Monday, August 31, 2015

Smilin' and Stylin' in the 80s: The DC Style Guide by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

Karen: You may or may not have heard about this, but we think it's kind of a big deal: DC super-artist Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez recently posted his work from the 1980s DC Style Guide on his Facebook site. Much of it is circa 1982, although some is from later. This guide was used as both a reference in-house by artists, and also as material for marketing and licensing purposes. Since Garcia-Lopez never drew a bad figure in his life, he was the perfect choice to handle such a task.

Doug: This series of images is certainly a feast for the eyes, and I'm sure many of us spied several renderings we've seen on various products. Say, did you notice Superbaby and Wonder Tot, along with Batbaby and whatever the heck they called Lil' Robin in the cover above? If memory serves, in the late 70s Mego or someone else was making baby dolls of these characters.

Karen: There's a whole bunch of Super Juniors in the character color guides towards the end of the gallery. I do remember seeing ads for sort-of Beanie Baby style dolls like that. What's fascinating to me is the window back in time the art provides. Heroes are shown smiling at the viewer (mostly -Batman is still a little glum); colors are all bright and vibrant. There's a sense of excitement and fun here. These were comic book heroes for a very different era -yet the whole 'grim and gritty' phenomenon was only a few years off.

Karen: It's hard to single out particular images but we'll pick out a few.

Doug: One of the things I noticed while I was saving all of the images (yep, all 194 of them - there were actually a few more that just showed the binder) was the difference in Mera between the B&W and color images of the Aquaman family. Take a peek below and see for yourself. There's is another B&W image of Aquaman and Mera that shows her feet the same way; regrettably, I'm not savvy enough to know which is the "correct" depiction. But as I was clicking back and forth this jumped out at me for some reason.

Doug: I don't know if I'm any more qualified to talk about this than is Karen, but another thing that struck me right away was Garcia-Lopez's treatment of women. While each of the women dealt with in the Style Guide is certainly pretty, none of them (in my opinion) was overly sexed-up. Even Wonder Woman, scantily-clad as she is, looks like a normal, fit, woman. I may have said this before, but one of my colleagues when speaking of the modern fashions of teens often invokes the phrase "cleavage in two places". Well there's none of that here. Garcia-Lopez's women aren't falling out of their tops, and everything else seems to be contained as it should be. So in regard to Karen's complaints about "butt floss", you won't find that here.

Karen: Compare how any of the women here are portrayed next to a modern comic. There's just a level of respect evident here that you don't find in current stuff. The women are beautiful, but they are allowed to be adequately covered, and they are not forced into strange contortions to ensure that their busts and behinds are both prominently displayed at the same time. They also don't have outrageous proportions. I look at Wonder Woman here, or Batgirl, and they are super-heroines, not stand-ins for porn stars. I like that.

Doug: However, I did remark to Dr. Oyola on Twitter (thanks for being my tip-off to this collection, Osvaldo!) that I thought it was slightly sexist that we see Batgirl's rear end and not other caped characters. But after having seen the entire Style Guide I know that's not true -- it was only true in the samples I saw from a comics news website.

Karen: As we discussed putting this post together, we both noticed that Garcia-Lopez re-creates some classic Neal Adams' Superman poses, as seen below. I wonder if that was specifically requested by DC or if he did it himself as an homage?
Doug: Not only did I find that particular image to be an homage to Neal Adams's iconic cover to Superman #233, I felt that Garcia-Lopez was up to something on a few other characters. I think if you look at Batgirl's face in the furthest left image above, you'll get a sense of regular Batgirl artist Don Heck. I also think if you check out the wonderful picture of Superman and Lois Lane below, you may get a George Perez vibe. What sayest y'all?

Karen: There are a number of images with big groups of heroes for the Super-Powers line, which I believe came from 1984. But for some reason I really liked this shot of the Justice League. I think it's because it's such a great grouping of characters and Batman is almost smiling -or at least, he's not scowling.

Doug: I'm not sure why J'onn is giving Barry the stink-eye. Maybe because Barry has Zatanna by the hand? I also liked all of the New Teen Titans pix, and some with the villains. I like how colorful the image below is, but I have to ask -- what the heck is Luthor doing?

