was 13 years ago), what I can see at a glance right now as I type this, is Mysteries of the Bible.

What I’m also certain I consulted for Bathala were the encyclopedias around the house. There’s a wealth of information in encyclopedias just waiting to be shaped and sculpted into stories, and I’m lucky enough to have two editions of the Britannica here, one older than the other (so the content differs in some cases), as well as other encyclopedias like Collier’s. (My Dad was a firm believer in the power of encyclopedias.) I’m sure I consulted them at least twice for Bathala. Once, 13 years ago, since the encyclopedias are usually one of my first stops during my research phase for any work, and the second time, last year, when I needed a quick immersion into the material, for when I had to go over the scripts again to polish them up, when Ace came on board as artist.

The 200-page count that Gerry asked for was also a huge factor in my choices; if certain elements had actual literal physical forms, they would invariably take up pages and panels, while if they were kept on a symbolic level, they could be part of the background. I had to pick and choose which elements, to me, seemed to present potentially interesting opportunities, if they were presented as literal, physical entities.

I take it then that that means that the 200-page count was liberating? I can imagine a theme of this magnitude leaving a writer wanting much more room for even more complex story development.

I don’t know that I felt “liberated” by the page count, exactly. It was more along the lines of, Well, there are your parameters. Go and tell your story keeping them in mind.

As you’ve pointed out, what Bathala is about is so potentially sprawling, that the immediate urge is to have lots of pages to tell the story. What Gerry did by laying down the page count, was to effectively rein in those urges, making me consider the story in those particular terms. It may not have exactly been “liberating,” but it did make things easier, in a way, since the lines were most definitively drawn, and I couldn’t stray far beyond them, so I had to shape a story that could be effectively told within those lines.

Thus, I decided on 7 chapters (7 being a central numerical motif in Revelation) of approximately 30 pages each, resulting in a grand total of 210 pages, just a smidgen over the 200-page count. (And as I mentioned in the first issue, the final draft of the Bathala script came to a total of 226 pages, again, a smidgen over the 210 page mark.)

There were also cases where the decision went something like this: “Creatures with lots of eyes covering (and inside) their bodies would look really interesting and have that horror movie feel to them and they would look absolutely awesome,” and as many of my readers know, I’m a horror geek as much as I am a comic book/superhero geek, so there was that, too.


Actually, Bathala really was a no-brainer for me, since it was a delirious mash-up of two things I was a geek of: superheroes, and Apocalyptic imagery. (My fascination with the Book of Revelation was an outgrowth of my horror geekery, stemming from The Omen, and all the other Apocalyptic fiction and films that came in the wake of its success.)

And of course, apocalyptic imagery works well with comics as it is a visual medium. Sometimes the symbolism doesn't matter so much as the coolness factor. Were you ever worried that you were sacrificing one for the other in certain scenes?

Well, I’ve always been concerned with subtext, with the stories I tell being about something other than just the tale being told, so that’s normally my default mode, more so perhaps when I’m writing comics, since, to a certain extent, I’m also depending on the artist to bring some of his own “cool” to the table, by his art style, by his character designs, by the way he frames the action. Naturally, I still have the storyteller’s desire to have kickass set pieces in the narrative, and I try and make sure those are in the scripts, but I suppose I always tend more towards the Substance end of the spectrum, over the Style.

Having said that, I’m also aware that as far as my prose and storytelling go, I’m definitely a stylist; I believe how you tell a story is, in many ways, more important than what the story you’re telling is. Just ask Shakespeare; every story’s been told before. It’s a matter of figuring out how to tell the story in a fresh and interesting way, and how to make the story about something more than just the story.

Substance and Style. I guess I should have bumper stickers made…

I understand that you also researched Nostradamus' prophecies in depth for this comic. Being unfamiliar with Nostradamus beyond the occasional chain mail, would you mind elaborating on that research process and what you took out of it?

Well, I went through his quatrains, and determined which were largely thought of by scholars as referring to the Book of Revelation and the End Times, and paid close attention to those, keeping them in mind as I developed the story.


In a way, it was a similar approach to what I did in transposing the Book of Revelation onto the mythos of the Superman archetype; I was looking for correspondences, I suppose. Points where both bodies of information intersected in interesting ways.

Thus, certain of the disasters and calamities featured in Bathala are attributable to certain Nostradamus prophecies.



Additionally, all the chapter titles are from Nostradamus’ quatrains; not necessarily all from quatrains that referred to the End Times. In terms of the chapter titles, I was more interested in finding appropriate phrases or words that evoked what each chapter was about.

I'm sure it would have been from the ones that referred to the End Times if it had been applicable. I assume that you wrote the story and then decided on the titles instead of wrote the story to conform to the titles, for which I'm glad.

