Happy birthday to Joyce Chin

It’s definitely time for a change of pace.  I’ve penned too many obituaries in the last several months.  I need to make more of an effort to write about the people whose work I enjoy while they are still among the living.  In the past I’ve done the occasional birthday tribute to a few of my favorite comic book creators; I’m going to try to make that more of a regular feature on this blog.

I wanted to wish a very happy birthday to comic book artist Joyce Chin, who was born on July 31st.  Some of Chin’s earliest work was for DC Comics in 1995, penciling Guy Gardner: Warrior, a fun, underrated series written by Beau Smith.  A couple of years later Smith and Chin were reunited, with Chin becoming the first artist to pencil the adventures of Smith’s creator-owned character Wynonna Earp, the beautiful federal marshal who battles supernatural criminals.

I think the first time Chin’s work really stood out to me was on a short story she penciled for the Dark Horse Presents Annual 1999.  It featured an adventure of Xena: Warrior Princess during her teenage years.

Chen and inker Walden Wong did a good job rendering a younger incarnation of Lucy Lawless’ iconic heroine.  I think the black & white format of DHP, as well as the fantasy setting, enabled me to really notice and appreciate all of the intricate detail that Chin put into her artwork.

The point at which I really became a fan of Chin was in early 2015 when I saw the three covers she had drawn for Dynamite Entertainment’s female-driven crossover Swords of Sorrow.  I was especially impressed by Chin’s cover for the prologue issue Swords of Sorrow: Chaos! Prequel which featured Purgatori, Chastity, Bad Kitty and Mistress Hel in an homage to mid 20th Century pulp magazine cover artwork.

I think I’ve observed in the past that women often make the best pin-up artists.  It’s probably to do with the fact that they understand how women’s bodies actually work in the real world, which enables them to give their drawings of female characters a certain weight or verisimilitude, so to speak, that is sometimes absent when male artists try to draw sexy females.  Whatever the case, I’ve always enjoyed how Chin renders female characters.

Chin is married to Arthur Adams, another artist who specializes in artwork containing an insane amount of detail with a genuine gift for rendering lovely ladies.  Chin and Adams have collaborated on a handful of occasions, always to good effect.  Here is one of those times, the cover to Action Comics #820 (December 2004) which is penciled by Chin and inked by Adams.  It features the supernatural villainous Silver Banshee, who Chin has drawn a few times over the years.

Another of Chin’s passions is dogs, specifically Silken Windhounds.  Chin has several of these majestic, beautiful dogs.  I always enjoy seeing the photos of them she posts on Facebook.  Naturally enough the Silken Windhounds have found their way into some of Chin’s artwork.  Here’s an example of her depiction of these stunning animals, which was published in her 2018 convention art book. Chin’s work has been likened to Art Nouveau pioneer Alphonse Mucha, and that quality is certainly apparent in this piece.

I was fortune enough to meet Chin a few times at New York Comic Con.  I had been hoping to get a convention sketch from her for several years.  I finally asked her to draw a piece in my Mantis theme sketchbook when she was at NYCC 2019.  Chin did a beautiful color drawing, as seen in the photo below.  She really invested the character with personality, a feature of her work.  Hopefully once this pandemic is finally over and comic conventions start being held again I will have an opportunity to obtain another sketch from her.

I hope we will be seeing more artwork from Joyce Chin in the near future.  She’s a very talented artist.  Also, having conversed with her on Facebook and met her at NYCC, she really comes across as a good person.

Comic book reviews: Wynonna Earp “The Yeti Wars”

So here we are, getting some more snow.  I guess this would be a perfect opportunity to take a look at a Winter-themed story.  Time to dig out my copy of Wynonna Earp: The Yeti Wars, an action / horror  extravaganza written by Beau Smith, with artwork by Enrique Villagran, published by IDW.

Wynonna Earp made her debut at Image Comics back in 1997.  She is the creation of Beau Smith, sometimes known as “the manliest man in comics.” I first discovered Beau’s work during his two year run writing Guy Gardner: Warrior. Before this, I’d never really liked the former Green Lantern.  I think that too many writers, in trying to make him as different as possible from Hal Jordan, made Guy a major jerk who acted like a moron with a short fuse.  Beau transformed Guy into a tough but likable hero, a gruff, no-nonsense figure who backed up his big talk with genuine guts & courage.  And I really enjoyed the supporting cast Beau gave Guy.

Back when the first Wynonna Earp series came out, it unfortunately slipped under my radar.  I was probably buying too much other stuff at the time.  The character finally came to my attention a decade later in late 2010, when IDW released The Yeti Wars as both a graphic novel and a miniseries.

