Posts tagged Mark Evanier

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Gray Morrow Portrait from 2001

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It was the turbulent time in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks when Alan Weiss told me over the phone that Gray Morrow was no longer with us. He didn’t get much into detail other than about his deteriorating illness. Gray had been suffering a severe case of Parkinson’s disease. He passed away on November 6, 2001. Alan also said that Jon B. Cooke was preparing a tribute for him and asked if I wanted to contribute a drawing and a few words. I did both and it was published in Comic Book Artist #17, February 2002. I recently found a scan of the drawing at our good friend Steven Thompson’s web-tribute to Gray Morrow, Shades of Gray. Steven is the fabulous curator of Booksteve’s Library of cultural delights. The Gray Morrow blog is a wonderful peruse and highly recommended for a memorable ride with some of the sweeter eye candy to behold in comics art.

Gray Morrow was a frequent visitor during Continuity’s heyday in the 1970′s. His towering gentlemanly presence was immediately felt when he walked into the studio. He seemed to always bestow an atmosphere of calm and serenity. The same quality that was also the hallmark of his art.

It was a special treat to appear in the same comic book with him, DC Superstars of Magic #11, with his cover and my contents page illustrations of Houdini and Zatana, early 1977.

Mark Evanier, in tribute, said that Gray Morrow had fallen between the cracks of the industry with a realistic style that mainstream publishers didn’t believe would be received well by readers who were more used to the action and melodrama publishers liked to promote. There was nothing really melodramatic about Gray. Nor about his art. It wasn’t overly forceful or violent. It didn’t scream out at the reader. It rather whispered and tantalized with an air of grace, rhythm and harmony. Perhaps this was one of the reasons it looked more realistic than mainstream art. It was calm, settled and quite every-day looking. Just like most of our visual world is. That was also its strength.

Purchase Gray Morrow: Visionary @ Amazon (click image)

Evanier additionally noted that regardless of how strongly publishers believed they knew what the comics reading audience wanted, the bottom line was that comics sales have never really  reflected the marketing savvy that publishers claimed. They had never succeeded in breaking the barrier of the hardcore fan market. Which seems like good reason to believe that artists such as Gray Morrow, whose work was a little to the side of mainstream, were placed on the fringes of the industry  without due cause, other than perhaps publisher or editor presumptuousness. Some artists were simply not given a chance to compete within the monotonous house look that publishers had carved out for themselves. Given this reality, it is not out of the question to assume that this is one of the reasons that actual comics sales have always floundered. Publishers have been trying too hard to predict a market that is apparently far more diverse than their marketing shortsightedness could admit to.

It apparently took a great deal of conviction for Gray Morrow to persevere with his style in the face of pressure from colleagues and publishers to move closer to the center. Or rather let loose with more angst and melodrama. But this conviction was also the same quality within Gray that sought to bestow a more peaceful and harmonious visage to the comics medium. Gray Morrow wasn’t a fighter in that sense of the word. He didn’t believe that he needed to struggle with his art in order to shape it into what the publishers wanted. The fight he fought was to quietly persevere in his work and allow it to speak for itself. He lived this conviction about his art, and his life, all the way till the end. When his illness became evidently irreversible, Gray Morrow surrendered to it, in the same way he had surrendered to the vision of harmony and grace that he believed his art should evoke.

Gray Morrow’s art feels much more at home today within the more diverse medium that’s rapidly evolving. He was too good a man and an artist for the comic book industry of his time. So good that he’s made an indelible unique mark on it, and profoundly predicted many of the current trends in comics art.

Gray Morrow (2001) in Portraits of the Creators and Wikipedia.

Images from Steven Thompson’s Shades of Gray

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Have Peace, Jack Adler

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Alan Kupperberg posted a photo tribute to Jack Adler yesterday on his Facebook page… and added a memorable thought in the caption:

When I went to work for Jack at NPP [DC Comics] in 1971, he became my first “professional” father.

That’s pretty much how I felt about Jack when I started work for DC in 1975, and not only in the professional sense. Jack Adler was a warm, spontaneous and caring fatherly figure to a lot of younger creators who depended on him to help make our work look good within the printing limitations of that time. He is said to have been the foremost authority on mechanical color separation techniques used in comics before the advent of digital color processing.

Jack Adler was a comics artist in a very prolific sense of the phrase. As early as the 1950′s, he began bridging the gap between full color scanned image printing and the flat mechanical separations used in comics. The covers he presided over in that era gave the feel of painted pulp covers, which was no small feat back then, considering the technical limitations. He acquired a thorough knowledge of the processes by which comics art was being handled by printers and dedicated himself to learning every aspect of it. But he didn’t simply settle for knowing this information as an asset for getting by a day’s work. Jack saw an opportunity to create a richer palette and look for comics. His contribution to the visual narrative during a time that flat color dominated much of the work, is more immense than most industry professionals can imagine.

