Five new comic book artists who I like

Last month I was over at Jim Hanley’s Universe for one of their creator signing events. It just so happens that standing right next to me in line was Fabrizio Fante, author of the excellent WordPress blog Fate’s Inferno.  As we were waiting on line, Fabrizio and I got to talking about a whole bunch of topics.  One of the things that came up was new comic book artists.  Specifically, Fabrizio was curious to know which new artists I was a fan of.  And, y’know, I immediately started drawing a blank.  Every single name I could come up with off the top of my head was someone who had been working professionally for more than a decade now.  It was actually really bothering me.  Surely there had to be at least one artist who had broken into the biz after 2003 whose work I enjoyed?

I guess my subconscious mind was dwelling on the subject, because over the past few weeks several names did gradually come to me.  Yes, there are definitely a number of really good, talented individuals working in the comic book field nowadays.  I am going to spotlight some of those artists here.

Rocket Girl 1 cover signed

AMY REEDER

I first discovered the work of Amy Reeder on the Madame Xanadu series written by Matt Wagner and published by DC Comics / Vertigo.  To be perfectly honest, when I first learned that Reeder had broken into comic books via Tokyopop, I might have sighed in exasperation, figuring that she was yet another of the Manga-derivative individuals to flood comic books in the last two decades.  But actually looking at her art for Madame Xanadu, I was floored.  First of all, Reeder has this amazing storytelling sense, the ability to really lay out pages in a dramatic fashion.  Second, her first story arc “Disenchanted” was set over a millennia-long period, which required that she conduct an extraordinary amount of research to obtain an authentic look for numerous historical eras across the globe.  I was really impressed by the work she put into those ten issues.

Reeder has drawn a couple of really stunning books written by Brandon Montclare, her former assistant editor at Vertigo.  The first was the whimsical fantasy one-shot Halloween Eve, published last October.  The second is the sci-fi Rocket Girl, the first issue of which just came out.  After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the series was picked up by Image Comics.  Rocket Girl #1 looks great, and I’m very much anticipating upcoming installments.

Star Trek Doctor Who 3

J.K. WOODWARD

Working on a number of books at both IDW and BOOM! Studios over the last decade, J.K. Woodward first caught my attention when he produced amazing painted artwork for the Star Trek: The Next Generation / Doctor Who: Assimilation 2 miniseries written by Scott & David Tipton.  This eight issue crossover saw Captain Picard’s crew working with the Eleventh Doctor, Amy & Rory to face the combined forces of the Borg and the Cybermen.  On the early issues, Woodward did full artwork, while on the later ones he was paining over Gordon Purcell’s pencils.  In both cases, the results were fantastic.

Especially striking was Woodward’s cover artwork to issue #3, which contained a flashback to the Fourth Doctor meeting the crew of the original Enterprise and fighting some old-school Cybermen.  As someone who grew up watching Tom Baker and William Shatner on re-runs of Doctor Who and Star Trek in the early 1980s, I thought that was a super-cool addition to the story.  Woodward has stated that his childhood was spent watching many of those same reruns.  He did a stunning job on this piece.

Captain America 625 cover

FRANCESCO FRANCAVILLA

Italian artist Francesco Francavilla made his debut in 2006.  His style is quite reminiscent of the legendary Alex Toth.  I first noticed Francavilla’s work when he illustrated several issues of Captain America for Marvel Comics.  He’s also worked on Black Panther and Hawkeye, as well as rendering numerous amazing covers for a variety of publishers.  Most recently he’s been the cover artist on Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time for IDW.

Amongst the current crop of “hot” artists who seem to have defaulted back to early Image Comics-inspired work full of over-rendering and excessive crosshatching, Francavilla’s retro pulp leanings are a breath of fresh air.  It has often been observed that it is the seemingly “simpler” styles of art that are actually much more difficult to pull off.  An artist does not have all the fancy bells & whistles to hide behind, and must rely on genuine talent & storytelling ability. I think that is true of Francavilla’s work.  In any case, his art has a very noir sensibility, with a palpable atmosphere to it.  He also possesses a really amazing design aesthetic, a talent for knowing exactly how to lay out a cover or a page for maximum dramatic impact.

