CHRISTIE’S PARIS HAS PRETTY COMICS PAGES
There’s a big event in the original art world happening at Christie’s Auction House in Paris next weekend. It’s the kind of auction most of us couldn’t dream of affording, but can’t help but stand in awe of.
It’s the “Bande Dessinee et Illustration” auction, with over 350 lots of original comic art up for bid. The average price is up around 12,000 Euro (roughly $16,500). The lowest item is at 800 Euro ($1100), with the biggest coming in at 150,000 Euro ($207,000) for a page of “Tintin au Tibet” by Herge. That’s not even a final page, by the way. It’s a full page rough. I bet it still goes for more. Even in loose pencils, it’s unmistakably Herge at work.
If that’s too rich for your blood, there are other pages from the beloved Belgian cartoonist at more reasonable prices that include one less zero.
The breadth of this collection is what will make your jaw drop. Start by naming any famous European BD creators you can. They’re probably in this catalog: Moebius, Schuiten, Peyo (not a Smurfs page), Tardi, Toppi, Uderzo, Morris, Chaland, Manara, Bernet, Francq, Pratt, Vance and the list goes on and on. So as not to confine the potential audience for the auction, they brought in pages from America, too. There’s a Mike Mignola “B.P.R.D.” cover in there. A Jack Kirby “Fantastic Four” page makes the cut. Bernie Wrightson’s “Swamp Thing” gets a page. The complete “Spirit” story from Will Eisner, “Back to School”, has an estimated price of 40,000 – 45,000 Euro ($55,000 – $62,000).
The whole thing is put together by an art gallery in Paris that specializes in comics art. It’s the Galerie Daniel Maghen, which boasts of a collection in the thousands of pages from hundreds of artists. I can’t think of a single gallery or museum I’d like to visit more than that one now. They rotate out the gallery on display every three weeks or so. You can see the schedule on their web page. Looks like this auction has taken most of their attention this year. The show of these pages took all of February, and there’s no update yet for the next one. Past shows featured artists you may know like Ashley Wood, Milo Minara, Sergio Toppi, Eric Canete (with “Orbital”‘s Serge Pelle!) and Ben Templesmith.
The art for this auction has been travelling through Europe this year, with showings in Brussels and London already. By the time this column sees print, you’ll need to be in Christie’s Paris Atrium to see it, where the entire collection will be available to view. The auction is scheduled for next Saturday, April 5th.
Even if you have no interest in buying anything, the catalog is essential viewing just for the breadth and scope of art contained in it. If you’ve never read a Franco-Belgian album before and are wondering what you might see in one, this is the best cross-section ever. Go here to download the PDF or view it on-line. It’s a lot of work to go through the whole thing. Take your time, soak it all up, do it in more than one sitting. I’ve glanced at it every night for the last week and I still don’t think I’ve seen everything yet.
The print edition of the catalog just came in and isn’t on the website yet. I’ll let you know when that goes live, if you are interested.
Perhaps needless to say, but I’ll mention it anyway: there are some pages with images not necessarily appropriate for the little ones. If that is the kind of thing you don’t want to see, don’t bother with the catalog.
Some random highlights:
- Page 226: The biggest item in the collection, Herge’s “TinTin” rough.
- Page 240: Albert Uderzo “Asterix” page (estimates in the $140,000 area) and cover (for a bit more).
- Pages 294-295: Francois Schuiten gets two pages, including one from “Fever In Urbicand” book Fantagraphics once published.
- Page 64: William Vance art from “XIII”
- Page 88: “Largo Winch” pages by Philippe Francq
- Pages 132-133: Serge Pelle pages from “Orbital”. These are full color pages, magnificently detailed.
- Page 166: Smurfs creator Peyo gets a multi-page sequence for a single page from “Johan and Peewee.”
- Page 281: A “Blacksad” page by Juanjo Guarnido
I’ll be back with a report on the final selling prices for some of these pieces in a couple of weeks, I’m sure. If you want to follow along at home, though, start with that catalog. Take a look at the art and see what interests you. I know I picked up a couple of new artists whose work I want to follow. Thankfully, Cinebooks publishes one of those particular series.
