Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Adam Hughes, and the issue is The Maze Agency #3, which was published by Comico and is cover dated February 1989. Enjoy!
Mike Barr was lucky enough to find Hughes before he became a superstar, and Hughes ended up drawing a handful of issues of Barr’s wonderful detective comic, The Maze Agency. He was teamed with Rick Magyar for most of the issues (all but one, actually), and you can see his work make leaps and bounds in the year or so that he worked on the book. I wanted to show an early issue, because toward the end of his run, he moved over to a certain DC comic, and I’ll get to that level of development tomorrow! So let’s look at an early issue, which is still amazing-looking.
The Maze Agency wasn’t always the best place for artists to cut loose, because Barr wrote text-heavy scripts, mainly because every issue was a “one-and-done” mystery, so he had a lot to get in each one. But the book needed an artist who could do faces really well, and in that regard, Hughes was excellent on the book, as his fluid style worked for Barr’s nuanced scripts (other artists on the book were less successful, but to varying degrees). The rage that Caldwell and his mother show is palpable – Caldwell sneers at her in Panel 4, his mother shouts back at him, he becomes smug in Panel 6 as he accuses her of theft, and then his mother drops a horrible bombshell, and Hughes draws her with thin eyes and a wide, ugly mouth. Her hand curls into an inhuman claw, and in the background Jen reacts to this terrible statement quite well. Magyar’s inking certainly helps, although I imagine the spot blacks on Caldwell’s mother in Panel 4 are Hughes’s contribution, and it’s a nice touch. The hatching on both the characters’ faces makes them look more gaunt and horrific than they are, which lends the argument even more ugliness. It’s nicely done.
One of the joys of The Maze Agency is the romance between Gabe and Jen, and Hughes did a lot to help that along in the early issues, as their playful flirting was well written and superbly drawn. Jen’s hair is a bit 1980s – especially in profile, when her bangs look like a cockscomb – but that’s okay. The layout of the page is smart, as Hughes uses the drawing of Gabe on the top right as the end of two different rows – Jen’s dialogue in Panel 1 leads to the top word balloon, and then Jen’s declaration that she wasn’t serious leads to the lower one. Hughes, however, kills on the interplay between the two. Gabe is trying to be tender in Panel 1, and Jen responds coyly, and when Gabe takes it seriously, she’s forced to roll her eyes at him and tilt her head in the universal “I’m not serious” mode. In Panel … 3, I guess?, Gabe is smirking because he’s still wondering about an aspect of the case, but when Gabe tries to point out that he’s still an amateur, Jen shuts him down with a hand wave and looks down angrily, telling him that no one works for her for free (she runs the detective agency; Gabe is a writer who helps out). They sit awkwardly in Panel 5, with Gabe’s eyebrows raised as he thinks of a solution. When he does, Jen’s face brightens and the motion lines show her raising her chin, and then she smiles broadly at Gabe’s solution. This is a wonderful page of facial expressions and body language, as we get a very good idea of the relationship of the two leads and some of the tension that exists between them, even though they love each other very much.
I’ve mentioned a few times this year that I’ve love to see some uninked pencil work for these artists, because the photographs on this page make me wonder how much is Hughes and how much is Magyar. We can see that the figure work is Hughes’s, because the characters look like Hughes characters. But then we get the inked lines, and it appears that perhaps Magyar erased a lot of the holding lines as he inked? But how much detail was there in the pencil work? Or did Hughes draw in a lot of the lines himself? It’s beautiful work, and it makes the photos stand out quite nicely, but it’s still frustrating when you’re writing about art and it’s unclear who did what.
We get some more nice facial expressions on this page, as Gabe offers to drive his car to a meeting, and Jen tells him that there’s no way she’s being seen in his POS (which it is). Her dismay in Panel 1, when she lowers her sunglasses to take in his crappy car, is wonderfully shown by Hughes. When we see her car, she gives Gabe a wry look over her shoulder – she’s proud of what she does with her wealth, but she doesn’t rub it in, and Hughes does a good job with her unpretentious pride in her effort. When she mentions the classical music, Hughes draws a sick look on Gabe’s face – they’re an odd couple even in music tastes – and then we get a nice cheesecake panel, with Hughes drawing Jen in a classic pin-up pose. Once again, Barr’s script gives us the playfulness of their romance, but Hughes does his part well, as he draws Jen as somewhat oblivious even as he puts a small, knowing smile on her face and tilts her hip out slightly. She knows what she’s doing, and both she and Gabe love the subtext.
Hughes didn’t get to draw too much action in The Maze Agency, as I noted above, but he showed he could handle the small amount that he needed to. This isn’t a terribly exciting page, but it takes him out of the interiors where so much of the cases occur and out into the open. He draws a nice form on Jen as she sees Gabe lying on the ground in Panel 2 – even though she’s a silhouette, we get her panic just from her form pretty well. As Gabe catches his breath, Jen is ready to move in Panel 3, and I love the shadow on the wall behind her. If that’s Hughes’s work, it’s very well done for someone so young, but if it’s Magyar’s contribution, it’s still very cool. Panel 5 shows a clue, and I imagine that Magyar again inked in the black and erased holding lines to create the impression of a rain-slicked street. Finally, Jen’s face in Panel 6 is another nice one, and Hughes cuts her in half, but we see her satisfied eye and her finger tapping her lips as she figures out the mystery. Once again, it’s another nicely drawn page.
As nice as the facial expressions on this page are – Trent’s smug look as he’s discovered, Caldwell’s pained look when he learns the truth – I wanted to show the nice panel at the bottom, where Jen stops Trent. Once again, Hughes doesn’t get to do too much action, but his fluid line work was good for it, which is why DC came calling not too long after this. Obviously, we have to ask how much of this is Magyar, but the way Trent falls backward when Jen hits him with the air is well done, as is the way Jen lunges toward him and even the way Gabe avoids the gun going off. As we’ve seen, Hughes needs to fit a lot onto the page, but he does quite a nice job with it.
I’ve noted a few times that Hughes was too good to stick around a creator-owned comic that was published by Comico and then Innovation and probably didn’t pay a great rate. Someone at DC saw Hughes’s work (given that Barr was a long-time DC guy, maybe he even told someone about him), and soon enough, Hughes was drawing for DC. We’ll see that tomorrow! Ease your feverish mind in the archives!