Every day this month, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month I will be doing theme weeks, with each week devoted to a single artist. First up: Bill Sienkiewicz! Today’s page is from The Shadow #6, which was published by DC and is cover dated January 1988. Enjoy!
After doing some beautiful painted work for Marvel, Sienkiewicz went over to DC to pencil the first six-issue arc of yet another attempt to make The Shadow work. Andrew Helfer wrote this, Bob Lappan (whatever happened to Lappan?) lettered it, and Richmond Lewis colored it.
The first thing you might notice about the page is that it’s in “true” first-person, in that we’re seeing things through the eyes of Albert Renn, which sets up the next few pages, because Albert has some … issues. So Sienkiewicz keeps the page layout relatively traditional, mainly because Albert is keeping his head still and people keep moving into his field of vision. Within the panels, of course, we get the experimental Sienkiewicz, but the grid is fairly standard.
Helfer lets us know some of the particulars – Albert has led the police to a “Mister Light’s” place, and from the first two panels, we can figure out that Light is some kind of malevolent Christian/religious figure that was such a popular villain trope in the Jim Bakker 1980s. “Brother Constance” does something horrible to Albert’s eyes, but then, as he’s about to go to work with a hammer and nails, a piece of wood falls on him. Then we see the fire, and Albert goes through an exit. Who are those people in the final panel? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we? Helfer does a good job setting the creepy tone of the book while not giving too much away. Lappan, an underrated letterer (he’s famous, of course, for cramming all of DeMatteis’s words into the “bwah-ha-ha” Justice League comics), makes Albert’s words smaller but keeps the balloons normal-sized, a standard but effective way to imply a quiet voice. It works fine in this scenario.
Sienkiewicz, as usual, is trying some stuff out. Mister Light is just that, a seemingly insubstantial being, all harsh lines that don’t show a face as much as a group of angry parts of a face. The raggedness of the pencil work on the rest of the page is just Sienkiewicz being Sienkiewicz. He still switches things up, with the black smears (presumably paint) showing that Albert is bleeding and the blood is blurring his vision. The jagged lettering in panels 5 and 6 are another Sienkiewicz staple, and they make the fire more menacing – it sounds angry, and a good comic artist knows this.
Because he’s confining himself to an 8-panel grid, Sienkiewicz isn’t able to lead us as much as he might, but he paces the page so that Albert gets to the exit just as we reach the end of the page. Again, this isn’t revolutionary, but it’s still something the artist (and Helfer, depending on the script) had to think about, and the final panel entices us to turn the page even though the visual cues aren’t there. Sometimes you just have to rely on the reader’s curiosity!
So that’s Sienkiewicz doing straight pencils with some nifty tricks. This arc is filled with all sorts of interesting Sienkiewiczian artistry, and while this page doesn’t show them all off, it has some. But next, Sienkiewicz gets really weird. You know it’s coming!
Plus, there are the archives. See where it all began!