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Year of the Artist, Day 299: Ted Naifeh, Part 1 – The Shadow of the Torturer #1

by  in Comic News Comment
Year of the Artist, Day 299: Ted Naifeh, Part 1 – <i>The Shadow of the Torturer</i> #1

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Ted Naifeh, and the issue is The Shadow of the Torturer #1, which was published by Innovation and is cover dated July 1991. Enjoy!

This might be Ted Naifeh’s first published work – he drew another book for Innovation in 1991, but I’m not sure when it was published and if he drew it first or not. Either way, it’s very interesting looking at the artwork, because it’s so very different from the work he would later do that would make him famous. I guess Ted Naifeh is famous, right? Well, whether he’s famous or not, his work has evolved quite a bit, so let’s start at the beginning!

Technically, this is Gene Wolfe’s Shadow of the Torturer, as this is based on the 1980 novel by Mr. Wolfe. I don’t know how closely it hews to the original, as I’ve never read the book (or anything by Wolfe, for that matter), but there it is. This is an odd issue, as we follow Severian, an apprentice torturer, through a series of vignettes. I assume they coalesce at some point, but I don’t own those comics, do I? Naifeh does nice work on this issue, even though it’s almost unrecognizable compared to what he’s doing now. We can see that he uses a lot of lines and spot blacks, which wouldn’t be surprising in a cemetery late at night, but we’ll see that it continues throughout the book. The dense line work creates a tactile feel to the work – we can see how wrinkled the clothing is, and Severian looks like a rough-and-tumble kid, which he seems to be from the story. Even the hatching on the rocks in Panel 4 gives them a rough look, while the longer lines in the cross-hatched monuments in the same panel give them a slightly smoother but still hewn look. He uses silhouettes really well in Panel 5, as we see the forms and Naifeh uses thinner lines to show the woman’s cloak. The writer/adapter, Scott Rockwell, colored this book, and he does a nice job, too, as we’ll see going forward.

Naifeh’s action needs some work, but for a very young artist (he was probably 19 when he drew this), it’s pretty darned good. He puts the figures in the correct spots, as the three bad guys attack Vodalus and Severian jumps in to help out, so the layout of the fight works well, and it’s just the slight stiffness of the figures that needs work. He already knows how to choreograph a fight, with the establishing panel showing the three bad guys advancing on Vodalus while Severian peeks out from behind the statue, which sets the scene well. The close-up in Panel 2 is nicely detailed, as Naifeh continues to use a lot of lines to create folds in clothing and shadows on faces. Then we get the smaller panels, as Vodalus fights the other two dudes. Naifeh does a nice job, although it’s unclear what happened to Vodalus’s sword between Panels 3 and 4 – did he drop it? Still, the action flows well, and he remembers to show us the dude behind Vodalus raising the axe so that Panel 5, where Severian steps in and grabs the handle, is clearer. The way he poses Severian and the thug in Panel 6 is nice, too, as Severian wrenches the axe away and spins the bad guy a bit, surprising him with his strength. As I noted, the figure work is a bit stiff, but the layout of the fight works very well.

Severian hallucinates in the river because he’s close to drowning, and Naifeh gives us this wonderful page showing his vision. The line work is still dense, but again it creates nice shadows on the woman’s face, while just the fact that Naifeh moves her irises to the side (which is logical, given that she’s looking at Severian) gives her an aloof look. Obviously, she’s probably going to be aloof because she’s so large and Severian is so small, but Naifeh gets that across really well without doing too much to alter her face. The hair that entangles his legs is supposed to look like seaweed, as Severian was snared by it on the previous page, and Naifeh make the hair look like thin, reedy strands, which works with the way he wants us to see this. Rockwell does a superb job with the green on this page, resisting the temptation to add touches of different colors, keeping the vision murky and weird.

Naifeh does some nice work here on the mausoleum, as he still uses a lot of lines but makes them a bit lighter while using some negative space and a lack of holding lines to “soften” the stones inside the building. This makes the stone look ancient, which is the point, after all. The details are very nice, and it’s nice how well Naifeh creates them using short hatching and not longer holding lines. If you look at the stele on the right side, for instance, you see that Naifeh creates the tree and the flower at the bottom simply by using close hatching and no holding lines. That seems ridiculously labor-intensive, but the effect is of a mausoleum that looks worn smooth by time, which is extremely neat.

Naifeh just shows a shift in facial expression here, but it’s well done. If you hadn’t noticed it by now, he uses a lot of cross-hatching to add shading to Severian’s face, but more than that, he does good work with his eyes and mouth. When someone smiles like that, their eyes narrow a bit, and Naifeh even remembers to push Severian’s nose up slightly. In Panel 2, Severian stops smiling, and Naifeh opens his eyes and drops his nose a bit, getting rid of the smile lines running from his nose around his mouth in the process. He uses light diagonal lines to create Severian’s lips in Panel 2, which is also a clever change from Panel 1, where he makes the lips thin, as would happen when someone is smiling. Naifeh shows that he has a good grasp of anatomy and the way a face moves, which helps a lot with his storytelling.

In Panel 1, we can see pretty clearly the lack of holding lines, as Naifeh uses the old man’s wrinkles to create the shape of his hand and head, while Rockwell colors his skin that light tan and the background green, creating a border between the flesh and the wall. It’s an interesting way to go, because as I noted above, this seems very labor-intensive, but it does make the characters look interesting, as they look very “lived-in.” Naifeh uses more lines in Panel 2, and as we saw before, his use of straighter lines for the architecture helps it stand out from the people, who are a bit more gnarled. You can see it better on a previous page, but the painting that Rudesind is cleaning is, as he tells us, a man on the moon from, I guess, centuries earlier (well, centuries earlier in the “present” of this book – obviously, it’s not centuries old right now). Naifeh uses a photograph and simply draws a frame around it. It’s probably the best way to do it – the photograph stands out oddly among the drawn art, which is probably the point. I have no idea when this comic/book is supposed to take place, but obviously things on “Urth” have changed quite a bit.

Naifeh uses stronger lines to draw Thecla up there in the corner, as he makes her hair wavy and lush, while still sticking to the lack of holding lines but dense interior lines to create her face and hand. It’s a nice way to show her as both part of the world but also as a vision, which she is. Naifeh uses really dense cross-hatching on the tower in the background, while his diagonal lines in the middle distance make the buildings hazy, which is a nice touch, and Naifeh’s more haphazard line work on the wall’s stones make it look weathered and worn. Rockwell’s purple, blue, and red in the background is very nice, assisting Naifeh’s line work in making the background a bit more ethereal. In the foreground, Naifeh uses stronger lines, while Rockwell uses more mundane colors, and it’s a nice contrast with the “realism” of Severian’s current world and the strange destiny that awaits him.

Naifeh moved on after the book was canceled after three (of six planned) issues, and tomorrow we’ll look at some more of his early work. What could it be? You’ll just have to come back to find out! In the meantime, you could always mosey through the archives!

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