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.