Friday, February 28, 2014

Love Rollercoaster

Doug: No Ohio Players in this post, kids. But, we often discuss artists who have hit high notes for us, and then we have noted periods of decline when those same artists fell out of our favor. Worth mentioning would be Don Heck, Carmine Infantino, and even John Byrne. Today we'd like to throw this open to our readers with the opportunity for you to talk about the rise and fall, and maybe rise again of particular artists. Shoot, depending on who you want to discuss, this may even go fall, rise, then fall!

Doug: I may have mentioned that I've pre-ordered the next installment in DC's hardcover series dedicated to specific creators who've left their mark on the Dark Knight. Carmine Infantino's fete is due out in June, and to be honest I am quite looking forward to it. Back in 1989 (I'm sure I've also told this story a time or three) I got a steal of a deal at a flea market -- a longbox stuffed with Batman comics from the Silver and Bronze Ages for only $35. The box contained a who's-who of Caped Crusader creators, with many stories by Neal Adams, Don Heck, Frank Robbins, Jim Aparo, and of course Carmine Infantino. Those "new look" stories from the mid-60s hold a special charm as Carmine sought to bring an updated feel to the Batman mythos while not crushing the silliness of those immediate years prior. That being said, I am among the many who've remarked that Carmine's work at Marvel in the mid-70s was a real downer.

Doug: Similarly, I've said how much I've continued to enjoy Don Heck's turns on Iron Man and the Avengers in the Silver Age, but how dreadful I found his work in the high Bronze Age. Unfortunately, to this guy's eye, the Dashing One never "got it back".

Doug: Think of the first time you saw George Perez. For me, that would have been in Avengers #141, inked by Vinnie Colletta. While he was an upgrade from George Tuska's work on the previous few issues, this wasn't the George Perez we'd love only many months later once under the line of inkers like Joe Sinnott. From there Perez really took off and grew as an artist and storyteller exponentially.

Doug: So here's the drill for today -- we're looking for the rollercoaster ride that is/was particular artist's careers. Pick an artist and tell of your opinion the first time you saw his or her work and then other times when (for you) it was better or worse -- and this doesn't have to be chronological by the date of publication; it's your discovery of said artist. Was it the inker's influence? I'll say that while I love the 3-part Count Nefaria story in Avengers #'s 164-166, I wish Byrne had been inked by someone other than Pablo Marcos. Was it the artist's age that might have contributed to a perceived period of decline? Was it your age as a factor? Or, do you think that stories you love may have been the result of a herculean effort, while stories you didn't care for may have been rushed or without much enthusiasm? What we aren't looking for today are rip jobs on particular creators... we truly want you to celebrate those times that scored, while giving a constructive opinion on those times that for you, flopped.  Thanks in advance!


dbutler16 said...

I don't know if this qualifies, as it's not so much a rollercoaster as a cliff, but I first discovered Keith Giffen in 1982, when he started working on the Legion of Super-Heroes. His run there of about 30 issues includes The Great Darkness Saga. When he re-joined the Legion, towards the end of the Baxter series run in 1988, his work had changed considerable. Nothing to do with inkers, he had just totally changed his style, for some unfathomable reason, and the new look was not to my liking, to say the least. In addition to strongly disliking the art, he gave everyone new "costumes" which weren't really costumes, at least not to those of us weaned on colerful spandex, plus he started co-plotting the series, and it took a darker turn. Well, it was post-Bronze Age by then so I guess the Legion had to keep up with the times. Sigh.

Rick J. said...

Totally agree wit Dbutler16's comments regarding Giffen's work. He went from thin pencil lines to thick and made his work very angular and blockish.
My biggest disappointment was John Byrne. His early work on Iron Fist, Marvel Team-Up and the X-men was fantastic. Later in his career, he started getting lazy and phoning it in. You really started to see it change on his later FF work and Alpha Flight. When he inked his own work, it was difficult to look at when you knew he had so much more to offer.
You look at his commission work now and you see that he can still draw like he did in his early days but guess chooses not to.

Doug said...

