Thursday, March 19, 2009
BEN & DAN GEEK THE @#$% OUT!
Anyone who knows me knows I love to talk, even if - okay, especially if - I've got nothing to say. Brilliantly, Mr Benjamin Birdie is much the same! We crossed paths at NYCC where, after a gruelling and oddly homo-erotic swordfight we decided to become best friends and set about putting the world to rights. In the meantime, however, we thought we would just Geek The @#$%Out.
So every Thursday (or every other Thursday... or whenever the mood takes us), we'll be posting a column on our mutual blogs wherein we talk up what we like, tolerate and wish to destroy. It's kind of like a podcast, but without sound. This week, we're extolling the virtues of Mr Frank Quitely and his frankly blinding Batman & Robin, as well as giving a little uninformed kudos to Igor Kordey and sticking the boot into John Turturro.
So, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the ridiculously long, and the ridiculously enthused debut of BEN & DAN GEEK THE @#$% OUT!
DAN: So, this Frank Quitely guy... a genius, yes? The teaser page and cover we saw for his and Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin got me more excited about a DC project than I've been in months and months and MONTHS. The preview page is perfect in lots of ways - it doesn't give away too much but it does give us a really good idea of the tone of what's coming. There's Batman and a (rather aloof-looking) Robin shooting the breeze in a new-look, super-slick Batmobile, so we know that things have lightened up a tad. Then there's the wicked-cool sound/smoke effect which makes me seethe with jealousy cos I didn't think of it first, which shows us we can expect a degree of wit, invention and energy that's been lacking from DC stuff of late. Yes, I'm excited.
BEN: Could not agree with you more. Something about that cover image just knocked me over in a way nothing has since the cover of New X-Men #114. I've been pretty psyched about previous Morrison projects and Morrison/Quitely projects, but something about this one just hit me that same way the shot of the X-Men did back in, jeepers, what year was that? 2001 or something? Back then it was my two favorite creators working on the comic that got me into comics back when Claremont was telling Marc Silvestri to draw Dallas office plazas.
This time around, it's different I think. I've always loved Batman, sure, but here I think it's just the way Batman is standing there, sort of giving Robin this look. Halfway exasperated. That, I think, is one of Quitely's greatest strengths. A lot of people talk about the detail and all that, but there's no other artist that can capture humanity in posture and expression. It's just alive. Not in a necessarily cheesy "WHOA DYNAMIC" kind of way, but in an actually breathing kind of way. While I liked Morrison's run on Batman, some parts a whole lot more than others, it never really got me the way his best work did. You could see a lot of great stuff, conceptually, running through it, but I never felt like the art was ever really the right fit. Having Quitely now to continue that thread is just, yeah. That's probably what's got me the most excited.
DAN: That's it exactly. I hate to bitch about other artists - cos honestly it's a c**t's game, and Tony Daniel definitely raised his game for Batman: RIP - but I sometimes imagine what the end of Morrison's run would have looked like had it been drawn by someone, um... better. That said, I was never as enamoured of JH Williams' run as others are. It's technically beautiful stuff, but I had a hard time following what was going on a lot of the time. When you've got a writer as clever and opaque as Morrison, I think the artist needs to do everything possible to clarify, not obscure, what's going on. Daniel did very nicely in that regard, I thought (although I miss the 70s flavour Kubert brought to the earlier stuff).
Which brings us back to Quitely, who's pretty much sympatico with Morrison as far as I'm concerned. And I suspect he adds these cute character moments you're talking about himself. From the preview, I think he's bringing something a bit different here as well - a slightly coarser, almost manga flavour. You seeing that?
BEN: That's how I read Millar's Ultimate X-Men back in the day. There was that bit where Magneto whipped a train at someone? His Authority was coming out at the same time and I just imagined every page drawn by Quitely. It just seemed like he was writing both with the same scope and style, but Kubert was such a different kind of artist.
As far as where Quitely might be headed stylistically, it's a bit hard to tell just from the one page. Obviously the thing that stands out most, as you mentioned, is that ridiculous and awesome in art sound effect. As a Lettering Snob, I usually hate it when artists draw their own SFX, even Marcos Martin (who I'm sure we'll get into in a future installment of this column), but, well, I just want to know what that is! It looks so cool. Maybe the Batmobile is jumping over a missile or some shit? Who knows.
