Friday, August 26, 2011

Comic Artists You Should Know: Amanda Conner

First, an apology. I've been a little light on posting this week, and its mainly due to the week flying by so much faster than usual. The reason for that is that button now on the side of the site. My wife and I have launched our own art blog and we'll be posting pages of a comic we worked on along with random other bits here and there. Consider this my first and hopefully most annoying plug of the site!

Now, onto the real point of this post. Time to talk about another artist in comics, and this time its someone more well known for their DC work than Marvel work: Amanda Conner.

Conner has been working in comics since the late 80s, and has worked for Archie, DC, Marvel, Image, and Top Cow, to name just a few. Like with many freelance comic artists, she has done her share of illustration work, too, but the focus of this is really on her comic work. And while she's done a great deal of comic work, most of the images I'll be talking about specifically will be from her recent run on Power Girl, which was wonderful on all ends. But before that, we'll look at a couple of different covers she's worked on recently.

This is the cover to Marvel's Girl Comics that came out a couple of years back, and this is a prime example of the kinds of things that makes Amanda Conner's art so great. She is, without a doubt, a master of emotion and expression. Not a single character in that image have the same face or expression, and while that may seem like something that should be normal, that isn't always the case.

And it isn't just the variety of expression, but how well it's all portrayed. The entire piece screams energy from the faces alone. I've said this before about other pieces and it says something about the artist I've talked about so far, but it is very hard to look at something like this without smiling. The reason I keep coming back to that is simple: an emotional reaction to a piece of art is, of course, good. And Conner is the kind of artist that can simply imbue her art with an enjoyable quality to it.

Next up is another cover, this for Jimmy Olsen #1. Immediately, I want to go right back to talking about the quality of the character's expressiveness, especially Jimmy Olsen there in front. But, in all honesty, if I do that for all of these I'll never stop. So I'll try to limit this each time and hope its understood.

Instead, with this image, I'll focus on another thing that Conner handles so well: her ability to use very few lines to bring an image together. Clearly, from these two pieces alone, Conner's style veers away from pure realism. The debate over what is better can be left for another day, and hell, I'll likely make a post all about it at some point here, but the key here is that Conner takes her simpler style and runs with it so well that there's no need for anything more. Each line that is there is there for a reason. Many of the smaller details are left for the colorist to handle with shading, an this is very much something that benefits Conner's work.

Now for some interior art from Power Girl to have a look at. This page is everything good about Conner's art all in one. All those thing I've already talked about are clearly present, but with this interior page you get a sense of her ability to tell a story. Its a simple scene, really, and that's really what makes it great. An entire story essentially happens in this one page, all by itself. There's no need to see the pages before or after to know what's going on, or to follow along in time.

The real key to seeing how strong Conner's storytelling here is this: Look at the page without the word balloons. Just the images. Does the meaning change? Are you, as a reader, missing something without the words? In this case, not at all. Obviously, the words add to the fun of it, but they are in no way necessary to the overall page and that is a true mark of a great storyteller.

Here's another small piece from Power Girl. Here you can again see Conner's simpler use of line, but this sequence, to me at least, is all about a different kind of emotion that isn't necessarily noticeable the very first time you read it. Those little guys on the plate, watch them through each panel. They have no faces and are only triangles, but Conner brings them to life. Shock, terror, and relief all happen in three panels with no faces on them at all, just lines to show they're shaking overall shape.

It looks simple, and in many ways, it is, but this is a skill of storytelling that is important to know and be able to see. When many artists think about comics, there's very little respect given to the work and craft necessary to actually tell a story well. A single image is one thing, but the ability to draw a whole story, with or without words, and coherently move things along from one moment to the next is not an easy skill. The beauty of it really comes from artists like Conner if only because of how easy she makes it seem.

And here's one final image from Power Girl. Again, I can't say much here I haven't already. But I felt like this was one more worth showing, because this is another fairly simple sequence that just exudes emotion. And really, if you haven't done that exact same thing in your life and felt the same way she is there, I'm pretty sure you aren't human.