  

When I landed at Continuity and started working for DC, I became part of a creed that contended with the cost effective constraints of getting better visual results for our work. Many of us at the studio would approach the art as if it’s meant to see print in full, true and glorious color, even though we often knew the disappointment of seeing an unfulfilled printed image. A strong memory from that time remains about Neal encouraging everyone to learn the pre-print processes as thoroughly as possible, and utilize that knowledge in preparing our work. It was all worth it, he’d say, because we have a friend and ally in Jack Adler, head of the production department at DC Comics.

Jack Adler - Portaits of the Creators Sketchbook

Mark Evanier posted yesterday about Jack passing away over the weekend at the age of 93, and adds a compelling biographical short. Daniel Best also posted a tribute that includes more words and art about Jack by Alan Kupperberg.

Have peace, Jack. The industry and its creators salute you for the care and dedication that’s helped make us and the comics become all the better.

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Gentleman Jim Mooney | Print Edition

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Gentleman Jim MooneyDaniel Best‘s latest foray into biographical books on comics creators, Gentleman Jim Mooney, is now available in print at Lulu.com.

Gentleman Jim Mooney was written with the direct involvement of Jim Mooney. It features rare and unpublished art, direct from Mooney’s files, plus previously unseen personal photos. The book features contributions from Steve Gerber, Gene Colan, Roy Thomas, Joe Sinnott and others, plus all-new art as Sinnott, Norm Breyfogle, Bob Almond, Mark McKenna, Jim Tournas and Bob McLeod exclusively ink previously unpublished Mooney pencils. Also features is Mooney’s niece Libby Titus, wife of Steely Dan Founder Donald Fagen plus an introduction by Stan “The Man” Lee.

Published in conjunction with Blaq Books, it promises to be 111 masterful pages on one of the more memorable icons of comic art in the Silver Age.

Order your copies at Lulu.com and help support the chronicling of comics creator giants by Daniel Best.

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Gentleman Jim Mooney

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Daniel Best, who just gave an enthusiastic review of our new commissioned art, is soliciting his new artist history project, in collaboration with the subject, Gentleman Jim Mooney, in CD format.

In their first publishing venture, BLAQ BOOKS proudly presents the long awaited official biography of one of the finest, and most prolific American comic book artists of the 20th century, GENTLEMAN JIM MOONEY!

Gentleman Jim Mooney was written with the direct involvement of Jim Mooney. It features rare and unpublished art, direct from Mooney’s files, plus previously unseen personal photos. The book also features commentary and contributions from Steve Gerber, Mark Evanier, Richard Howell, Gene Colan, Roy Thomas, Tony Isabella, Joe Sinnott and others, plus all-new art created especially for this book, as Joe Sinnott, Norm Breyfogle, Bob Almond, Mark McKenna, Jim Tournas and Bob McLeod exclusively ink previously unpublished Mooney pencils. Capping it off is an interview with Mooney’s niece Libby Titus, wife of Steely Dan Founder Donald Fagen and an introduction by Stan “The Man” Lee.

The CD is available for download at BLAQ BOOKS.  Have a look and buy the product to contribute to Daniel’s marvelous work in chronicling the life and times of landmark comics creators.

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Vince Colletta Remembered

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Had Vince Colletta been the type of comics artist whose self esteem was dependent on his peers’ opinion of his work, it’s very likely that he would not have lasted out his career as a comics inker during the 60′s decade at Marvel.

Those familiar with the controversy over Coletta’s craftsmanship, know that perhaps no other comics creator has been the subject of personal and professional criticism of the type leveled at him. While he also elicits notable praise from the comics readership, many of the great artists whose work he embellished have been noted to say that he was the last choice they would make for an inker of their pencils, and such are not of the least flattering comments. Writer/historian Mark Evanier, of Colletta’s more vociferous critics, who led a charge to remove the inker from Jack Kirby assignments at DC in the early 70′s, explains his position here and here, in response to favorable commentaries on Colletta’s art by Eddie Campbell and Stuart Immonen.

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Artist Eric Larsen also posted an opinion on the debate, opening his short essay with the statement: “Vince Colletta was one of the most prolific inkers in the history of comics.” Considering the duality inherent in any controversey, the following quotation currently adorning Vinnie’s Wikipedia biography, stands out in its praise of his inking over Jack Kirby pencils in their critically acclaimed run on Thor during the 1960′s.  From Marvel Comics in the Silver Age, by writer and comics historian Pierre Comtoise:

. . . Colletta’s hair-thin, detailed inking style . . . seemed devoid of large areas of black, [which are] used to give figures weight and heft but an artistic concept yet to be fully explored by the time of the Middle Ages, an era whose crude woodcuts most reflected the art style needed by the Thor strip[. It] captured the elusive quality of otherworldly drama that the strip would increasingly demand as [Stan] Lee and [Jack] Kirby took it away from the everyday world of supervillains to a mythic plane where the forces of evil were on a far more gargantuan scale. Despite the serendipity of the two men’s styles, Colletta would later be criticized, with good reason, for compromising Kirby’s artistic vision by eliminating much of the detail that the artist put into his work. Be that as it may, what Colletta chose to keep, he rendered in such a way that showed off aspects of Kirby’s art that no inker before or since has ever been able to reproduce.

