Thursday, 27 May 2010

Ken Barr's Commando Covers - Issues 20-30

Total self indulgence, but I hope you like them too - more of Ken Barr's in-your-face artwork for DC Thomson's Commando comics from 1962.

Other cover artists are issue 21 S.I.Z. and Issues 26 and 27 Chaco.

All images © D.C. Thomson

Commando HQ is well worth a visit for up to date information.

Totally Non PC and all the better for it.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

The Prolific Talent of Doug Moench

The following story is yet another classic from the canon of stories that typifies the second golden age of Warren comics. Doug Moench who had been active in comic fandom since the age of fifteen was one of Warren's busiest rising young stars. He'd been an avid reader of 'Famous Monster of Filmland' and latterly Creepy and when he thought of pitching a story beyond the confines of fanzines, he set his sights on the offices of James Warren as his ideal first port of call.

Not content with submitting one script he enclosed five, sealed the envelope, affixed the stamps and posted the envelope - then as he said promptly forgot about it and went back to living his crazy life.

Sometime later came a response came from Warren, or rather Archie Goodwin (who had briefly returned to take up the editorial reins again). The response such as it was, was a check for $125.00 and a brief moment of heady elation as the young Moench thought that such a generous amount of money for one story was pretty good going - that was until he surveyed the accompanying paperwork and realized that Goodwin had bought all five stories.

Although Moench had no say which artist would be assigned to his Warren stories, he always regarded Richard Corben as one of his ideal visualisers and you can see why in this take on the travelling salesman (modelled on Corben himself), the weird old house, and it's dysfunctional inhabitants.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Passing On The Baton - The Amazing Mark Schultz

Having immersed ourselves in some of the EC greats, I thought I'd wind the clock forward a few years and look at the work of Mark Schultz, whose work in 'Death Rattle Comic' and 'Xenoic Tales' propelled him into the comic book spotlight in the late eighties and early nineties.

Schultz who had trained as a painter and subsequently eked out a career for himself as an illustrator, had always harbored a desire to write and draw his own comics. Like many boys growing up with comics in the mid sixties his first exposure to the medium was via DC and Marvel comics, it wasn't until a seminal moment when he discovered EC comics and subsequently traded his own collection of DC and Marvel comics for a box of vintage ECs that he found his true inspirational font.

His first stories for the series that would eventually be christened 'Cadillacs and Dinosuars' and would spawn an animated TV series as well as garnering Eisner and Harvey Awards, first appeared in Kitchen Sink's Death Rattle Comics, the reader reaction prompted publisher Denis Kitchen to offer Schultz his own comic and thus was born 'Xenoic Tales' which Schultz shared with fellow collaborator Steve Stiles. Between the two of them they created a land not unlike the worlds that Al Williamson, Wallace Wood, Roy Krenkel and Frank Frazetta had conjured up in the pages of EC's Weird Science and Weird Fantasy comics some four decades earlier.

Schultz's work which was good to begin with simply got better and better and his output on the series was eventually collected into paperback form by firstly Kitchen Sink Press and subsequently Dark Horse Comics, sadly both editions are now out of print but are obtainable from the 'usual sources'.

As the series progressed however Schultz who was working hard on upping his draftsmanship and refining his sumptuous inking technique, slowed down in terms of production and at the present although he has plans for more work on the series his commissioned work has to take precedent and the world of Xenoic Tales is, for the moment at least, left in limbo.

More recently Schultz has busied himself as script writer for Prince Valiant and has completed some truly fabulous artwork for The Wandering Star Conan series as well as The Various Drawings series of books for his current publisher Flesk Publications, who he also wrote a superb text for their recent collection of Al Williamson Flash Gordon stories, Williamson not only being one of Schultz's all time inspirational heroes but also a close personal friend.

If you haven't looked into Mark Schultz's work before, then now's the time to check him out.

All images © Mark Schultz 2010

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Cloud 109 - Working Up A Page Part 2

Today we're taking a small commercial break, aka a message from our sponsors, as we briefly reconnect with the catalyst for this blog as well as title originator, Cloud 109.

A fortnight ago we showed you the initial process of laying out a page  of Cloud 109, it's part of a sequence where Gina, Cary and Rabby in their avatar incarnations  revisit the strangely deserted cyber lounge of Cloud 109 as they try to locate the source of the virus that is spreading throughout the virtual world which is rapidly in danger of becoming their first rather than second home.

By this stage of the process everything is literally mapped out, the beauty of Illustrator is that every shape you create continues to be "live" and manipulable, each object being an entity in it's own right, which as mentioned earlier makes it breathtakingly easy to adjust and import elements without the conflicts of scale and resolution attendant on such manoeuvres in Photoshop.

The reason for this critical difference is that Illustrator is a vector based drawing tool and as such creates beautiful and elegant clean lines, which no matter how much you enlarge them stay beautiful and clean. Whereas Photoshop is a bitmap based software and on closer inspection is created from loads and loads of little pixels, the higher the resolution you set the greater the number of pixels but they are always, always there.

So here we are with the new page all mapped out, lettering in place and colors ready to be applied. Each shape when selected is colored by placing the dropper tool over a swatch or creating a new color in the color toolbox using an adjustable slider. But here's the fiendishly clever thing about Illustrator, you can use already established colors from your completed pages to create sets of swatches for the page you're working on, or in this case literally select and drag one of your completed pages onto the image your working on and then it's just a matter of using the top left hand black arrow selection tool from the toolbox on left of the screen to select say Gina's beret and then taking your dropper tool and touching the already colored beret on the left hand image and voila - instant color.

