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.