Posts Tagged ‘ Marvel ’

Captain America Right On Time

As a fan of the New York Jets many would diagnose me as something of a masochist. For years the team was awful and thus head shrinks began speculating that the fan base really needed to lose and have something to complain about because we would not know how to accept success.

Well as a long-time diehard fan of Marvel Comics I could not have predicted such glory days for the characters and comics I grew up with. I began reading Marvel Comics – especially Captain America, Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Daredevil and Hulk – in the mid 80’s. I suffered through the speculator boom in the late 90’s and was dumbfounded when Marvel went bankrupt. I worried my heroes were defeated by the almighty dollar after having survived numerous attacks from Dr. Doom et al. Now Marvel is surging. They’re the top publisher and their films can do no wrong – and they’re really good. Iron Man was sensational and Robert Downey, Jr. has been reborn and was born to play Tony Stark. Thor was very good and a super fun movie with very good performances and now Captain America has stormed the screens and de-throned a certain little British magician for top spot on box office even if for just one week.

The movie was brilliant. Again, Marvel has struck casting gold with Chris Evans. He was excellent as the Human Torch and he played Cap perfectly. He showed enormous heart, which is what Cap is all about at the very core. The size of Steve Rogers heart is so much more incalculable than his frail 98 pound frame. That is the true message of the story. If Spider-Man is all about responsibility than Captain America is about never giving up no matter what hand you are dealt.

New Captain America #1 cover by Steve McNiven and Mark Morales featuring the return of Steve Rogers as Captain America.

There was immense pressure with this film. What time period do you set a movie about a man out of time? The schlock, uninformed Hollywood studios and directors of a decade ago would have butchered the movie by ignoring the history and setting Cap’s origin in modern-day Iraq or Afghanistan. Thankfully Marvel was in control and did it right by setting the film in WWII. The cast was sensational: Stanley Tucci, Tommy Lee Jones, Dominic Cooper, and Hugo Weaving were superb. They even added the Howling Commandos! The action was top notch and the FX were kept to a very un-Michael Bay minimum so as not to overload the senses. It was such a joy to see. I even loved the mock propaganda tour replete with catchy theme song (that I thankfully can’t get out of my head!) With nods to the Original Human Torch and even a prop cameo of the oh so wonderful Captain America Comics #1!!! It was just a fanboys delight and so much more. A very good movie very well done. Go see it. I promise you will enjoy it! Go Cap go!

The Chase

You can imagine what it must have been like in the wild west, during the gold rush, or when silver was discovered near what would be Tombstone. In those days you had to seek out and pursue your fortune. It was hard. Now there is no way to equate that life and death pursuit with chasing down original comic art but sometimes the correlation fits. Anyone who has used the word “grail” to define a piece of black and white artwork on an 11×17 piece of art board knows of that which I speak.

One of my holy grails - the cover to Captain America Omnibus by the brilliant Steve Epting

Recently I was fortunate enough to finally run down one of my grails. Thanks to Spencer Beck over at The Artist’s Choice and more importantly thanks to Steve Epting. Captain America has long been my favorite character right next to Spidey. My grandmother made me a Captain America costume one Halloween for me to march in the Bay Ridge’s Ragamuffin Parade in Brooklyn, NY. This was in the late 70’s so while her work was outstanding (she made the shield and all) let’s just say nobody would mistake me for Chris Evans stunt double.

My pursuit of Epting’s brilliant masterwork cover to the Captain America Omnibus was a 5 year process. I researched, sought out, made impassioned pleas, and finally when I had just about given up I found out Steve was ready to part with it. I moved mountains to get it to. Trading away art and comics from my long time collection. But when you find something that is special and that means so much to you personally you do what you have to do. It is why we have this collecting bug and it is the defect we must live with when we collect for the love of this hobby of ours.

Steve’s piece long reverberated with me because I read the series he and Ed Brubaker and Michael Lark and Mike Perkins and Butch Guice so masterfully crafted into an Eisner award-winning opus of super hero espionage as it came out. Then I bought the Omnibus and read it again. And again. It is that good and then some. Some critics (and sadly some writers) have miscast Cap as a Man Out Of Time who cannot be relevant for today or whatever modern era he is written in. I say that is the copout of a lazy unimaginative writer. The type of writer who would use a supporting character to chastise Captain America for not knowing what Facebook is or what an ipod is during Marvel’s much ballyhooed event of a few year’s ago – Secret Invasion. It was a lame lambasting of one of the best, and most enduring comic characters of all time. What Brubaker and Epting did was to blow that tired assessment up. Cap can and has evolved but he still clings to the time he was from, the simpler era where at least in our four-color world we still say in black and white instead of shades of grey. Cap has always been about right and wrong and those ideals are not exclusive to any era. Somethings never change and when it comes to Captain America I am glad for it. Brubaker showed a steely Cap who did not suffer from bygone naiveté and Epting’s art was dark, somber, moody and film noir yet vibrant and electric. It was cinematic. It was not hyperealistic nor Alex Ross-like but rather the perfect melding of real world imaging with our comic book mind’s eye vision.