Supreme 64 cover

CORY HAMSCHER

I’m probably bending the rules a little here, since I think Cory Hamscher has been a professional artist for slightly more than a decade.  But he’s really come into prominence in the last several years.  I first noticed his work when he illustrated a back-up story in Savage Dragon #150 that spotlighted Mr. Glum, the diminutive alien dictator from Dimension X.  Shortly after, Hamscher did an absolutely superb job inking Tom Grummett’s pencils on X-Men Forever and Chaos War: Dead Avengers.  Last year, Hamscher provided very detailed finishes to Erik Larsen’s layouts on Supreme.

Hamscher has an inking style that immediately appealed to me.  It reminds me quite a bit of the amazing embellishing of Terry Austin, who is one of my all time favorite inkers.  Hamscher just makes the pencils or layouts he is inking pop off the page.  He’s amazingly talented.  Recently on Facebook, Hamscher has expressed a desire going forward to do full artwork, i.e. both pencils & inks.  I really hope that he has that opportunity, and I’m looking forward to further announcements about his upcoming projects.

Vescell 6 cover

JOHN UPCHURCH

First becoming a professional artist in 2011, John “Roc” Upchurch has been doing stunning work on Vescell, a sci-fi / fantasy / noir series written by Enrique Carrion and published by Image.  I did a full-length review of the latest issue, #8, on my June 13th blog post, so go check it out!

Upchurch has this beautifully polished, slick quality to his work that perfectly matches Carrion’s imaginative, darkly humorous scripts.  What is especially noteworthy about Upchurch’s art is that, yes, he can draw these really stunning covers and dynamic action sequences.  But he has also demonstrated that he is a good storyteller.  Carrion’s stories have frequent “talking heads” segments where important plot points & philosophic issues are discussed.  Upchurch does a masterful job rendering these, drawing multi-panel pages which engage the reader’s attention and keep the flow of the story going.  I definitely hope to see more from Upchurch in the future, as he continues to grow & develop.  He has a hell of a lot of potential.

(By the way, I was actually able to think of at least twice as many new comic book artists as I profiled here.  But I chose to spotlight these five because they are among my favorites.  And, of course, I can always save the others for a future blog post!)

Comic book reviews: Vescell #8

This past Free Comic Book Day, I discovered a very cool erotic sci-fi / supernatural comic book titled Vescell, which is published by Image Comics.  The book is written by Enrique Carrion and drawn by John “Roc” Upchurch.  Carrion was signing at Carmine Street Comics, and I picked up a copy of the latest issue, #7.  Although the purple prose was flying fast & furious in Carrion’s script, and I was a bit confused about the backstory, I did really enjoy the issue.  Soon after I found copies of #s 1, 4 and 6 as well, which I also enjoyed.  And issue #8 came out a few weeks ago.

Vescell 8 cover

Vescell is set at some point in the future (I think it is the future) some years after our Earthly reality became linked with a dimension known as Abdehenna, aka the Banerealm.  Set in the metropolis known as Icarus City, the protagonist of the title is Mauricio “Moo” Barrino.  A former police detective, Barrino is now an agent for Vescell, a multinational company which specializes in “V-trans” procedures, the transferring of a person’s mind & soul from one body to another.  Vescell is run by Barrino’s amoral aunt, and at times he finds that his desire to remain an honorable individual is at odds with his employers’ unscrupulous business practices.  That said, Vescell’s chief competitor is Cybercan, a truly ruthless corporation that engages in a fair share of blackmail, extortion, and violence.  So, at the very least, Barrino can regard himself as an agent of the lesser of two evils.