Really, the keys to what make Amanda Conner such a great artist are in her ability to show emotion. But not just in facial expressions, she's an expert at body language doing the same thing. I purposefully didn't show any action panels here, but I feel its necessary to mention that Conner handles those with the same fun and energy she does the more mundane scenes. But, to me at least, its the mundane scenes that really comes together for me with her art. Conner has the ability to give them life and energy and fun, and never is a talking heads scene boring when she's the artist.

Now, unlike the last two artist I've talked about, Conner doesn't have a huge online presence. So really, the best way to see more is to go buy her books. Power Girl is out in trades now, or should be, and its absolutely wonderful all over. Beyond that, The Pro is a great darkly funny take on the superhero concept. She's still working with DC, and while no announcements have currently come for her next book, there's been mention of something down the line soon. So keep an eye out for that, too, because there's no way it won't be worth it.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Comic Artists You Should Know: Skottie Young

Okay, finally, here's the second of my talks about comic artists that I truly believe deserve attention, and not just in the comic world. The art world, especially the academic art world, really should see these people as artists capable of amazing work and not as kitschy trash. So before I start ranting yet again, here's another absolutely amazing artist: Skottie Young.

Starting off as I think will become the norm for these, here's a quick rundown of Skottie Young. He's been working as an illustrator for over a decade now, and has done a ton of comic work in addition to other illustration jobs. These days, the brunt of his work is with Marvel, with a great deal of cover work, some interiors, and some writing, too. While he's done quite a bit of work on X-Men related books and Spider-Man books, Young's biggest critical success has been working with writer Eric Shanower in adapting L. Frank Baum's Oz novels to graphic novels.

So we'll start looking at some of his art there, with a newer cover for Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. As always, and I repeat this for a reason, please click on these images to really see them better. So as you can see already, Young's art is wonderfully stylized with an amazing life to them. His looser handling of form allows for a very free-flowing motion in all of his work, and it is quite honestly hard to look at most of his work without smiling.

But what really brings his work together is that, even with the looseness of his line work, everything is done with intent. There aren't just random lines flowing around just because, rather they are there with intent in showing both motion and lighting as much as with defining the forms.

Here's another cover, this from an issue of Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, and we get a similar treatment of motion with a bit of a darker, moodier tone to the piece. Its really a classic situation when it comes to superhero books, the hero tossing everything aside and getting into their costume, but Young's composition and unique handling of lines and figure are what makes this piece.

The large amount of negative space freezes the moment in time, one of those things comics does so well that movies and television just can't in the same way. All focus goes straight to the figure, handled heavily in shadow as a start contrast to the background itself. There is intense movement here, but it is only vaguely implied in a few tiny motion lines, Peter's hair, and his very strong running pose (of which we actually see very little) mixed with that tight turning of the torso as his arm swings around. But this arm motion would be nothing without the backpack and the other items. Those flying items, in fact, are what truly imply the bulk of the motion in the image, giving a strong curve around the figure.

Its one of those things that's a fairly basic idea of any kind of art when it comes to showing movement, but it is also very hard to do right. Here, not only is it done right, but it is done so simply that it looks effortless.

And here's another cover. Don't worry, there's a piece of sequential art coming up. This is a variant cover done on the I Am Captain America theme that Marvel ran across their books before the movie came out earlier this summer. Admittedly, with this specific piece, there's not a ton I can say that I haven't already about others, but I think its important to show for another reason.

Young embraces his style, mixing figures of radically different construction together perfectly and in such a way that the viewer doesn't question it. Stylization to this extent in art, especially in comic art, has a habit of getting seen as a negative. Words like "cartoony" and "childish" get thrown around as insults, when in fact there is a great deal of work and thought behind the art. But here is an artist that can take a simpler style and run with it so well that it's arguably better than most "realistic" art out there.

So here's an interior page from Ultimate Spider-Man #150 that Skottie Young did, and this gives a good show of his storytelling abilities in a pretty simple page. Really, part of me wants to post his entire sequence in the book, its only eight pages, because it's all so wonderful, but this felt like the best single page from the sequence.

The same movement present in Young's covers is here, of course, but this also shows something the other pieces didn't as strongly: his strength with blacks. I talked about blacks some before when I wrote about Chris Samnee, and its something that will come up again and again with many of the artists I talk about, especially ones that handle inking. A grasp of blacks is a vital thing to American comics, and the first panel in the page above is a great use of it. There's no need to see who those people are, only that they're running away, and in fact, constructing them out of those scratchy lines gives them more forward motion.

