Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser #3, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated 1991 (although this scan is from the trade that Dark Horse published in 2006). Enjoy!
Howard Chaykin and Mike Mignola were hired by Marvel in 1990 to adapt some of Fritz Leiber’s “Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser” stories, and so they did. When I got the first issue of this back in 1990, I had no appreciation of Chaykin (if I even knew who he was; I may have already bought the trade of The Shadow mini-series he did by this time) and I knew Mignola from the Gotham by Gaslight book he had done (this was, of course, before Hellboy). I enjoyed the first issue but never got any of the others, for reasons lost in the mists of time. Then Dark Horse printed a trade! Yay, Dark Horse!
Mignola goes with a slightly off-center 4 x 4 grid here, and it works perfectly well (the first panel is nicely mimicked on the second page of this story, when our two heroes are in a tonier section of the city). Mignola establishes the place quickly in the first panel, as he puts the street signs right up front and then makes sure the background matches streets named “Whore” and “Cash.” The ubiquitous scraps of trash floating around add poignancy to the scene, while the plaster over the bricks hints at past glory that is being covered by drab necessity. The buildings in the background are tall and thin, which gives the alley a good medieval feel to it. The characters in the front wear clothing that also fits into the milieu. Mignola also adds a strange language to one of the signs, adding to the foreignness of the scene. In Panel 2 we see our heroes for the first time, and we learn that the big dude is Fafhrd while the smaller dude is the Gray Mouser. Mignola places the sign for Dim Lane high on the wall, next to a word balloon, so we see it before Panel 3, where the Mouser realizes where they are. In Panel 4, they’re once again in shadow, echoing the name of the street, and Mignola gives us a beautiful drawing of the rundown alley before them. Al Williamson inked this, and based on other Mignola work from around this time, I have to believe that the delicacy of the lines is Williamson’s influence, as even then Mignola was starting to work with chunkier lines. In this case, the vines and the bricks of Dim Lane are better rendered with thinner lines, as the city is crumbling, not oppressive. Panel 5 gives us more shadows, but Mignola doesn’t forget details such as Fafhrd’s giant belt buckle and knife on said belt. These patches of carefully drawn items help focus our eye in all the blackness and give us a better idea of the two principals. Mignola doesn’t do a particularly good job of moving our eye from panel to panel, but with the grid like this, it tends to work itself out. Sharilyn van Valkenburgh, who colored this page, mutes everything nicely to add to the general sense of decrepitude. She does this also to contrast it with the next page, where everything is brighter.
Chaykin is adapting a Leiber story, so I don’t know if the dialogue is his or not, but it does show some good contrasts between the two friends. Fafhrd is a giant northerner, and he has no problem with larger women, while the Mouser does. Fafhrd is scornful of the “city boy,” and even if you’ve never read a Leiber story (and I haven’t, unless these comics count), you can still get a general idea about the two of them as stereotypes – Fafhrd the large, northern (“northern” is often code for “white,” which is code for “good,” of course) farm boy and the Mouser, the smaller, southern (“southern” is often linked to the tropics, which is code for “indolent”) city boy (cities, of course, being the bastions of corruption). The comic itself puts the lie to these stereotypes – both men are fairly complex characters – but it’s interesting that Leiber sets up the characters as such. When they wander into Dim Lane, we learn that they have both lost lovers, and that leads to the Mouser implying that they drown in alcohol to forget about their women. Whether Chaykin is simply reproducing dialogue from Lieber or making it up himself, it does tell us quite a bit about the characters in few words.
Chaykin might not have gone on from this to bigger and better things (obviously, he’s still working, but American Flagg! was in the past by now), but Mignola did, and it’s always fun to see his old stuff as compared to his newer stuff. It’s a beautiful book, and this page is just a single example of that.
Next: This become a movie, but you shouldn’t hold that against it! Are there any other comics in the archives that were adapted to film? Only a quick tour will answer that question!