It has been a pleasure chasing this piece down and I look forward to the joy of owning it for years to come and all that is left now is to move on to the next chase.   

As a footnote to this posting I wanted to add the fact that this posting of the piece on CAF was dedicated to my dad who we just found out will be undergoing treatment for colon cancer. My dad took me to all the comic conventions as a kid and stayed the long hours, watching and helping me to wheel and deal, and would hunt down comics for me as gifts. He always supported and encouraged my insane love of Marvel Comics. In little league if I had a great game it often resulted in my being rewarded with several issues I needed to complete my run of G.I. Joe. My dad has always done his best and that is what he preaches. It is his mantra and not much different from something Cap would say.

Captain Marvel: Axel Alonso At Marvel Helm

My Marvel tour culminated in a sit down with new Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso. I had met Axel several years ago as he guest lectured one of Danny Fingeroth’s Comics & Graphic Novel Storytelling classes at NYU. Axel was amazingly generous and gracious then and nothing has changed. He has had Vertigo and been a Marvel Knight, but now he’s got the keys to the kingdom. He’s a made guy. He’s a big kid whose sandbox happens to be Marvel’s vault. His toys are global brands. No time-outs.

Jason Versaggi:              So I guess from your perspective now, you’re editor-in-chief.  What does an EIC do?  What’s your daily responsibility look like?

Remember that one kid in the neighborhood who came over to play with the Darth Vader case filled with ALL the Star Wars figures?

 Axel Alonso:                  Well, the first thing is it means that I have to get myself off the monthly titles that I was working on directly.  So, it’s taking more of a macro role.  So, I’m not as involved perhaps in the minutiae of books so much as the big picture stuff.  So, the hardest part of becoming [EIC] is giving up my babies.  [So, you see] story arcs I had in progress that are now being edited by other people.  I’ll be reading script and giving notes but there’s only so much I can be involved in any of those stories now.  So, it’s much more about longer-term planning.  I just ran my first summit where I went in with a specific story that they wanted us to tell.  We’ve been talking about it for a while.  We’ve been entertaining for a while and I wanted to explain why I felt that we got – this is the great time to tell it and what are possible inciting incident to kick things off.  So again part of it is learning what it means to sort of lead the editorial group in a macro one.

 Jason Versaggi:              I know that you’re just getting into the role here but from what you’ve seen and what you’ve experienced so far, how do you think the role now in 2011 is different than anybody else who’s previously had the spot?

 Axel Alonso:                  Well, the big difference is that Marvel is now owned by Disney which means that it’s much more similar to what it’s like when I worked with Vertigo which is a subsidiary of DC Comics and Time Warner.  We have a parent company and so I’m aware of that parent company and my responsibility to that parent company.  I’m also aware of our relationship with the studio.  It’s a very different situation because even when Joe [Quesada] came in, Marvel was a Mom-and-Pop Shop, I came a week after him not knowing it would be around a year later.  People forget how vulnerable the company was at that time.  I assembled a great crew of people who obviously really knew what they were doing both on the West Coast and the East Coast and things turned out fine.

 Jason Versaggi:              You’re one of the custodians of these global brands now and these properties and how much are you involved with the film aspect which is like tied into so many other platforms.  Everything is multimedia now like what is your relationship with those guys?

 Axel Alonso:                  Yes.  I mean our relationship is one where we’re consulted, but it’s not as if we’re irrelevant to the West Coast operations but [let me rewind].  I’m becoming more and more aware what they’re doing with my new job.  Kevin and his crew have a master plan which involves a creation of a universe on a cinematic level that is respectful of the old fans and clearly in order to be successful needs to reach the new fans, fans like my son who can’t wait to see Thor or Captain America.  The long and short of it is that I’m aware of what’s going on there.  I’ve read scripts.  I’ve seen footage.  I’m mindful of that, of what they’re doing.  In some occasions, they have a little bit of ripple effect of what we do where the aesthetics of the movie that you might see reflected in our comics with the synergy but the long and short of it is that I think we complement each other, but we don’t have a profound effect on what Kevin’s doing.  They’ve consulted myself, Joe, Tom [Brevoort] – they’ve flown us out to LA to meet with [Bob Rowe] and discuss story but mostly it’s a think tank.  We’re not editing scripts.  I think Joe as COO probably has more input now than he ever has before but that’s a question better asked of him.

 Jason Versaggi:              I know that you come from a journalistic background and you probably can edit scripts in your sleep.  How do you work with an artist? How do you edit an artist when you see someone turning in pages, what’s your process regarding say, “You know what?  This is right.  I want to see this here.”  How do you…?

