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.