Lastly, going to show one more Spider-Man related image. This is a cover from Peter Parker Spider-Man and its probably one of my favorite pieces from Skottie Young. This is another very classic image when it comes to Spider-Man. The half-Peter half-Spidey image has been used in the comics since Steve Ditko first used it when the character was first created, and its constantly called back to and used still.

But with Young's handling of it, we get an interesting perspective on the concept. There is, of course, his use of loose lines that are just wonderful to look at, but there's also something else in this image, and that's the use of color. Here, the color is handled the same loose way, and it gives the same energy as the linework to the static piece. It mixes the two sides of the character wonderfully, and even is an interesting way to depict the "Spider Sense" effect around his head there in yellow. Not with line, but with loose color that implies the shape.

So before I end this, I want to do something I did in the last artist talk and write a little about why I think Skottie Young is important and why I chose to talk about him. I think this especially important in relation to Young, as his stylized art is usually the exact opposite of what most people expect from American comic art. Since I want this blog to be read by other artists and art teachers, I think it's vital to show the great variety that people like Young bring to the table.

But beyond that is the fact that I never used to be one to see stylized art in comics as "worth it" or even "good." That is, of course, completely an utterly untrue, and the truth of it is that, as with any style of art, it can be done well or done badly. Artists like Skottie Young show how to do it well, and that everyone doesn't have to be purely realistic to survive and be good in comics, and he deserves a great deal of respect for that...thankfully, with a few Eisner awards under his belt, the comic world definitely feels the same way.

Now we just need more teachers to see this kind of thing and show to students, younger and older, so that if they want to be artists, they know that being just like everyone else isn't required. So please, check out Skottie Young's page I linked at the start of this article. He's got a great art book out, and in digital form!, and definitely check out his work on the adaptations of the Oz novels if you want more.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Ideal of the Hero

This is going to be a bit of a shorter post than I tend to do, but its a smaller, more concentrated subject that I at least want to hit in some small way. Before I dive into it, though, I feel the need to mention one thing.

I'm thinking the way I'll be doing the more detailed talks on specific artists, such as the Chris Samnee post from a few days ago, is to try and do them once a week. Possibly more in a week, but I don't want to rush them and would prefer to give the artists I talk about a good run through, so once a week seems a safe aim. Admittedly, any schedules I set for this blog are flexible, but hey, worth mentioning.

So with that out of the way, let me get on with this.

I was listening to the wonderful podcast, Word Balloon, hosted by the amazingly entertaining John Suintres, as he did a very long conversation spread over parts with Martin Pasko, a long-time comics creator who has worked since the 70s and also done quite a large amount of television work through the years. The great part about the interviews with Mr. Pasko is his first-hand experience with a great deal of the goings-on at DC through the 70s, which can shine a light on a very interesting period of time for comics, especially for someone my age that wasn't even born yet.

As the discussion rolled around various subjects, it eventually turned to a subject that has struck me far more than I thought it would. The idea of what our heroes should be. Specifically, Mr. Pasko brought this up in regards to the idea that characters like Superman would never have killed back then, whereas today that kind of action is more acceptable.

Now, I was born in the mid-80s, and I've grown up with entertainment in various forms that have created the idea that killing is just normal for many styles of dramatic fiction. This extends from the general faceless deaths from the likes of Stormtroopers in Star Wars to the deaths of major villains to the deaths of heroes themselves. Its just a normal part of storytelling to me, and in fact something I handle without thinking in my own work. People fight, eventually someone dies, the story moves on.

Before I go further, I want to make one point clear. I don't think any of this means that I'm some warped, horrible human being that doesn't see death as a real thing, or any of those other hilariously bad arguments against video game and entertainment violence. I'm speaking strictly in the form of storytelling, and specifically with how it relates to the idea of a hero.

