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Pipeline, Issue #387

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Pipeline, Issue #387

TIM SALE: BLACK AND WHITE

From the minds behind Comicraft lettering comes a new art book featuring the works of Tim Sale. Covering his artwork from the earliest independent days right up to his latest Marvel works, TIM SALE: BLACK AND WHITE features a book-length interview with the artist conducted by Richard Starkings. While the presentation isn’t flawless, the material provides great insight into the artist’s work and thought processes. Combined with plenty of beautiful art, the book takes a welcome spot on my bookshelves.

Reading the book gave me a new perspective on Sale as an artist, and his work as a whole. Sale’s best work comes when he’s free to be more open with the art and design. He fancies himself more of a natural illustrator than a storyteller. Looking at his artwork today, I can see more of that design sense, and the wondrous perspectives and sense of depth he conveys with his art. To look at his books as a series of three-panel-per-page cheats is to completely miss the point and undervalue the artist.

Tim Sale knows, perhaps more than any other currently working superhero artist today, how to use negative space. You don’t need a character to be in your face all the time. You can pull the camera back and surround the object of the eye’s focus with a well-placed building or foreground image. That will focus the eye without being so garish on the page.

The book is entirely in black and white, which helps convey this feeling, particularly in art that was never meant to be colored and, thus, needed to establish space and dimension on its own.

The interview is structured to go project by project, from Sale’s first big break to his recent “color” books at Marvel. Along the way, Sale has little sidebar appreciations for the likes of Alex Toth, Barry Windsor-Smith, and the Buscema School. It’s more than just a discussion of craft, though, as Sale goes into detail on how he broke into the industry, how certain projects were put together, and some of the conflicts he’s had with editors and writers. He’s polite and understanding about the whole thing, but he’s not afraid to be honest and admit where he thinks things went wrong.

If there’s any failing of the material present in the book, it’s that it sometimes feels disjointed and obviously rearranged. Things that should be explained earlier in the book are left till chapters later. It’s almost assumed at some points that you both know a history of 1970s comics and the career path of Sale before you start reading this. If you don’t, you might be lost occasionally.

Still, the friendly tone of the interview between Starkings and Sale is convivial, with a good sense of humor showing through at times. This is a celebration of Sale’s art, not a serious and moody art critique. They do, however, get into the DEATHBLOW Frank Miller blowup, problems with an early disconnection with the Marvel work, as well as the editorial issues surrounding the early designs of SUPERMAN FOR ALL SEASONS and more. If anything, I was pleasantly surprised by how much not-overwhelmingly-positive material made it into the book. Sale is honest, no doubt feeling free to open up to his friend and interviewer.

Artwork is liberally sprinkled throughout the book, often pages at a time. Much of it is earlier work from Sale that even a dedicated fan of his recent work probably has never seen. Lots of commissions pop up throughout the book. There are cover layout sketches and pages Sale drew for friends and family as birthday presents. Check out page 99 for a page he drew for Steven Seagle that Jeph Loeb scripted to poke fun of both of them for selling out.

The book has a couple of design problems. First, the entire interview is presented in some Comicraft font. It is sans serif, which doesn’t help guide your eye. Each chapter starts with a page of white-on-black text, and the text often wraps around graphics in odd nearly-circular formations. The biggest problem is that there are a couple of cases where text is dropped all together or bleeds into the image. The “Challengers of the Unknown” chapter ends mid-sentence, for example.

Some odd comma usages pop up here and there, and there’s a few typos or misspellings scattered throughout. One more proofreader for the book would have been recommended. These aren’t deal-breakers, but they will leave you scratching your head momentarily.

The paper stock is glossy and sturdy, holding the often detailed black and white pen work without blurring a thing. The cover is even black and white, making for a distinctive item on the book shelf. (Sale does great work with gray washes, something I wish he’d use more.) The whole book is 160 pages, including a gallery in the back and three short stories, with just about 130 pages of art and interview before that.

Available in hardcover only from Active Images, TIM SALE: BLACK AND WHITE will run you $25.

One final off-topic note: Jeph Loeb’s introduction is almost worth the book’s price on its own, for the picture of him and Sale in 1988. Loeb’s long hair is quite the eye catcher.