(Thanks to Jamie T. and Joe Keatinge for alerting me to the show and making introductions…)
THE FINE ART OF OVERLAPPING
Remember Commander Mark? If you’re roughly my age, you might remember him as the guy on PBS who taught us in the ’80s, as kids, how to draw. I learned more from him about drawing than any other art class I ever took or book I read. He had a series of vocabulary words that taught you the basics of drawing. Included in that list was foreshortening, repetition and perspective.
Another key art word was overlap.
That came to mind last week while I was drawing my latest Smurfy thing. I haven’t mentioned it here yet, but I’m working on a drawing for each issue of The McSpidey Chronicles. It will usually be the cover, but not always. It depends on what I find interesting to draw that week. With last week’s “Amazing Spider-Man” #299, I did go with the cover. There’s a lot going on in that one page. Here’s the side by side:
Yes, I bailed on drawing all the people along the bottom of the page. I’m an imperfect human being, so please forgive me. But look at what’s going on above that. Spider-Man is swinging in front of Chance. How do we know that? It’s not because the two of them overlap. They don’t. They occupy completely different space. But check out Todd McFarlane’s secret weapon: The webbing. Yes, you see it and you recognize how much of it spews forth on every page and how it has all those rings circling around it. But it served a second purpose you might not have noticed: It added dimension to the drawing by how it overlapped other things.
In this cover’s case, it overlaps Chance’s body right across the middle, but also at the right wrist and the left hand’s beams of energy.
Those energy beams show up in front of the Smurfs down below, meaning he’s firing in front of them. That pushes the Smurfs’ back on the cover, with the possible exception of the one guy in the bottom right corner who’s so close to the reader that we can only see the front part of his face. This is, in part, a mistake on the cover I should have drawn better. At least one Smurf should have been visibly in front of the energy beam and overlapping it. That would have made the lower third much more dimensional.
One other trick to add depth here: I’m not as consistent with it as I should be yet, but Spider-Smurf’s webbing gets slightly wider as it comes closer to the reader. That web that shoots up and out towards the upper left corner of the pages gets a little bigger as it stretches up, giving it the appearance of a coming out at you. That’s an old perspective trick — check out the behind-the-scenes features on the “Lord of the Rings” movies for serious lessons there — but it works on this smaller scale.
Check out McFarlane’s cover for “Amazing Spider-Man” #300 and #301. That leading hand is shooting webbing out towards the reader. It gets much bigger as it nears the edge of the page. The stuff in his back hand is less wide and perhaps even a bit sparser to help make it look less distinct, like something further away from you would. It’s also one of the rules of inking that thicker lines stick out and thinner lines recede. Draw more detail close up, and less far away.
It’s the little things that add up to added dimensionality on the page. In this case, it’s in the way things overlap.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #300: “Venom”
It’s the debut of Venom! Mary Jane and Peter move into the upscale Bedford Towers for a few issues and the red and blue costume returns.
The local Waldenbooks (kids, ask your parents) had a spinner rack of comics when I was a teenager, just getting into comics. I remember it vividly. Amongst the comics it held, there was a trade paperback collecting a few issues of Todd McFarlane’s run on “Amazing Spider-Man.” Specifically, these were the Venom issues. I convinced my mother to buy it for me one time — a birthday present? Good report card present? I don’t remember — just because I had gotten into the series and McFarlane’s Spider-Man without realizing that everyone else loved it, too, and back issues were scarce/expensive. That trade paperback, though, filled in a few early gaps. I pored over that book repeatedly, soaking it all in. There was some beautiful McFarlane art in there, all right. We’ll be getting to the rest of those issues as the McSpidey Chronicles continues, but this week we’re up to the first complete issue featured in that trade paperback.
To me, this is where it feels like Todd McFarlane’s run really began. It ends on Spider-Man throwing away the black and white costume and returning to the red-and-blues, but it’s more McFarlane inking himself that sold the issue. Even with it being a double-sized anniversary issue, McFarlane’s inks wouldn’t look as good on the book for months as it did in this issue. In trying to prove to editor Jim Salicrup that he could handle his own inks, he outdid himself.
McFarlane’s ink line is vastly more stylistic than Bob McLeod’s. McFarlane didn’t try to simplify anything here. He used lots of smaller thinner lines to finish the art off, with lots of crosshatching and ink splattering to indicate background shadows, face wrinkles, and five o’clock shadows. McFarlane’s famous Michael Golden-inspired Spidey webbing took its final form here. McLeod’s inks were looser, more suggestive and vague compared to the length McFarlane goes to in just this issue to show defintely strands of webbing wrapping around a core with random fly-aways providing a break from the potential monotony of circles around the webs.