So, now I dive into that. For a very, very long time in comics, death was a very rare, very serious thing. Uncle Ben's death is why Peter Parker is who he is as Spider-Man, and even moreso after the death of Gwen Stacy. The death of Bruce Wayne's parents shapes his need to fight crime so the same thing doesn't happen to others...and probably out of some twisted sense of revenge, depending on your interpretation of how crazy Bruce Wayne might be. But, on the whole, the heroes themselves didn't kill. Punch? Yes. Kick? Yes. But the use of lethal force was mostly restricted to WW2 era comics.

This changed fairly dramatically, as it did in quite a few forms of entertainment, somewhere in the 70s and 80s and grew from there. For comics, the 80s were a definite era of change on the whole. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen, Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli's Daredevil: Born Again, and X-Men's Dark Phoenix Saga from Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, and John Byrne are just a few examples of ways that comics seriously changed in the 80s. The more upbeat comics of the previous few decades began to give way to grittier, angrier, and more cynical stories that tended to have more strongly portrayed violence than before.

Again, this doesn't make them bad. In fact, those stories are all still some of the best comics has to offer, and those are just super hero books, I'm not even getting into indie stuff from the time. But this gave way to the slow move into the stereotype of 90s comics, with giant guns, ultra-violence, and generally an over-the-top atmosphere that I'd be willing to argue is one of the many reasons the entire comic market nearly collapsed.

But comics survived, as they tend to, even if things are smaller now. Still, we now live in an era where the stories in comics are more grounded and real. There's still a certain hardness to many titles, though the overall feel of a heavy darkness and cynical feel is mostly gone. The heroes aren't necessarily as dark as they were, but on the whole, we definitely don't have a return to some of the lighter, older days. In some ways, this is probably for the better, as comics today are full of absolutely amazing stories and artists doing things that wouldn't be possible anytime before.

And this ideal of a hero sits in my mind and I wonder how that has changed. While we still have characters like Superman, Captain America, Spider-Man, and Batman that vow not to kill, it can and does happen. Sometimes for dramatic purposes, sometimes in the more simplistic idea of the last Captain America carrying a gun. There was nothing wrong with it, what with Bucky carrying the mantle and having fought in the war, he'd definitely use a gun and that's fine, but there's no way he didn't kill a few bad guys with it. Otherwise, why use a gun?

The others, too, have all killed in some form through the years. Partly just due to the nature of an ongoing character over decades and decades. New stories are necessary and death and killing are definitely ripe for drama. And I wouldn't say this diminishes the characters in any way either, if anything it could round them out and make them more multi-faceted when handled by a good writer.

But in general, it seems that the idea of the hero that kills is normal today. Think for a moment about a hero of some kind, they don't even have to have superpowers. Is it greater to solve a dangerous situation by finding a peaceful way to save all lives or are some evils just too evil? We seem to definitely be in the age of the latter, and for obvious reasons. But in some ways, it can be hard to look at the opposite, the hero that never takes a life and never lets someone die, as naive and childish.

Is it?

I don't think it is. I think, at the purest form, a hero is better than the rest of us. That's the point. They stand above the masses and do what everyone else can't. They find a way to make the impossible possible. So in this time where it is fairly widely accepted that some people are just too evil to live, isn't a person that can stand above that and say "No, there is another way." and then find that other way, a true hero above us all?

The ability to forgive, unconditionally is somewhere in most of the major religious beliefs of the world, but usually its above the level of the normal man. Isn't that where a hero is? So instead of it being naive, can't this be a great thing?

Clearly, I think there's something to this idea. I do honestly believe that, especially in times like we live in, the heroes that can defy conventional wisdom and save everyone may be what we need in our fiction and entertainment. At the same time, I don't think this should be everything. There's room for everything, but it seems that today, the truly good hero barely exists anymore. I think its time someone found the right way to bring it back, and while I don't claim to know how, with the current crop of writers and creators amongst comics and the entertainment industry as a whole, someone out there is smart enough.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Roy Lichtenstein: Plagiarist or Art Thief?

Okay. Before this gets going, two warnings. First: this is likely to be a very long entry. I may even divide it up into two posts. So get comfy. Second: This will, most likely, be my only negative talk about an artist. This is a topic that makes me very angry. In fact, my anger over this topic is part of the reason this blog exists in the first place. There is a distinct possibility I will be much less formal and devolve into angry ranting. I shall do my best to avoid this, but you've been warned. This is something I'm very passionate about.