 Axel Alonso:                  Well, it’s pretty simple.  When you’re working with a rough artist or a raw artist, you make thumbnails the first part of the process.  With thumbnails, what they’ll do is they’ll [render] very loose – and I can show you some examples, how they see the page, how they would layout the page, and now, what you do is you check those thumbnails and review.  Usually, I do a primary course with them.  I explain to them the importance of varying camera angles, the importance of an establishing shot with really setting up a scene, the importance of close ups for characters really so that you feel them and you feel them as actual characters in the story.  So, I walk them through a primer and think that they should be thinking and I usually suggest that they work in a simple [grid] format simply because at that stage of the game when you’re breaking in, it’s usually good if you’re standing on terra firma.  You’re not trying to change the way that people look a comic layout when people don’t even know you yet.  So, I normally ask that they work within specific maybe tighter parameters, and I’ll just edit the hell out of them from an art director’s perspective.  Once thumbnails come in, I’ll critic them.  I’ll explain to them why a shot’s not working, why a shot’s redundant, how maybe they keep their camera static, and the good ones, they learn over time.  They assimilate all these information and they come out the other side as fully formed from the artist within a couple of project.

Support your local comic artist. Nice to have friends like Skottie Young to render the digital you. Here's Axel on Comic Book Resources.

 Jason Versaggi:              In your opinion, who are some of the artists who have blown you away with how well they can tell a story without use of words?

 Axel Alonso:                  Yes.  I mean who first comes to mind is Steve Dillon because Steve Dillon, you can look at a few Dillon comic book and fully understand the para-relationships, the emotion…

 Jason Versaggi:              They could express that.

 Axel Alonso:                  …everything.

 Jason Versaggi:              Yes.

 Axel Alonso:                  Just based on our direction.  Again, it’s easy to say that about Steve because he never tries to be dynamic per se.  He understands the importance of a dramatic moment but his career isn’t built on [two-page slashes] he still values his art.  I can say that most if not all of the tough guys are amazing.  John Romita, Jr. might be the best in the business.  I can’t think of an artist who I put more confidence in going to a project not knowing anything about it.  It doesn’t matter what that project is.  It doesn’t matter.  It will be better if he draws it plain and simple.  There’s any number of other people – Bryan Hitch, the level of detail he brings, I don’t think there’s a more cinematic artist out there.  Steve McNiven, amazing draftsman and amazing storyteller, never a boring page.  Mike Deodato – I could just keep going down the list.  These guys just really know what they’re doing.

 Jason Versaggi:              Well, going back to guy like Romita Jr.  If he’s on a book, if he’s drawing a book, as an editor, how much input will you take from him if he wants to give you like, “Hey!  I think I want to contribute on the writing side.”  What’s the give and take?  What’s the…?

John Romita Jr. Kicks Ass.

 

Axel Alonso:                  Well, it’s kind of two questions.  I mean when John gets a script, John draws a script and calls up his editor and explains why he’s taking latitude with something.  John on occasion might be pacing.  He might carry a couple of panels to the next page.  When he does he usually communicates about that first, and he’s never wrong.  Also for someone who’s forgotten more about comic book stories that what most of us will learn, he’s also extremely gracious when on the rare occasion you call him and say, “Did you think a panel is not quite working?”  They misread the point.  Maybe the writer wasn’t clear enough but again, you always look at him as being part of the stories on process.  In fact, you do with everyone.  Every time you get into a project with a writer and an artist, the writer is turning over their story, their baby, to an artist who’s going to make it sink or swim that’s why good artists are so coveted because they’re at least 50% of the story. 

 Jason Versaggi:              So, the artists have to have the ability to be an editor before they even start drawing.

 Axel Alonso:                  It helps, yes. I mean certainly they need to have the art director’s instinct in order to be able to do this and generally speaking an artist will hopefully have a better art director’s instinct but the editor once they’ve had a career long as that.  The long and short of it is that you’re always better when an artist is smart.  There are artists who are amazing draftsmen, but they’re not good story tellers.  They miss the point of the page.  They’ll invariably put an importance on the wrong panel or they’ll misunderstand the importance of an artifact in the scene.  Two guys fighting in a room and there’s a knife on the ledge, if one of them grabs it and stabs the other, and the artist won’t see the importance of seeding that ledge even if it’s in the script, [seeing] that ledge and [seeing] that knife, and the existence of that knife.  They’ll bury it and most of the time, all they’ll do is shot it from above looking down.  You get the gist.

 Jason Versaggi:              They’ll take it out.

