Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Dustin Nguyen, and the issue is The Authority #23, which was published by DC/Wildstorm and is cover dated August 2001. Enjoy!
This is the earliest Dustin Nguyen comic that I own, and it’s not the first comic he drew, but it’s fairly early in his career. He was 25 or so when he drew this, and jumping on board The Authority, which had to be Wildstorm’s flagship title in 2001, was quite a coup. Let’s see some of his work!
Tom Peyer wrote this arc, and this is a good example of his sense of humor. Meanwhile, Nguyen has no issues with laying out these panels, as it’s clear what’s happening. Nguyen has never had a terribly thick line, and we can see here how thin his line is – the wrinkles on the dude’s face in Panel 2 simply look like lines, not furrows, and Teuton’s expression in Panel 3 is all with his mouth and eyes because Nguyen doesn’t do much with the rest of his face. This early in his career, Nguyen hasn’t quite mastered making his characters express themselves well – the lines on the faces of the victim, Teuton, and the Surgeon seem placed somewhat randomly. That doesn’t happen throughout the book, and it might even be the inkers (Richard Friend and Jason Martin are credited), but it’s odd in this context.
As I’ve often noted, action scenes are difficult to master, and some artists clearly get better at it over the course of their careers. Nguyen draws them pretty well early in his career, but he still has some trouble with blocking this scene, and I don’t know what else he could have done. This is a case of readers needing to fill in the blanks in the guttter, because Nguyen makes an odd jump between Panels 2 and 3. The Colonel is peeved, and he uses his power to melt his communication headset. In Panel 2, he’s facing away from Rush, and we can see the headset melting in his hand. In Panel 3, the heated headset is in Rush’s eye, and the Colonel has turned toward her. There’s a lot of stuff going on in that gutter between Panels 2 and 3 – the Colonel turns and flings the headset into Rush’s eye, and Rush spins away, screaming. That’s a lot going on in between panels. It’s not the worst way to depict this scene, but it is a bit difficult to read, and part of the problem is the way The Authority was perceived at this time. For better or worse, it was a harbinger of the “wide-screen” comics that became the thing to do around the turn of the century, and it seems like artists fell into certain traps when drawing the book, including extremely boring page layouts. Nguyen falls into this trap, as this issue features a lot of stacked rectangular panels like these three, which means that storytelling takes a back seat to spectacle. I don’t know how good Nguyen was at storytelling at this time, but he doesn’t get a chance to show it off too much in this arc. Maybe he’s doing this because he wasn’t very good at laying out a page, but I wonder if it was because of the way Bryan Hitch established the “tone” of the comic itself. Again, you can figure out what’s going on in these three panels, but it’s not as clear as it could be.
Panel 2 might be my favorite one in this entire arc, because I love how Nguyen draws Teuton blubbering like a baby. Nguyen draws a nice snot bubble and goop attaching his hand to his upper lip, which is both realistic and hilarious. Poor Teuton – he just feels too much! It’s scenes like this that make this arc of The Authority much more interesting than just as a placeholder while Mark Millar was in a snit – Peyer gives these characters some fascinating personality traits and Nguyen does a pretty good job illustrating them. Notice, again, the odd lines on the Surgeon, the Colonel, and Teuton. Nguyen also draws interesting body types – there’s a thickness to every character, and it makes them a bit more abstract than if he varied it more. Nguyen seems to be influenced by manga a bit, especially when he draws the faces of the women – Rush and the Machine have small eyes, small noses, and thin mouths, with a lot of space in between them all, while the men’s features are more mashed together. I don’t know how important manga was in Nguyen’s formative years, but it’s interesting that he brings some of that sensibility to this superhero comic.
Nguyen’s work on The Authority was high-profile enough that it led to other gigs, and tomorrow, we’ll look at another Wildstorm comic he drew. Chad Nevett knows what it is! There might not be a lot of Wildstorm comics in the archives, but that shouldn’t stop you from checking them out!