So. Roy Lichtenstein. His art is loved by artists, teachers, critics, historians, and students alike. Everyone knows "his" work, and those quotes are there for a reason as can likely be inferred from the title of this post alone. Every single art history class mentions him in some form, be it at a high school or college level. He is supposedly a great master of Pop Art, one of the first, even. His taking of comic panels and turning them into larger paintings is still seen as a great use of "low art" and turning it into "high art."

To that, I give you a simple response that can sum up my entire feelings on this without any pretense.

Bull. Shit.

First, it must be made clear that my anger towards Lichtenstein is not because I'm some crazed lover of comics. Clearly, I love comics. Clearly, I believe comics should be treated as art and not some trash to be ignored. And guess what? Lichtenstein is the poster child for the problem. His copies of panels from master comic artists are insipid pieces that only have any life because of the original artists, not his work. Not to mention the fact that nearly all of his copies are inferior to the originals on basic levels, such as line quality, form, etc. And on top of THAT, his lettering is offensively bad all on its own. Oh, and on top of even that, there's the fact that he never credited the original artists, selling his copies for millions while the actual artists saw nothing of it and some spent their lives struggling to make it.

Now before I get into direct comparisons between his "art" and the original works, I want to shoot down the usual counters to these points I'm making. I've already hit on the fact that comics are not "low art" and that the artists behind the originals are worthy of far more praise than they ever have received from the art community, but just keep repeating that because its going in circles in my head.

The other major thing is the idea of Pop Art. One of the other major players in the Pop Art movement was Andy Warhol. Everyone knows his work to some degree. Soup cans, Marilyn Monroe, etc. He stole, too, and while I have a special hatred for some of his work for similar reasons, Lichtenstein was specifically stealing from OTHER artists at the time and essentially taking credit for their work, all the while letting the art world continue to belittle them. But on the idea of Pop Art, the twisting of popular culture into "art" and playing on ideas of mass production and similar themes, Lichtenstein's work STILL doesn't qualify as worthy of praise. Why? Because it is simple plagiarism, at best, and theft, at its worst. Many of the artist he copied were working at the time he was.

This is where the "but all artists steal" comment always comes in. And yes, in many ways, that's true. But that doesn't mean we should condone it, or dismiss the original artists as mere "drawers" as the Lichtenstein Foundation has. But you also have to remember that the only reason Lichtenstein is continued to be seen as such a great artist and thus, can get away with it even after his death, is because he has "historical significance." That's a pathetic way of saying that, yet again, he's better than the original artists despite the fact that doing what he did in any Art School worth its salt would have a student dismissed. You don't get to steal hundreds of pieces of art from other artists and call it your own, especially if you refuse to admit they existed or did anything of significance before you came along and did your thing. That's just called being an asshole.

So suck it up and accept the truth. Lichtenstein was a hack that couldn't paint well even when he copied, and now's the part where I start posting images to show that.

But yet again, one more thing crops up that I must mention. The images I'll be using are from an man named David Barsalou, who's been working for over three decades to find the original sources of many of Lichtenstein's paintings. He has an amazing Flickr page with tons and tons of these, with bits and pieces of info attached to the images and well worth looking through. I'm only going to highlight a few.

So right there is one of Lichtenstein's most famous pieces. He called it "WHAAM!" because of...well, obviously, the sound effect. The original is the top piece, and its from All-American Men at War #89, drawn by a man named Russ Heath. Looking at both side by side, sort of, it should be strikingly obvious which one is a copy and which one is an actual piece of art. Lichtenstein's copy of it is stunted, and badly rendered, despite the fact that he projected the images larger and TRACED them. There is no life to his copy, where as Heath's screams movement and force, emphasized as much be the missile as by a more strongly created and placed sound effect.

And make sure to look at Lichtenstein's attempt at lettering. Not only does he place the caption box in such a way that it looks like a damned flag on the tail of the plane, but his construction of the letters alone is simple sloppy and bad.