That's a great example of what I'm looking for today. I couldn't agree more with the later Giffen work and my distaste for it. I'd add, though, that I wasn't really a fan of his style on his earlier run (we have Great Darkness Saga reviews floating around here somewhere), but it was certainly better to my eye than his late 80s/early 90s Legion work.

HB will probably be along later. His boy Herb Trimpe was a guy who I really enjoyed on the Hulk, especially when inked by John Severin. However, Happy Herbie didn't get it done for me on Super-Villain Team-Up. But then later I didn't mind at all his turn on Godzilla. So definitely a rollercoaster for me with Trimpe. Until he tried to invent a "dynamic new style" on some gross, 90s excess FF mag. Then the rollercoaster crashed.


Doug said...

Rick --

Byrne's work, at least to my eye, requires the proper inker to give it roundness and depth. When inked by Terry Austin or Joe Sinnott, I think Byrne's about as good as they come. But when someone else get hold of him, or he inks himself, his characters can seem overly long and even spindly to me. Books of his I've really enjoyed would be his first FF stint, of course X-Men, and Superman (w/ Jerry Ordway) to name a few.


J.A. Morris said...

Agree with what's been said here about Byrne.

Gene Colan is one of my all-time favorites,but was never quite the same after 'Tomb Of Dracula'.

I enjoyed his pencils on the 'Phantom Zone' miniseries, but he took a bit of a downward turn after that. Colan never "sucked", but his work just looks, I don't know, a bit rushed by the early 1980s. He was in his mid-50s by then, so I guess we can chalk some of it up to age. Plus, much of his best work in the 70s was inked by Tom Palmer, so that likely made a difference.

As for Infantino,his Marvel 70s stuff isn't great, but I can deal with it. And that's partially because I first encountered his work in Star Wars before I had any idea that he was responsible for so much at DC. I guess our opinions about artists are shaped by when/what we saw first.

Doug said...

I'll go ahead and speak this heresy, so feel free to disagree with me.

I think Barry Windsor-Smith's whole body of work is a rollercoaster for me. Sometimes he's right up there as the greatest thing next to sliced bread, but at other times his faces don't seem like the eyeballs and nose are aligned correctly, there can be a flatness to his faces, hands may be too small for the arms they're attached to, etc.

But at other times he is simply brilliant. Beautiful pictures that grab and hold my eyes.


dbutler16 said...

I, too agree with Rick J. about Byrne. His work on the FF was a disappointment to me, but the art did get better once he stopped inking himself. It still wasn't up to the standards of his X-Men and pre-X-Men work.

Humanbelly said...

Ohhhhh I've become so predictable, haven't I. . . heh. . .

Actually, Keith Giffen was the FIRST guy that came to my mind, and opened the comments to see that you, dbutler, had totally beaten me to it! IIRC, OMEGA MEN was where I first saw/read him (the earlier part of that title's run), and I thought his art was pleasantly clean and accessible, w/ a touch of Kirby/Buckler influence. And his visual storytelling was very, very clear and involving. And then a few years down the road he took over THE DEFENDERS for their Scorpio Saga-- and his style had already started to become less realistic-- sort of like a distracted Kirby, maybe. And then. . . didn't he hit it big as the plotter/writer for JUSTICE LEAGUE? The thing is, he plotted it via thumbnail sketches of how he wanted the stories to look visually, so it was a weird artist/writer collaboration that seems to have changed him forever. I'm thinking in particular of some issues of DAREDEVIL that he did, as well as the end run of HEX. . . and a couple of other things that aren't coming right to mind. A buddy of mine at the time summed up Giffen of that era as "the guy the give a book to when they want to kill it". Sheesh.

Ah, my own Happy Herbie Trimpe. I do wonder if not having a solid, disciplined artistic foundation in his youth might have accelerated his decline? Although his personal style made dramatic leaps during his long run on the HULK, he seemed to hit a wall with his visual creativity, and tended over the following years to let incremental sloppiness creep in. I did think GODZILLA was pretty fun visually, although I didn't care for the book, but he generally never seemed to be drawing anything "new", regardless of what book he was working on. And his weaknesses (symmetry, scale, etc) tended to become more pronounced-- even amplified-- until he recreated himself as a trendy Liefeld clone. (Although, in his defense, he wholeheartedly loved that style, and made no bones about saying so-).