Karen: Holding up the frame? No, wait, Brainiac might be doing that! It's a little awkward. And hey, it looks like Penguin is giving Sivana the boot! Also, I didn't realize that Zod, Non, and Ursa were so popular -I assume that is them in the mid-right.

Karen: Doug mentioned how colorful the villain image was -and all of the images really are colorful -how about this color guide? Again, I'm struck by the bold, bright, crisp color. There's nothing dark or gloomy here!

Karen: And how about the Teen Titans? They're splashed all through this, with several group shots too. This particular set of Titans was from around 1985, when Dick Grayson had transitioned from Robin to Nightwing, and included Jericho, one of the goofiest-looking Titans, in my opinion.

Doug: But Jericho wasn't goofier looking than Terry Long, that's for certain. 

Doug: You mentioned above that there's nothing dark or gloomy here, and that was exactly my sense as I looked through the Guide. I think this is where DC has lost their way today. Yeah, yeah, I know this is a business and not necessarily just an art form. But Archie doesn't try to be Marvel. So what's wrong with telling action stories without all the gloom and doom? And the movies, for crying out loud... I think Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy have proven that some four-color fun can even be had on the silver screen. Perhaps the masters at Time-Warner would be well-served themselves in leafing through this Style Guide from the pre-Dark Knight days.


Anonymous said...

In a perfect world, Garcia-Lopez would have had a stint on every major DC comic of the '80s. Every character looks 100% correct.

As for Luthor, maybe his butt's itchy? That armor has to chafe.

- Mike Loughlin

david_b said...

I LOVE the Garcia-Lopez style guides.., they quickly became the definitive look/feel of the DC Universe. I too noticed the Donny Heck facial features of Batgirl which is particularly annoying because he caused me to stop collecting Batman Family before Heck departed and started bringing the great art back in.

I wish Garcia-Lopez would have drew the Titans just a few year earlier without Jericho and Nightwing. I couldn't stand either character much and IMHO the series had definitely shark-jumped (or 'Terry-Longged') by then (save the excellent Judas Contract and 'Who is Donna Troy' stories..)

Dr. Oyola said...

As soon as I saw it I knew it'd be your jam, Doug.

I never was a big DC guy, but this art makes me nostalgic for Bronze Age pre-Crisis DC comics. I could be wrong but I think DC always had a lot more prominent women characters than Marvel did (Batgirl, Catwoman, Black Canary, Zatanna, Power Girl, Supergirl, etc. . .) but fewer heroes of color worth following . .

Martinex1 said...

Thank you Karen and Doug for sharing this work; it is really beautifully done. I don’t know much about Garcia-Lopez but it captures exactly what I used to like about the DC Universe. The characters were more upbeat and “nice” at the time; I like that they smile. There is nothing wrong with that. Seeing how he handled Wonder Woman and Batgirl, I would have liked to see him draw the Wasp, Scarlet Witch and Thundra over at Marvel. I bet Garcia-Lopez on the Lady Liberators would have been fantastic. For some reason, I think he would have fit nicely on Guardians of the Galaxy; he does a great job with different body types. I like how clean the lines are and how bright the colors are. I do see the Perez in that Superman and Lois scene; the backgrounds there also seem very Perez like. I had no idea Mera had flipper feet.

I suspect the dark pattern that DC is in will subside and turn positive again at some point; I like to think all of this goes in waves. As soon as somebody has a hit with more light hearted and positive fare, everybody will jump on that. There will be deconstruction of the deconstruction. Unfortunately right now they seem to be playing on the paranoia and fear and moodiness of the times.

Doug said...

Thanks for the thoughts thus far, friends. Hopefully we'll get some more commentary on this wonderful collection of pictures.

I can see myself setting the file folder on "slideshow" at some point and looking at all of these. It was a joy even to see each image for a few seconds when I was saving them all.

One thing that did leave me wanting, however, was Garcia-Lopez's depiction of Captain Marvel. There's a character that I really feel needs to look the same no matter who draws him, and what was missing was the likeness of the Captain to Fred MacMurray. Of course CC Beck captured this, as did Alex Ross in his big book. But I can't complain overall.

I did like seeing the classic Supergirl in the color guide Karen posted, as opposed to the disco headband version featured more prominently in the style guide. I know that's many a'Bronze Age Baby's "version" of Kara, but I always liked the original costume.