Wynonna Earp Yeti Wars cover

Wynonna Earp is a supernatural action series about the beautiful, tough-as-nails descendent of Wyatt Earp.  As a member of the US Marshals Black Badge Division, Wynonna Earp ropes in all manner of supernatural criminals and horrific monsters, all while keeping a biting wit.

The Yeti Wars sees Earp and her associates in the US Marshalls tracking down Dr. Billy Joe Robidoux, a brilliant but twisted genetic engineer, a Frankenstein from south of the Mason-Dixon Line.  After the Black Badge Division raid Robidoux’s lab in California, the not-so-good doctor flees to the snowy wilderness of Alaska with the help of the supernatural crime cartel known as the Immortalis Consortium.  Bringing in the US Marshalls’ rough & tough ordinance specialist Smitty, the Black Badge Division head north in pursuit of their mad scientist quarry.  They soon discover that the immortal agents of the Consortium have a very special, savage line of defense: a pack of large, ferocious, hungry Yeti.  Wynonna calls in reinforcements, namely North America’s answer to the Abominable Snowmen, a tribe of Sasquatches in the Marshalls’ employ.  Soon it is all out war as Yeti versus Bigfoot, human versus immortal, and Wynonna slices & dices her way through the bad guys with an alien sword.

As you can no doubt discern from the above summary, Beau Smith writes Wynonna Earp: The Yeti Wars with a rather tongue-in-cheek manner.  That is not to say The Yeti Wars is silly; rather, Smith writes a serious story while effectively imbuing it with plenty of humor.  I think that is one of the major problems with both Marvel and DC nowadays, a lack of a real sense of fun.  Most of the editors at the Big Two seem to be under the impression that fun equals stupid, which is totally not the case.  Just look at the Indiana Jones and Star Wars movies.  Those are serious stories, but Lucas, Spielberg and their collaborators always infused the dialogue and situations with a fair amount of wit and comedy.  Likewise, Smith recognizes that you can write a serious comic book and still have a lot of fun with it.  That was one of the qualities he brought to Guy Gardner, and it is likewise a significant aspect of Wynonna Earp.

Beau Smith actually includes a very thinly veiled fictional version of himself via Smitty.  Ordinarily that might be a recipe for disaster.  But Smith brings quite a bit of self-deprecating humor to his comic book counterpart, making for a fun, engaging character who, like his creator, does not seem to take himself or anything else too seriously.  The chemistry between the relatively young Wynonna and the middle aged Smitty is fantastic, with a lot of smart-ass banter about sex, booze and guns.  But underneath it all is a clear mutual respect between two professionals who pride themselves on their work while recognizing the weird, ridiculous aspects of the situations in which they often find themselves.

Wynonna Earp Yeti Wars pg 67

Argentine artist Enrique Villagran does superb work on The Yeti Wars.  As I understand it, Villagran has had a lengthy career, although most of his work has been published outside of the United States.  He did some work in the late 1980s for independent publishers Now and Eclipse, as well a few jobs at DC and Marvel in the 1990s.  Villagran has a very European style to his work.  It reminds me a bit of Jordi Bernet.

One of the qualities I liked about Villagran’s art on The Yeti Wars is that he brought a very natural beauty to Wynonna Earp.  In some earlier appearances, I think that the character was perhaps drawn as a bit too much of a pin-up girl or a porn star.  Wynonna, as rendered by Villagran, is certainly a very attractive woman, but at the same time she is also a tough, athletic figure.  You can really see her having the strength & stamina to go toe-to-toe with all manner of supernatural, inhuman lawbreakers.

I’m also glad that Villagran actually drew Wynonna in sensible clothing.  Yeah, alright, if she’s tracking inhuman felons across the Southwestern US, maybe leather pants and a tank top aren’t too impractical.  But is you’re brawling with Yeti in the sub-zero backwoods of Alaska, something a little warmer is probably a good idea.

Wynonna Earp and Nettie

One other reason why I picked this one up: I have a yeti at home.  Well, okay, I actually have a cat named Nettie.  But she is a long-haired Himalayan who at times has a more than passing resemblance to an abominable snowman.  Michele and I are convinced that she must have one or more yeti in her family tree.  We sometimes refer to her as “Nettie the Yeti” or “The Abominable Snowkitten,” and believe me when I say that she often lives up to those nicknames!

IDW still has Wynonna Earp: The Yeti Wars available through their website.  They previously released The Complete Wynonna Earp in 2005, which collected the earlier material.  That one is out of print, but I am sure there are copies floating around somewhere.  It’s a fun series, and I recommend checking it out.  And I hope Beau has the opportunity to return to writing Wynonna and the Black Badge Division’s adventures in the near future.