Thursday, April 14, 2011

Spotlight On: Walter Simonson

Doug: Lately we've been covering the Tales of Asgard series. We've also from time to time reviewed a Thor story. So perhaps it's only fitting that we take a pause to offer our readers the opportunity to sound off on one of the Thunder God's premiere creators of the Bronze Age, Walter Simonson.

Doug: Call me a heretic, but I've not read Simonson's run on Thor. He started on the book during the time I was out of comics, and his style just doesn't appeal to me -- I never got back to buying or reading those issues. I tend to like my super-heroes drawn in a pretty conservative manner -- realistic anatomy (as far as muscle-bound types go, you know), a la both Buscemas, Adams, Byrne (sometimes he's pushing it when he's overly elongated), Rogers, etc. I know comics are picture stories, but I tend to focus on the picture more than the story -- but that's an Open Forum for another day.

Doug: I did, however, encounter him in the pages of X-Factor, a book I was really liking with Jackson Guice on the pencils. Simonson's style was such a departure, and when he began writing it as well I didn't care for the direction the book took. If I remember, it was under his watch that the Angel lost his wings, and the Beast was changed back to human form but with drastically-decreased intelligence. Hey, I was enjoying have the gang all together again -- I wasn't looking for the rug to be yanked out from under me!

Doug: We'd be remiss if we didn't mention Simonson's tenure at DC on Manhunter and other characters.
He's also certainly remembered for the X-Men/Teen Titans crossover as well. I did acquire that book and for the most part enjoyed it. But, as you can see from the sample at left, it's pretty straightforward superhero art; my criticisms of Simonson on the other books mentioned in this post deal with his stylized anatomy. It's just not for me.

So expound on your opinions on his art, his writing, his "style" -- whatever you got!
Win me over!


Anonymous said...

You're really not into pencilers with any kind of a distinct/impressionistic style, are you?

I didn't read all of Simonson's run on X-Factor. mainly because at that point I was at the mercy of the Army PX, and they seemed to order the comics at random. Picking it up now seems it would require all of the X-books and wading into the clusterflock of crossovers. I remember Inferno being the beginning of the idiocy in the X-books.

I have purchased all of his Thor and FF runs. His Thor stuff is far and away better than FF, I think his pencils really enhance the stories, which were more fantasy than superhero anyway. The standard "marvel style" wouldn't have done the book justice.

Short of Colletta over Kirby (where Colletta's laziness seems to actually help) Ilike Simonson best on Thor, because Thor is best off-planet in some strange place with with elaborate costumes and funky backgrounds.

Doug said...

Good morning, Eric --

You're really not into pencilers with any kind of a distinct/impressionistic style, are you?

Nope - I'm really not into that sort of style. Gil Kane and George Tuska may even be pushing it at times for me, but I've come to appreciate their work. I agree with your posit that a style can fit a particular story or setting, but as I've said, I have not read the Simonson Thors.

I should say, however, that I love Alex Schomburg's Golden Age covers -- but I feel that his bombasticism really fits into the propagandistic element of those drawings.

Thanks for the comment!


dbutler16 said...

I tend to agree with Doug. I don't like stylized comic book art. It's a comic, not an impressionist painting. To me, George Perez is what comic book art should look like, or at least superhero comic book art. But that's just me. To each his or her own. Also, I've never cared for Tuska, either.

J.A. Morris said...

I haven't read Simonson's Thor run either, except the odd issue here and there. I've been planning on picking up the 'Beta Ray Bill' trade, I'll start there. My primary exposure to Simonson's art was his work in 'Star Wars' in between 'Empire' and 'Jedi'.

I like Simonson's art, but I've never cared much for Thor as a solo character. I own fewer issues of Thor than any other "major" title. Like pre-Crisis Superman,he just seemed a bit too powerful. Plus,I get easily tired of all the "forsoth"/"thee"/"thou" dialogue. I like him as an Avenger though, interacting with mutants,androids,etc.

I hate to keep sounding like a one-man fanclub here, but I have to mention the Darkseid/Dark Phoenix page is inked by Terry Austin, which explains why it looks like "straightforward superhero art". His inks made that story look great while not overpowering Simonson's pencils.

Edo Bosnar said...

I absolutely love Simonson's art. I'd say he's in my top 5 favorite artists (along with the more "straightforward" Byrne).
To me, his work on, say, Goodwin's Manhunter, Thor and the fairly obscure Starslammers are masterpieces of comic-book art (and I think he's a great storyteller, too). That X-men/Teen Titans crossover is also a favorite - having Simonson draw it instead of any of the artists normally associated with either title (i.e., Cockrum, Byrne, Perez) was a really good idea.
By the way, Eric, I think the idiocy in the X-books started well before Inferno...

Ram said...

His run on Thor is my favorite. His style worked great for those stories! One thing I really enjoyed was the way he drew Loki (great face expressions, really cunning) and his place.

Inkstained Wretch said...

I run hot and cold on Simonson. His art style is kind of singular and doesn't work with everything, but, man, was he the perfect choice for Thor.

Thor, as a solo star, is a difficult character that requires a creative team with an otherworldy style to pull off. Pretty much the entire run of the title from the 70s and early 80s was decidely meh. Simonson was the first one since the Lee/Kirby days to get him right.

Simonson's art made the title look not like a superhero comic but more like a mythic fairytale (an angle he pushed with his storytelling as well).

Aside from the X-Men/Teen Titans crossover and a one-off Dr. Fate story he did, little of his other stuff appeals to me though. His art just doesn't suit conventional superhero comics.

I must admit though I have never read the Manhunter stories. Are they as good as people say?

Edo Bosnar said...

Inkstained, re: Manhunter - yes.

Inkstained Wretch said...

FWIW, gang, Comics Alliance recently posted a nice roundup of the best moments of Simonson's run on Thor, as judged by Chris Sims:

Anonymous said...

Manhunter was the first thing I ever saw that he did and I liked it, but I think I liked the story as much as the art. His art has never really grabbed me that much, maybe on isolated occasions (I did like the Dr. Fate issue he did). I bought the X-Men/Titans issue, but I don't think I ever even read it.


Redartz said...

Here's a little Simonson story:
Years ago, a friend and I had a table at a local comic convention. Walt was there; at the time I didn't know too much about him. He visited with us at our table for a bit and selected a few books; paying us with a sketch each! This made quite an impact on me; being 16 at the time. Still have the sketch; have grown to love his artwork.

Fred W. Hill said...

I first encountered Simonson's art on a couple of Thor fill-ins he did during the late '70s; nothing really stood out, although I recall the coloring gave the artwork an overall muddy appearance. The X-Men/Teen Titans crossover (the first TT story I ever read) displayed his skill to much better effect. But I really loved his work on Thor -- I'll echo Inkstained in saying his Thor was by far the best since the peak of the Lee/Kirby era of the mid-60s. The art and stories were great -- imaginative and often just plain fun, even with the usual dosages of pathos and trauma. The "Frog of Thunder" storyline was hilarious, and, hell, I'd say Thor kept his dignity even in amphibian form. Even after Simonson quit doing the art but kept writing, Sal Buscema did some outstanding work aping Walt's style.
Shortly after Simonson left Thor altogether, I mostly gave up my comics habit, about in the middle of his run on X-Factor and before his run on the FF. I haven't yet felt compelled to try check out on what I missed, even just to see if he & Louise Simonson reached some sort of satisfying conclusion of the various plots they had going on in X-Factor.

Horace said...

My first exposure to Walt Simonson was Heavy Metal's graphic novel adaptation of ALIEN.

It was cool.

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