Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is J. G. Jones, and the issue is Shi: The Series #2, which was published by Crusade Comics and is cover dated September 1997. Enjoy!
This is Part 3 of a three-part story that didn’t begin in Shi: The Series, but in Tomoe: The Unforgettable Fire, which seems a bit odd, if you ask me. Have you tried to make sense of the publishing history of Shi? Yeah, that’s not a great idea. But at this time, I suppose it was Jones’s highest-profile gig, and he’s much more polished than he was a few years earlier. Let’s take a look!
This is the first page, and we can already see that Jones has gotten much better. His poses are much smoother, and his characters more fluid. He’s not inking his own work here – Charles Yoakum inked this – but just in the design, you can see that he’s more confident. Shi might be posed a bit to show off her assets, but she’s flowing nicely into a sword thrust, and Jones twists her torso in a way that makes sense, puts her left hand up a bit for balance, and shows her pushing off with her left leg to make a leap. Her left foot (which we can’t see) might be far stronger than it should be, as she probably couldn’t get any kind of thrust with just her toes, but again, part of this pose is to show off some cheesecake, so while it’s not completely realistic, it’s better than a lot of poses we could have seen. Jones and Yoakum pay close attention to detail, so we get the nice pattern on Shi’s outfit, the jewelry, and the beautiful, lush hair. She’s fighting an oni, who’s trying to destroy Japan – don’t worry about it too much – and Jones draws a pretty good demon. He’s sufficiently larger than Shi, he’s ugly, and he’s powerful. That’s really all you want from a demon, right? As this is the Nineties, we can’t get by with boring old coloring, so Mada Design and Atomic Paintbrush, both of which are credited with colors, add the gleam to Shi’s sword and the toxic-looking paint to the green smoke billowing around the two combatants. The best thing about the coloring is that, in conjunction with the inking, it makes the oni’s legs disappear into the haze. That’s neat.
This story involves time travel and dying in order to travel through time, but I’m not getting into it. It also, remarkably, barely features Shi – this is about Tomoe Gozen, whom we see here talking to the ghost of Gozen Tomoe (and no, I’m not planning on figuring that out). Jones has gotten better at figure work, as Tomoe looks more natural than the figures in Dark Dominion did. In Panel 1, Jones obviously has to draw her so that her arm covers her nipples (NIPPLES CORRUPT CHILDREN!!!!), but he does a good job with it, as Tomoe is taken by surprise as she’s sitting up in bed. Her back would be bent like that, as she was covering her face with her hands and weeping in the previous panel, and when she raises her head, her right hand would probably fall back down, providing good coverage of the nipples (CHILDREN READ SHI, DAMN IT, AND THEIR EYES MIGHT BLEED IF THEY SEE NIPPLES!!!!). Tomoe’s faces in Panels 2 and 4 might be overwrought, but Jones does a good job making her look pathetic, so that’s what we get. Her tears are somewhat ridiculous, as they look like a snail left a trail of slime on her cheek, but it appears the tears were painted in later, so I’m not going to blame Jones for that. Gozen is pretty cool – Jones and Yoakum do a fine job on her intricate armor, with Jones providing a very traditional Japanese suit while Yoakum does a good job with the inking, making the shoulder pads look brassy in Panel 3, for instance. In the final panel, either Jones or Yoakum backlights Gozen, which allows for the cool effect of her eyes and mouth standing out as white in the middle of the darkness of her face. Once again, we see the influence of the colorists, as Gozen’s pink mist in Panel 1 is a very Nineties computed-generated effect. I should point out that no letterer is credited for this issue – Mada Design is credited with “Design,” so I wonder if they provided the lettering. Like umpires in baseball, you usually only notice lettering when it’s no good, and this lettering isn’t very good. The actual lettering isn’t bad, but the word balloons are just slightly smaller than they should be, which draws attention to it. It looks unprofessional, which is weird. I assume the word balloons were done on computer, so whoever did it couldn’t expand them just a tiny bit?
