Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Michael Golden, and the issue is The ‘Nam #3, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated February 1987. Enjoy!
Golden didn’t last long on The ‘Nam, Marvel’s odd comic about Vietnam, but his art is pretty stellar. How about we take a look at it?
Ed, Mike, and Lonnie head to Saigon on a pass, and Golden sets the scene with this splash page. I imagine there were plenty of photographs that he could have used, but he also obviously drew the buildings and people on the street. Phil Felix colored this book, and we’ll see some of his very nice work below, but to start, he does a very good job with the warm hues that give the city a more exotic look. The Vietnamese jungle, obviously, is usually colored dark green, and Felix contrasts that well on this page, especially because he divides the page into the “American” zone where the helicopters land and we see the dull greens and browns of the army and the “Vietnamese” zone, with its semblance of normal city life, where bright colors predominate. It’s a clever delineation, and sets up the issue well.
This is the next page, as the three soldiers stroll through the streets. This gives us a better indication of the kind of style Golden was using by 1986 – his cartoony aspects had triumphed, and while in yesterday’s examples we saw a balance, here he embraces the cartoonish parts of his artwork. Whether you like it more or not is up to you, I suppose. He gives the characters relatively large eyes, which is nothing new, but we can see here and we’ll see below that he’s also giving them wider mouths while, as we see in Panels 2 and 3, ignoring teeth so that the interior of the mouth is just white. There’s a lot of wonderful details on the page, and while Golden doesn’t give us backgrounds in Panels 2-5, he does enough in Panels 1 and 6 to set the scene well so he doesn’t need backgrounds in the rest. Armando Gil is inking him, and like yesterday, he’s a good fit, adding just enough roughness to Golden’s line to make his cartoonish style work in a war comic (Golden was a bit of an odd choice for The ‘Nam, and the artists who filled in for him during his 13-issue run – Wayne Vansant and John Severin – fit the “classic war artist” mold better than Golden does). In later issues, Golden is inked by John Beatty, and his smooth line makes nice art, but doesn’t really fit the more gritty scripts that Doug Murray was turning in. Golden probably added the blacks in this issue, but just that little rough line work on Ed’s face in Panel 2 or the hatching on the characters’ faces in Panel 4 when they’re at the vendor’s makes the art gritty enough.
On the very next page, we get more cool stuff. We see Golden’s cartooning even more clearly in Panel 3, where sunglasses substitute for Mike’s eyes, but they’re still large, and Golden even adds sweat blobs to show his anxiety (I’m not sure why he feels this way, but he obviously does). Golden does wonderful work on the advertisement for the movie, the dinginess of the ticket booth and the exterior of the theater, and the street scene in general. Felix again does a marvelous job with the colors – he’s still using bright colors, but he really brightens things up on the poster, which makes the movie look more lurid, while he surrounds the advert with some cooler blues, making it pop a bit more. It’s very nice work.
A bomb gets tossed into the theater, but our boys are fine, so they head off to a bar. We get this two-page sequence (which leads to the lady in the final panel getting Ed set up to be mugged, because you NEVER TRUST THE WOMAN!!!), and the artists continue to do nice work with it. Golden gives us very good details, and we see even more of his cartoonish art here. Lonnie’s eyebrows are quite large, which offsets his smaller eyes, and his mouth is very wide, too. The ladies have thinner eyes because of their ethnicity, but Golden still gives them large mouths, mainly because they have bright lipstick on (they are prostitutes, after all). He also does nice work with their hair – it’s 1966, and Golden makes sure they look contemporary. I love Panel 4 on the second page, where Golden draws an embarrassed Ed. He steeples his eyebrows, shrinks his eyes, and hatches along his cheeks (unless that’s Gil’s contribution), which is a good way to show his hesitancy. Meanwhile, we still see that Gil is doing a good job “roughing” the pencils – despite the setting, everything does look a little bit seedier than we might expect, and that’s partly due to the inking. Finally, Felix is still coloring the book wonderfully, as we get the yellows and reds dominating, making the bar look lurid, until we get to the final panel, where he colors things “normally,” implying that the new arrival is somehow separate from the somewhat squalid scene. She isn’t, of course, but Ed falls for it, and Felix’s coloring choice is supposed to make us believe or accept Ed’s naïveté.
Ed gets bonked on the head but gets rescued by his friends, and they check into a hotel, where Ed has this dream just as people blow the hotel up, making it the second time that day that Ed was caught in a bomb blast. Sucks to be him. In later issues of the series, Golden got somewhat boring with layouts (a function of not having as much time?), but this is a nice one. The dream cuts into the real world, and the funnel shape of Panel 1 leads us down to Ed, while Panel 2 can be smaller as it shows a smaller scene which opens up to the hotel exploding, which necessarily ought to be more expansive. Golden does a really nice job with the dream – he frames everything with the Vietnamese village and the people flanking the middle row, down which the prostitute walks, gunfire exploding around her. Golden twists the view to show the soldiers on either side of the panel, but aligned vertically, and he throws Mike’s cartoonish face in for good measure. He does a nice job altering the prostitute’s face slightly as she comes “closer,” so that she’s not only coming toward Ed, but he’s seeing her more clearly, too. In Panel 2, he uses spot blacks really well to hide the identities of the bombers, implying that they’re just random people who hate the Americans and the South Vietnamese, and Golden’s tremendous details in Panel 3 bring home the utter destruction of the hotel well. Of course, Felix is still doing wonderful work with the colors, as he links Ed’s dream to the movie poster, perhaps implying that the American soldiers still don’t think of the war as “real.” If he wasn’t thinking that, maybe he should have been!
Golden’s cartoony style is evident here, as he focuses on the characters (Ed and Mike saved Lonnie, who was injured in the explosion). Golden’s faces aren’t as round as they’ve been in the past, but he’s still using somewhat exaggerated features on his characters. He shrinks Ed’s and Mike’s eyes in Panel 3, but he makes up for it with their thick eyebrows, which is also a part of Lonnie’s face, as we see in the final panel. Once again, Gil’s inking helps rough up the scene a bit – Golden uses blacks well, but Lonnie’s bandage, for instance, is cross-hatched well so that it looks like rough cotton, and Gil makes the sheets and pillows look less comfortable than a smoother line would, which might be the point. Golden inked by Gil is a good combination, and it’s too bad Gil didn’t stay on the book as long as Golden did.
Golden seemed to step back from penciling after The ‘Nam, although he didn’t disappear, of course. I wish I owned Bucky O’Hare, but I haven’t been able to find it, unfortunately. Golden did draw a lot of covers, including a bunch of terrific ones for Detective in the early 1990s. Tomorrow, however, I’m going to jump through the next few decades and show some examples from a few different comics, none of which are too long so they don’t take up much space. So join me then, and don’t miss your chance to check out the archives!
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