QUICK REVIEWS

JUBILEE #3 became an after school special too quickly and too easily for my tastes. There’s still enough in the book to enjoy, but this issue felt far too contrived and clumsy to be believable.

I live in a Blue State, but didn’t vote that way. That means Ed Brubaker’s new AUTHORITY series is not for me. This really worries me for his CAPTAIN AMERICA run. I want to pick that one up for Steve Epting’s tremendous art, but if this is the kind of story we’re getting there, too, I don’t want to waste my time with it.

JLA: CLASSIFIED #1 is likewise not for me. I didn’t read most of Morrison’s original run on the book, so I don’t know who these Ultramarines are or what the heck they’re doing. There’s no attempt to explain it to new readers, besides throwing cryptic word balloon after cryptic word balloon at the audience. It’s a shame because there are a couple of cool ideas in the second half of the book that would make for a great story. Unfortunately, I had already given up on the book by the time I got to the part that served any entertainment.

AVENGERS #503 contains the big shocking revelation that everyone on the ‘net and everyone who reads WIZARD knew about a week before publication date. The oddest thing for me about this issue — as well as the last — is that Bendis gathers dozens of characters to do just about nothing.

If this book had been published a few years ago, you’d have plenty of footnotes to point out which issues of WEST COAST AVENGERS this story refers back to. I’m surprised Marvel hasn’t repackaged those issues into a tie-in trade paperback for this event. They’re still printing John Byrne’s FANTASTIC FOUR work, so you can’t blame it on any anti-Byrne conspiracies.

ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #68 brings Peter and Mary Jane back to school to be surrounded by their friends and “foes” there. It’s a fun issue, complete with Johnny Storm added to the cast to mix things up. If you like the quieter issues of high school angst, then you’ll enjoy this one. The most violent this issue gets is someone tripping Peter in the hallway. It’s a solid issue of dialogue moving the characters along. Best of all, it’s believable. Bendis didn’t have to go off-character with anyone to force this story into these pages.

I’m still getting used to Scott Hanna’s inks on Mark Bagley. It’s a different look from Art Thibert’s inks, mostly in the way the lines appear more solid and less sketchy. In some minor ways, it feels more retro. Some of the difference might be in J.D. Smith’s coloring, which at times sculpts the faces more harshly than the linework might suggest.

ASTONISHING X-MEN #6 is a beautiful looking issue. It’s all the little character moments that sell the book. Joss Whedon does an amazing job with those. Somehow, though, the issue felt like a letdown after the excitement of the first five issues. I think all six issues will need to be read as a piece to get the pacing of the storyline. I’ll have to do that soon.

THE INTIMATES #1 is more than I need. It’s obviously not aimed at me. All the text on the bottom of each page just drives me batty. It may be what all the kids love these days, but it doesn’t work for me. At the very least, the white text on a yellow background is impossible to read. It also throws off the rhythm of the story. To have to stop at the end of every page or two to read through background information or clever little PSA tips is more annoying than entertaining.

In nit-pick territory, the square word balloons made me think everyone was a robot for the first couple of pages.

I applaud Joe Casey and Jim Lee and Giuseppe Camuncoli for trying something different, but I’m not sure this is the solution. Packing more information on a page to make for a longer and more enjoyable read is one thing. (See any UNCLE SCROOGE comic book.) Packing nearly irrelevant in-jokes, background gags, and character biographies onto the bottom margins just looks like more for the sake of more.

MARVEL GETS COLLECTION MANIA IN 2005

Marvel has so many series that it becomes far too easy to confuse them all. That’s what happened last week when I confused the LOKI mini-series with THOR: SON OF ASGARD. The LOKI that’s being collected is, indeed, the four issue mini. It is complete in one volume. Sorry for any confusion.

This past week, Marvel released a provisional publishing schedule for its 2005 collections through May. There is a lot to look forward to, and a lot of personal buying habits to rearrange.

