If the eyes are the windows to the soul, what do you do when your character doesn’t have any? Writer Louise Simonson and artist Mike Chen faced (no pun intended) this dilemma often in the series Starriors. The comic series and toy line attempted to play off the increasing popularity of the Transformers, using only robotic characters whose mission is to reawaken humanity.
Here, in the final panel from issue 3 (page 23, panel 3 of 3), the robot Hotshot finds his love, Geo, destroyed beyond repair. He realizes that his reluctance toward violence against other robots must end for his army of “Protectors” to defeat the aggressive “Destroyers”. These final words serve as an angry rallying cry to the other Protectors as well as a sad goodbye to Geo.
To convey these emotions without relying on facial expressions, Mike Chen used a few different techniques. First, he drew a burst shape around Hotshot’s head. This shows that the character radiates emotional energy of some kind in much the same way that sweat beads indicate nervousness or anger, or radiating straight lines often indicate surprise. Without seeing a face, we know from this that his emotion is intense.
Second, Chen used body language to great effect. The depiction of the character with his back arched, looking upward, with his right arm raised to the sky draws on years of similar poses from not only other comic stories, but films as well. In times of crisis, characters often reach to and/or yell at the sky (or god, but that doesn’t apply here). Though it came long after, the best example I can think of comes from The Shawshank Redemption. Again this signifies and intensifies the level of emotion that Hotshot shows.
Chen also used the angle of the drawing to specify the emotions. Normally, as in the Shawshank example above, a moment like this is drawn/shot from high above, the reader looking down on our hero. High angles generally indicate a weakness in the character shown, whether that be physical exhaustion, supplication or thanks to a greater force (as I feel happens in Shawshank), or uncontrolled rage at the world. Yet Chen chooses a different angle for this moment. He chooses a low angle, which has the exact opposite effect, making the hero seem more powerful. He shows us that Hotshot, rather than being destroyed by this sorrowful moment, instead finds in it cause to carry on with even stronger resolve.
Finally, if that isn’t enough, Chen plays upon the reader’s empathy to create emotion. Notice how, starting from the lower left and moving clockwise, the ground beneath the onlooking Protectors, the raised arm and body of Hotshot, the right side of the large rock behind them, the trailing smoke, and the mountain peaks off in the distance all lead your eye to one central point, right where the dead body of Geo lies. No matter what part of the panel you look at, a path (also called a vector) eventually leads your eye to Geo. The reader empathizes with Hotshot’s mourning and in doing so infuses emotion into the drawing.
Louise Simonson’s script combines with all of the techniques Chen employed to give the reader a clear look into Hotshot’s soul, without even one eye to look through.
March 1992 Coolometer. Looks like there were Twitter wars between creators long before there was Twitter.
Long before I read comic books, I enjoyed playing with toys based on comic and sci-fi properties. Starting with the characters I knew from the ’60s Batman TV show, I began collecting Mego toys. Eventually I branched out past comic books and collected a few Planet of the Apes and Star Trek toys as well. Yet for all my enthusiasm over comic and sci-fi toys, when it was released in 1977, I was afraid to go see the most important sci-fi movie in ages, Star Wars.
What was I afraid of? Chewbacca. For some reason I imagined Chewie as a horrible monster, and couldn’t boy-up enough to go see him in a theater. I couldn’t, that is, until I found Marvel Special Edition Featuring Star Wars #1 on the rack at a Cumberland Farms market in Pleasantville, NJ (page 38, panel 1 of 6 shown). To the best of my knowledge I had never bought a comic book before before that one, and it would be a number of years before I began collecting steadily. Still, I had to have it.
Here, thanks to the writing of Roy Thomas and the artwork of Howard Chaykin, I was able to see that Chewbacca was one of the good guys, not the fearsome creature I had imagined. Chaykin’s art softened Chewbacca’s image a bit, and the limitations of coloring didn’t hurt either. Likewise, Thomas’ adaptation of the script left Chewie’s voice to the imagination, so he didn’t sound like the roaring monster I feared.
As a bonus, the comic book ended midway through the movie plot, so the ending wasn’t spoiled for me! No longer terrified of wookies and eager to see how the story ended, I finally saw the movie, and my love of the Star Wars movies took a concrete hold. My toy collecting switched from Megos to all things Star Wars. I had to have all the figures I could find, and except for the vinyl-caped Jawa that my dog chewed up, I still have them. My friends and I even made stop-motion films using the figures; in a way my career path started with Star Wars.
So with one book, my childhood playtime focused in with geek-like obsession on Star Wars, not realizing that at the same time my inner comic book collector was biding his time. Two geekdoms sired at once. Not bad for a buck.
LATE ADDITION: In another case of serendipity, it turns out today is George Lucas’ birthday. Happy birthday, and thanks, Mr. Lucas.