 Axel Alonso:                  Exactly, and I’m using a clumsy example there but again there are certainly a number of artists in the industry who are like that then there are artists who are so damn smart that they’ll call you saying, “This page doesn’t make sense.”  If they’re working with a new writer especially.  You’re not giving me a sense of what point A to point B is.  So, yes.  It definitely helps if an artist is smart and a good story teller.

 Jason Versaggi:              So what they did to save the comic industry – once a month collecting them into trades and getting them into book stores – the Barnes & Nobles of the world.  Now, we’ve got the iPad apps. Is that what’s really going to make everything all right again in the industry?

 Axel Alonso:                  I wouldn’t go say everything that’s going to – is going to make everything all right.  I’ll say that it’s an exciting, new horizon for our media.  Certainly I know that I no longer buy music.  I download music.  There might be the rare occasion when I want a CD because of some extra feature, but I can imagine the comic future in which I buy some comics at an affordable price than watching my iPad or download them onto my iPad so that my son can read on the plane when he’s not doing video games and watching a movie, but I also fully expect it in that world that there will be books I need to [shelf] and there will be comics where I need to read…

 Jason Versaggi:              Yes.

 Axel Alonso:                  …but not all.  I’m only speaking for myself.  I’m excited by the prospect of a world in which I can get on a plane with issues one through one hundred of a certain comic book and just flip through them and read them in leisure and when I can easily turn them over to my kid who’s very much a digital kid.  By the same token, I love that hardback on my bookshelf.  Yes.  Again, I’ll always want my Absolute Ronin by Frank Miller on my shelf.  I’ll want my Preacher hard cover wherever the most chichi version of that is.  So, again that’s the way it goes.  I think it’s great, and I think the retailers – there’ll always be a place for those retailers. I know some people are worried.  If readers are anything like me, they’re going to still go to bookstores.

 Jason Versaggi:              Do you see or is there anything developing now where like you’re telling stories designed specifically for that platform?

 Axel Alonso:                  No.  We’re still telling comics for periodicals.  What we’re trying to do is we repurpose those and find a way.  So again it’s still a wide open terrain right now.

 Jason Versaggi:              Okay.

Axel Alonso:                  We’re too small an operation to be trying to do both at the same time.  We’re mindful of it but right now when we put together a comic book – it’s nice the way the comic book portions translate to the iPad.

 Jason Versaggi:              Yes.

Axel Alonso:                  I think we’re exploring more in the world of motion comics, and it’s amazing some of the stuff we’ve done which haven’t been publicly seen yet.  It’ll change the way with motion comics.  I saw a motion comic book for a book I had edited previously.  I heard rumblings about it for a while.  When I saw it, my jaw dropped.  It was like watching a movie. 

 Jason Versaggi:              It’s weird. I used to [give them a try too] for the first time, going into them very reluctantly and then coming away saying, “Wow!”

 Axel Alonso:                  Well, let me tell you I’ve never seen anything like the trailer I saw and again, that’s not partisanship at all.  That’s just pure fact.  What I saw changed the way – in fact, I’m not even sure I would call it a motion comic even though it is.

And that concludes my day at Marvel. Special thanks to Jeff Suter and Axel Alonso. The offices are not the same as when Stan ran his bullpen but the spirit still permeates the fixtures and the furniture. You really feel like the folks here are all in. They care about the characters they guide and the stories they tell. It was established a long time ago when I was a kid but that is why today, I still Make Mine Marvel.

Surf on Panelers,

JV

The Man Who Loved Marvel: Pierre Comtois Charts An Empire

Today Panel Surfing gets to chat with the author of one of my favorite books on the history of Marvel Comics. Pierre Comtois wrote an endearing study of the early years of the Marvel Age in Marvel Comics In The 1960’s and discusses that book along with news of the sequel.

Jason Versaggi: Where did your passion for the source material of your book come from?

Pierre Comtois: Believe it or not, that’s a more difficult question to answer than you might think. The easy answer is that I grew up on them when I was a kid in the mid to late 1960s. An older boy in the neighborhood introduced me to Marvel comics around 1964…the first comic I ever bought was Spider-man #14…and I was hooked. After that began long years of trying to scrape enough money together to buy the 6 or 7 Marvels I wanted every month. At first it was the characters and the stories that grabbed me but as I became more discerning, I began to differentiate among the artists and soon, I could tell them apart and had my favorites. In high school, my tastes began to shift away from Marvel’s flagship titles to the more eclectic stuff led by Conan the Barbarian. As the years passed, my enthusiasm for the medium never diminished so that to this day I find that I enjoy rereading the comics in my collection as much as I ever did. However, my interest in the latest comics has slowed down since the 1980s and I find little these days that appeals to me the way comics did from the 1960s to the 1980s. My enthusiasm was such that I was still in high school when I first decided that I wanted to write a book about Marvel Comics. I’d written a paper for a psychology class about how comics weren’t just for kids anymore and that, I think, proved to be the catalyst. When I got the paper back from the teacher, every bit of white space on the title page was covered in his red ink scribblings gushing about my paper and promising a high grade for it! I got a vague idea then about maybe expanding the theme of that paper into a whole book. Not that things turned out that way, only that it was a catalyst.

