Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Ted Naifeh, and the issues are Comics’ Greatest World: Steel Harbor #2 and Dark Horse Comics #14, which were published by Dark Horse and are cover dated August and October 1993. Enjoy!
I couldn’t decide which of the two Dark Horse comics from 1993 that I happen to own to show you, but I eventually settled on both of them, because the difference in the style is rather interesting. I don’t know which of these comics Naifeh drew first – they actually shipped in the months of August and October, but he could have easily done the second one first – but it’s interesting because both show similarities to his work from yesterday, but they’re somewhat different from each other. It’s madness!!!!
Dark Horse, I guess (I wasn’t buying these comics back in the day), wanted to create an interconnected superhero universe, as that was all the rage back in 1993. So they came up with this short comic, which was part of a weekly series, in which their characters interacted with each other. The Machine, for instance, is leaping down out of a window because Barb Wire is in trouble (we’ll see her – The Machine calls her “Barbara” – below). Naifeh, as we can see, is still in love with hatching, but he’s eased back on it a little, which is an interesting shift. I’ve noticed that many artists, as they become more experienced, use fewer lines, and while we can see that in Naifeh’s end product (well, not the end, but his most current work), it’s neat to see it begin to happen. It might just be because The Machine doesn’t wear as many clothes as the characters from yesterday, but notice the jackets of the bad guys on this page – Naifeh is using black chunks instead of an insane amount of hatching to create the folds. He still uses a lot of lines on the car that The Machine lands on and on The Machine’s muscles, but he has lessened that a little. He’s gotten better at action, too, although he can still use some work. When The Machine lands on the car, Naifeh does nice work with his pose, as that’s the way someone would land after jumping from a great height, while he even lifts him out of his shoe a little, which is a nice touch. He still is a tremendously detailed artist, as we can see all the nuts and bolts and wiring inside and around The Machine, but he’s using a bolder and less fussy line here, so it makes our hero look a bit starker and “futuristic.” It’s a clever way to distinguish him from those around him.
Here’s Barb Wire, doing her thing. Naifeh has fun with her giant mane of hair, making it thick and lush with heavy black lines, while colorist Jim Sinclair, who saturates this in almost nauseating hues, adds in the bright yellow to highlight Naifeh’s lines even more. Naifeh makes a big jump between Panels 3 and 4 (if we ignore the inset panel of Barb talking about “death valley”) – note that The Machine manages to get from the street back up to his window in a flash. Naifeh also has to fit Barb’s motorcycle into the panel, and the perspective is a bit off. But he’s still learning, and his use of blacks on Barb’s outfit makes it look more like leather than hatching would, so it’s clear that Naifeh has a decent handle of certain aspects of art. He also does good work with the figures – Barb’s spin in Panel 2 is well done, especially with the way Naifeh makes her hair fly, and her cross-legged sit on the motorcycle is drawn nicely. In some cases with strange art, I wonder if the writer – in this case, Chris Warner – is to blame, as perhaps Warner wanted all that dialogue to be on the page but also wanted to make sure The Machine got back in his room. It seems that it would be a tough assignment, and Naifeh does what he can with it.
The Machine is hacked, sort of, and he tries to figure out what’s what. What’s interesting about this page is that Naifeh still uses a lot of hatching, but now it’s for effect, as we see in Panel 1. The Machine himself is not cluttered with line work, while the vision he experiences is hatched quite a bit, making it seem other-worldly or at least a bit unreal. By doing it this way, Naifeh is able to create a divide between the “real” world and the “virtual” world, and that continues when Sinclair colors the intruders in lighter tones, making them seem unreal as well. Sinclair’s colors are a bit garish on this book, but on this page, he uses his palette to good effect, and Naifeh sets the stage well in that first panel.
Of course, this is the Nineties, so we get pages like this, as Mace and his buddies show up to lay down some smack. I really can’t even speak to those outfits, so I won’t, but I will say that Naifeh uses the blacks and line work to create some really nice folds in Mace’s fancy pants. Obviously, he puts hair on Mace’s body, but even the small panel under his right foot, where he’s saying “Now you’ll listen …” is well done with the hatching, while the spot blacks in Panels 1 and 3 are a nice contrast with the bottom panel, where the light banishes the shadows and Naifeh uses far fewer and thinner lines. The biggest problem with the bottom panel is the angle – Ignition blasts him, and the tilt of the panel makes it look like Mace is being thrown backward, which makes the stiffness of his figure very weird. However, Ignition just blasted the floor in front of Mace, and Mace is walking upright through the blast (because he’s so TUFF!!!!), so it makes more sense. It’s a weird angle, and I know Naifeh had to fit it onto the page, but it is a tad confusing.
A month later, the first part of Naifeh’s story in Dark Horse Comics came out, but I don’t own that, so we’ll skip ahead to Part Two! The story is a sequel to John Carpenter’s version of The Thing, and this chapter is relatively short and doesn’t have a lot going on in it. I’m going to show two consecutive pages in the middle of the chapter:
The scientists are testing the alien life form, which probably won’t go well, and Naifeh draws a lot of different characters on these two pages. You might notice a few things. Naifeh is back to using a lot more hatching instead of spot blacks in this story. That may be due to the nature of the story – this is more “realistic” in that the people studying the alien are regular folk, where as the other story starred The Machine, Barb Wire, a dude who could shoot fire, and Mace’s pants. No one is wearing fancy yellow leather, so Naifeh uses lines instead of shiny blacks to show the folds in the clothing. His line work in this story is not as excessive as it was yesterday, and it seems like he’s using it more subtly, giving the characters more expressive faces rather than just using black chunks. The other interesting thing is how Naifeh draws female faces, especially Marion’s. Her face is less lined, of course, but it turns out that Douglas is somewhat evil, so the lines on his face are foreshadowing that a bit. But in Panel 2 of the second page, her face is slightly more cartoonish than in others, and in light of where Naifeh would end up with regard to his figure work, I find that face fascinating. It seems like a proto-“mature” Naifeh face, and we’ll see more like it going forward.
Naifeh drew some other stuff over the next few years, but I don’t own any of that, so I’m going to jump right to the comic that made his name (I think it did, anyway). How will his style have changed? You’ll just have to come back and find out! Of course, you could spend the rest of the day in the archives – that would be a good use of your time!
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