As mentioned in a previous post, one of the most difficult things to accomplish in comics is leading the reader’s eye through a “carriage return,” the somewhat unnatural progression from right-to-left across a page when moving from one horizontal tier to the next. Here we have another fine example of an artist resetting the reader’s eye from that right-to-left movement back to left-to-right, and from a well-known character’s first appearance, too.
This panel comes from More Fun Comics issue 73, page 52 (story page 2), panel 5 of 6, scripted by Mort Weisinger and featuring art by Paul Norris. This story features the first appearance of fan favorite and sometimes butt of fan jokes, Aquaman. The panel appears at the bottom left of the page. As you can see, the cutoff image of the wooden boat creates lines running down and to the left, so as the readers’ eyes are resetting from the middle tier on the page to the bottom, they are greeted by an image that moves the same way their eyes do. The boat ends at Aquaman’s left hand, which then turns the readers’ eyes back toward the right, running along the shape of Aquaman diagonally toward the right and the bottom of the image, even spilling over into the white space (also called the gutter), helping the reader progress to the next panel.
Also of interest to me here is Aquaman’s costume. It’s interesting to see how his little his garb has changed after 71 years in publication. With only slight alterations, this exact costume lasted well into the 1980s. In the mid-’80s it was replaced with a completely redesigned blue outfit, which quickly reverted to this original design. Again in the 1990s, Aquaman would ditch the orange shirt and go topless save for some armor covering one shoulder and the hook that replaced his left hand. Don’t worry, he got better.
To this day, in the current, “New 52” DC universe, Aquaman’s cloting matches this original design, with only the addition of a collar and a split along the fin-like gloves differing from Paul Norris’ original vision. That just goes to show, no matter how unique a look you try, you can’t beat a classic.
For parents who aren’t aware, every year comic shops around the U.S. take one day and give away free comics to anyone who visits their store. This year, Free Comic Book Day is Saturday, May 4. The free comics, as comics tend to do, range in styles, genres, and age-appropriateness. However, many—if not most—of the free books tend to be child-friendly, as are the examples to the left from my friends at Action Lab. These books and many more will be available for free at comic shops on May 4.
In case you missed that: FREE. As in no cost to you, for something that will help your child learn to read, something that doesn’t beep or buzz annoyingly, something that doesn’t assail kids’ eyeballs with ADHD-inducing imagery, something that might offer a parent a blessed fifteen to thirty minutes of silence. FOR FREE.
In addition, many shops offer sales, creator appearances, costumed characters, and an overall party atmosphere. It’s a great opportunity to try something that may be new to you. You can find a participating store near you with this store locator.
You will also find numerous comic book fans, who also enjoy picking up these free tales. Don’t be afraid. Talk to them. While there may be some initial awkwardness involved, most comic fans are not only friendly, but eager to help a new reader to find books that best suit their tastes and needs. Granted, it is Star Wars Day too, so you’ll probably get a “May the fourth be with you” or two, but it’s worth it.
And to those long-time fans, I implore you to not let the fun stop once Free Comic Book Day has passed. Give as good as you get. There are opportunities to reach out to potential readers all around you every day. Whenever I find myself in a waiting room or at a hotel, I try to leave a few comics behind for a new reader to find. Some of them are books I pick up at Free Comic Book Day, some are just books I don’t need to keep in my home anymore.
My favorite place to Johnny Appleseed comics is in airplane seat backs, because you get to see the person or persons next to you discover the comic and read it. Which they have. Every single time I’ve done this. Seriously. Every time.
Just like that, comic fans can make every day Free Comic Book Day for someone.
While on May 4th fans will flock to theaters to see Tony Stark don the Iron Man armor, side by side with his pal and fellow armored adventurer James Rhodes, few will remember (or care, frankly) that Rhodey was not the first substitute Iron Man found in comics. That honor goes to Tony Stark’s chauffeur, Happy Hogan, played in the movies by Jon Favreau. Nor was Rhodey the second in line. Almost one hundred issues prior to Rhodey’s first appearance in Iron Man #118, a man named Eddie March wore the Iron Man armor.
Introduced in Iron Man #21 by writer Archie Goodwin and artist George Tuska, Eddie March was a boxer who had fought his last fight. Though he won that fight by drawing inspiration from Iron Man’s tenacity, afterward a doctor informed him that he had a blood clot in his brain, and that any more serious blows to the head could kill him. Knowing that he could no longer box, but not wanting to live out the rest of his life merely “looking at a scrapbook,” Eddie parlayed a chance meeting with Tony Stark into an opportunity to step into the Iron Man armor.
Stark—who at this point was not publicly known to be Iron Man—wanted to retire from superheroics, and Eddie March came along at the perfect time. However, Eddie never informed Stark of his life-threatening condition. Thus, even moreso than Tony Stark’s heart condition, Eddie’s health issues added incredible tension to his battles as Iron Man, as any single blow could kill him instantly. Yet he fought on.