Speaking of the Batmobile, it seems already from some reactions I've seen, that seems to be the big sticking point amongst the WolfShirteratti. I guess it'll be the new "Jean looks like a dude" or "What's with Superman's chin anyways?" I kind of pity people who don't recognize Quitely's genius. I suppose that's sort of snobbish but, hey, there's one more thing on Earth that I love and they don't. Which means I win.
Do you have a favorite page of his? I know I do, but I figured I'd ask you first.
DAN: We all win! But I'm gonna have to part ways with you about the hand-lettering - I *have* to hand-letter my own stuff. It's such a crucial part of page design and it just makes a page look fun and cool. Any time I see computer-done lettering, I hear Alex Toth screaming in my head "NOT LIKE THAT!" So what I'm saying is, I want to see more of this sort of thing. MORE! And the wilder the better!
The manga thing is something I'm seeing in the speedlines used to move the action along in that fourth panel, and in the coarse texturing he's bringing to the forms in that cover. Speaking of, I think the main complaints we're going to hear from, ha, the WolfShirteratti will be about the Batmobile - which is so obviously awesome it makes me want to cry - and the Robin. The Robin flak will come in the shape of people who don't like the costume (and although I don't normally like the "pipes and widgets" way of doing costumes, I think this 'un looks grand) and other people who don't like how Quitely draws faces. Sorry guys- you're wrong. Science is on my side with this one.
The big question is - who's under the hood here? Robin - looks like he probably will be Damian. I'm reasonably pleased with that - the 21st Century needs its own Robin. Is Batman Dick? Could I have phrased that better?
BEN: You probably could have.
(And as far as lettering, oh yeah. I mean, my appreciation of the form is born out of total adoration of the lettering of Tom Orzechowski and Dave Sim. So I love hand lettering. I'm just rarely keen on it these days when it's used at the same time as computer lettering by two clearly different entities.)
And yeah, I've seen the speculation, and I don't know, man. I'd kind of assume it's Bruce under there. But I remember adamantly shouting people down during those first issues of New X-Men, that there was NO WAY Cassandra Nova had taken over Chuck's brain. So show's how much I know. But yeah, absolutely Damian is Robin. I'm really looking forward, assuming Bruce comes back (fingers crossed!), to Batman running around with a ward that is actually his son. Should make for a very interesting dynamic. As far as the costumes go, I love them. They're no Leather X-Men coats (which I still want), but they're really slick looking.
And yeah, now that you point it out, there is a looser Otomality, we'll call it, to the art here, but I really haven't seen too much of a shift in his style ever since he switched to being digitally inked. We'll see.
And since you so deftly dodged my question, I'll just spill mine, and we can start to talk about the second pillar of Frank's great strength: his storytelling.
There's that bit in New X-Men when Xorn takes the special class (man I loved that whole conceit) on a picnic. And at one point Beak and Angel abscond into the woods, to mess around at Angel's behest. There's one page where they're sitting on a hill, Angel is trying to coax him into some romance and Beak is like this barely held together awkward mess, and then suddenly the U-Men show up, and Beak is saved by disaster. There is so much beautiful character work going on on that page. It's heartbreaking, it's sweet. It's like immaculately composed. And if I recall correctly, it was the first issue where Quitely was digitally inked, so already that issue had me reeling. I remember when the preview pages first showed up on Newsarama, and there was that opening sequence where Quentin's New X-Men drive a van into the U-Men's headquarters? That Batman and Robin page reminds me a lot of that actually. And they also had that Beak & Angel page previewed, with no dialogue, and it was like, I don't know. The only way I can describe it is that it felt like the prettiest Built To Spill song ever.
DAN: Ha! Yeah, I see that. Really sweet stuff. I wish I remembered his X-Men run a little better (weirdly, I remember Igor Kordey's bits with uncanny accuracy. He's an underrated talent, by the way) - have to pick up the trades. I loved his Emma Frost and his Hank McCoy, and I (like a lot of new x-men fans, no doubt) really thought/hoped the new costumes would stick.