Ward Hill Terry said...

THAT is how those characters are supposed to look! What a great collection of images! I'm glad to see at least a couple of Legionnaires and Justice Society members included. A couple of points about what D and K wrote; yes, Mera had webbed feet (in her costume), she was from a different dimension. I expect that Editorial reasoned it would be easier to use a character with traditional feet for marketing purposes. The Phantom Zone trio in the Villain picture consists of General Zod, a nasty piece of work, Faora Hu-ul, a true misanthrope with her male "concentration camp," and Kru El, the black sheep of the house of El, not as smart as Jor or Zor, but ruthless.
It's always great to look at happy smiling, Barry, Hal, Babs, and Kara!

Doug said...

Thanks for the insight, WHT!

Agreed wholeheartedly on the smiles. It's sort of weird at first, but definitely goes with the DC of my (our) youth (think of your Megos).


JJ said...

What a treasure trove. Thanks so much for the heads up, Doug and Dr. O. I've known about this guide for some time (I first read about it in the excellent TwoMorrows Modern Masters series featuring J.L. Garcia-Lopez.) but I never thought I'd ever get to see the entire thing. These illos hold a special place in a lot of hearts. This particular depiction of the classic DC Heroes (definitve, ya ask me) was profoundly effective back then. There was something so modern and magical about those bold black outlines and inks, and those wonderful colors. Seeing these characters when they looked like this really made me want to grab a DC comic. I was as excited by them as the Marvels. A feeling of fun and excitement was/is so beautifully conveyed. I especially like how Batman was depicted during this time. I suppose we can thank Adams for kicking off this look, but wow, did Garcia-Lopez take this style and run with it. He's such an impressive artist. -JJ

Garett said...

Thanks for the images and link to Garcia Lopez's fb page! Great artist! I'm a fan but I hadn't seen all these before. Love the JLA drawing-- great smiling look to the Flash and Zatanna.

Redartz said...

Thanks for this link; it was a great pleasure poring over those fine drawings. Especially enjoying the b/w line drawings; always have a warm spot for such artwork. Speaking of warm, it is indeed great to see the positive atmosphere and overall warmth exuded from the characters as portrayed here. Garcia Lopez really nailed each one.

david_b- I must respectfully differ with you in regards to Nightwing; I much prefer Dick Grayson in this role rather than as Robin. Of course, I personally was never a big Robin fan anyway: I think it was the hot pants and slippers that turned me off...

Edo Bosnar said...

What a mind-blowingly beautiful set of images, and what a pleasant sight for sore eyes after an exhausting day.
Some one on the Marvel Masterworks message boards mentioned this a few days ago, and several commenters started speculating on the possibility of the whole thing being published as a separate book. Now I know I said recently that I'm not book on the art books, but I would make an exception for this. Like Doug said, just a (very opulent) feast for the eyes.

Doug said...

Agreed, Edo. And if there are any pencil-only versions of these I'd love to see them alongside the inked and colored versions.


Doug said...

By the way, and this might be fun:

Who would you have tagged to do a Marvel Comics Style Guide, circa 1982-85?

I know I keep talking about Mike Zeck... Ron Frenz? Kerry Gammill? John Byrne?


david_b said...

Yes Redartz, glad you chimed in on Nightwing. I just wasn't much of a fan of the "New '80s costuming ideas" in general, most were frankly terrible and dated.

As for Dick's character during that time, I didn't like how he was written during the later Wolfman years. It was just at a time when that NTT 'initial appeal' had seemingly run it's course, but that's for another column. :)

derek marrero said...

Regarding a Marvel style guide, I could see Gil Kane, since he did covers for the whole line at one point. At the time, he was how I saw Marvel Comics. John Romita Sr though might be a more realistic and good choice.
Also, Alan Davis, because he can do no wrong.

Edo Bosnar said...

Doug, for me an obvious choice for a Marvel style guide at about that time would have been Byrne; he drew most of the images in the corner boxes at that point anyway, and I recall he also did the art for quite a few of the entries in the Marvel Universe handbook. However, I would say that Romita (Sr. of course) would have been an entirely logical choice as well.