Here's another of Lichtenstein's famous pieces, he called it "Drowning Girl." This is, in fact, and obvious if you can read basic English on that image above, actually by an artist named Tony Abruzzo. It is likely from DC's first romance book that started in 1949, called Girls' Love Stories, a title that featured art by many of the great names in comic art.

So what makes Lichtenstien's version of it, the smaller one, art? Nothing. Nothing that wouldn't invalidate them both. All that he did to change it was his usual bad lettering, removing a line of the dialogue, and cropping it just a bit more. So why does Lichtenstein get credit for this and not Abruzzo? Hell, I'll admit, I didn't even know Abruzzo until I hunted information on him, and that is a DAMN shame.

Yes, Lichtenstein even stole from Jack Kirby, the king of comics. No surprise really. Might as well steal from arguably the best, most prolific artists to ever work in comics, right? And hey, if you're going to steal from him, why not bastardize the image as much as possible.

And just in case you can't tell from the extreme close up, the original? That's the X-Men villain, Magneto. And I once again just have to point out how horrible that lettering is. My god. Just take the words out if you can't do it.

And here's a piece called "Reckon Not, Sir!". If you can't tell, Lichtenstein was a master of titling his work. And if you also can't tell, I'm heavily falling into sarcasm the more I do this. Apologies, but its the only way I can cope with it.

This one here isn't nearly as much a direct copy as others, but it still very clearly is a copy. And, again, a horrible attempt. The cowboy hat put on Lichtenstein's character? There's no way that's actually on his head. Hats don't work like that. That's least two different angles, possibly three. THIS is why I get angry. This kind of thing creates that pervasive talk that comic art is, and always has been, bad. That is CLEARLY not the case.

Joe Kubert, the artist of the original piece from DC Comic's Sgt. Rock, is one of the classic artists that has defined what American comics have looked like. That panel alone is gritty, hard, and filled with intense emotion. It is an amazing piece of art, and guess what? Its tiny. Because its a comic book panel. That takes an intense skill that few have.

And to go a little further, Joe Kubert is no slouch either. The man founded The Kubert School, a technically school entirely focused on teach sequential art and the craft of comics. There is a huge list of alumni from the school that have gone on to work in comics and become famous in their own right, including his two sons, both of whom work in comics today.

This is the last image I'm going to attack for this post, and there's a specific reason for it. Lichtenstein called this "Seductive Girl", and as you can see from both of his versions, the title is in every way a lie. The life and emotion in this image only came from Mike Sekowsky, as all of that is gone in Lichtenstein's.

And yet, how many that read this know Mike Sekowsky? He worked on so many comics its almost crazy. From superheros like the Justice League of America and Wonder Woman to romance comics, westerns, and war comics. But we see the image there in the bottom right hand corner, those bright, garish colors and the flatness of it all, and we think that's him. We think that because Lichtenstein has helped to paint the image of American comics as low quality art, but the larger image, Sekwosky's actual art, is never seen.

Yes, I'm not the first to rant and rave on this. No, I won't be the last. And I shouldn't be. There is no justification for putting Lichtenstein in a museum when these artist and tons of others have been treated like trash by the art community, first, and then the public at large, second. We give credit to a hack like Lichtenstein and happily claim how good he is compared to those bad old comics, but most people never look at those originals.

Every single art student should. Especially American art students. Why? Its our history. American comics are a truly American style, and there are great, amazing artists that helped to define it and are still changing it today. That's why this blog exists, because I want other artists to know about them. I want teachers to see them and show their students. And I want hacks like Lichtenstein treated like they deserve to be: Liars and thieves.

Next update...I'll go back to talking about artists I love that we should all love. But this needed to get out.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Comic Artists You Should Know: Chris Samnee

Okay, here we go. Back from a little time away from this blog and through most of those early posts that I felt were necessary before really diving into the meat of what I want to do here. Its time to talk about a specific artist in the comic world. As with most things I tend to hit on, the goal is to show that comics are more than many people seem to think and that they deserve a great deal more attention in all aspects, but especially in the art world.

Normally, this is the point where you go straight to the king of comics, Jack Kirby. He's the man to really influence everything that's come since in a way that no one else has. There's a long list of other huge names in the comic world when it comes to art (Steranko, Ditko, Romita, Moebius, Perez, just to name a few), but I want to hit on someone newer to start this off. Those guys have been covered in a ton of places by smarter people than I, and while I'll likely get to them at some point, I'd like to try some names that are even less likely to be known to people that care about art.