Favourite page is a toughy. There's some blistering stuff in WE3 - I haven't read it in a while, but I remember being struck by a dynamic and inventive opening page (with a cutaway of a van?), then a double-page hail of bullets all caught in super slo-mo. I remember looking at that and thinking I had never seen *anything* like it before. With a minimal line and no speedlines, he somehow made this scene look completely three-dimensional. I really envy that. And there's so much glorious stuff in All-Star Superman - the shuddering seascape behind Superman and Samson, the glorious transcendental plains of Kansas on the day Pa Kent died, pretty much all of the "Luthor in jail" issue. Quitely's real skill lies in how he can pack a panel with witty detail while retaining that essential streamlined quality, and the Luthor stuff is full of that dynamic.
BEN: Oh, man! That one spread where the jail rooms are the panels and the stairway is in the middle and Luthor is walking through them. Holy cow. I also just remembered another favorite moment of mine from New X-Men, when that one guy whose name I can't remember lands in the cowfield. The entire universe is in abject peril and Morrison writes a two page spread of cows, one of which says "Moo." God damn, I love that book. I remember when it was coming out, I had somehow wrangled my way into this bizarre situation where I was hanging out at the Marvel offices every now and then, and I remember reading that issue in color print outs on the train ride back to Long Island and I hit those last two pages and was like, "Oh, man. What amazingness am I reading here?"
And yeah, Kordey was SO maligned on that book and, yeah, he might not be a Frank Quitely but he was a really solid-to-great artist on that book. There's that one opening page of a possessed Lilandra just staring out at you that was, for my money, the creepiest and most jarring thing I've probably ever seen in a comic. Also, a great panel-to-panel storyteller.
I do think, in a lot of ways, though, a lot of what was added to the X-Men really has stuck. Emma's costume, the yellow X. And of course Beast, which I still can't believe Marvel hasn't erased by now. I think Quitely just has a great, naturalistic design sense. I remember, and this should tell you how geekily obsessive I am about the guy's work, in Endless Nights, there's a picture of him in the creator's section, and kind of blurred in the background you can see what I think is just an open notebook page with rows of full color drawings of people just like, modeling clothes it looks like. I would give anything for him to have the kind of behind the scenes output that Chris Ware or James Jean has. Just putting out extensive sketchbooks and process stuff. I mean, I might never leave the house.
DAN: That is *exactly* the sequence that comes to mind about that issue of AS:S. It's just lovely, funny, comic booky stuff.
Increasingly, I'm less about the actual comics and more about the process. I'm an avid reader of yer Kirby Collectors and yer Comic Book Artists and all that good stuff (though I think it behoves someone who creates comics to read actual comics that are coming out now... I don't want to *just* be the "retro" guy). Anyway, I would *love* to see a book like that on Quitely - though in the meantime I'm happy to believe that he just uses magic. Hey, did you ever see any of his British stuff? He started out doing fully painted work for a strip called Missionary Man for the Judge Dredd Megazine. Mind-melting stuff, so controlled and finessed, yet so full of life.
(By the way, I really need to know how you found yourself at the Marvel offices. Best guess - you were hiding in the ventilation ducts - or you had flattened yourself against the ceiling, Spidey-style!)
And you're right about Quitely/Morrison and the X-Men of course. It looked for a little while like the higher-ups at Marvel were determined to wipe that slate clean - so we get back the bronze age costumes (or something like them), Claremont and Davis on Uncanny, and the usual tired "capture-chase-explosion" nonsense. Luckily, guys like Cassady and Whedon and, latterly, Fraction and Brubaker picked up the baton.
Kordey... Kordey fascinates me. I never really felt like he had a fair crack of the whip at Marvel. Fanboys were pretty much booing him right out of the gate, and didn't they give him an issue of NXM to draw over a weekend or something crazy like that? And *then* messed up his opening double-page splash to get an advert in? Woo...
BEN: That's why I absolutely loved Kordey's work on Cable. Much better suited to him, and they were really doing some crazy stuff on that book in terms of the artwork. And he was so thrown to the wolves on that book. I remember those days. The book was crazy late already and the only thing the fanboys hated more than Quitely was this guy who replaced him with his own completely differently unique style and STILL couldn't get the book out on time. Oh man. Poor Igor. I haven't seen his work in years. I wonder if they ran him out of the business, those jerks. And I did see a few Quitely pages in a random 2000AD collection somewhere. Really lovely stuff, no surprise.