JV: When were you first exposed to comics and more specifically Marvel?

Pierre: Although this neighborhood kid introduced me to Marvel, I recall that he had a stack of comics that included as many DCs as Marvels. Forget now if he recommended the Marvels over the DCs or if that was my own taste/choice…he probably did. Later, I had a cousin who loved comics too but was less discerning in his tastes. He bought everything from Thor to Sad Sack and I was able to catch up on titles like the Metal Men and Sgt Rock by borrowing stuff from him to read. One thing I did learn through that reading though was that DC didn’t do it for me!

JV: Were comics a big part of your youth and did they influence or foster a love of reading?

Pierre: When I was a kid, a lot of my time revolved around comics in one way or another. Specifically, I had to find ways to earn the money I needed to buy my favorite comics. I started by collecting returnable bottles and later walking a paper route to earn money I needed. At first I had a friend who was just as interested as I was but he soon got out of comics so I was left alone to scour my hometown on my trusty bike going from store to store looking for all the issues that I knew came out in a certain week. Although I’d developed an interest in reading before comics (I devoured the Tom Swift and Tarzan series, read a lot of books on WWII and my former comics reading buddy and I still shared an interest in science fiction) what they did was introduce me to new literary avenues to pursue such as Robert E. Howard from the Conan comic, Bram Stoker from Tomb of Dracula, or Sax Rohmer from Master of Kung Fu. 

JV: I often say Stan Lee is the 1b to Walt Disney’s 1a for who had the greatest contribution to American Pop Culture. What similarities do you see between the two imagineers? What made Stan such a visionary in the medium and how did he create such non-story related significance with the fans?

Pierre: Stan and Disney make for an interesting comparison in that both created entertainment empires based on creations from their own imaginations. But I’m not sure if the comparison can go too far. Disney seemed driven by his desire to create and use the medium of film to give his creations as wide a venue as possible. Stan on the other hand, hasn’t struck me as being terribly interested in writing comics before the Marvel age. I think it was just a job to him before that. His real interest lay in more acceptable media such as book publication…this feeling of media inferiority seemed to stay with him even into later life when he absconded to Hollywood as soon as he could get away. In between of course, he helped to create the Marvel universe as we know it. Obviously he had the talent for it and his skill as an editor and art editor was an indispensable part of that success. However, a key factor in his success was a chumminess with readers and the ability of not taking what Marvel was doing too seriously, attitudes that he likely picked up from EC Comics. Stan emulated that making fans feel like they were part of a special club whose members were in the know.

JV: If Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were the innovators of the Marvel   Universe who were the most important artists doing the yeoman’s work? Who was next most indispensible to Stan in constructing the Marvel Universe?

Pierre: For the early years, that’s easy: Don Heck! But beyond those early years there were artists like John Buscema, John Romita, and Gene Colan who no doubt helped but I think, were less involved in outright innovation than Kirby and Ditko were. The real indispensable man was a writer, Roy Thomas. I think he even more than Stan, took this new Marvel universe seriously as a coherent, interconnected entity. Where Stan could be a bit lackadaisical about continuity, Roy made it an overriding concern. He wrote stories to fill gaps in the history as much as to entertain in their own right. He brought a serious, deliberate intent to keeping things straight where Stan may never have thought too much about it.

JV: Had he not died in that tragic train accident, would Joe Maneely have been one of the founding creators of the Marvel Age of Comics? Would his style have lent itself to this new universe?

Pierre: That’s hard to say, at least to my mind. His style was nothing like Kirby or Ditko’s. But if Heck could adapt then why not Maneely? But to me, his style seemed overly rendered, dark, and ultimately stiff. There didn’t seem to be too much attempt at breaking out of the six panel grid etc. So I don’t know how Maneely would have fit in. Maybe he would have been sidelined to the dying western comics or become mainly an inker. 

JV: You examine nearly every major issue and story in the Silver Age of Marvel in Marvel Comics In The 1960’s. What were your top 5 favorite stories?

Pierre: My top five storylines were Amazing Spider-Man #s 17-19 because it encompassed everything that made Marvel so fascinating to a kid in the 1960s; FF #s 48-50 for the Galactus trilogy that opened up the Marvel universe to well…the whole universe!; FF #51 because it expressed all of the high flown ideals that were embodied in Marvel in the 1960s, it’s optimism about people and the country; Sgt. Fury #13 because it was an epic length but single issue story that perfectly captured Cap and Bucky with art and story by Stan the Man and King Kirby!; Avengers #32-33 because it featured Don Heck pencils and inks on a cautionary story that was quintessentially Marvel…something you’d never see the competition doing at the time; FF Annual #6: “Let There Be Life!” whose message again encapsulated Marvel’s values including that of respect for all human life, no matter how small or helpless. A message that seems wholly absent from today’s comics. 

