Thursday, November 2, 2017

Comics Lust 11/4/2017

Welcome back, Donist World Denizens! For those of you new to our site, I’m Donist, and I am joined by Donist World CFO the Reverse Obie* (my friends’ Boston terrier whose fur recently swapped colors) and by our marketing director/administrative assistant/party planner/Mjolnir-maniac Tulip (my dog, Reverse Obie’s sister). Now, this is more like it: cooler weather. No more of this near 100-degrees in October nonsense. No. We’re comfortably working at the Donist World corporate office (Mom’s basement) and steadily working to maintain our position as a Fortune 320,000 company. Although, it’s kind of hard to get any work done as we’re all a bit giddy to see the new Thor: Ragnarok movie. Reverse Obie and Tulip are each wearing helmets fashioned out of La Croix six-pack boxes and taking turns being Thor, while I’ve been told I’m supposed to be the Hulk and forced to wear a shipping box with a scrub brush attached to it for my helmet; I kind of wanted to be Thor. Anyhow, as we goof around and prepare to see this highly-anticipated movie, pour yourself an early winter-warmer beer or hot cocoa, order up some tasty tacos, and read some great comics. Thank you for reading!

*Obie, through his dabbling in arcane magiks mixed with ancient corrupt business practices, has had not just the colors of his fur switched, but a complete overhaul of his work ethic as well…I think I’m kinda okay with the mishap.

Not sure what “Comics Lust” is about? Take a look at the Introduction to “Comics Lust” post or take a look at the static “Comics Lust Table of Contents” page to jump to a topic.

Comics Lust

Misty Watercolor Memories

I have spent most of my life enamored with comic books. Initially, that love began solely based off of the imagery as I was too young to actually read and fully comprehend the subject matter of the stories. So, it’s no big shock that when not flipping through comics, a good chunk of my time was spent drawing superheroes, monsters, dragons, and anything of a fantastical nature. I excelled at art throughout junior high and high school whether using pencil, colored pencils, or inks. Then came the day I tried my hand at the watercolor medium and all my hopes and dreams of being a great artist came to a crashing halt. It was a simple scene of a sailboat on the water, but nothing worked. Colors bled together where they shouldn’t have while areas that were meant to be muted came out garish. Everything about the piece was a disaster. I could have pushed through, tried and tried again to become a good artist, but I realized I would never be a great artist; thankfully, I discovered my passion for writing. The point of my little reflection is that it is brutally difficult to become accomplished at watercolors, but there are those rare artists who have mastered the medium. This is why when I see a beautifully watercolored story, I am aware of the lengths an artist has gone through to deliver such stunning work.

I mention Scott Hampton’s The Upturned Stone on a regular basis, not only because of the wonderful Stand by Me/Ghost Story mashup tale or that it fits in with the mood of the Halloween season, but also because of its haunting imagery. The majority, if not all of this must-read graphic novella, is watercolored. It is a dark horror story and the art reflects that, but there are moments that are upbeat and lively with colors shifting into the blues of daylight or with warm oranges to draw the eye. Backgrounds can bleed into the ethereal at times, but Hampton somehow manages to differentiate the many characters giving them distinct personalities and ranges of emotion whereas in less accomplished hands the paper should be drinking up the water and the colors should be bleeding into a muddied mess; that is never the case in this gorgeous book. Hampton’s watercolored art can also be found in the short-lived and unfinished Silverheels (written by Bruce Jones and April Campbell, published by Pacific Comics, 1983), The Books of Magic #2 (a four-issue limited series with a different painter on each issue, written by Neil Gaiman, published by Vertigo Comics, 1990), Batman: Night Cries (co-written by Archie Goodwin, published by DC Comics, 1992), and a host of other Marvel and DC works. I had forgotten about The Books of Magic…looks like I need to revisit that classic series, and Batman: Night Cries is on my “Must Find” list, but The Upturned Stone is the book I will always hold near and dear to my heart.

Watercolored comics made their mark during the industry-changing times of the ’80s when established heroes were revamped, revitalized, and served as a reflection of the darker times of the Cold War. But the shift in both tone and types of stories being told also ushered in a change in the methods used to tell those stories. Advances in printing technologies made it possible to move beyond the use of inadvertently-shifted color plates or limited paper types and allowed a move from ink-hungry newsprint to more versatile—and more expensive—types of paper. Enter Jon J. Muth. One of the earliest (first?), most stunning examples of a watercolored story is Muth’s Moonshadow (written by J.M. DeMatteis, published by Marvel/Epic Comics, 1985), a 12-issue limited series that tells the story of a young boy raised in an intergalactic zoo with plenty of bizarre and satirical moments. As a result of budgetary issues (i.e. my limited allowance), I read Moonshadow a good while after its initial release, but I remember seeing each issue and marveling over how it looked like nothing else on the stands at the time. Muth’s imagery is dreamlike whether depicting grinning moons or cigar-chomping, fuzzy, narcissistic aliens and he succeeded in simultaneously bringing the most fantastic elements down to earth while simultaneously lofting the most mundane moments into the cosmos. Moonshadow is a heck of a ride—not just from a reading experience but also from that fact that reprint rights jumped from Marvel/Epic to DC/Vertigo—and one I need to re-experience the series in the near future, especially once I pick up 1997’s Farewell Moonshadow by the same creative team.