Thanks. Yeah, the individual stories came first. Once I completed each script, knowing what it was I had written about in that particular issue, I then set out to find the right title for it. (Which is usually my MO when it comes to christening my stories.)

There's obviously a great deal of Superman influence here - one of the fun things to do is "spot the analogue." I have to ask - did you originally conceive this first as a loose Superman story (without the details) and then change it around, or did you first decide which changes you would make, and then craft the story. In other words, where did the decision to create Leo come from?

To answer the general question first, I have a very organic approach to storytelling, so given my springboard was Gerry’s question “What would happen if Superman had to deal with the Apocalypse?” I knew that I would be working with the mythos of the Superman archetype, and it was a matter of finding how best to lay the Book of Revelation out onto that superstructure, to see, for example, which events in Revelation could be attributed to aspects of the Superman mythos (which villains could be responsible for which catastrophes, etc).

Begging the question - did you think, for example, "Oh, hey, Brainiac could have done this, so I'll have my Braniac analogue do this," or did you already create Cerebellax prior to needing to use Brainiac?

If memory serves me right, I believe the creation of Cerebellax came before the idea of what role he would play in the narrative. It started with my liking the name, really. That the name “Cerebellax” had this Brainiac-y supervillain sort of ring to it, and I knew that I’d like the name to be mentioned in some casual, throw-away fashion (thus, Andrew’s line in issue 1). It was after all this that it became apparent that I could use Cerebellax in the narrative proper.

As I mentioned in answer to a previous question, it was a matter of finding the interesting correspondences.

To answer the specific question, the decision to introduce Leo into the narrative (and the character’s evolution therein) actually had more to do with some other thematic aspects of Bathala, namely the doubling motif that we see in the narrative, coupled with the concepts of the Jungian Shadow and the mythic motif of the Beloved Executioner.

The doubling can be seen in Andrew/Bathala, in Andrew/Leo, in Leo/the UP (uploaded personality), in Bathala/ThaBa’al, in Bathala/Harold, among others; doubling in the sense of two sides of the same coin, potentially complementary (as in the Andrew/Bathala tandem), but also potentially opposing, clashing forces (again, as in the Andrew/Bathala tandem, that whole Clark Kent/Superman dichotomy at work).


Interestingly, I just finished reading and rereading, respectively, FINAL CRISIS and ASTERIOS POLYP, both of which reject the theme of duality and instead go with the theme of a spectrum, or symmetries. Could that also possibly apply in this case, considering that you just named, for example, four reflections of Andrew? It does seem to lend itself more to a prismatic model as opposed to a direct reflection.

Putting it that way, you do have a point, though it was, in all honesty, something that wasn’t at the conscious forefront of my mind at the time of Bathala’s writing. My citing of four reflections of Andrew was due to my idea that each double reflected a certain aspect of Andrew; thus, Bathala is the more overtly idealized, heroic version of Andrew (Andrew as superhero), while Leo is the normal, powerless version of Andrew (Andrew as ordinary human being). ThaBa’al is then the Nega-Bathala (Bathala as his own Nemesis), while Harold is, in a sense, the Nega-Andrew (or how Andrew could have turned out, had things been different).

Now that you mention it, there does seem to be some prismatic action going on in there…

The doubling gets interesting when we bring in Jung’s Shadow, that is (in my own self-serving interpretation of the concept) the darkness in all of us, that we must wrestle with. A darkness that is our greatest enemy, because it is us, it knows who we are. In many ways, it is our ultimate foe, our Nemesis.

So, ThaBa’al is Bathala’s Shadow, just as the UP is Leo’s.

The idea of the Shadow can then be taken further, particularly in myth and in comics, externalized, to be represented by the hero’s other, his Nemesis, his arch-enemy; an individual so intertwined with the hero, either through their long, protracted antagonism (which may have been preceded by a close friendship), or by the fact that the villain is the exact ethical and moral opposite of the hero, that they are very nearly the same person, but seen from opposing angles.

Taken another way, the light projected by the hero is so brilliant and blinding, that the shadow cast by it is just as equally deep and dark, and it is in that shadow, that the villain is born and nurtured. Note how Luthor basically becomes the raving ego- and megalomaniac that he is because of Superman’s presence in the world.

In this context, one of Bathala’s other Shadows is Harold (just as Luthor is Superman’s). And, by extension, since the UP is Leo’s Shadow, but Leo is Andrew’s twin, the UP is also another Shadow to Bathala.

(As an aside, one can attempt to define any significant hero/arch-enemy antagonism from comics—like Batman and the Joker, for example—in the context of the Shadow archetype.)

Be sure to check out BATHALA: APOKALYPSIS, and stay tuned to The Comics Cube! in the future for the rest of the interview!
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