At a time in comics pre-Photoshop, McFarlane’s excess in lines were often used to indicate the outlines of shadowy or highlighted areas. Colorist Bob Sharen does a good job in this issue keeping up with that. The seemingly-stray lines on Mary Jane’s boots on the opening splash panel get converted into shadows with a darker color tone than elsewhere on those boots. The same goes for the folds in her jacket and the texture on the back wall. With a limited palette available to him, Sharen did as much as he could.
The effect in the Omnibus edition is far stronger than in this scan from the original comic. For starters, the coloring has been “fixed” so everything stays inside the lines, like with the darker blue areas of Mary Jane’s tights. But the contrast between the green shadows and the yellow floor is far more pronounced on glossy paper. Overall, there’s a more plastic feel to it. It feels cleaner, but I can’t help think that it looks a little fake. The newsprint look is what I’ll always remember, but I don’t blame Marvel for cleaning this up for the reprints, nor am I disappointed in it. It’s just different. And every medium should have its own set of rules. Those that control a glossy Omnibus are different from those that restrained the cheap newsprint of the day in 1988.
Some of the design elements are the same in this issue as in the past couple. Venom’s origin story is told with flashback panels over a large figure shot of Venom/Eddie Brock as he explains himself. McFarlane learned his lesson from the sizing mistake he made in the last issue in this department. These flashbacks work better, while providing nice anchor images on the page. This flashback technique has always been a McFarlane trademark, even going back to his “Infinity Inc.” work. As I mentioned last week, it was a different time in comics. Those flashbacks were more necessary and artists drew a lot more of them. McFarlane had plenty of practice.
Most notably, this is the issue that gave us Venom’s first serious outing. As a first draft the character, he’s pretty well fleshed out. Michelinie lays it all out on the page here, with a complete origin story, a reason for Venom to hate Spider-Man and know Peter Parker’s secret double life, and the perfect way to go about confronting him. Visually, Venom’s head is a little goofy looking. It wasn’t until Venom’s return that McFarlane upgraded him to look a little more monstrous and demonic in the face. Here, he just looks like a cartoon character in the facial features. The mouth hasn’t given way to its large scale pointy teeth. The jaw line isn’t outrgeously jutting out from below his upper bicuspid. The visual of Venom’s black inkiness oozing over Eddie Brock is strong and creepy, though.
He looks a lot like a muscular and angry black costume Spider-Man. Imagine Spider-Man bulked up like a weightlifter, instead of his more traditional scrawny form, where agility and litheness compensate. It would be as if he didn’t have the proportionate strength of a spider, and so makes up for it with obsesive weight lifting.
The book ends with Spider-Man ditching his black costume to return to his red and blue togs. This is in deference to Mary Jane’s wishes, who was briefly terrorized by Venom at the beginning of the issue, when she came home to him waiting in the shadows for Peter. The classic costume is something McFarlane took an issue or two to warm up to, but it’s fun to watch him working it out on the page. We’ll discuss more about that next week.
Boom Chikka Pow Wow: Mary Jane tries to cheer up Peter by talking him into a career in fashion photography. He hesitates. So she takes her shirt off. The caption box says, “Slowly, Peter’s spirits begin to rise.” I bet that wasn’t the only thing…
That’s So ’80s: Peter Parker uses a telephone booth to call the doorman of his building to leave his wife a message. Kids today must have no idea what life was like without always-on communications in our pockets and purses. Also in the issue, we see Mary Jane’s tape-based Sony answering machine. There was life before voice mail? Yes, and you had to wait for it to rewind to your first message.
Smurfy Side Joke: When I draw Venom, do I have to color him purple?
Next week: Silver Sable! McFarlane draws more generic military guys in cool outfits! No Peter/Mary Jane newlywed shennanigans! And did I mention Silver Sable yet?
AN HONOR JUST TO BE NOMINATED, THOUGH I WON’T BE EVEN THAT
I am, of course, eligible for your Hugo Awards nomination in the category of “Best Fan Writer.” I promise that when I’m not nominated, I’ll not tweet my acceptance speech to Jonathan Ross, who is not hosting. Thanks to all the Hugo voters for your consideration.