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 The Gunwitch: Outskirts of Doom #3 and Polly and the Pirates #6, both of which were published by Oni, with the first cover dated August 2001 and the second cover dated June 2006. The first scans are from Nocturnals volume 2: The Dark Forever and Other Tales, which was published by Image in 2009, and the second scans are from the trade paperback, which Oni published in 2006. Enjoy! (Hey, it’s time to break out the Not Safe For Work warning again! Who’da thunk it?)
I didn’t want to cheat with this post, but I just had to. After GloomCookie, you might think that Naifeh would continue down that artistic road, especially if you’re approaching his career from the present and moving back into the past. I mean, Courtney Crumrin could easily hang with Lex, Max, Sebastian, and Chrys and not seem out of place. But before Naifeh launched Courtney Crumrin, he drew a mini-series set in Dan Brereton’s Nocturnals universe, and the art was certainly different than the work on GloomCookie. But I also wanted to show his development on Polly and the Pirates, because it’s my favorite Naifeh comic and it also shows how he bridged the gap between GloomCookie and his current work. So let’s get to it!
Eve and Gunwitch are trying to escape a bunch of vampires, like you do, but they don’t quite make it. Naifeh isn’t as cartoony and angular here, but he hasn’t reverted to his early 1990s mode either. It’s a nice amalgamation of both styles, although I’m not sure why he decided to draw this more “realistically” than GloomCookie. A year earlier, he had drawn a short story for Brereton, and it was more in the style that we’ve become accustomed to, but maybe he figured this story was a bit more serious, so it needed more realism. So the faces are proportionate to the body rather than much bigger, they’re shaped like faces, without as much angularity and with eyes that “fit” in the shapes, and there’s a good deal more detailing to the artwork. It’s fascinating to see Naifeh move back and forth between the two styles, because it shows how versatile he is. He’s still using bold lines and nice spot blacks, but he’s still comfortable with hatching, as the background in Panel 1 shows. Everyone has five fingers, too. It’s all about realism here!
Naifeh, as we saw yesterday, has gotten good at using blacks bordered by thick lines to create shading, which is a bit of a compromise between his early, wild line work and the use of large chunks of black. We see that here with the resurrected Egyptian queen, where the inking on her flesh makes her look a bit decrepit, which is kind of the point. We also get that wonderful black bar on her face in Panel 2, which makes her look serpentine, as she considers her next move. Naifeh’s strong line makes the details in the close-ups – Panels 1 and 4 – tremendous, as he doesn’t need to use a lot of lines to give both women different kinds of maniacal looks. Lady Goodnight is worshipful and crazed, while the Egyptian is more calculating and crazed. Naifeh opens Lady Goodnight’s eyes just a bit and widens her mouth, while the queen’s mouth is turned downward a bit and her eyes are a bit thinner. It’s a nice way to show the shift in control that occurs on this page, as the queen breaks free of Lady Goodnight and turns the tables on her.
We haven’t seen a ton of action from Naifeh these past few days, but he’s not completely adverse to it, of course. In this series, there’s a good amount of action, but I didn’t want to show too much, because I wanted to show other stuff! But Gunwitch’s pose in Panel 1 is pretty good, as that looks like a good pose of someone who’s just sliced an Egyptian vampire queen in half, and while Naifeh was a bit stiff with figures in action earlier in his career, here Gunwitch is a bit more fluid, although he’s not perfect. What I do like is the final panel, where we see that Naifeh’s use of blacks pays off with dramatic scenes, like when Gunwitch’s possessed hands (Brereton must have seen Idle Hands just before he wrote this) are reaching for Eve. Naifeh plunges Gunwitch into blackness, while the hands remain white and gigantic, seemingly separated from his body. It’s a cool visual, because while we know they’re still attached to Gunwitch’s body, it’s also clear they’re acting without his consent. It’s pretty keen.
Then, in 2005/2006, Naifeh brought us Polly and the Pirates. He had already done some Courtney Crumrin comics by then, but I guess he wanted to tell a pirate tale! So here it is!