JV: A number of years ago Roy Thomas’ Alter Ego Magazine looked at what might have been had Jack Kirby continued to draw The Incredible Hulk past issue #6. Why do you think the Hulk failed to catch on with readers right away? What makes the character such an enduring creation today?

Pierre: I think it failed in those first six issues because neither Stan nor Jack had a clear idea of what to do with the character. His personality and behavior changed with nearly every story. Later, when Stan teamed with Ditko on the strip for Tales to Astonish, ground rules were established that gave readers points of reference that they could rely upon from issue to issue. Also, the serial format helped new stories progress naturally from previous ones. Aside from that, the character is such a limited one, I can’t for the life of me figure out why it has continued to be popular all these years!  

JV: Who is your favorite Marvel character or title to come out of the 1960’s Marvel Age of Comics?

Pierre: Spider-Man. When I was a kid, I immediately identified with his loner status and his apparently endless list of problems! The strip also had many interesting supporting characters (including the Torch who was far more interesting here than he was over at the FF!), real world problems, colorful villains, and intricate plotting. 

JV: In your book Marvel Comics In The 1960’s one of the Jack Kirby devices you took about is his use of the larger 4 panel page. What do you think is his most important contribution to the medium for advancing a story?

Pierre: In terms of Hollywood, Kirby was about 40 years ahead of his time. For example, today’s movies are shot and edited at a much faster pace than they were in the golden age of Hollywood. The viewer isn’t allowed to hardly catch his breath, pick up plot points, or get to know the characters before the action barrels along to a thrilling, often over the top FX laden climax. That’s all pure silver age Kirby who did the same thing. It was what differentiated his comics from those of Ditko or Heck say. Kirby’s characters were constantly in motion, his stories never stopped long enough for character development of sub-plots; they carried you along like a roller coaster to their final, furious conclusion!

JV: I have always had an affinity for some of the lesser known contributions to the Marvel Age such Sgt. Fury and the trio of Western heroes. What do you think about some of the unsung creators from this period?

Pierre: If you’re looking for some comment on unsung artists of the Marvel age I would point out the number of fill in artists who worked on the Giant-Man strip in Astonish. Dick Ayers and Bob Powell are two that come to mind. They weren’t very good…or at least not on super heroes, but I do have a soft spot for the relatively awkward jobs they turned on the strip. Or Dick Ayers and Carl Burgos on the Torch strip in Strange Tales.

JV: What can you share about your upcoming follow-up book to Marvel Comics In The 1960’s?

Pierre: It’ll be called Marvel Comics in the 1970s: An Issue by Issue Field Guide to a Pop-Culture Phenomenon and will follow exactly the same format as the first volume. It will cover what I’ve termed the twilight years that extend through the 1970s an era in which the flagship titles took a back seat to newer more offbeat features. Actually, the whole project was conceived as a single book but the publisher, TwoMorrows Pubs, decided it would have been too big so divided it at roughly the half way point which was the end of the grandiose years. The new volume will be available in May, 2011.

JV: Will there be a third installment of your study of Marvel Comics?

Pierre: No, this is it.

JV: Are you planning on ever tackling the Distinguished Competition?

Pierre: No. Besides not being very enthusiastic about the subject, I don’t feel I’m qualified.

 JV: How have you come up with such great art and images for your books? Do you own any original comic art?

Pierre: All credit for the images has to go to TwoMorrows and its staff, particularly layout man supreme Rich Fowlkes who has been great to work with. I made up a dream list of the kinds of illustrations I’d like to see in the book from Marvel pages to historical photos and he’s bent over backwards to accommodate me. And if he can’t find what I want, he makes his own suggestions that usually turn out to be exactly what I would have picked. Unfortunately, I don’t own any original art…I’ve preferred to spend my hard earned shekels on buying the comics themselves! The new book though, will feature quite a few original art pages reproduced from the pencils.

JV: As we move further away from the printed comic book and more and more is available digitally to a wider, younger audience do you think that one day comics – especially the Silver Age Marvel canon – will be studied as a truly great contribution to our literary culture and break through the pop culture barrier?

Pierre: I used to think so but not so much anymore (see that high school psychology paper I mention above). I think it’s limited by the very nature of its format i.e. little pictures accompanied by word balloons. There was a brief instant of time in the 1980s with Frank Miller’s Batman Returns and Alan Moore’s Watchmen when it seemed the outside world was about to embrace comics as an art form suitable for adults, but that Prague Spring seems to have fallen by the wayside. Today, the comic stores are flooded with pretty much juvenile fare more suitable for youths but not for grownups. Silver age comics, particularly Marvel, I think will retain a certain pop culture cache, but beyond that, I don’t think anyone is going to take Marvel Zombies or Crisis VI very seriously. 