So we begin with Chris Samnee, a relatively new talent in the industry. Very relatively, as he's been working for quite a few years now, but the comic world is full of "Hot New Artist!"s that have been working for years and years and only suddenly received the attention they deserve. He's done work for most of the major companies, Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Vertigo, and Oni Press, just to name a few. But he really caught the attention of readers with 2010's Thor: The Mighty Avenger, written by Roger Langridge.

Above is one of Samnee's covers for Thor: The Mighty Avenger (and as usual, make sure to click on the image to see it larger), and it is pretty much a perfect example of his work. He pencils and inks himself, and the truly noticeable part of that is Samnee's masterful use of blacks and negative space. He is one of the few artists currently working in comics to so strongly use blacks in an effective way, and is able to use it to imply linework that isn't even there. While, of course, implied line is one of those basics of art that is taught in pretty much any Drawing I class worth its salt, the use of it is rarely as effective in actual practice in modern comics anywhere but with Samnee's work.

And then there are the more obvious qualities to his art: Strong motion and pitch-perfect emotions. No one ever stands around looking boring in a Samnee-drawn comic, and he has a way of drawing a 'talking heads' scene that can be as exciting as a fight. Emotion is captured and exaggerated in just the right ways to say everything that is needed.

On top of all of this is Samnee's style. Many would call it "cartoony", which does the work a great disservice. His art harkens back to Silver Age comics, a style that many that don't read comics (and many that do, admittedly), see as childish, weak, and simple. This is, of course, not the case at all. The admittedly more simple styles of early comic books and comic strips should never be so quickly dismissed, as Samnee's modern take on the same clean, simple style easily shows.

Above is a piece that Samnee did for Comic Twart, Superman: The Movie in six panels. Its simple, and nails the entirety of the film in such a short space. While not the best example of showing how he can lay out a single page to tell a story, as this jumps large amounts of time, I think it DOES show a strength in storytelling nonetheless. There is much to be said about capturing a full length movie in six simple panels, and Samnee nails them in more ways than just reproducing what is seen in the film. Angle, expressions, use of black, and the choice of key moments is what pulls it together and really shows a grasp of storytelling that most of us can only hope for. Not to mention that he made sure to keep "Otisburg" on Luthor's map, which is just wonderful and fun if you know the movie.

Its hard for me to say much more about his work without devolving into repeating myself. I could go on and on in circles about the use of blacks and negative space and just how well Samnee can tell a story or draw a simple pin up that can put a smile on anyone's face. So its likely best I wrap this post up, but I have a couple more things to mention before I finally hit the 'publish post' button staring at me right now.

First, is a bit more expanding on just WHY I picked Chris Samnee as the first artist to talk about. There's more to it than just not wanting to pick the traditional guys to talk about when trying to explain to other artists (or anyone, for that matter) just why comic art matters and is more than second-rate crap as many in the world (art world and just the world) tend to see it. A larger reason is that I look at Samnee's art and I'm blown away. I look at what he does and how well he does it, and I want to be able to do that. His art inspires me in a way that few others ever have. I'd like to think that one day, after my wife and I have both spent years fighting together to make comics of our own, that I can be half as good as Samnee. I'd like to think that if his art can have such a strong affect on me, maybe one of the few people that read this can have a similar experience. Because, as I've said in every single post and will likely keep saying until I'm physically restrained from doing so, comics matter and they are legitimate art. And Chris Samnee is a prime example of why, and he's working right now.

So with that in mind, here's a tiny sampling of where to find his work and just what's out there that Chris Samnee has worked on. I highly suggest checking out his website,, where he constantly posts amazing pin ups such as the Cyclops and Daredevil shown above. Of course, the best way to get more of his work is in the comics, and the full run of Thor: The Mighty Avenger is out right now in two digest-sized trades, along with Serenity: A Shepherd's Tale with Joss and Zack Whedon. Currently drawing the monthly title for Marvel, Captain America and Bucky, written by Ed Brubaker.