By this time, Naifeh had decided, I suppose, that his more cartoony style was the way to go (although, as we’ll see tomorrow, he certainly wasn’t locked into it), and Polly is drawn in a similar manner to GloomCookie and early Courtney Crumrin. His figure work is exaggerated – we can’t see the commodore’s face too well, but it’s clear that his philtrum is gigantic. Kutner, whom we see in Panel 4 carrying the barrel, has that hook nose and elongated chin, and the other crew members are similarly exaggerated. Naifeh is using grayscales in this book, and while I’m not the biggest fan of grayscales, I think it works better with a more cartoony style than a more “realistic” one – the bold and stark lines tend to resist the blurring effect grayscales can have on artwork. We’ll see that it’s quite well done in this comic.
Hey, it’s a double-page spread that I could actually fit on my scanner! The trade of this comic is pretty small, which is why I was able to fit it. Handy, that. Anyway, Polly and her crew attack the naval ship, and we get this nice layout. You can see that Naifeh is drawing his characters more cartoony than he did on Gunwitch, as he’s back to using blank circles for some eyes, larger eyes for more important characters (usually the girls), and fewer lines on the faces, as he relies on less detail to express more emotions. Notice that the art itself is fairly detailed – the guns are drawn very well, the clothing is specific, and Panel 4, where the bullets hit the sails, is intricately lined to show how devastating the shots are. Naifeh just chooses to keep the faces less detailed, which is not a bad choice. Notice, too, that Polly’s head is a bit bigger, as we saw yesterday with Lex and Chrys. The grayscales on these pages, especially on the guns, are marvelous – the grays help make the barrels look more like pewter and the stocks look more like wood. Naifeh also adds some nuance to Polly’s face specifically with some darker tones. Of course, we get the gradual lightening of Polly’s glove as we get to the center, which indicates leather. All of this is well done, and it adds some nice subtleties to Naifeh’s line work.
Naifeh can still be dense with the line work, as we see here with the water and the sinking ship (and even the uniforms of the naval men), but because his figure work is less fussy, the hatching on other parts of the art doesn’t overwhelm everything. His simplicity on the faces works for him, too, as he just cocks Polly’s eyebrow in Panel 1 to show her superiority, while the little jagged lines directly under the commodore’s hat create bushy eyebrows that hide his eyes. Then we get the dense line work in Panel 4, where Naifeh gives us the harbor. We can see that he uses a lot of lines on the edges of the dark mass, but notice that he still draws a lot of buildings in the interior, making sure that the city is packed with detail even though it’s almost impossible to see. We get more nice grayscale work on this page, too – the commodore looks worn out just because of the shading on his face, while the grays in the mountains and water in Panel 4 make this a more naturalistic scene than it would be without them.
Polly’s father shows up, and Naifeh shows that he hasn’t abandoned “realism” completely. The details in Archie’s clothing are wonderful, giving him a true dandy-ish appearance. Mistress Lovejoy is a bit of a blending between the more cartoonish style and the more realistic style, as Naifeh gives her those pinprick eyes and tiny mouth, but her head is still proportionate and Naifeh doesn’t rely on her eyes to show her emotions, as his changes in her face show her moods well as she deals with Polly’s father. Panel 5 is excellent, though, as Naifeh gives Archie a nice raffish look, and everything on his face fits well where it is, while Naifeh uses a thick line on the right side of his mouth and a bit of shading to show a smirk as he tips his hat. There’s nothing exaggerated about Polly’s father, and it’s interesting that Naifeh chooses to make him so, as it seems like he stands completely outside the narrative, which is full of odd-looking people.
If you thought I’d get through a series about Naifeh without checking out Courtney Crumrin, well, you’d be mistaken. For the final day, I’ll look at his most recent work with his most famous creation, and maybe some other stuff too. I’m just crazy that way! Come back tomorrow, after you’ve spent some time in the archives!
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