You can keep up with Pierre online here and be sure to look for Pierre’s new book Marvel Comics In The 1970’s this May from TwoMorrows. Don’t forget to pick up the first installment Marvel Comics In The 1960’s now to get all caught up on the story thus far. Excelsior!

Hulking Out With Gabriel Hardman

Panel Surfing loves talking comic art, especially with comic artists and we have a real good one today. The House of Ideas has counted numerous stars among its bullpen over the years but Marvel’s former Agent of Atlas and current Hulk artist Gabriel Hardman is one whose star is ascending. He chats with Panel Surfing about his craft.

Jason Versaggi/Panel Surfing: Talk a little about where you are from and where you grew up.

Gabriel Hardman: I primarily grew up in Sonoma County in Northern California then
Sarasota, Florida. In California we were able to visit San Francisco
often so I got some exposure to museums, art and culture at an early
age. In Florida I attended a visual arts high school. That was the
most important art education I’ve had.

JV: Were you always a comics fan? When did you get into drawing?

GH: I’ve always loved to draw. My mother is a fine artist so I’ve always
been encouraged to do it.

I started reading comics when I was 10. Found them on a rack in in a
convenience store after we moved to Florida.

JV: What were some of the characters and titles you read?

GH: Mostly DC books when I started reading comics. New Teen Titans, Flash,
Justice League of America. Then X-Men, Secret Wars, etc. I read as
many titles as I could get my hands on. I actually loved the
convoluted continuity. It was a challenge to figure out what was going
on!

 

Justice League #1 recreation by Gabriel Hardman from the collection of Todd Rowker

JV: Describe your art education.

GH: Beyond the Fine Arts high school, my only formal art education was one
semester at School of Visual Arts in New York when I was 17 (I
graduated from high school a little early). I ran out of scholarship
money and had to drop out.

JV: Who were some of your favorite creators?

GH: When I was younger I liked most of the same creators everyone else
did: John Byrne, George Perez, Mike Zeck. When I was a little older,
Mike Grell’s Green Arrow and Denys Cowan on The Question.

JV: Who are your biggest influences on your work?

GH: The biggest influences on my current work are Noel Sickles, Alex Toth,
Bruno Premiani, Alberto Breccia, Jorge Zaffino and many more.

JV: Tell me about some of your past professional work.

GH: For over a decade I’ve worked as a Storyboard Artist for feature films
like X-Men 2, Tropic Thunder and Inception.

I drew a creator owned horror graphic novel called Heathentown
published by Image/ Shadowline last year. It was written by my wife
Corinna Bechko and it’s in it’s second printing. Pick it up if you get
the chance.

For Marvel I drew many issues of Agents of Atlas before Hulk, my
current assignment.

JV: What are some of  your tools of the trade. What are the methods you enjoy the most to create your art. Any mediums you want to explore?

GH: I work in a fairly old fashioned way. Mostly ink on paper. I like to
ink with a brush and make any corrections in photoshop. It’s not any
more complicated than that.

But I’m always interested in pushing myself stylistically.

JV: What projects are you working on now? Comics or entertainment related.

GH: Hulk is my main focus right now. Though I’m steadily working on a
couple creator owned projects that I plan to announce when they’re
further along.

JV: What is it like working on such a big title for Marvel? How are you enjoying the character?

GH: I don’t look at it differently than any other job. I draw what I think
the story demands. I didn’t second guess the style in any way and no
one has told me to draw it any differently so far.

JV: If you could take on art duties for one title what would it be?

GH: I’d love to draw Spider-Man. I’d like to write and draw a Green Arrow
story. The Question, The Doom Patrol and The Shadow are other
favorites. I’ve also had a great time drawing Batman sketches when
I’ve had the chance.

 

Spider-Man & Dr. Strange by Gabriel Hardman from the collection of Doctor Fantastic

JV: Who is a character that always gives you trouble drawing? Who do you love to draw?

GH: It’s been a struggle to draw Iron Man at times. His current armor
doesn’t lend itself to my style very well but in the end I think I did
a good job with him. On the other hand I always love drawing Gorilla
Man in ATLAS.

JV: Jack Kirby was famous – among other things – for being so fast and prolific. Are you a fast artist? How long do you spend on one issue?

GH: I’m reasonably fast. Working on feature films where hundreds of
thousands of dollars are at stake every day is much more intense than
comics. So I gained a lot of speed over the years.

JV: You are Hulked out and you need to unwind with a  movie. What’s the flick?