Can I toss a couple of other names out for review?

Bill Sienkowicz (sp!)
Sal Buscema (sort of as a Rise; Plateau; and then nice slow, continuous Rise)
Ooh-- Jack Kirby?

Oh man-- John Romita, Jr!


Doug said...

JR JR - talk about being under the influence of an inker. Does anyone ever really talk about him as the penciler during the Michelinie/Layton run on Iron Man? Of course not, because we call it the "Michelinie/Layton run". I generally don't care for JR JR doing his own stuff, but his runs on Amazing Spider-Man and Iron Man were quite good.

HB, I was actually going to bring up Sal myself. While I like his brother's body of work much more, I was asking myself if there was a more consistent artist from his beginnings through, say, his first 10-12 years on the job? Sal is tough to beat. I guess that's why we always call him "steady" whenever we review one of his books.


Garett said...

Interesting to see Catwoman in a green costume.

I agree about Barry Smith and the way he draws faces. Red Nails is an awesome accomplishment, but his earlier and later work- eh.

Byrne was a huge favorite of mine in X-Men days, and I followed him to Alpha Flight. His later art looks too simplified in comparison, possibly because he took over writing duties. Also I think as I've gotten older, his style looks too soft--I prefer the the firmer look of Kirby, or the grittier look of Aparo. Byrne's recent Star Trek looks well-drawn, but lacking in the dynamism of his earlier work. It's talking heads.

Bill Sienkiewicz was a big favorite in his Moon Knight days. His Adams clone style in the Hulk mag looked great, and his gradual experimentations in Moon Knight's comic were thrilling--most innovative artist of the early '80s. Then his experiments went overboard for me--especially with Stray Toasters, which was nearly unreadable. Since then, he seems to have settled into a lukewarm style that's not Adams sharp or breaking new ground--just ok.

John Romita Jr looked great on Iron Man. Since then his art has become more blocky--it does the job compositionally, but the definition of the characters leaves something to be desired. His earlier stuff had more warmth, and possibly Bob Layton's inking had much to do with it, as mentioned.

I liked Mike Grell's art from the Legion to Warlord to Starslayer to Jon Sable to Green Arrow. Then he had a long stint writing Green Arrow, and when he came back to drawing...well it hasn't been the same since. His art took on a generic quality. Functional, but lacking the style and personality it had before.

My biggest change has been with Kirby's art. My first introduction to him was his '80s work, and it took me a long time to get over that first impression. Now I love his art from the '40s through to the late '70s--still haven't latched on to that '80s art though. : )

Doug said...

Kirby's zenith (my opinion) was of course his Thor and FF in the Silver Age. His inkers on those two books could not have been more different, yet both made the King's work look perfect for the subject matter at hand.

I've always had a more critical eye toward his 70s work, as it became more blocky and even more bombastic than it had been (if that's possible). I also find that I need to not look too closely at his details, as God just didn't design human anatomy the way Jack interpreted it later in his career!

Aparo's overall feel is generally wonderful, but at times I do feel a bit of scratchiness in his work. If I'm not mistaken he generally inked his own work. Does anyone know if he did a two-step process of pencil-then-ink, or did he draw in ink? I do not know.


mr. oyola said...


My first exposure to Ditko as a name was late in the ROM series where he did fill in for about the last 15 issues.

It was my first experience with REALLY disappointing art. Like art that was so bad I considered not continuing the series despite my love of it and having stuck with it from the issue #21 or so.

Of course, later once I knew some history and got my hands on some early Spider-Man and saw his work on Dr. Strange I knew that he probably hated working on ROM (and any Marvel stuff) in direct opposite proportion for my 13 year old love of it.

So for me it was a backwards rollercoaster - for too long Ditko was synonymous with hack work for me - and then I learned how wrong I was.

david_b said...

Well, I'll start with the fore-mentioned biggies..