Barrino’s partner is a size-changing fairy named Machi who possesses a voracious appetite for food, especially pancakes.  The two have an unrequited love, made necessary by the fact that if they consummate their relationship Machi will lose her powers.  Barrino is also romantically involved with a woman named Avery who is trapped in the Banerealm, and can only be summoned back to Earth mystically for a very short time.  Avery seems to have a shady past, and a number of people have warned Barrino that if he continues his relationship with her, it will undoubtedly end badly.

Vescell 8 pg 11

In the newest issue, Barrino and Machi are asked by their friend Artaya to assist a woman in finding a new soul.  In a previous issue of Vescell, the artificial intelligence named K.A.T.I. was transferred into the body of a living woman.  K.A.T.I. wishes to truly be a mother to her host body’s young daughter, but without a soul she can only approximate human emotions.  Now obviously a soul isn’t something you can just go out and buy at your local K-Mart, but they can be found in the Banerealm.  A reluctant Barrino agrees to take on the mission, joined by Machi and Artaya.  The trio is joined by the Doc, who is an expert on mystic lore, and by Lieutenant Vega of the Paranormal Authority Agency.  Vega is suspicious of Barrino after her run-in with him back in issue #4, and is there to make sure he keeps his nose clean.

After a cross-dimensional journey via an ocean liner / dirigible, the group arrives in Abdehenna.  At first the quest to obtain a soul seems to be going smoothly.  But then Barrino spots his girlfriend Avery, still stuck in the Banerealm, in the arms of her old lover.  Next thing you know, the air is heavy with testosterone, followed almost immediately by a rain of bullets, as Avery’s demonic beau Nephestus & his gang have a shootout with Barrino & his allies.  And so the rest of Barrino’s quest is spent with his rival dogging his heels, ready to put a bullet between his eyes.

On the whole, Vescell #8, “The Heart of the Soulless,” was quite good.  Carrion and Upchurch have a really nice collaboration going.  Carrion pens some very dialogue-heavy sequences, which is great, because it means that it takes more than five minutes to read an issue.  As for Upchurch, his storytelling is extremely solid, and he does an excellent job “directing” the various talking heads sequences, giving them a great deal of drama.

Vescell 8 pg 33

Because Vescell #8 was a double sized issue, the art chores were split up among three people: Upchurch, Lorenzo Nuti, and Dave Acosta.  Upchurch drew the first half, Nuti contributed two pages in the middle of the book, and Acosta finished up the issue.  I really wish Upchurch could have drawn the entire book.  No offense to Nuti or Acosta, but their work, while nice, was just too loose and sketchy, at least compared to Upchurch.

Additionally, in the second half of the story, Carrion’s scripting became a bit sparse, with a number of pages that contained very little dialogue.  And, after a gradual build-up over the first half of the book, his plot then seemed to be rushing to get to a finale.  The pacing just seemed off on the later part of the issue.

“The Heart of the Soulless” does come to a somewhat hasty, abrupt conclusion, as Barrino completes a key part of his quest to acquire a soul.  The bottom of the last page indicates that the story will be continued in a trade paperback.  I have not been able to locate any information about when that is being released.  Hopefully soon, because despite a few missteps, I did enjoy Vescell #8, and I am definitely looking forward to finding out what happens next.  And I certain hope the series is able to continue beyond that.  Carrion is a talented writer who has devised a very intriguing world populated by interesting, multi-faceted characters.

Free Comic Book Day 2013

Yesterday I headed into Manhattan for Free Comic Book Day, which takes place on the first Saturday in May each year.  The past few years I’ve gone to Jim Hanley’s Universe, and while I always had a good time there, it seemed like I kept missing out on the really cool promo issues because the store ran out of them early in the day.  This year, I decided to change things up.  I went over to Manhattan Comics, a cool store on 23rd Street near the Flatiron Building.