Now here's where I get really shameful. I have like next to no experience reading classic comics. I've seen Kirby stuff and Ditko stuff and all that, of course, but my Fantastic Four Essentials are pretty much unread. I'm kind of the same way with fiction. I know I ought to read Dickens and Tolstoy and all that but I keep gravitating towards George Saunders and David Foster Wallace. Same, again, with film. I have a pretty robust Criterion Collection, but so much of my Ozu or Kurosawa has yet to ever be watched, meanwhile I've watched Magnolia like thirty times. I'm so bad like that and I know I will surely leave this Earth with the shallowest of cultural experiences. I am no better than your petty street texter.
As far as your art getting caught up in a classic style, I have to say, I think there's a pretty wide difference between your work on Jersey Gods and, say, the art on Godland. (Not that there's anything wrong with the art on Godland.) If you're just aping retro then so are Bruce Timm and Mike Manley (remember that guy?). It definitely has it's own skeleton to it. As far as my influences, man, I am just trying to put one foot in front of the other. I do ravenously inhale the procedural detail of artists I admire, even if my art might not reflect it. I love finding out like what size paper Bryan Lee O'Malley uses, or looking at all the background stuff James Jean does or, holy cow, that Watching The Watchmen book about Gibbons' process. That stuff is fascinating to me. But since I have basically one way and one way only that I can draw, I'm usually more focused on page layout and storytelling. I can never draw like a Quitely, but I study his transitions pretty intensely. Same with an Otomo. Cameron Stewart, I'll say, especially if you can see his work in person, is a master class in inking. He's so versatile, he captures so much detail. Whenever I see his table at a show, I'll just sit there for an hour looking at pages and then spend the next month drawing the crap out of everything I do.
(And that Marvel story is too sad and weird to be told. Maybe someday. It involves me and my friend and a guy who worked there all thinking we were a shoe in to write the next Cage miniseries.)
And man, I remember when Claremont and Davis came back. It was to be my greatest dream come true. I mean, these were the guys in books like Uncanny and Excalibur that basically dictated everything I loved and still love about comics. That ended up being more than a little disappointing. I remember desperately clinging onto X-treme X-Men (can you believe they actually published a book called this?!?), believing that somehow it would get better. I mean, it had to, right?
DAN: Man, X-Treme X-Men. This is something that Calamity Jon Morris talks about from time to time, how people in comics are always like twenty years out of of synch with whatever actual, flesh and blood young people are into. "X-Treme" *might* have flown in the early nineties, but even then I'm sure it seemed tired. In the noughties (and can we please come up with a better name for this decade than that? I mean, I know we're running out of time an' all... And let's not call the next decade the teens - not least cos it'll muck up my usual Google porn search term)...
Where was I? Fanboys, right. Yeah, I think Igor Kordey was sent packing back East. Terrible pity, as he really introduced something else that was new to the X-Men at the time: a European sensibility. We'd already had the Brits of course, but here was someone who was bringing a certain supple, sensual line to his work, as well as a degree of copper-bottom draughtsmanship. He did this one beautiful Cable cover (I think it was Cable), with ol' One-Eye drawing an X on a misty window. Beautiful, inventive technique. And he did this Tarzan/Batman crossover a few years ago - what a strange, glorious thing that was. All lost cities and epic vistas - really nice.
Mike Manley! Wow, I used to love his stuff. Wait, hold that thought... I *sometimes* loved his stuff. I certainly preferred it to Graham Nolan (another forgotten star of yesteryear - remember when he and Dixon were steering one of DC's flagship books? Isn't he doing some damned syndicated strip now?). I really dig where MM has gone over the last few years with his style - even further away from "realism" and towards that blocky, solid, Kirby-by-way-of-Timm style. His blog, however, terrifies me.
I see what you're saying about the "classics" - although I'm on a whole other level of shallow. I mean, c'mon - Magnolia? That's a pretty smart film all in all. Bear in mind, you're talking to someone who saw Hard Target four times in as many months - and enjoyed it just as much on each occasion. And the last book I read was a work of children's fiction (one of the Young Bond books, since you asked. It was very good). Disgraceful, innit? That said, you're missing a trick not reading those FF Essentials - they're works of genuinely wonky brilliance (though it doesn't get *really* good till Sinnott starts inking Kirby's lines).