Here, in Iron Man #21, page 20, panel 5 of 6, Eddie takes on the Crimson Dynamo, and the fight has not gone well for him. Still, as in the boxing sequence earlier in the issue, Eddie draws on the inspiration of being Iron Man to keep himself in the battle. George Tuska gives the reader a interesting view through the armor to show how desperate the situation is. The sweat running down Eddie’s grimacing face lets the reader know that he may be about to lose not only the fight, but his life. Of course, this being the next-to-last panel in the book, if the reader wants to know if Eddie survives you have to read the next exciting issue of Iron Man.
SPOILER: he does, and goes on living for years afterward, even assisting Rhodey in training when he has his turn as Iron Man. So as you’re enjoying Iron Man 3 this weekend, pour out a few kernels of popcorn in honor of the forgotten hero, Eddie March.
Often when I write about comics, especially on Facebook, I make sure to mention that the medium of comics can appeal to adults as well as children. In emphasizing that fact, I often forget to mention just how wonderful comics can be for children. As proof, today’s panel comes from the fan page of Superman Family Adventures issue 10, art by Bethany.
To me, no better or more significant compliment could be paid to a comic than to have a child take the time to draw a character. Knowing that you’ve excited a child’s imagination and sparked their creativity must be incredibly satisfying. Over the last few years, I’ve been fortunate enough to help Lawdog Comics and Atomic Tiki Studio at their tables in San Diego and Anaheim. Seeing the faces of children light up at their books and watching them stare, awestruck, as one of the artists draws a quick sketch always brings a smile to my face. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’m usually pretty awestruck by sketching as well.)
While I don’t have the skills to bring that kind of joy to a child, I have been able to reach them in a different way, and so can you. Organizations like Comics for Kids, Reading with Pictures, and the Elyria Comic Book Initiative can use your help through either monetary or comic book donations to get comics into the hands of children, and hopefully promote literacy in the process. You can also donate comics to many children’s hospitals, providing some respite or distraction to kids in need.
As Free Comic Book Day approaches, remember that while it’s great to receive free comics, it’s usually even more rewarding to give them, especially to kids.
Happy 75th birthday, Superman. There can be no better panel to highlight today than Action Comics #1, page 1, panel 1.
This is the panel where the legend began. In typical “Golden Age” style, and probably due to Superman originally being created as a failed attempt to sell a newspaper strip, the storytelling is incredibly economical right from this first panel. As Shuster draws the crumbling planet and the departing rocket holding the baby Kal-El, Siegel’s caption sets the stage by compressing half of the origin of Superman into a single sentence.
With such exciting storytelling right from the get-go, it’s no wonder that Superman captured kids’ imaginations and quickly became the icon he has been ever since.
No blog last week and probably no blog this week as I’m dealing with some personal stuff (everything is fine, thanks for asking). I’ll try to get back at it next week, or maybe even late this week if I’m able to do so. Thanks for your patience.
In recent years, there has been growing controversy about Stan Lee’s role in (co-)creating the best known characters in the Marvel Universe. While Lee’s involvement in creating any one specific character can be called into question, it’s undeniable that Lee fostered the concept of the shared universe and made that universe feel like the property of both the creators and the readers. Today’s panel is but one of dozens of examples that illustrate that point.
This panel is from Amazing Spider-Man #43, page 19, panel 5 of 5, written by Stan Lee and drawn by John Romita (this image actually scanned from a reprint in Marvel Tales #183). The main story in this issue builds on that of the previous two as Peter Parker continues his first meeting with Mary Jane, and at the same time Spider-Man must once again battle The Rhino, who was introduced in issue #41. While the issue has a fun plot and wonderful artwork by Romita, it’s in the text of this panel that we see Stan Lee’s skills at drawing in his readers.
As the text says, this panel of Peter Parker riding off into the distance should have ended the issue, but due to a page miscount, this concluding panel comes a page too early. Without being told, average readers would never know an error was made, but Stan chooses to make a point of letting the readers know what happened. The readers know that Stan isn’t trying to put one over on them, that he’ll admit his mistakes.
This isn’t an isolated occasion. In fact, the concept of the Marvel “No-Prize” revels in the readers’ ability to find and explain away errors in Marvel comics. In this way, Stan makes the readers feel like active participants in the creation of the universe. That feeling of participation fostered a deep connection between Marvel readers and Marvel Comics, creating a bond and a devotion that for many readers lasts a lifetime.
By the way, on the following “filler” page, Lee and Romita pack in a ton of teen angst, as Peter worries about his love life with both Gwen and Mary Jane, the draft, Aunt May’s health, and, of course, money. Leave it to Lee and Romita to take a mistake and turn it into a half-dozen potential subplots for future issues.
