Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Mike Mignola, and the story is “A Fable” from Marvel Fanfare #16, which was published by Marvel and has a cover date of September 1984. These scans are from Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment (which has other stories included, obviously), my copy of which was published in 2013 by Marvel. Enjoy!
Mike Mignola was probably 23 when he drew this, and it’s fascinating looking at how different his style was back in those days and how you can still see some of the touches of his later artwork. This is a very early example of his stuff, but I’m not sure if it’s the first interior artwork he did. If not, it’s pretty close.
Let’s check out the splash page:
If we get past Namor’s super-muscled physique (which is just how Mignola drew him back then), this is a marvelously-designed page. We get the stylized title plate, with the crowned skull in the center and the eerie mermaids on either side. We can see Mignola’s interest in weird creatures (which we’ll see later in this story) and even his sly sense of humor, as the skull in the center wears the crown at a jaunty angle. The moon is nicely juxtaposed with the black, roiling clouds, and Mignola’s heavy inks dominate the page, giving Namor a sinister mien. This is also a fairly baroque page, which is another theme Mignola would show he really digs in later years.
This page is typical of a young artist, as Mignola indulges in some flourishes that don’t really interfere with the storytelling but are also somewhat showy. The smaller inset panels of Namor glowering are a bit much, even if Mignola uses them to link the horse to Namor by making their eyes appear to meet across the larger panels in between them. We get a better sense of Mignola’s cartooning on this page, as it took him a while to evolve away from the rounded faces of the sailors in Panel 3 to the more hard-edged people he draws these days. He does a nice job getting a lot onto the page, and give us a good sense of the roiling sea and the upset horse, linking the swells to the horse rearing up, which, as we’ll see, is probably deliberate. Namor’s eyebrows are a bit silly, but he’s Namor, after all. Ben Sean’s coloring of this page, with the judicious use of reds, is well done, and we already see that Mignola uses inks very well, as the evil sailors have hooded eyes and the horse is drenched in black so that its red eyes stand out better.
The horse ends up in the ocean, and the sailors end up drowning (unsurprisingly), but Namor is too weak to assist the horse and fears it will drown. So he prays to Neptune, as we see here. I’ll ignore Mantlo’s purple prose here – I just happen to like the way Mignola shows the white caps of the waves and the clouds. Horses as white caps isn’t new – it goes back at least to Tolkien – but it’s still pretty cool, and Mignola contrasts it well with the dark clouds thundering in on the right, with their flaming manes and empty eyes. I’m a bit confused – is that supposed to be sunlight? Because up on top, it looks like lightning. I suppose I shouldn’t apply logic to such a metal drawing. Mignola and Sean do a nice job making the horse’s eye sad in Panel 2, as well. Oh, and Namor refers to himself in the third person, which I love because you’re only allowed to do it if you’re A) a super-villain; B) a sports star; C) a total douchebag, or D) all or some of the above. That’s Namor!
After Namor prays to Neptune, Neptune shows up (because it’s a comic book, so gods show up all the time). These are the final two pages of this story – you can see that Neptune messes with Namor briefly, making him believe he’s going to die, before Namor recovers and sees that Neptune has turned the horse into a seahorse, which goes back to the link between the waves and the bucking horse I noted before (I don’t know if Mignola was thinking about that when he drew this, but let’s just assume he was). Both drawings of Neptune are very cool – on the first page, Neptune looks incredibly imposing, and while he’s praising Namor, he’s also not looking at him, which makes Namor’s belief that maybe Neptune will let him die a bit more tenable. Notice in Panel 1 of the first page how Mignola almost blends the horse with the water, again linking the two before the horse is transformed, and Panel 3, if we ignore the weird emaciated look on Namor, gives us a tremendous partial view of the horse as it goes down, again reinforcing Namor’s fears about Neptune ignoring him. On the second page, Neptune looks far more benevolent as he sends Namor out into the world, and Mignola even allows Namor to smile as he gets on the seahorse to swim away. I mean, Namor smiling is just disturbing, if you ask me. Mignola shows us a few things that will become more and more part of his art. First, that seahorse is downright spooky – it looks skeletal, and it has all those weird bristles on its head and around its eyes. You can certainly imagine Mignola drawing something like that in his horror comics, even if the style would be slightly different. Meanwhile, in the final panel, we see in the lower left-hand corner the sand and the skull, which suggests a great deal while still only using a few lines. Mignola would move away from this cartoony style and more to a “simple” line over the next decade, and it’s interesting that even in this early work, he was doing a little of that.
So that’s some early Mignola. Tomorrow, we’ll check out some more early Mignola, but this will feature a character who has recently become somewhat inexplicably popular. You know what it is! If you don’t, you won’t find him in the archives!