1) Carmine..? His Silver work was beyond words, up along side Steranko, Kirby, Adams, just setting such a huge tone for backgrounds, street angles, movement, you name it. In the 70's..? Bad inkers can typically ruin such good layouts, but his brief stint on DD was quite smooth, hardly noticeable and holds up surprisingly well. His Howard the Duck was fine as well, I'm believing his main body of Bronze work was looked at in Star Wars, which showed (again) some of his most distinctive work, whether you like his style or not. It was such a pleasure to see him back in DC on the final Flash years. Although the one original NTT story he did for one of those small digests (w/Speedy) was so-so. Verdict: A RISE, plateau out, then slight beloved 'welcome home' RISE again with Barry Allen.

2) Heck..? Echoing most here, his early work on Cap's Kooky Quartet in Avengers was clearly his best. Seeing him do atrocious work on Batman Family and later day Avengers made me cringe, typically putting 'em back on the rack. Batman Family was saved due to some outstanding covers and the Man-Bat backups. Verdict: Near top of the hill, then crash-burn, 'whaaat happened' as birds chirp 'round his head.

3) Byrne..? I liked him best during the Avengers 170s to 190s, I agree the Pablo inking didn't suit him well. I got a few of his early FF issues which improved greatly from Perez, but Pollard to me was still best for that late '70s era. I then unfortunately bought Byrne on the final years of his FF tenure, which were terrible and flat. Not a fan of him as most are here.., so I never had a big rise or fall with him. Verdict: Nice easy slow ride, some nice upward turns, but seemed too stuck on his own work so I fell asleep.

4) Perez..? A terrible start with Avengers (way too busy..), nearly a chore to read, but my rollercoaster car sailed upwards of 20,000 feet after the first half-dozen NTT issues. I literally cried when he left NTT, but the ride's spark had dissipated after the first 30some issues.

5) Kirby..? Pretty much joyful from the get-go, scorning his mid-70s return to drawing Captain America, but looking back on it, the change wasn't so bad, especially after the motion sickness (start-to-finish) of that brief Robbins ride, much akin to trying to keep those nasty-tastin' corndogs down on a blistering hot/humid day.

Edo Bosnar said...

Don't agree with anybody here about Byrne, and certainly not about Sal B. But I'll just leave it at that.

Want some real heresy? For me, the first artist who comes to mind is Kirby. I think the quality of his art really depended on his inker. His pre-Marvel work in the '40s and '50s, when he was collaborating with Joe Simon, is his best I think. My favorite work of his from the '60s is in the FF when Sinnott was doing the inking. Most of his art in the '70s, whether at DC or Marvel, is wildly inconsistent - usually it's quite strong in the first few issues of any given series he worked on, but then the quality went down as the series progressed.
As for the '80s, I'm most familiar with his work for Pacific, Capt. Victory and Silver Star. I really like the first 6-7 issues of the former series, which I think is superior to much of his art in the '70s - although even there, the quality declined drastically about halfway through the series. So, yeah, for me Kirby is a real rollercoaster ride. Much more so than, say, poor old Don Heck, whose work did become rather bland by the 1970s, but the quality never fell off of the proverbial cliff in my opinion.

And to some extent, I agree with Osvaldo about Ditko. Initially I really didn't like his art, until I saw reprints of his early '60s work on Spidey and Dr. Strange. Then I became a big fan. However, I agree that he could be inconsistent, i.e., I thought he did outstanding work on that Starman series in Adventure, while at around the same time I thought his art on Legion of Super-heroes looked, well, awful.

Doug said...

Edo --

What exactly do you disagree with concerning Byrne? There are praises and pans both in the mix here.

I see only praises for Sal's work. I thought you were a big Sal fan??


Doc Savage said...

I can't think of anyone who fits the bill. Of course I love Infantino's latter-day work as much as his earlier art.

Personally never thought much of Byrne as he draws the same faces and (elongated) bodies over and over in the same awkward poses swiped from himself. But I will say he needs an inker other than himself to smooth things out.

Perez started off weak, exploded into greatness in the early '80s, maintained his abilities to present day as far as I have seen, except sometimes he gets too busy and too detailed to the point that the focus of a scene seems unclear with all the filagree around the edges.

Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, yes, I am a big Sal fan, so I don't even agree with HB's indication of some kind of period of stagnation. (By the way, HB, I don't understand your timeline for Giffen - he was artist on Omega Men in the early '80s, long after his work on Defenders...)

And obviously, in the case of Byrne, I disagree with the criticism, not the praise, i.e., I like his art in all of its phases and see no real significant drop in quality in anywhere.

Another artist I thought of that fits the rollercoaster category is one who is less well known: Mike Vosburg. He often put in some really nice work, like that obscure Starfire series for DC in the 1970s, while his art on the first, forgettable, She-Hulk series was equally forgettable. Recently, he's been doing these self-published comic books (Lori Lovecraft among others) which are just beautifully drawn. Granted, they are heavy on the cheesecake, but he's been posting sample pages on his blog and the overall art, layout and design are really nice.

Doug said...

Thanks, buddy. I think there are artists (Big John for me) whose work I admire no matter when it was published. Also for me Neal Adams, although I'm beginning to be able to tell his recent work from his Silver and Bronze Age output.


Garett said...

Hey Edo, I agree with you on Kirby. I think Kamandi dropped in quality in the later issues.

I know you love Byrne's art throughout, so how about this--how do you think his art has evolved over his career? Do you have any eras that stand out as better for you? I'm not a fan of the later stuff, but I do admire his productivity and can see that he's putting in solid work.

Humanbelly said...

You know what, Edo, you're right about the Giffen timeline I whipped out of my head-- I was definitely mis-remembering which titles he did when. Which means, I imagine, that he clearly has (or had) a deft hand at working with different visual styles as the mood or subject struck him. Hunh. Which still leaves me wondering why he would settle so frequently on that blocky, minimalist, sometimes-incomprehensible one that became sort of his hallmark farther down the road. Truly, I have trouble thinking (with HEX in particular) that he could push himself back from the drafting board at the end of the day and say "now THERE'S a solid batch of work! I am totally groovin'!"

Kirby's shift, for me, is completely evident over the course of his time on KAMANDI. That first issue in particular is good, good stuff, IMO. But by the time he left it was becoming just a bit of a chore to read, and tended to look awfully rushed. But- man- I still identified the title and the character so much w/ Jack that it lost its charm once he abandoned it.


Redartz said...

Edo, I'm with you. Byrne's art appealed to me early on, right through his run on Superman and Action. Granted, certain inkers flattered him more than others (the great Terry Austin, first and foremost). Nonetheless, I enjoyed his FF run up to the end.

I also approved of Kieth Giffen's style shift; it was a visually fascinating departure from more standard representational art. On the other hand, John Romita Jr.'s later work took me down the rollercoaster hill precipitously.

One artistic roller coaster ride I'll add: Marshall Rogers. Loved, LOVED, his work on Detective and Dr. Strange. Yet his pencils on a two-parter in Spider-Man ( the title, not Amazing;a story written by Don McGregor) in the early 90's seemed flat, and rather thin. Perhaps it suffered from the inks; few heavy black areas leaving it a bit lightweight. The ride later picked up , though; seeing his return to Batman (Dark Detective) was a treat indeed. Such a shame that he passed soon after...

Edo Bosnar said...

Garett, re: Byrne's evolution. Obviously, his more recent work, mainly for IDW, exhibits a style that I'd call looser - not scratchy! - or maybe cartoonier (although that description would also fit his earliest published work for Charlton, which sometimes bore some similarity to Staton's art - not a bad thing in my book, by the way). Obviously, I still like it. But since you asked, I think he did his absolutely strongest work in the 1980s at both Marvel and DC.

As for Giffen, I actually like most of his art in all phases, but especially in the Legion (although we can't overlook Larry Mahlstedt in that case). And that shift he made later in the '80s actually worked in the stuff I've read, like the various Ambush Bug stories and the brief Heckler series. Granted, both characters are humorous/satirical; I haven't read any of the adult Legion or Hex material.

dbutler16 said...

mr. oyola, my first experiences with Ditko was 70's and 80's stuff which I found dreadful. Years later I discovred his 60's stuff, especially Spider-Man, which, while still not my favorite art, is worlds better than his 70's and 80's stuff, Rom included.

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