Throughout the early 1990s my comic reading more often left the safety of DC and Marvel, and headed toward the independent racks. Along with Image, Dark Horse and Valiant, I started to discover smaller publishers, even single-title publishers. Often these “discoveries” came due to press from Wizard or Comic Shop News. This is how I first learned about Strangers in Paradise, Shi, The Bogie Man, and today’s topic, Stray Bullets.
Even having read every issue of Stray Bullets, I don’t think I could easily describe the book. Part crime drama, part character study, part delusion, David Lapham’s work doesn’t fall into any easy classification. The book grabbed my attention from the moment I snatched issue 1 off the rack, but this panel of this story guaranteed that I would read every issue.
This is Stray Bullets issue 4, page 27, panel 3 of 8. Like categorizing the book, Lapham doesn’t provide easy answers within the pages of Stray Bullets. Characters have multiple motivations for their actions, often conflicting with themselves. This panel clearly demonstrates that. The gentleman pictured has picked up the hitchhiking runaway Virginia, a young girl. The high-contrast art style often found in crime dramas works with the sweat forming on the character’s face and his grotesque tongue lapping out from his mouth to suggest that the man wants to satisfy his urges. Yet while its not explicitly stated (but heavily suggested visually), the man seems to have two different urges working against each other. This internal conflict that Lapham creates works in concert with the external concern over Virginia’s safety to draw the reader in and makes for an almost exhaustingly intense read.
I won’t tell you which of his urges the man satisfies, or how, because you can find out for yourself, legally and free. David Lapham has posted the first four issues of Stray Bullets online for all to read. I hope you take advantage of that opportunity and, like me, get hooked for the entire series.
To make up for my lack of posting this week, here’s a little bit of hilarity that I found in Mavericks #1 by Dagger Comics, published in 1994. I enjoyed Image Comics of the day, and since Dagger Comics were heavily Image-influenced, I bought most of their books too. I forgot about the “Good as Gold” pledge, though. I imagine they stuck to this pledge, and they did their best to make fun and exciting books. Still, in light of how comics sell today, that first item has to make you laugh. It’s even funnier, seeing how I pulled this “True Collectable” from a $.25 bin.
Ah, the wonders of the speculator market.
No blog this week due to illness. Next week: my favorite panel from one of my favorite indie comics. I’m sure you’re licking your lips in anticipation.
Oftentimes comic fans debate the value of the comics medium as a form of literature. Those who support the case for comics as literature could cite Superman 49, page 3, panel 3 of 7, written and drawn by Jerry Ordway with inks by Dennis Janke, to support their claim. This panel comes from the first chapter of the Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite storyline. In the form of a rock of red Kryptonite, my favroite imp, Mxyzptlk, surprises the then-heavier Lex Luthor, and suggests a team-up of sorts.
What makes this panel interesting from a “literary” standpoint is that Ordway’s artwork goes to some lengths to make an allusion, while his script completely ignores this. The image of a Lex holding the skull-shaped Mxyzptlk/rock clearly harkens to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Act V, Scene I, in which Hamlet holds the skull of the dead jester, Yorick. This device has been used often in various media, and many times in comics, but usually spelled out so obviously that the reader can’t miss it. For example, Y: The Last Man #16 features the monkey Ampersand in the same pose, holding the skull of—presumably—the main character, Yorick. The cover of Amazing Spider-Man #347 depicts Venom holding the skull of Spider-Man, paraphrasing Shakespeare’s dialog with the line, “Alas, poor Spider-Man, I killed him well!”
Yet here Ordway chooses to allude to Shakespeare in his artwork without making any mention of this in his script. The characters go on with their conversation, oblivious to the fact that they’ve struck a rather famous pose. Thus the moment is there for those in the know and can enhance the text for them, while still allowing those not versed to continue enjoying the story: a technique often found in (gasp!) literature.
What better way to celebrate Creator Owned Day in comics than by highlighting one of my favorite creator-owned books of the last few years? The poor scan here comes from the AdHouse trade paperback of Fred Chao’s Johnny Hiro. The panel is from issue 3, page 12, panel 3 of 3.
Johnny Hiro features top-notch action mixed with wonderful humor, and when I first read the individual issues, this panel made me laugh the hardest. The mixture of the mundane and the fantastic sets up much of both the humor and action in the book. For anyone else, a night out would be just a night out, but for Johnny Hiro there’s always a samurai attack, insane chefs, or Godzilla just around the corner.
Fred Chao’s art adds to the fun. His style renders the scene clearly while still allowing him to use exaggeration to heighten the humor of the images. Anyone looking for a fun, funny, exciting book should look into Johnny Hiro (now published by Tor Books). You won’t be disappointed.