Jones shows that he has a nice design sense, as he puts Tomoe’s face in the mushroom cloud as she narrates what happened in 1997 when she failed to stop the oni from blowing up his nuclear weapons. It’s a disturbing image, but it’s also clever, allowing Jones to show what happened while keeping the focus on Tomoe, who’s telling the story. He also does nice work with the final image of Tomoe, as she gets dressed in traditional, 11th-century Japanese garb (this occurs in 1056). Now, it might not be traditional, 11th-century Japanese garb, but it’s what we think of as traditional, 11th-century Japanese garb, and Jones does a nice job with it. One thing you’ll notice is that Jones, in keeping with both the Nineties aesthetic and the idea of being callow and confident, draws Tomoe in the final panel so that she breaks into the preceding panels. You see this a lot in the 1990s, but it seems like it’s also a function of a young artist trying to impress with his or her dynamism, and it’s something that more experienced artists don’t seem to do as much, at least in my experience. Tomoe needs to be large in that panel, because she’s made a decision and intends to carry out her plan, and this is Jones showing that she’s stopped whining and seized the bull by the horns, but it’s still a bit flashy, and I wonder if it’s just Jones’s youth showing a bit.
Jones’s action scenes in this book are pretty good, as we see here. Tomoe kicks the oni off a cliff, and Jones shows him bouncing down the hillside (Tony Bedard, who wrote this, has a good sense of humor about the proceedings, so while the issue is about averting nuclear annihilation, Bedard at least recognizes the silliness of the demon and the time travel). Jones uses a silhouette, which works pretty well against the pastel background, and then the demon slams into a motorcycle with a handy sidecar. There’s a good sense of motion in that panel, as Jones tilts the bike, bends the oni weirdly, draws some rocks flying around that the demon dragged down with him, knocks the hat off the Japanese soldier, and gives us the puffs of dust underneath the skidding wheel. As we’re coming to expect with Jones, there’s a lot of detail without sacrificing fluidity. In Panel 3, Jones shows his own sense of humor, as the soldier sees stars, while Tomoe, wearing what looks like shredded toilet paper, places the demon in the handy sidecar. In Panel 4, we get more good motion, as Jones draws the dust behind the bike as Tomoe speeds away. He draws the oni as more pathetic – the demon grows stronger the more people believe in him, and in 1945, we’re told, people didn’t believe much in him anymore – by giving him worry lines on his forehead, and slightly rounder face, and downturned eyebrows. No, I don’t know why Tomoe is wearing thigh high boots. You’d think if she wanted to spring into action quickly, those are the last things she’d wear. STYLE!
Finally, we get back to Shi (Ana, to use her real name), as she is forced to accept that she just has to run around in skimpy clothing fighting bad guys – it’s her density! This is a busy page, as Bedard and Jones need to get to a lot so that they can end the issue with a splash page of Shi and Tomoe flying across rooftops. The composition is a bit weird, as we get a wasted panel of Shi’s mouth gasping and then a shot of her … throwing? her costume on the floor when Tomoe appears. Jones does a good job with Panel 5, as Shi tries to figure out why she remembers Japan being destroyed even though it wasn’t (Tomoe changed history to save it, but Shi retained the memory). He puts Shi’s head in her hand, and we get a good sense of her traumatic memory, while Tomoe remains calm. It’s a good contrast. When Tomoe picks up Shi’s costume and hands it back to her, Jones once again uses the larger drawing of Ana as she realizes she has to remain Shi. It’s a good drawing – Ana is proportionate, and Jones creases her dress where it would be creased if she were standing that way; Yoakum’s inks are solid; and Jones makes Ana a bit wistful with the head tilt and the closed eyes. It’s interesting, not only because we saw Jones do this sort of thing above, but also because in both cases, a woman is making a decision and her importance to the book becomes paramount in that instance. In both cases, it might not be the most original way to show this, and as I noted above, it seems like youth makes artists do this a bit more, but Jones is consistent here, and it’s interesting that he chooses to do this twice in similar circumstances.
Soon after this book was published, Jones was accomplished enough that he was noticed by the Big Two, and his career really took off. As far as I can tell, tomorrow’s entry is his first mainstream work, and it’s the first place I saw his art. It’s quite a nifty little comic. Come on back and see what’s what! Don’t forget to detour through the archives!