I think the key to breaking away from your artistic influences and to shaping your own style is to do a lot of work in a short amount of time. The early JG stuff is pretty Kirby and Cooke heavy - and that's fine. But I've been racing through the pages of late, and I've noticed that where I use shortcuts and tricks to get the job done, that's where my style or technique or whatever starts to come through. In those gaps. Does that make sense? I'm probably stressing over nothing here, but it'd be nice to reach a point where people could point to my work, sight unseen and go "oh yeah, Dan McDaid drew that. I can tell, cos all his people look like they have some kind of genetic disorder, and he can't draw cars". Ha.
The one thing I missed with all of the NYCC hullabaloo was Artists' Alley. I love to see art happen in the raw like that - even to someone who draws all the time, it still seems like magic.
BEN: Heh, you know, you mention Hard Target. I only picked Magnolia because it would sound better than admitting I've watched Step Brothers about ten times in the last month. (I do love Magnolia, though.)
And this decade should totally be the Zeros, man. Like, totally nihilist!
I spent a good deal of this morning's commute looking at that B&R page again and drew some more conclusions. Firstly, I think it's an onboard rocket getting launched from the Batmobile. So that's awesome. Secondly, I realized why this has leapfrogged over All Star Superman from New X-Men to be such an appealing Quitely project. It's the swagger. Superman has no swagger. He walks around, spine straight, the avatar of rightousness and all that is good. It's what makes that cover to #1 so great. He's watching over us.
What I loved about that first New X-Men cover was that even in silhouette, you could see how badass these guys were, just in the posture. That's the sense I'm getting from this Batman art. I realized it's kind of like a director doing a different kind of film with different kinds of roles for their actors. The difference between Turtorro in O Brother Where Art Thou and Barton Fink. Does that make any sense? I like Quitely even more when he's drawing characters with some attitude, because he's so good at capturing it.
DAN: The Zeros! I think we have a winner! But what about the next decade? The Tens?
Step Brothers was a little disappointing, though it might appreciate with time in precisely the way that Talledega Nights hasn't. Anything with the two of them sleepwalking was hilarious though (loved Reilly screaming into a pot!), and they somehow pulled out a surprisingly sweet ending. How do they do that?!
I think you're absolutely right about the attitude thing, and why this excites me more than AS:S did. While I greatly admired that series, I can't honestly say that I loved it as much as a lot of other people did, and I think you've kind of hit on why. It was artfully done, expertly crafted and ultimately rather grand, but also oddly inert. New X-Men really *moved* - and Batman and Robin (and what about that logo?!) has some of that same energy.
And don't talk to me about Turturro! There are two Turtorros as far as I'm concerned - the one I can stand, and the one I can't. In the former camp we've got JT in The Big Lebowski. In the latter camp we've got him in everything else. Remember his horrible, wide-eyed, gurning mug in Transformers? His hammy, shambling turn in Monk? And even O Brother Where Art Thou - which is otherwise brilliant - comes to a grinding halt when he's on screen. Grr!
BEN: But...Barton Fink! Miller's Crossing! Also, I have a very soft spot for O Brother, mostly because I read the script before I saw it and if you read that script, it is the best movie ever made when it's just running in your head. The final execution wasn't as solid, but I still love it probably more than I ought to.
I'd recommend going back to Step Brothers, and checking out the 2 disc DVD. (Do they have DVDs on the island from Lost, or wherever it is you live?) There's this extended version of the Night Goggles scene where they literally just stand there for like six minutes talking about how hard it was growing up with widowed parents. Totally straight, totally heartfelt, totally in full night goggle vision. Amazingly hilarious. One thing I really liked about Reilly and Ferrell in that movie is that they really did build characters out of those two. They weren't just dropping gags right and left. Quite the underrated gem, that one.
But now we're eating into future installments of GTFO aren't we? (Ha! I just got that acronym. I'm cleverer than I thought!) Shall we call it a week?
DAN: Till next time...