I knew I wanted a British image fairly early. And I knew it had to be something by Hampson from Dan Dare. Dare’s place in the British cultural landscape has slipped a long way in recent years, alongside other similar icons such as Action Man and Blue Peter, but in the strip’s heyday of the 1950’s and 1960’s Hampson and Dare were influential in the development of the British landscape, both culturally and literally.
Hampson’s art here is probably a little rigid, there’s a slight lack of movement in the scene, and the energy is hampered somewhat by the colouring and the stars detailed in the background. On the plus side of the ledger we are treated to Hampson’s iron grip on draughtsmanship and perspective. He captures the total directionality of space with thrusts from the blast in every direction and smaller spaceships adding grounding to contrast with the silver cigar fired at the reader. The caption placements are impeccable too, one over the art and one under. A solidly constructed image working hard to draw the reader into the story.
From Dan Dare to where? Well, after Hampson’s realism we turn to Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. The cartoon line is ably demonstrated here and the scene bursts with the energy and fun Watterson’s talent was able to call upon. The image is a link to all that have gone before, capturing the chaos of Kirby, the similar “in thrall to the explosion” of Ditko, the actuality of the meaning that Shuster conveyed, and the endless directionality and perspective of Hampson. And yet here, Watterson has used all those ideas in the service of a gag. It’s a beautiful actualisation, Calvin’s feet and hands show the surprise we imagine him to feel without any sense of sorrow. Through his line we know Watterson is kidding; that Calvin will return safe and sound in the next comic strip panel. It’s art at its most temporary and its most vital.
After the illusory death of Calvin, we move to the temporary death of the Doom Patrol. This is to date the most realistic scene depicted, it is a scene that could easily have existed in real life and the setting used by Premiani evokes a war comic. It is also the first image I’ve used which gives voice to the explosion, the onomatopoeic KAWHOOOOOOOM to my ear missing a B. This panel must have been shocking at the time of publication, given our expectations that good guys survive, and Premiani’s art carries the force of that impact in its brightly coloured, debris-full explosion.
Next came Eddie Campbell’s train wreck from The Black Detective Agency. It’s a stunning piece of art, and while the similarities with the Ditko panel presented last week are clear, Campbell himself has stated his inspiration was something else; a Comics Journal back cover which re-coloured a Wally Wood panel. The rendering of the locomotive engine in the foreground is astonishing, and the energy is brilliantly focused. It’s a tour de force from a modern master of the form, and a very rare two page spread from Campbell to boot.
From the wide screen to the narrow dream sequence panel. Gibbons image manages to conjure the surreality demanded of the script through the lack of grounding; the explosion hangs in the air having burst in from some distant vanishing point. It’s a very lucid scene, defined by the white starkness of the background creating silhouetted skeletons and the juxtaposition of the loving embrace composed of long-dead bodies. And the narrowness of the image adds to idea that it’s a half glimpsed nightmare.
Following on from Gibbons is a two page scene from Kevin Eastman and the other major comic book sensation of the 1980’s, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. To my mind this is the least accomplished image I have so far used. The buildings, while accurately rendered, lack character, and the explosive force feels lacking around the doorway, with not enough debris blasted outwards. The store sign hangs too lumpen in the air and the blasts from the top windows seem too stylised, too glossily blasting up rather than outwards. And yet… there’s the way Eastman has used tonality to inform the white heat of the explosion, the way the door hangs in the air, taking the brunt of the force and blunting its anger through the heaviness Eastman’s lines have leant it. And the dissolve to blackness on the second page of the spread, truncating the image and propelling us forwards into the story. I like this scene, and I think most of the flaws are probably in my eye; I can’t help but feel the perspective is a little forced and we’re looking at an unflattering angle.
And so to Quitely and a couple of parachuting X-Men. I wanted to round out the week with a fairly contemporary image, something which spoke of colour to contrast the black and white of Eastman’s Turtles. I really should have credited colorist Hi Fi Design, because a lot of what makes this image work is due to the colour. Which is to take nothing away from Quitely’s composition, with the James Bond styling of Cyclops just right of the epicentre, pulling our eye to the glare on his, well I think we’ll call that his backside. Quitely has Cyclop’s feet at different angles, yet maintains the image in the reader’s mind that Cyclops is a character that is all about control; he’s a character who knows which way his feet are pointing. And Quitely has managed to pack all four elemental forces in here: the wind implied by the parachute which holds Cyclops in the air forcefully against the blast; fire raging from the explosion itself; rock enclosing the course of the river; and that waterfall. What a brave line Quitely uses to separate fire and water, it’s a very thick line which implies either a sheer drop or a viewer blinded by an explosion.
So, that’s the commentary up to date. I’ve likely been a bit too long here, and I think in future I’ll post commentary on images as we go and use the weekend postings to tie things together and maybe a little link-blogging. I’ve probably exposed a little of my personal pantheon of the comic art greats here, although it’s worth noting I lost a few days to issues with my ISP and hence I’ve jettisoned a Herge and a Hernandez for future use. Anyway, here’s a few links to catch if you’ve missed them being broadcast elsewhere:
Eddie Campbell is interviewed at the Hooded Utilitarian
Jim Shooter has a blog
FPI review Dylan Horrock’s masterpiece Hicksville
Steve Finch creates covers for comic books as if they were 1960’s paperbacks