Remembering the Work of Joe Kubert

kubertI must have been nine or ten when I first encountered a comic featuring a Joe Kubert cover. Truth be told, I thought it was some of the worst comic art I’d seen—and at that time, I considered myself an expert in the artform.

I’d been raised on a steady diet of Jack Kirby’s statuesque demi-gods and John Buscema’s powerful matinee idols. And most of my favorite work had been embellished with the slick brush lines of Joe Sinnot or Mike Royer, or occasionally inked with the lush rendering of Tom Palmer.

To my eye, Joe Kubert’s work looked rough, sketchy and unfinished.

Flash forward eight to ten years: I found myself in my first life drawing class and experienced gesture drawing for the first time. Everything was about capturing a movement (hence the name, gesture drawing) and recording it. Motion, vitality and spontaneity were king.

It was around this time that the lightbulb went off.

What my untrained 10 year-old eye saw as “rough,” was actually boldness. What I thought was “sketchy” was actually immediacy.  Where I had previously seen the work as “unfinished,” I now saw it as fluid and dynamic.

From that point on, I checked out all the Kubert work I could find. I learned that he was more than just an expert at creating movement. Joe’s compositions and storytelling were downright amazing.

I never met the man, but he was my guide on adventures on WWII battlefields, and through primeval jungles. Our expeditions took us from prehistoric earth to unknown galaxies in the far-future. And at every stop along the way, I learned something about art.

Thanks, Joe.

Convention Networking for the Socially Awkward Professional

Since I’m leaving for San Diego Comic-Con very soon, it occurred to me to address something that I experience every time I go to a convention: social anxiety.

I’m fine when I’m sitting at my table and interacting with people coming up and chatting. In fact, I love it. Small talk, comics talk, movie and TV talk, sports talk…I’ll talk your ear off. But take me away from that comfort zone, and I clam up.

I suck at networking.

That’s it; the bottom line. If I have to seek someone out,  I invariably worry about if they’ll remember me (if I’ve met them before), if I’m blethering on too long or too much, if they’re looking for an escape route…pretty much just worried that I’m imposing on their time.

So I end up feeling like Paul Schaffer as Artie Fufkin in This Is Spinal Tap.

“Hi. Steve Bryant, Athena Voltaire.” [shakes hand]

[puke]

This even extends to seeing someone I’ve met before away from the convention (for instance, I think I’ve run into comic artist Skottie Young about a half-dozen times and just looked away…and there are a bunch more examples, too)—all because I don’t know what to say, or am afraid of imposing on someone’s time, or because I’m afraid of being embarrassed if someone doesn’t remember who I am.

So that’s it; my deep dark convention secret. I’m going to try and come out of my shell a bit more, and interact more this year…but I say that every year. We’ll see if it happens …

Fallen Angel

 


I had the opportunity to contribute a pin-up to an upcoming Fallen Angel collection.  J.K. Woodward, the incredible artist on the series, has set the bar high, so it was a fun challenge.Shown here are my original rough, a couple of work-in-progress camera phone shots while I was inking, the finished inks and the colors, courtesy of my ever-amazing collaborator, Jason Millet.

Al Williamson

My hero has died.

Al Williamson was probably the most important artist in my pantheon. I met him back in 1992 when a friend of mine was sharing studio space with him. Professional, affable, humble, and charming, he taught me about how to conduct myself as a professional over the course of a couple of days hanging out in the studio.Yeah, it was that pivotal of a meeting.I was most taken by the fact that this guy was just a couple of years younger than my dad, yet here I was relating to him about science fiction, art, illustration, comics, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Comics and adventure fiction had worked their magic on him and he truly seemed like a young, vibrant guy.

My artwork at the time was bad—truly awful—yet he took the time to go over it with me, spending far more time than was justified by the level of craft in the work.

I was introduced to Al’s art by way of his work, with Archie Goodwin, on the Star Wars daily strip. Lush settings with dynamic figure work—and those layouts! Look at the way the man composed a Sunday page…stunning, elegant storytelling at it’s best. His sense of action wasn’t Kirby dynamics; it felt more like a glorious action-movie punch. When an Al Williamson hero threw a punch, you FELT it.

I later gravitated to his E.C. work, particularly his collaborations with Roy Krenkel and Frank Frazetta.

However, it’s his work on Secret Agent Corrigan (again with Archie Goodwin) that became my eventual all-time favorite of his work. Al’s using more photo reference on this stuff, and it boasts a slicker line (you can really see the influence of John Prentice, who Al assisted on Rip Kirby, especially in the first few years of the strip), but it’s just so damn perfect. I’m eagerly awaiting IDW’s release of these books.

