Monday, May 14, 2007

I'm Goin' Mainstream

This is the image that smacked me in the noggin and made me want to draw comics.

Before I could drive I would have my parents take me to a Mile High Comics store that was in the local mall and I would buy the Mazzuchelli/O'Neil Daredevils along with Baron and Rude's Nexus. I had seen some promotional stuff for Dark Knight Returns and was aware of Frank Miller but this cover left me dumb-struck. It's Batman, a character I grew up with thru the Adam West TV show and The Superfriends cartoon, but there's something wrong with him. His costume's wrinkled and loose fitting. He looks like a rabid animal mixed with a zombie. I hadn't even looked inside the book but I knew I had to have this cover.
Around the time that DKR and Watchmen were released you got a lot of "BANG! ZAP! POW! Comics Aren't Just For Kids Anymore!" news pieces that focused on the dark angles that Miller and Moore were taking on superheroes. There was talk of political subtext, sexuality, violence, etc...but the one thing that these articles seemed to ignore, in the case of Miller at least, was the expressiveness of the artwork, especially with the cover of that second issue.

Miller's style loosened up during the course of the four issues. Pages from the fourth volume have an entirely different feel than those from the first. The major turning point would be the above image. It has a European vibe to it - thin, open lines - it's like if Egon Schiele painted a 'roid-raging body builder. It's far removed from the slick, standard versions of the character from guys like Neil Adams and Jim Aparo. The layout is tight and claustrophobic, with Batman just barely contained within the frame. The high contrast of the light blue and grey of the costume with the reds and oranges in the skin and background add to the dynamics. The image epitomizes the series and is, to me, the most important and influential piece of artwork in the sea change that was about to take place, for better or worse, in mainstream, American comics. Of course, Lynn Varely should be equally praised here as should Klaus Janson for the interior finishes. I've attempted to re-read DKR and the story leaves me cold but the artwork still gets me excited.

All that to say I really dig this drawing.


Sean the Sean said...

Me too! Dark Knight returns did it for me. Then Ninja Turtles. I love it to bits. I wish comics could be like that again.

Sean the Sean said...

Yeah, i agree Sean. Frank Miller's stuff rules. I love how the Ninja Turtles were a parody of his comics, but ended up being more of an homage, including lots of Jack Kirby art. How else would we have found out about those dudes in the 80s?

Matthew Allison said...

Yeah, Sean! Listen to what Sean it...or, uhh...

It's a shame though that he felt the need (Miller, that is) to shit out that abomination DARK KNIGHT STRIKES AGAIN. Pee-yuck.

Have you seen this new SPIDER-MAN:REIGN book? It's supposedly an homage to DARK KNIGHT RETURNS but is pretty wretched. Pretty covers but that's about it.

Ray Frenden said...

The first non-filler comic I ever read was a trade of Dark Knight Returns. I got it at a Walden Books in Ford City mall when I was about ten or twelve.