If you’re a hardcover junkie like I am, you’ll have a fourth such collection of ULTIMATE X-MEN and a second FANTASTIC FOUR collecting the Waid/Wieringo era in February. AVENGERS ASSEMBLE collects a second batch of the Busiek/Perez-era series, and SUPREME POWER’s first 12 issues are under one cover in March. April brings us a BEST OF THE FANTASTIC FOUR hardcover, with stories from all the major eras of the series. Consider it your gift suggestion for when the movie hits the theaters. It has a nice selection of stories spanning all eras. There are also new MARVEL MASTERWORKS volumes, as well as STAN LEE and STEVE DITKO special editions, but I can’t get too excited about those. Call it a personal failing if you must.

If you waited for collected editions of POWERLESS, ULTIMATE ELEKTRA, MARVEL KNIGHTS 2099, ELEKTRA: THE HAND, AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED, or DISTRICT X, your wishes are granted in January.

If you waited for the trades on HULK & THING: HARD KNOCKS, ROGUE, NEW MUTANTS, SABRETOOTH, WHAT IF…?, or X-MEN: THE END, then congratulations to you. Your wait will end in February.

If you waited for GAMBIT, MADROX, NEW INVADERS, SUPREME POWER, SPIDER-MAN/DOCTOR OCTOPUS: YEAR ONE, or ULTIMATE NIGHTMARE to be collected, you’ll be pleased as punch in March.

If you’re being patient with ALPHA FLIGHT, BLACK WIDOW, BULLSEYE, CABLE/DEADPOOL, CAPTAIN AMERICA & THE FALCON, DOCTOR SPECTRUM, NIGHTCRAWLER, SPIDER-MAN: INDIA, or THOR: SON OF ASGARD, you’ll be spending all that money in April.

And in May, you’ll be spending it on HULK: GRAY, NEW AVENGERS, NEW THUNDERBOLTS, MARVEL TEAM-UP, and ULTIMATE SECRET.

This list is far from complete. I leaned heavily towards the mini-series, but you can see some of the on-going series that are coming out in trade hot on their own heels. NEW AVENGERS #1 hasn’t shipped yet, but you’ll see that trade in May.

The lesson to be learned from this is obvious. You don’t have to buy too many Marvel 32-page comics anymore. They want to sell you books with spines. I know my pull list is shrinking because of this in January. I don’t want to buy anything twice, and I’d rather read it all at once than in little bunches.

I’ll leave it to the retailing wonks to discuss whether this is good or bad for the industry as regards bookstores, comic shops, and more.

For a different perspective on the “Pamphlets versus Trades” argument, check out TIM SALE: BLACK AND WHITE. In there, Sale says, “I can’t look at the individual issues because I hate the ads — comic art and production has gotten more sophisticated but so have the ads. It’s competitive. It’s hard to tell what’s an ad and what’s a page of artwork. I absolutely think as a reader and as a creator the viability of the trades is great.”

There’s always another angle to everything.

TWO MORE THINGS

1. Now that the ducks are lining up and the author of Marvel’s upcoming book, COMBAT ZONE: TRUE TALES FROM GI’S IN IRAQ, is being “outed” as a neo-con, I know I want to read it. Anything which is the subject of this much speculation and guilt-by-inference by the left piques my interest right away. I may just order multiple copies now.

2. Artist of the Week: KatieCanDraw.com is the website for one Katie Cook. Her portfolio page is a delight to flip through, particularly if you’re looking for something cute. This isn’t quite in blog form, although she has one of those, also. That’s why it’s “Artist of the Week” instead of “Sketchblog of the Week.”

Here is a SPIDER-MAN 2 homage, and here are sketches from WizardWorld: Chicago. Lots of fun stuff, including more traditional art stylings, can be found with a quick look through the site. The wildlife sketches are nifty, too.

Pipeline Commentary and Review returns next Tuesday with more reviews, and whatever else inspires me in the coming week.

Over at Various and Sundry this week: How does EXTREME MAKEOVER: HOMES EDITION pay the taxes? DOOM 3 announced for the Mac. The new LOONEY TUNES DVD set is a thing of pure beauty. BitTorrent sucks up a lot of bandwidth. Ashlee Simpson acts like a Hampster and dances. And more. Oh, so much more. There are a lot of interesting CDs and DVDs out today.

Cleaning up after the election, analyzing the results to death, and inflaming more closeted politicos is VandS Politics.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

More than 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are also still available at the Original Pipeline page.

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