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January 31st, 2017

Tom Grindberg’s Thick Lined, Bulky Superheroes in 1993 and 1994

Filed under: Comics Criticism — Tags: , — William Cardini @ 9:41 am

In 1993 when I was a kid, Tom Grindberg was a guest penciler for two issues of my favorite Marvel superhero series: Silver Surfer #84 and Spider-Man 2099 #14. I hated his artwork then because it was such a radical departure from the thin lines of Ron Lim and Rick Leonardi.

Spider-Man 2099 #14 by Tom Grindberg
A splash page from Spider-Man #2099 #14. Artwork by Tom Grindberg, penciler; Don Hudson, inker; Eva Grindberg, colorist; and Rick Parker, letterer.

But now I love it! It’s amazingly ugly. His figures are impossibly bulky and stretch in weird, fluid ways. They just seem so big and imposing and in your face which is great for bruisers like Thanos, Thor, and Drax.

Secret Defenders #9 cover pencils by Tom Grindberg
The cover of Secret Defenders #9. Artwork by Tom Grindberg, penciler; Don Hudson, inker; John Kalisz, colorist; and John Costanza, letterer.

It looks weird for someone who’s usually more svelte like the Silver Surfer, Spider-Man, Dr Strange, or Adam Warlock, but I like weird.

Silver Surfer #84 original artwork by Tom Grindberg
The original art for a splash page from Silver Surfer #84. Artwork by Tom Grindberg, penciler; Tom Christopher, inker; and Ken Bruzenak, letterer.

Overall his renditions of characters look more alive than the stiff figures of more popular artists like Lim and Rob Liefeld. The thick, wavy black lines are out of this world. But what’s strange is that, as far as I can tell, Grindberg only drew this way in 1993 and the first half of 1994. By his next issues of Silver Surfer and Spider-Man 2099, #93 and #25 respectively, he’s much closer to early 90’s Marvel house style. And it didn’t matter whom his inker was – Don Hudson inked Spider-Man 2099 #14, Secret Defenders #9, and Grindberg’s short story in Spider-Man 2099 #25. Someone must have told him to rein it in, which is a bummer.

January 17th, 2017

Brackish by Katie Mulholland and Sarah Welch

Filed under: Comics Criticism — Tags: , — William Cardini @ 9:02 am

I miss Texas. I’ve lived in the Kansas City metro area for almost two years now and I still miss Texas. Strangely I sometimes miss Houston more than Austin, even though I’ve lived in Austin for the majority of 13 years and lived in a suburb of Houston, never the city itself, before that. But growing up in that boring suburb, Houston meant culture and excitement to me as a teen. I drove down there as often as I could, hanging out in coffee shops and wandering through museums. Houston has some really great museums. I’ve spent a lot of time in front Yves Tanguy, Cy Twombly, and Philip Guston paintings.

So when Robert Boyd mentioned this zine Brackish, a collection of great drawings by Sarah Welch and Katie Mulholland, in his write up of Houston Zine Fest 2016, I had to get it. These atmospheric drawings of a transforming Houston make me nostalgic. Here’s one example:

Sarah Welch drawing from Brackish
Brackish page 28, drawing by Sarah Welch.

Sarah Welch’s drawing really transports me. I’ve walked down a residential street like that with the Houston skyline in the background many times. Houston is a swamp but it’s my swamp. The lack of zoning laws makes for some interesting architectural juxtapositions.

September 4th, 2012

Jim Starlin’s “Metamorphosis Odyssey” in Epic Illustrated

Filed under: Comics Criticism,SF Reviews — Tags: — William Cardini @ 7:42 am

This past weekend I was flipping through some issues of Epic Illustrated that I bought a while ago on a trip but never got to reading. Epic Illustrated was an attempt by Marvel to cash in on the popularity of Heavy Metal. It was an opportunity for mainstream creators like John Buscema, Neal Adams, and Jim Starlin to draw fantasy and sf stories outside the restrictions of the comics code.

Metamorphic Odyssey by Jim Starlin
A page from the chapter of Jim Starlin’s “Metamorphic Odyssey” in the October 1981 issue of Epic Illustrated. This page has all of the protagonists: a warrior, a nude fairy woman with butterfly wings, an Earth woman, the wizard Aknaton, and the alien cannibal Za. From this blog post.

