Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Old Glories

While digging around the disaster that is my office, I recently found some of my early work for Marvel. This 8-page story featuring Captain America appeared in the Marvel Comics Presents anthology, back in 1990. It's one of the first published comic book stories I ever drew, when I was but a wee lad!

The story was written by Len Wein, pencilled by Yours Truly, inked by Gerry Talaoc, lettered by Janice Chiang. I colored the story, as well. Obviously, this was from the pre-digital era, hence the hand-painted photocopies with the mysterious codes written all over. Definitely old school.

Naturally, a big part of me is horrified to look at my old artwork, and I fully admit that I am reluctant to share it in a public forum. Especially here where I have my current portfolio galleries; I wouldn't want prospective clients to think these are examples of my recent work!

Still, looking at these color guides after all these years, I can't help but be fascinated and amused by them. It's like an archeological dig into the depths of my own career and artistic education. These pages are drawn in a classic storytelling style that completely went out the window, right about the time this comic was published. No splashy "pin-up" panels or "decompressed storytelling" here. None of the action is drawn out or cinematic; cause and effect all happens within each single panel. Entire conversations elapse in the time it takes for Cap to throw his shield.

It's interesting to look at these pages through the lens of today's visual storytelling sensibilities. Those conventions that I used back then were the norm, built on decades of tradition. The classic text, How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way was the Bible. I was just a kid at the time, so I don't think I ever intellectualized it, but I learned to tell a story this way.

And then, I suppose I "unlearned" it. Or, I built upon those lessons with a more modern sensibility, having the same influences as my contemporaries who were coming into their own at the same time (Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Mike Mignola, etc.), and, in turn, being influenced by them, as well. I've often wished that I'd spent more of that time honing my drawing skills, rather that taking a detour into comic book coloring.

People say that modern audiences are more sophisticated. I'd agree, as a gross generalization! But looking back at this particular work, I have to admit that I miss the simplicity inherent in these old stories. They were designed to be a jumping-on point for any reader, sophisticated or not. The problem with my generation of comic book creators is that we were overly-fascinated and influenced by the game-changing "Mature" superhero books of the time (Dark Knight, Watchmen, Elektra, Etc.) With every new knock-off, narratives became more convoluted and storytelling more obtuse.

Looking at these old pages, I must admit that the art is pretty weak, but at least it's clear.

Ahhhh, I must be getting old!

In other news: this week is Comic-Con! What better way is there to make me feel like a kid again?! The crowds alone are enough to make one feel small as a toddler! Seriously, though, The crowds are pretty unbearable these days, but I'm really looking forward to making the rounds and being inspired by the fantastic work that the "kids" are producing today.

That, and I can't wait to see the new Captain America movie! I think the trailers are awesome!

I'll see you in San Diego!