Arriving at Manhattan Comics in the early afternoon, I was happy to see that they still had a huge selection of FCBD issues.  There was a limit of three free books per customer.  Here is what I got:

Atomic Robo – I am a pretty fan of Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener’s super-cool, fun, intelligent, witty series about a crime-fighting robot originally built by Nikola Tesla.  Atomic Robo teams up with the Action Scientists of Tesladyne Industries to combat all manner of bizarre foes.  Each year Clevinger & Wegener have put out a FCBD special issue, and I finally succeeded in picking up the latest one.

Molly Danger – This is a brand new series written & illustrated by the super-talented Jamal Igle published by Action Lab Entertainment.  I’ve followed Igle’s work on various titles for a number of years now, and I’m thrilled that he’s now working on a creator-owned series.  I’d read on Facebook that Molly Danger would be making its debut on FCBD, so I’m thrilled I was able to pick up a copy.

Uglydoll Comics – My girlfriend Michele loves the ultra-cute Uglydoll stuffed toys, so I got this one for her.  Yeah, okay, I think they’re adorable, as well.  VIZ Media will be releasing an Uglydoll graphic novel in August.  The FCBD issue also had a Hello Kitty back-up by Jacob Chabot.  Once again, Michele loves Hello Kitty, so that was a pleasant surprise.  Actually, our cat Nettie looked a lot like Hello Kitty when she was a little kitten.

Uglydoll FCBD

Manhattan Comics was having a huge storewide sale.  Everything was 40% off.  If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m actually trying to get rid of stuff to make more room in the apartment, I would have probably gone crazy snatching up comics and graphic novels.  As it is, I picked up several back issues.  I also bought the latest issue of Iron Man, which features the return of the classic team of David Michelinie & Bob Layton for a special story arc.  I expect I’ll be blogging about that once the whole storyline has been released.

There were several comic book creators doing signing at Manhattan Comics for FCBD.  Brandon Montclare and Amy Reeder arrived at the store at three in the afternoon.  I’ve been a fan of Reeder’s exquisite artwork since she was drawing Madame Xanadu several years ago.  Reeder & Montclare created the Halloween Eve one-shot, which was published last October by Image Comics.  I was never able to find it when it first came out, so I was happy to see that they had copies for sale.  Reeder also did a really lovely sketch in my Beautiful Dreamer sketchbook.  I’m looking forward to their next collaboration, which is in the works.

Molly Danger FCBD

Afterwards, I headed down to the Greenwich Village.  A couple of employees from Manhattan Comics had decided to start up a comic book store of their own.  Carmine Street Comics is sharing space with a small independent book shop.  They’re located about a block off of Bleecker Street.  That made it a cinch to locate, which was a huge relief, since I usually get hopelessly lost in the West Village!

There were some good trade paperbacks for sale at Carmine Street Comics, as well as an interesting assortment of independent back issues from the last couple of decades.  There wasn’t anything that especially leaped out at me that day, but I’ll definitely be stopping back there again.  I certainly wish them the best of luck.  It seems like a nice little spot.

A number of small press & independent creators were signing at Carmine Street Comics for FCBD.  Enrique Carrion was there with copies of his series Vescell, which is published by Image Comics.  Vescell seems to be a risqué supernatural espionage series.  Flipping through a couple of the books, it seemed pretty interesting, and the artwork by John Upchurch was really nice.  So I decided to give it a try, and I bought a copy of issue #7.

Atomic Robo FCBD

It seems like a lot of people come out for Free Comic Book Day.  Maybe it is just the promise of free stuff drawing people, but hopefully some of them will actually become interested enough in what they see to try picking up some stuff.  Yeah, I do like to complain about Marvel and DC’s current output.  But the fact is, as I have said before, there really is so much great independent and small press material out there.  And with any luck, FCBD succeeds in putting the spotlight on some of it.

Oh, yeah, and be sure to buy Molly Danger when it comes out in July, okay?  Jamal Igle is amazing.