The first nine issues of Epic Illustrated serialized an epic sf comic by Jim Starlin called “Metamorphosis Odyssey.” I’ve only read two issues but, from what I’ve seen, the story draws on Egyptian mythology to describe a battle for the fate of the galaxy. There’s a quest for a powerful artifact called the Infinity Horn, which seems familiar to me after reading Starlin’s Thanos-centric miniseries, but Starlin uses the freedom of Epic Illustrated to tell a story that has greater consequences than any cosmic battle in a Marvel comic.

Metamorphic Odyssey by Jim Starlin
The splash page for Chapter IX of “Metamorphic Odyssey” in the June 1981 issue of Epic Illustrated. The humanoid on the left, Aknaton, is talking to the god Ra. Aknaton is from the planet Orsirus. These are the Egyptian elements of the story. I like how this page and the previous one I selected incorporate geometric elements. From this blog post.

Starlin continues the story of “Metamorphosis Odyssey” in other graphic novels and his creator-owned series Dreadstar. Despite being a big fan of Starlin’s work in Warlock and Silver Surfer, I haven’t read Dreadstar, but “Metamorphosis Odyssey” makes me want to buy the recently released Dreadstar Omnibus.

Jim Starlin paintings for Dreadstar
I scanned this page of paintings from a Jim Starlin interview in the December 1981 issue of Epic Illustrated. I think they’re supposed to illustrate scenes from the sequels.

What’s interesting about “Metamorphosis Odyssey” is that Starlin paints, rather than draws, the comic. In the first issue the paintings are grayscale but they switch to full color in the second. There’s an interview with Jim Starlin in the December 1981 issue where Starlin talks about his process. He used “blue or reddish-orange” matte boards as the substrate (depending on “the overall tone” he wanted) and then painted in highlights, shadows, and containing lines. He got this technique from looking at Frazetta. This is the only full-color story that I’ve seen Starlin do this way. He says that “the texture of the board kind of threw [him] off in the printing.” I wonder if the paintings could be reproduced more accurately with contemporary printing techniques.

Jim Starlin Metamorphosis Odyssey
I scanned this page from Chapter X of “Metamorphosis Odyssey” in the August 1981 issue of Epic Illustrated. I love how this page is designed, it’s got movement and bold colors. There’s a pretty extensive article on “Metamorphosis Odyssey” and its sequels on Wikipedia if you want to know more.

I also learned some biographical facts about Starlin from the interview. He served in Vietnam War, which was a primary inspiration for “Metamorphosis Odyssey,” but was kicked out for his attitude. One thing that Starlin did to get discharged was to draw and distribute an anti-war comic called The Eagle. I’d like to see that!

January 31st, 2012

Interview with Ryan Cecil Smith on SFSF #2

Filed under: Comics Criticism — Tags: , , , — William Cardini @ 7:06 am

Ryan Cecil Smith is one of the most exciting young artists making comics. His minicomics are meticulously designed, packaged, and printed. After I finished the three parts of SF Supplementary File #2, a beautiful redrawing of some scenes from Leiji Matsumoto’s manga Queen Emeraldas, I had some questions for Smith about his process and intent. I was going to just send him an overly enthusiastic email, but then I thought that some y’all might also be interested in what he had to say. So Smith and I sat down (at our computers in different continents) and shot some questions and answers back and forth (through email).

SFSF2C cover
The cover for SFSF #2C, a multicolor Risograph, from Smith’s Flickr.

I’m pleased to present our interview here:

#1: You say on your blog and the cover of the comics that SF Supplementary File #2A and #2B are drawn from Leiji Matsumoto’s manga Queen Emeraldas. Can you tell me more about your process for drawing from Matsumoto’s manga? How do you pick which sections to redraw and how faithful are you to the original work?

Ryan Cecil Smith: In SFSF #2, I was pretty faithful to the original in terms of the content. Like, the panels are laid out the same way and I drew what’s inside all the boxes (mostly). However I tried to draw quickly and not worry about capturing anything of his drawing style. I drew in pencil, between 2B and 10B, so I can’t draw the tightest details, which is good. As for picking the section, well you know A and B and C are all straight, consecutive together. I wonder if that’s not apparent, or is a little confusing? Basically, I chose this segment because I think it represents some great aspects of his work in a small piece of one story. It’s got the long crawls across space, the dreamy narration, and… you know what I mean!

#2: Yeah, it’s clear to me that #2B follows directly on #2A. It seems like #2A starts in the middle of the story, with a battle just ending, which is why I was asking about what segment you selected. Or does the manga not include the build up to Queen Emeraldas blasting the bandit Deathskull across his planet?