Muth is not only a master of the fine arts, but just si happens to be an expert storyteller as well. He studied stone sculpture and calligraphy in Japan and illustration, printmaking, and painting throughout Europe. He eventually moved on from comic books to writing and painting children’s stories, but not before creating some truly spectacular works such as: Swamp Thing: Roots (written and painted by Muth, published by DC/Vertigo, 1998), The Mystery Play (written by Grant Morrison, published by DC/Vertigo, 1995…which I have not yet read?!), M (based on the Fritz Lang film, script by Thea Von Harbou, published by Pacific Comics, 1990), Dracula: A Symphony of Moonlight and Nightmares (written and painted by Muth, published by Marvel Comics, 1986…also on my “Must Find” list). There’s other Muth comic book material out there, but these—as difficult as they might be to find—are a great place to start. A side note is that I found a recent video of Muth creating one-minute watercolored animal paintings using a massive two-inch thick, bamboo brush that is simply astounding.

Roughly a year after seeing Moonshadow on the stands and not being able to buy it, I came across the first issue of Elektra Assassin written by Frank Miller and illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz (published by Marvel/Epic, 1986), which I simply had to buy. Of course, it was Miller’s name that brought me to the book, but Sienkiewicz’s art was unlike anything I had ever seen. It was exaggerated and oftentimes intermixed with collage and xeroxes, but the watercolors were otherworldly and Elektra was oh so unbelievably sexy; I, too, would have followed Agent Garrett down Elektra’s path of destruction to stop a nihilistic demon from causing a nuclear end to the world through its puppet president. Seeing the presentation of this watercolored masterpiece back in the ’80s and seeing it today, I still cannot fathom how Sienkiewicz got such clean lines or how he depicts such vivid emotion on a character’s face when everything about the medium wants colors to bleed and muddy. I suspect that even if I were able to sit and watch over the man’s shoulder as he painstakingly created each and every panel of this must-read comic, I would still be left in confusion as to how he managed to pull it all off.

Elektra Assassin is not Sienkiewicz’s only watercolored work, in fact he has many not counting the scores of covers he has created over the years, but any fan of Elektra Assassin simply must read it’s sister book, the graphic novel Daredevil: Love and War (written by Frank Miller, published by Marvel Comics, 1986) about Kingpin attempting to save his beloved wife, Vanessa, from a deadly threat, as Daredevil tries to restore sanity to a dire situation. Daredevil: Love and War was created at the same time as Elektra Assassin and utilizes the same style demanding these be read back to back, which is all too easy do with the release of Daredevil/Elektra: Love and War. Other books of note: Stray Toasters (everythinged by Sienkiewicz, published by Marvel/Epic, 1988), Voodoo Child: The Illustrated Legend of Jimi Hendrix (written by Martin I. Green, painted by Sienkiewicz, published by Kitchen Sink Press, 1995), as well as tons of lovely covers. Once you read a painted work by Sienkiewicz you will be hooked; there’s no one else like him.

Because of the time and dedication to form involved in creating a watercolored comic book, it’s no surprise that finding them today is just as rare, if not more so, than back in the ’80s. Descender (written by Jeff Lemire—an accomplished illustrator and watercolorist in his own right, painted by Dustin Nguyen, published by Image Comics) is a mesmerizing space opera of epic proportions and has been my favorite comic hitting the stands for the past couple of years. Descender springs from the day giant robots appear at each of the planets in the UGC (United Galactic Council) and subsequently lay waste to much of the inhabitants before completely vanishing. Years later, robots are hunted to near extinction by Scrappers, and a lone robot boy, TIM-21, awakens to a turbulent universe that will send him on a quest to find his now grown human brother. TIM-21 might also hold the key to unveiling the plans that the mysterious giant robots—now known as the Harvesters—might have in store for all surviving alien races. The story alone is everything I could ever want in a comic book, but Nguyen’s exceptionally beautiful paintings bring this world to life and fill me with the same wonderful feeling that only the best of ’80s comics had to offer. His flowing blues and magentas add mystery and excitement to the farthest reaches of space, while shocks of warm colors aboard otherwise metallic ships create urgency to a scene when needed most. The detail and scanning of each page are so precise you can often see the texture of the paper Nguyen used which adds to the overall impact of the book. I adore this comic. I own the floppies, the trades, and I will be buying the oversized hardcover come December when it is released. Descender is a mindblowing success of not just art but written word and continues to be one of the best series on the stand.

There are definitely more watercolorist worth noting, but those are for another day. For now, the master artists listed above can keep us all enthralled for a good long while. In the meantime, I will prepare myself to once again try my hand at watercolors in the years to come…you know, give myself another chance. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

This Week’s Reading List

Paper Girls #17 (Written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, colored by Matt Wilson, lettered and designed by Jared K. Fletcher, flats by Dee Cunniffe, published by Image Comics) Hey, if you’re loving Netflix’s Stranger Things 2 and have not read this fantastic complement to that fantastic show, then you should remedy that immediately. This issue sees the girls attempting to find one of their own while meeting a possible new ally in the year 2000. There’s, of course, plenty of trouble and weirdness abounds! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Lazarus X+66 #4 (Written by Greg Rucka and Eric Trautmann, illustrated by Alitha Martinez, colored by Santi Arcas, lettered by Jodi Wynne, edited by David Brothers, publication design by Eric Trautmann, published by Image Comics) Usually, I would be irritated by a break in the regular story, but this six-issue miniseries not only sheds some light on this post-apocalyptic, nightmare of a world, it also moves the story along, setting up events for when the main series returns. Here we follow two Lazari as they work together for their respective families to acquire intel on the nigh-indestructible Lazarus known as The Zmey. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Sorry for the late post, but I had to have lunch and beers at M. Special Brewery and catch Thor: Ragnarok,  which I absolutely loved! Check it out as soon as you can!


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