May 31, 2010

Top Ten Most Influential Comics Artists #10: Bill Sienkewicz

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 Sienkiewicz 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 Sienkiewicz for paving the way.

For Bill Sienkiewicz, 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 Sienkiewicz, 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.

Sienkiewicz 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 Sienkiewicz, 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 Sienkiewicz 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 Sienkiewicz made it okay to put the pencil aside and try something else.

What Works of His Should I Read?

My favorite Bill Sienkiewicz 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 Sienkiewicz 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.

Sienkiewicz 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 Sienkiewicz 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:

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 Sienkiewicz has an official Web site, which you can always find on my sidebar, and he also has a Facebook account.


ike said...

Bill Sienkewicz (Sin-kev-itch - his website is helpful in pronouncing his name, hehehe) is truly one of the most influential artists in comics.

His early work that didn't seem to have used computers (but should have!), challenge one's mind on how they were done.

Good choice!

Duy Tano said...

Oddly enough, I went to college with an art professor named Ida Sinkevic, who was also really abstract. Same pronunciation, too. I wonder if they're related.

Jed Alexander said...

Whoah. It was Barron Storey who influenced Sienkewicz, not the other way around. Barron Story was a big influence on a lot of illustrators in the 70s with his use of mixed media and unique technique, and he was Sienkewicz teacher. McKean was also heavily influence by Storey. Just google the guy.

Duy Tano said...

Nice catch, Jed. Thanks for the clarification. I would still keep Sienkewicz at this number considering that he is still the big name in terms of multimedia stuff.

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