Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Jason Copland, and the comic is Masks & Mobsters #4, which was published by Monkeybrain in December 2012. These scans are from the collected edition, which was published by Image and is cover dated July 2013. Enjoy!
I’m friends with Copland on Facebook, so I contacted him about these posts before I started them so if I had any questions, he’d know they were coming! He told me that the timeline on Kill All Monsters! and Masks & Mobsters is a bit strange, as he took a break from KAM before finishing it, and in between he drew this story. I decided to go with them in this order because some of the work I showed from KAM definitely came before this. Either way, there are differences between the way Copland drew that comic and the way he drew this, so we’ll just get going with that. Masks & Mobsters is a cool comic, actually – Joshua Williamson writes a story about, well, superheroes and mobsters, with some very cool twists and interesting storytelling, while Mike Henderson draws most of it. The collected edition is definitely worth a look, and of course the issues are a dollar a piece at Monkeybrain.
Copland Scott Godlewski designed the Tower very basically, as he wears a shirt with a “T” on it, a domino mask, basic pants, and boots. [Edit: Copland and Williamson let me know that Godlewski designed the Tower. Sorry, Mr. Godlewski!] One thing that’s neat about this comic is that the superheroes all have pretty utilitarian costumes, even when they’re a bit outlandish, so that they fit into the noir setting a bit better. This isn’t new – Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have done it recently, of course, but so have others – but it’s still a neat thing to see, as Copland and the other artists aren’t trying to do “traditional” superheroes – they’re trying to fit them into different narratives, and they have to adapt to those narratives. Copland is still a “messy” artist, with the chaotic lines and the splotches of color in, say, Panel 3, but he has a purpose to the messiness, and it works well for him. Panels 2 and 3 are good examples of that. Ignacio holds the gun up and then pulls the trigger. In Panel 2, Copland uses solid lines on the gun and a darker ink wash on Ignacio’s face. When he pulls the trigger, the gun becomes blurry from the recoil, and Copland uses gray blobs instead of solid lines. The muzzle flash lights Ignacio up a little, so instead of solid gray on his arm, there’s a splash of white and then shading down toward the darker lower part of the arm. On the side of his face, we get a shadow because the front of his face is lit better from the flash. It’s a very nifty touch.
Ignacio has kidnapped a girl, and it turns out that the Tower is sweet on her even though she doesn’t know he exists (as Ignacio says on the next page). Copland does a really nice job with minimalist facial expressions – in Panel 2, the Tower shows worry in both his slightly downturned mouth and his body language, as he reaches toward Ginger before Ignacio shuts him down. In the final panel, Copland narrows his eyes and turns them up a little (as opposed to Panel 2, where they’re turned downward like his mouth) while making the two lines on his face a bit harsher. His mouth is more of a sneer, as he’s beginning to get angry at Ignacio for what he’s done. It’s tough to do without over-hatching, but Copland does it well here. Ginger can’t hear anything, so Copland draws her a bit slack-jawed in Panel 2, which might seem strange but works because she’s cut off from two major senses, so she’s essentially helpless. In Panel 4, where we see the photographs, Copland does a good job showing how surreptitious the photographers are, as the angles are a bit wonky and the figures aren’t always centered. Copland also does another good job with the ink washes, which softens his harder lines just a bit, creating a nice contrast. Notice Panel 1, with the light streaming in. While the left side of the panel has crap strewn about and looks harder, Ginger is slightly softer because of the light, while the table on the right side is just a shape without holding lines, making it shimmer just a bit. Copland knows what he’s doing with the shading!
The Tower rescues Ginger, of course, and she thanks him by subtly asking for sex. Well, maybe it’s not so subtle. Copland gets to draw the Tower busting out of the manhole (given the fact that he’s sexually frustrated because Ginger doesn’t know who he is, I’m really not going any further with that metaphor!), and he gives us some nice, rough, “Copland-esque” lines as they reach the surface. Then he closes in on them again to get their reactions to each other. When Ginger kisses him, he doesn’t give the Tower irises, but the way he draws the shape of the eyes makes us believe that the Tower didn’t actually close his eyes, mainly because he’s surprised that Ginger kissed him. Copland makes sure that he isn’t reacting to the kiss at all, while Ginger is putting more effort into it. Her eyes are closed, of course, and Copland uses lighter grays on her because she’s a girl and stuff, while the Tower (whose back is to the light, as we see in Panel 2) is a bit darker, because he’s an icky boy. Copland, showing again how good he is at body language, does a very nice job in Panel 4, as the Tower stands apart from her and looks befuddled, unable to understand what’s happening, while Ginger plays him like a fiddle, placing her hand on his manly bicep, going all limpid doe-eyed, and making sure she’s standing up straight so the Tower is well aware of the “girls.” Copland pulls back in Panel 5, but Ginger hasn’t, as she collapses against the big strong man, and we know exactly where it’s going. Obviously, Williamson gives Ginger the right words to say, but Copland does a very good job with the non-verbal seduction, as well.
By now, everyone should know Pop Culture Rule #1, which is “Never Trust The Woman,” and so of course Ginger is a bad guy working with Ignacio to find the superheroes’ hideout (in the Brubaker building, natch). Oh, superheroes, when will you learn? Copland, as we’ve already seen, knows a thing or two about shadows, so Ginger’s in Panel 1 is very nicely done, with the relative crispness of it on the floor broken up by the bed. He uses a trapezoid of light to focus us from the sleeping Tower to the conniving Ginger, letting us take in all the details as we move across the panel. I love how he gives the Tower a slight grin – even in sleep, he can’t believe he got laid. Ginger is using a rotary phone, not only because the aesthetic of the book demands it, but because rotary phones are frickin’ awesome (as you might recall, I own a rotary phone and love love love it). In Panel 2, she’s almost a different character, which is a nice testament to Copland’s skills. Her hair is styled the same, but Copland doesn’t hatch as much inside the outline, which makes it a bit sharper and more evil. Her lips look fuller, her eyes are thinner, and even her lashes are longer, all of which makes her more of a femme fatale than the Ginger we saw a page earlier. It’s a nice transformation, because it’s not like Copland did too much with her. A tweak here and there and she becomes far more evil than the whimpering girl from the page before this one.
Copland continued to get a higher profile, filling in on Daredevil, for instance, but tomorrow I’m going to go right to his newest comic, which just came out last Wednesday. That’s how timely I am! Speaking of time, you can always waste some traipsing through the archives!