Couldn't be easier!

Each upgrade of Illustrator gets progressively more flexible (CS5 looks the best yet!) and layers can now achieve the same kind of tricks as Photoshop layers, so the shadows which suffuse all the scenes in Cloud 109 are drawn in a layer where the opacity is set to Multiply rather than normal and the opacity is set at 50%. Now you have nicely moody shadows which are a vital part of your storytelling and as they're all easily adjustable you can feel free to experiment.

Back lighting effects are added to a layer on top of the shadow layer as in the blue light that is illuminating the underside of Cary's face in the top layer. As you fill in the colors any adjustments that are required are easy to achieve, by the time we get to the last image you can in fact see that it's pretty nearly done and I'm off the the next image again using it's predecessor as a guide and color palette while the new pencil drawing is being being once again worked up in Illustrator.

Only another 27 pages to go on book 1.

Earlier installments of this epic adventure are situated here and here.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Bernard Krigstein - The Last of the EC Visionaries

Bernard Krigstein was a late recruit to the already impressive roster of artists working for Bill Gaines legendary line of comics. In fact he was so late that under normal circumstances he wouldn't have been hired as by 1953 the commissioning team of Gaines and editor Al Feldstein had more than enough artists on their books to fulfill their requirements.

It was in fact Harvey Kurtzman editor of EC's two war comics and the recently launched and about to start a revolution of it's own Mad, who made the recommendation and as far as Gaines was concerned a thumbs up from Kurtzman was good enough to secure his attention. Krigstein was invited to bring his folio up to the offices at 225 Lafayette Street and by the end of the meeting walked out with one of the most inappropriate jobs Gaines could have ever chosen for a man of Krigstein's abilities.

The assignment which was now tucked into Krigstein's folio was eight pages of pencils by Al Williamson, who was running late on a science fiction story for what would be the last issue of Weird Science before it merged with it's sister publication Weird Fantasy. Asking Krigstein who's line work was gritty and contemporary to ink Al Williamson, whose work was suffused with a lush and overtly retro feel was obviously more motivated by Gaine's concern over a possible missed deadline than it was any aesthetic consideration.

The result was as near a disaster as one can get in terms of unsympathetic inking and when Williamson saw the partially completed pages he was appalled and swiftly summoned up the forces of Frank Frazetta and Roy Krenkel to attempt to salvage the mess. The result was one of the most elegant Al Williamson jobs ever to appear in the EC sci-fi comics.

But despite this less than promising start Krigstein started receiving scripts from Feldstein and as he worked on them so his enthusiasm for the material he was working on grew until he was pleading with Feldstein for more pages to do justice to their full potential. Feldstein ever the pragmatist said no to the increase in page allocation, motivated not just by budgetary constraints but also by the format that he had established for the comics many years earlier, i.e. lead story 8 pages, second story 7 pages, third story 6 pages and final story 7 pages. He did however suggest that Krigstein could create more panels and they would letter up the pages accordingly. Krigstein slightly balked as it meant drawing more content for the same page rate but it was either that or nothing so Krigstein started cutting up panels to create more opportunities for his storytelling to flourish.

Krigstein wouldn't give up on his requests for more pages and it was a story slated for an issue of  Crime Suspenstories (issue 26 to go with the cover that Kamen had already drawn) that was to push Krigstein to completely usurp his role as mere artist for hire and challenge Feldstein's editorial authority by adding an extra two pages to "Master Race" and create a long term comics masterpiece about man's inhumanity to man but a short term headache for Feldstein who now had a story that wouldn't fit the comic it was originally commissioned for.

"Master Race" has now become a comics legend, reprinted and re-examined so many times that it would be tedious to add anything further to the discussion. What however remains of Krigstein's EC output is a raft of stories where the artist was constantly experimenting , cutting up panels, running dialogue in the text boxes rather than their own balloons as in "The Catacombs", adding cinematic touches such as lens flare and motion blur and constantly pushing the boundaries of a medium which is cursed by cliche.

Here is an example of such a story, scripted by Carl Wessler for the last issue of Shock Suspenstories, "In The Bag" represents the peak of Krigstein's creative hiatus with EC after this it was a gentle drift downhill, with Feldstein's intransigence over page allocation and a drop in page rate from $41.00 to $35.00 and the ongoing delay in the publication of "Master Race" undermining Krigstein's passion for an art form that at the time he regarded as on a par with painting.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

The Passing of a God

While much of the world obsesses about on again/off again economic armageddon and the navel gazing antics of failed politicians, matters of real import slide by, not least of which was the passing of arguably one of the twentieth century's greatest artists Frank Frazetta who died yesterday following a stroke at the age of 82.

His work speaks for itself, he simply was the best when it came to creating raw, visceral and passionate artwork, an artist of many imitators but unequalled in the power and majesty of his creations.

I'm going to resist the urge to post some of his stunning paintings but instead share with you a truly beautiful strip entitled, "Empty Heart" from Personal Love 28 published in 1954 when the as yet unknown Elvis Presley was first stepping through the door of Sam Phillip's Recording Studio and the world was indeed a very different place.