GH: I love movies and I’m always looking for something obscure or
interesting that I may have missed. I recently watched and enjoyed
Arch Oboler’s apocalyptic indie FIVE (1951). I Also recently saw
Anthony Perkins in PRETTY POISON (1968). Of course we also just
watched EMPIRE STRIKES BACK for the millionth time. I love that movie!
I’m really looking forward to to the Coen Brothers’ TRUE GRIT.

I really appreciate Gabe chatting with us and you can further appreciate his work by checking out his Etsy page and following Gabe on Twitter.

Keep Surfing,

JV

 

Hulk by Gabriel Hardman from the collection of Edd Walker

The X-Men Meet…Archie

When I discovered the art of Nick  Bradshaw I was blown away. I saw a few pieces he had done on ComicArtFans.com (CAF) including a cover he did for the HERO Initiative charity auctions and I had to interview him for CAF. One of the most appealing things about his art was his sly similarity to one of my favorite artists and one of the best ever, Art Adams. Nick’s unique style is sometimes unfairly labeled an Adams clone but the fact he himself loved Art’s style and was influenced by Art’s inking style does not take away from Nick’s own distinct look of cartoon modernism. The cross-hatching in the inking style is what really makes it pop like Adams.

X-Men: To Serve & Protect #1 original cover art by Nick Bradsha

X-Men: Second Coming #1 original pin-up art by Nick Bradshaw

 

Two pieces of published Marvel art I was lucky enough to acquire directly from the artist along with a special bonus I’ll always be thankful to Nick for…

You can check out both of these images in greater detail on my Comic Art Fans gallery.

What sets Nick apart even further for me is what a great guy he is. Along with his professional work and donating constantly of his time and talent to the HERO Initiative, Nick also found time to create a wonderful piece of art for me to give to my sister-in-law as a birthday gift. When I found out about Nick’s affinity for the Archie characters I had to ask if he would create a piece for my super-heroic sister-in-law and business partner, Ellen, who is a diehard fan of all things Archie. I loved Nick’s take on the Archie characters he did for HERO and was blown away by the piece he sent me for Ellen – seen partially inked below…

Ellen Meets The Archie's for her birthday at Pop's

So take some time out and check out a real good guy of the comic industry’s work and look for more of Nick’s talent on the upcoming X-men Annual and on his gallery.

Best,

JV

Life Imitating Art: A Conversation With Real Life Comics Hero Jerry Robinson

When I heard that a true comics legend – Jerry Robinson – was auctioning off two pf the most important pieces of original comic art ever to be uncovered I had to try to talk to him. Luckily the folks at the ComicConnect.com auctions were able to put me in touch with him. While the auction will be ending on December 1, 2010, Jerry’s story will be one the lasts a very long time…longer than the eight decades his comic book story has already been going on.

Detective Comics #69 original cover art by Jerry Robinson.

The historic double guns Joker cover above by Jerry Robinson is just one of a pair of iconic images of classic American art form that will be sold this week for the artist by ComicConnect.com. The other will be his cover to Superman #14 by Fred Ray.

Jerry has done just about everything an artist can do in the industry and then some – not the least of which was co-creating The Joker and Robin, the Boy Wonder. For Jerry, a funny thing happened on the way to becoming a journalist and he has enjoyed a momentous journey. From  a career that happened by chance to creating some of the world’s most memorable characters to real life heroics and actually making life altering differences in the lives of his friends and colleagues.

I had set out to interview the man and put it in print for you to read but after an hour plus conversation I decided to let you hear the man himself tell his own story in his own words. It gave me great joy to just sit back and go along for the ride. Please take some time to listen to this remarkable man tell you a remarkable story. It includes heroes (and even a villain), passion for a romantic era in American culture and the emergence of comics as a true literary art form from a pioneer with the foresight to call it so.

Panel Surfing is thrilled to chat with comics legend, Jerry Robinson. Be prepared as it is a long conversation at an hour and twenty minutes, but it is well worth it as Jerry crams that 80 minutes with 80 years worth of comics industry insight. Truly inspiring and enlightening. Just click on Jerry’s name above for the full conversation.

 

Superman #14 original cover art by Fred Ray

If Jerry Robinson were playing Texas Hold ‘Em he’d be going all in with a pair of bullets. Here is his other ace – the gorgeous patriotic cover to Superman #14 by Fred Ray. Listen to my conversation with Jerry (click his name above) to learn the amazing story on how he wound up with this cover.

As a long time fan and student of the comic book medium as a storytelling tool and the industry getting to talk with Jerry Robinson was like a Masters crash course in comics and a real treat. Many thanks to Vincent Zurzolo and Stephen Fishler of Metropolis Comics for making it happen along with Jerry’s son Jens as well as Jerry Robinson.

Keep on Panel Surfing,

Jason Versaggi

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