Our good friend Daniel Best has also posted extensively, and quite forthrightly, about the Colletta controversy over the years. Childhood comics reader “Dan McFan” dedicated an entire blog in praise of Colletta, named after his contentious view of Evanier and other detractors, where he cites a remark I once made at Imwan Forums about the personal nature of Vinnie’s reputation amongst his colleagues. Forum discussions such as this 98 page thread at Comicon.com, or these here, here, and here at The Comics Journal Message Boards, paint a largely accurate picture of the love/hate sentiment in comics fandom for the legacy and art of Vince Colletta.

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Immersed into the world of comic books at youth, I remember having a reverence for the Thor comics, much for the same reason cited by Pierre Comtoise. All that changed, however, as I edged closer towards fandom and came into contact with other aspiring artists. The mere mention of Vince Colletta was often synonymous with “the worst inker ever in comics”. The phenomenon only intensified when I became a professional artist working at Continuity. Still, Vinnie was art director at DC where I’d pretty much settled in as a penciler – and he was inking a great deal of books at the time. One can thus imagine my apprehension upon learning that he’d ink the fill-in issue of Wonder Woman, #232, that I penciled in 1976.
It wasn’t the type of apprehension based on an independent artistic assessment of the pros and cons of such a collaboration – rather on how that work would be viewed by the professional and fan community which largely saw Vinnie’s work in a negative light. In retrospect, I have nothing but good sentiment towards that project today as it’s clear to me that Vinnie’s sensitive line and professional experience contributed towards making that early work look a little better.  The same is true for a Flash story I penciled in World’s Finest Comics that Vinnie inked several years later.  There was a similar tension in the air then about Jack Abel inking my Legion of Super-Heroes stories, but it never reached the intensity that it did with Vinnie – perhaps because Jack was working from Continuity and was considered one of the good guys, while Vinnie was mostly villified as a distant “hack”,  worthy of the most dire slander as a destroyer of comics art, by the sometimes overly proud community of artists that we are.

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As a pertinent digression into the expectations that a comics penciler has regarding their work, it seems that submitting pencil art to be inked and colored by others is by itself a relinquishing of any rights the artist holds over the finished work. Though we should hope for the best effort possible by everyone contributing to the final product, the nature of the beast necessitates that we understand how unenforceable such expectations truly are. In that some artists are able to command a better personal result for their work, it cannot be said that any such collaboration is able to entirely satisfy a penciler’s expectations. This is inherent in the nature of a collaboration and has little to do with the degree of proficiency or artistic merit of an embellisher.

More so, there exists a quality to pencil art which an ink line can never capture for print, and which further stretches the divide between the potential inherent in the pencils and the finished product in a printed book. Thus, every inker must take a certain measure of liberty in order to interpret pencil art. And regardless of the degree of liberty taken, the finished product will never live up to any penciler’s vision for the potential their art holds for them. When compounding an independent artistic vision of an inker, such as Vinnie had, and considering his propensity for keeping the trains running on time, it’s more understandable how he’s come to evoke such a polarized range of sentiment regarding his work.

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This is not, however, about the artistic merit of Vince Colletta. Not about his 1950′s, mostly romance, comics which he penciled and inked exquisitely. Not about his subsequent inking for Marvel and DC beginning in the 1960′s, for which he gained the unflattering reputation. It is not even about whether it’s fair for a community of comics creators and fans to so injuriously malign one of our very own, whose contribution to the medium is indisputable.  No, good readers, this is not about any of these. It is only about the unfathomably resilient spirit of Vince Colletta. An artist who was more than confident about his approach to inking some of the best pencil art of his time. Certain of his own self esteem and unique uncompromising artistic vision, balanced by the time commitments he made. Resilient in that he never allowed his colleagues’ resentment of him to sway from the path he charted.  Good natured in that he never answered any of his detractors in kind, and maintained a warm and personable friendship with everyone whom he knew was maligning him behind his back.

It was a privilege and honor to have known and collaborated with you, Vinnie.  Time to join Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook and perhaps finally offer a copyright free image for your Wikipedia biography. If this portrait doesn’t quite live up to the standard of others I’ve drawn, the only explanation I have is that it’s the best I could do in the short time I could allow myself to do it.

I simply had to hack it out.

Vince CollettaPortraits of the Creators Sketchbook.

* Most images of Vinnie’s art borrowed with gratitude from “Dan McFan”

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