If you’re curious about Al’s work—possibly, you’re only familiar with his latter day inking for Marvel Comics, check out the following books:

Creepy Archives, volume 1. Dark Horse. The first issue of Creepycontained one of my favorite Williamson/Goodwin collaborations, The Success Story. Based on an actual guy…but you can judge for yourself which parts are fiction.

Al Williamson’s Flash Gordon: A Vision of the Heroic by Mark Schultz. Flesh Publishing knocked it out of the park with this collection. Buy this. Buy it now. Perfection.

X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan. IDW Publishing is adding Al and Archie’s seminal work to their Library of American Comics. The first volume releases in July.

Al Williamson Archives volume 1. Flesk Publications, the people who brought us the awesome Flash Gordon volume will be releasing the first of a series of Williamson sketchbooks in July. Buy this.

Star Wars deluxe hardcover slipcase edition, published by Russ Cochran. Beautiful b/w reproduction of Al and Archie’s strip work in gorgeous oversized volumes. (sadly, out-of-print)

The Art of Al Williamson by James van Hise. Some great stories about Al and the rest of the Fleagle Gang (the nickname of Al and his E.C. artist pals) and wonderful art and reference photos of Al and company. (also out-of-print)

Al Williamson Adventures. Published by Insight Studios, this features a bunch of Al’s Warren work, and some other lost gems. The frontispiece, a Star Wars illustration, is actually from the Game Designers’ Workshop RPG magazine Challenge—I commissioned it from Al in my days as an art director. (possibly out-of-print)

Volumes to be avoided: Anything by Pure Imagination (the had a few Al Williamson Reader volumes with AWFUL reproduction). Ditto for the Al Williamson Sketchbook from Vanguard from 10 years ago—weak reproduction and awful graphic design. Save your money for the good stuff from Flesk and IDW—and the Russ Cochran books, or the Van Hise book.

So long, Al. I hope you and the other Fleagle Gang members that preceded you (Roy, Wally and Frank) are banging out a story with lizards, swashbucklers, and forgotten cities as I type this.

Another Birthday Down

Sorry I’ve been so quiet…work, work, work!

I just celebrated a birthday a couple of days ago and was reminded by a childhood friend that I share a birthday with a famous public figure!

Interesting Steve Birthday Trivia
When I was 1 or 2 years old, the cereal Cap’n Crunch ran a contest for kids to submit their birthdays. A select few with the Cap’n’s birthday would win a 5-speed bike. My folks submitted my brother and me. Guess who had a 5-speed bike before he could walk? Yes, I have the same birthday as Cap’n Crunch. True story.

Being born in the 60s, I can’t help but reimagine the pitch meeting of the ad agency and the General Mills executives through a Mad Men filter…

General Mills Executive: We’d like to tie in a contest with our new cereal, Cap’n Crunch. Maybe give a prize to the kid who shares the Cap’n’s birthday.

Pete Campbell: Kids love contests! A great prize would be a savings bond!

Peggy Olson: 
A toy…kids love toys.

Sal Romono: 
When I was a child, I always wanted a dollhouse, with lots of pretty dollies…

Don Draper:
 A bike. Throughout life, we’re always going somewhere…but the destination isn’t important. That’s what Cap’n Crunch is about…the voyage on the high seas of childhood, passing though the sugary milk of bloated sweetened corn cubes into adulthood.

Flashback: Eisner Awards, part 2

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Another shot from the 2005 Eisner Awards; this time, it’s Mike Heffron and me with author Michael Chabon. I had actually started reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay on the flight to San Diego that year. At the time, I regretted not having more to say to Mr. Chabon than “I really enjoy your work,” but, in retrospect, I assume he probably gets a lot of people who want to ask that one memorable question and end up looking like pretentious douchebags instead.

Mike and I didn’t talk to Mr. Chabon for very long (he had to catch a flight to San Francisco right after the awards), but he was very gracious and pleasant.

Flashback: Eisner Awards 2005

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I was clearing some stuff off my desktop, looking for images I haven’t uploaded to this blog yet and came across this photo from the 2005 Eisner Awards.

From left: me, Dark Horse Comics publisher Mike Richardson and Jim (Territory 51) Heffron. Jim had been nominated for the Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award and I was nominated for Athena Voltairein the Best Digital Comic catagory. Neither of us won, but it was a blast, capped off by meeting the guy who publishes the best comics today.

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