RCS: I just thought the preceding part wasn’t as interesting visually, or as a story segment. And I don’t dislike having that conversation about Deathskull as a starting point, in fact I think there is value to keeping it there. To me, this is like knowing the fall of Lucifer occurred between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2.

Queen Emeraldas by Leiji Matsumoto
A page from Matsumoto’s Queen Emeraldas, via Sean T Collins.

#3: As far as I can tell Queen Emeraldas has never been officially published in English. Are you translating it yourself?

RCS: I translated it with my friend Andrew Brasher, who reads Japanese much better than I do! He has some translations of music zines on his blog.

#4: You’ve published both minis of your own original stories and minis based on other author’s manga. What draws you to reworking these comics instead of telling more of your own stories?

RCS: That’s a great question! I think almost all of my published comics have been retellings or responses to other work. I think maybe I have the strongest urge to create when I see something great (like a movie or book), and my brain is excited, and I want to share my perspective about it. I hope that it feels like a relevant discussion of that thing (like Umezu Kazuo’s Baptism, or Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock) and is also an interesting piece of artwork by itself.

Umezu Kazuo monster drawing
A monster drawing by Umezu Kazuo, via Monster Brains.

#5: These Supplementary Files are beautifully printed. I love the risograph printing and the paper they’re printed on. I see they’re printed by Retro Jam Printing in Osaka. How involved are you with the printing? Can you tell me a bit about the printing process for these?

RCS: The way Retro Jam works is you give them the original artwork (digitally or on paper, like I do) and they do all the copies in their shop. I’ve done a lot of printing with them by now, so we have good communication about my particular concerns. I mean, you know a Risograph looks just like a photocopier, so you can easily imagine what the printing looks like. But they have really nice machines, and they have 24 colors of ink. I do my best to prepare good originals for them (I’m talking about having the right contrast, eliminating stray marks, registering everything on paper, etc.) and they print it and do a good job. For me, it’s a little scary handing off a big job to them sometimes, but they’re great at what they do, so what am I worrying about??

#6: Oh wow so a computer isn’t involved in the process at all! Awesome. So if you’re drawing it all in pencil, but also trying to eliminate stray marks and have good contrast, do you do a few drafts of each page or do you just erase and redraw on the same page? Do you use a lightbox to do the registration or are you drawing these on vellum or something transparent?

RCS: Almost every page was a first draft. I treat my originals carefully and I have a process to bring out the best contrast I can get (it’s something like photocopy, white-out, adjust levels, photocopy, re-pencil). I have to use a non-repro blue pencil underneath – that’s how I sketch the layouts, so they don’t get picked up by the Risograph.

Pegacorn Press Risograph ink drums
A view of the ink drums of Pegacorn Press’s Risograph.

#7: Do you never use a computer in your comics-making process or is that just something you wanted to do for this project?

RCS: I haven’t used any digital steps in my comics for the last 3 years, with maybe 1 or 2 exceptions. I am not analog “on principle,” but it fits the way I work and the tools I have. In fact I don’t even like scanning my work, because I think I have a crappy scanner! If I was confident in my technological capabilities, I would use a computer more often.

#8: What’s next for you? Are you going to continue the SF series or are you going to do something different?

RCS: Yep, SF #2 is what I’m doing right now. I was working on Two Eyes of the Beautiful III for a while, but it wasn’t working out, so I put it “on hold.” I’d like to continue with that story in the future. I have more ideas for small zines than ideas for bigger projects. I want to make some more work that draws from my real life and my environment.

A spread from SFSF 2C by Ryan Cecil Smith
A scan of a spread from my copy of SFSF #2C. You can really see Smith’s pencil marks.

P.S.: Thanks so much to Ryan for taking the time to answer my detailed questions. I’m a process nerd. You can buy all three parts of SF Supplementary File #2 at Smith’s site, as a bundle or separately, or at Domy Books in Austin whenever they have them in stock (they sell out quickly!). If you’re curious about Smith’s other manga redrawing project, Two Eyes of the Beautiful, his life as an American cartoonist teaching English in Japan, and much more, tune your browsers to Ao Meng’s Skype interview with Smith at Novi Magazine.

February 8th, 2011

Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup + Fort Thunder = Procedurally Generated Comics

It’s less than two weeks before my wedding, so of course I’ve become addicted to an ever-changing fantasy action RPG with a massive online community. I’m not talking about World of Warcraft – I’m talking about the free, cross-platform, and open-source roguelike Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup.

Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup Title Screen
Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup title screen

Click through to read more about roguelikes and how playing them is like reading a Fort Thunder comic

January 5th, 2010

Ian Harker

Filed under: Comics Criticism — Tags: — William Cardini @ 7:08 am

I hope that all of y’all had a happy new year! I’ll have a 2009 recap/2010 resolution post up soon….

Last week, I traded minis with Ian Harker and got my two comics in the mail. They’re called The City and Avant Guardz Strykefile: Solipso.

I dug both minis, some good sci-fi imagery with a lot of strange abstraction. Here’s a shot from the second book, which also has awesome colors:

August 18th, 2009

End of Eros

Filed under: Comics Criticism — Tags: — William Cardini @ 7:35 am

While I was away in New Mexico, I got a copy of my good buddy Jose-Luis Olivares’ comic End of Eros in the mail. I love Jose’s extravagant mark making. It looks like he attacks each page vigorously with his brush.

Here’s a sample:

Check out how Jose uses different types of Zip-A-Tone and a spot gray:

The story involves a whole lot of melting, fusing, and transforming, which I’m obviously a fan of. To top it all off, Jose threw in an awesome piece of original art:

And a Power Rangers card from the distant future (notice the authentic browning caused, as we all know, by time travel):

Thanks Jose!

August 7th, 2009

Folk #4

Filed under: Comics Criticism — Tags: — William Cardini @ 8:23 pm

I just got Folk #4 in the mail today, courtesy of the source of sci-fi mini-comic greatness, Tyler Stafford. This is the third issue of Folk that I’ve read, and they just keep getting better and better! Stafford’s storylines harken back to old-school sci-fi pulp stories but the art and layouts are informed by a twenty-first century cartoon aesthetic. According to the intro, Stafford’s computer is “on the fritz” so this issue is 11 x 17 sheets folded in half (I guess he draws the pages 8.5 x 11?). The larger art looks good, maybe Stafford should continue to make his comics this big.

Here’s a page that encapsulates the concept of the issue:

That page also showcases one of the aspects of Stafford’s comics that I dig the most, the way he blends his borderless scenes together while keeping the flow between them highly readable.

This next page, though, shows the most interesting thing about this comic, the way that Stafford portrays the experience of feeling someone else’s dream on tape:

I highly recommend this comic and I’m going to keep buying everything that Stafford puts out. You can buy Folk #4 here.

July 15th, 2009

Ditko’s Abstraction at Blog Flume

Filed under: Comics Criticism — Tags: , , — William Cardini @ 9:25 am

There’s a great post by Ken Parille over at Blog Flume on “Ditko and the Beauty of Abstraction.” Here’s a snippet:

[In this panel, there‚Äôs] a giant ‘paint splat’ surrounded by a fuzzy ‘lightning bolt’:

Even though a cartoon ‘paint splat’ has a representational connection to an actual one, here that connection is severed, for the nature of the object is unknown – it’s just a gesture, a play of form and color. In the standard cartoon idiom, a splat would represent an action; here it may be an action or just a thing: in other words, in the grammar of this scene it could be either a subject or a verb.

It’s fascinating to me that images in comics can have specific grammatical functions, can be a subject or a verb. It’s definitely something very unique to the medium of comics, and something that I see exploited way more in older newspaper strips than in contemporary comics, which is a shame. When cartoonists play around with visual symbols in this way, reality beings to melt and lose its concrete nature. It becomes “a set of symbols to be manipulated abstractly” as the co-mix blog puts so succinctly.

Update December 21st, 2017: The post from which I pulled the quote in the previous paragraph, and the whole co-mix blog, has been deleted.

June 3rd, 2009

Folk #2

Filed under: Comics Criticism — Tags: — William Cardini @ 7:48 pm

I just received Folk #2 by Tyler Stafford in the mail on Monday. I ordered it after I read the review on Optical Sloth, who, by the way, is well on their way to doing one minicomic review a day in 2009!

I was waiting to do a scan on one of the pages before I posted about Folk #2, but the venerable Shawn Hoke already took care of it for me:

Folk 2 interior by Tyler Stafford

Just check out the backgrounds in this page, especially the lower-right panel! I love how much detail Stafford puts into his environments, I usually just put in some generic mountains or fill it in with black … something for me to think about … Anyway all of y’all should order Stafford’s comics, available through his etsy.