By the way, one thing that came to mind as I began perusing these images is the oft-heard complaint that Garcia Lopez simply didn't do enough art in any regular series. Well, heck, of course he didn't: he was too busy drawing about 200 images for the friggin' style guide!

Karen said...

Thanks for the explanation on the Phantom Zone villains Ward Hill Terry. My exposure to them is primarily from the films.

I like Dick's later Nightwing outfit better than this one -the gold and light blue don't work as well for me. Although I love George Perez' art, I think he was hit or miss as a costume designer.

The head-band on Supergirl is cringe inducing, but a product of its times. Otherwise, most of the costumes are classics.

For an early 80s Marvel style guide, I'd probably say Byrne as well. He epitomized that era at Marvel.

Doug said...

I think Byrne would be best on the Marvel assignment if inked by Terry Austin. Of course, I might even be a candidate if inked by Austin...

George Perez also could have done a Marvel Style Guide in this era, although he was pretty embedded at DC during the period. It's a wonder he didn't get this assignment at DC!


Dr. Oyola said...

Ron Frenz would be my pick for a Marvel version, though guess Byrne would not be a bad pick. I'd pur Zeck up there, too.

Speaking of he did one of these in this X-Men Through the Ages images.

Martinex1 said...

I would have to say Byrne also for Marvel; I think he is a clear frontrunner. But I also did like what Keith Pollard did for the Official Marvel Universe; I thought it was well done. I also think maybe Rich Buckler could have done a nice job on a project like that. If it were done in the 1970s then surely the Buscema brothers could have teamed up.

In the samples supplied today, I really like that first depiction of Wonder Woman walking toward the reader. It is simple and understated but really good. I think sometimes artists overdo the "Kirby" bombast of everybody leaping out at you. I think there has to be good balance with simpler, static, and low action shots. I think that is done very nicely here. Perez also had a good way of doing that; the characters could just be standing around but there was still power and character built into their stance.

MattComix said...

This is before DKR and Watchmen became their official style guide.

These images prove that a lot of the classic costumes that have been too easily dismissed look just fine when they are drawn with quality. Granted a few things might feel dated (such as using a sky-blue shade on Batman or Nightwings disco design) but overall these feel iconic rather than just 70's.

But even more so than the specific designs just the combination of craft and the un-apologetically heroic spirit being expressed in these is what really stands out and holds up. Modern DC editorial seems completely ashamed of its roster and all too quick to blame the costumes and the characters themselves for their sales problems rather than take a look at their own approach or maybe entertain the notion for even two seconds that grimdark is not the end all, be all answer to making good comics or validating them as an artistic medium. Darkness does not equal quality!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Martinex about Keith Pollard. His art was house-style standard and slick. While he was never a big name, he was good at drawing a basic comic. Romita, Byrne, and the Buscema brothers are all good choices but I think Pollard's art has less individual flourishes.

If you want to see how a Perez DC style guide would look, see History of the DC Universe. He drew pin-up shots of nearly every DC character.

- Mike Loughlin

pfgavigan said...


Good artwork and a great discussion.

I just wanted to say thanks for putting up the color guide as I downloaded that image and can open it and sample them in all of my art programs.

Krita rules.



Anonymous said...

The black & white Mera was correct. She was always depicted with flippers as a part of her costume! That added to the "fish out of water" aspect to her on-land appearances.

Edo Bosnar said...

I have to say, the more I think about it the more I agree with several others above that Keith Pollard would have also been an ideal choice to do a Marvel style guide. He drew solid and attractive figures, while - as Martinex noted - his style didn't have as many individual quirks. And there's the fact that for a while there in the late '70s and early '80s he was the main artist on Marvel's flagship titles, Amazing Spider-man and Fantastic Four, plus Thor - so basically he was defining the look of most of the company's principal characters.

david_b said...

Edo, good mention of Pollard, I liked his underrated style, solid and effective.

I didn't read ASM at the time, but his FF issues leading up to their 200th were wonderful, on par with the early Bronze glory days of Buscema/Sinnott.

R. Lloyd said...

I just met Jose Garcia Lopez at the Mohegan Sun Comic Con. I went the entire weekend on August 14th, 15th and 16th. He autographed my Batman VS Hulk treasury edition from the late 1970's.
I had no idea about the style guides and I wish I could get one.

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