Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Chris Burnham, and the issue is Elephantmen #16, which was published by Image and is cover dated February 2009. Enjoy!
Richard Starkings always finds good artists to draw Elephantmen, so it wasn’t too big a surprise that he tapped Burnham to draw an issue. I’m not going to show too much of this issue, but I will show some something interesting about it!
In this sequence, we can see that Burnham is still using his harder lines with a lot of details, as he uses hatching to create a hard skin for the alligator and the tough inside of his mouth. He also inks the Silencer’s face (that’s the dude) pretty heavily, giving him a tough, scraggly look, which is the point. Burnham still has that cartoony style, which allows him to draw the rather goofy expression on the woman’s face in Panel 2, as the gator’s head lolls back. I’m not quite sure what’s going on with that woman’s breast – it’s very odd. Tatto Caballero colors this, and his orange sheen is a good choice, as the characters are in a bar, where the lighting isn’t great, but we can still see everyone. Bars tend to elicit a nostalgic feel, and orange is a good choice for that sentiment, too. Caballero uses shading well, too, adding some darkness to the beer that the gator is consuming and some flecks of white to his green skin in Panel 2, which makes the green stand out a bit better. It’s a nice choice.
Burnham’s attention to detail serves him well in Elephantmen, as Starkings and Ladrönn came up with such a fully realized futuristic world for the series, and the other artists fill in the blanks. Burnham might be the closest in style to Ladrönn in terms of adding a gritty feel to Los Angeles in the 23rd century, as we can see here, with the detailed chain link fence in Panel 1 (especially the way it’s bent back to allow the Silencer to get through) and the alley in Panel 3, with its twisted pipes and cobblestone and mysterious spots of decay and dirt. Burnham gets the anguish of the Silencer in Panel 2 as the tusk rips through him, and once again, his precise inking helps make the scene more visceral. Both characters look tough, which makes the Silencer’s cry of pain more effective.
About halfway through the book, Burnham changes his style pretty radically. I asked him about it, and he said he wanted the flashback to have a distinctly different feel than the present-day stuff, and he used different tools to ink it. He wasn’t positive, so I won’t quote him, but I will note that whatever he did, it was very effective. Back in the olden days, when I reviewed this, I was surprised to see this shift, because it has such an Igor Kordey vibe to it, and I was amazed that Burnham could shift like that just by inking it slightly differently. This is why artists are awesome, and why it’s always nice to read stuff where reviewers talk about inking and coloring, because they have such an influence on the finished product. Burnham’s distinctive line work is here, as we see in Panel 1 when the Silencer kisses Destiny or in Panel 4 when she kisses his mangled body, but because Burnham is using a different kind of pen/brush, it looks very different. It’s obviously softer, lusher (even though this is a sex scene and therefore that might be logical, we’ll see below that Burnham does it throughout), and more romantic (again, even though this is a sex scene, that’s true for the entire sequence in this style). The characters’ eyebrows and the Silencer’s mustache are not as hard-edged as his usual style, and Burnham doesn’t use quite as much hatching on Destiny’s hands in Panels 3 and 4, making them a bit softer. In the background in Panel 2, Burnham uses thicker blacks, which, as we’ve seen quite often this year, helps make scenery more luxurious. Caballero contributes, too, as he shades things a bit more than we saw above, with pinks gradually blending into whites (well, lighter pinks, but closer to white), making the entire scene more muted, helping add to the softness of the artwork. It’s a beautiful shift, and it’s cool that Burnham was able to pull it off.
This is more like Burnham, but still in the “flashback” style, meaning that while he uses more hatching on the Silencer’s hand in Panel 1 and the dude’s face in Panel 3, the thicker brushwork still softens the art rather well. We see that too in Panel 2, when Burnham uses the muzzle flash of the scene to light it, so that the Silencer’s back is cloaked in thick blacks. Burnham uses black very well in the final panel, as most of the scene is black, with some furniture in the middle distance rimmed with white that is struggling to get through the Venetian blinds. Destiny is also shadowed, which highlights her … assets a bit but also robs her of her advantage over the Silencer – she was going to kill him, and Burnham generally placed her in the center of the light while the characters around her were darker, but now the tables are turning. Obviously, the double murder and the breaking bottle form a nice tableau, with the Silencer and Destiny framing the scene as the tide shifts suddenly from her to him. It’s a cool layout. Once again, Caballero does some nice work, with the muted brown of the suits and the bourbon allowing the red of the blood to stand out. As we saw above, Caballero uses dull red, pink, and white ink on Destiny’s dress to mute her, too, which fits with the femme fatale role she’s chosen to play. More nice coloring here.
Burnham didn’t necessarily evolve too much with his basic pencil work on this issue (well, he may have, but it’s not too obvious), but it’s clear he was trying new stuff with inking, and it’s pretty keen. Come back tomorrow and see another of his early works, or, of course, spend some time in the archives!