Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Gray Morrow, and the story is “Orion, Chapter 6” from Heavy Metal vol. 2, #5 (or #18, if you prefer), which was published by Leonard Mogel and is cover dated September 1978. This scan is from the trade paperback Orion and Edge of Chaos, which was published by Hermes Press and which came out in 2012. There’s a fair amount of nudity below, so beware! Be aware! Enjoy!
As Morrow got older, he began using more line work than we’ve seen, etching his work with a bit more clarity, even though he continued to use paints very well. He also, apparently, got more interested in drawing nekkid chicks, which means we get stuff like “Orion,” his sword-and-sorcery quasi-sci-fi story that ran in the pages of Heavy Metal. It’s a gorgeous comic, but it’s also drawn more sharply than the stuff we’ve seen the previous two days. Here we go! Remember: Boobies Below!
It’s been a few years since I read this, and as you can see, it’s really, really dense, and I don’t remember all of it, but just know that Orion has a magic sword (and no, it’s not the one you’re thinking of, you dirty pervert!) and people want to take it from him. Sound good? On this page, the masked blonde chick (who’s blonde and therefore good), tells Orion all about Chandra, the dark-haired evil witch whose castle he’s currently in. So we get this page, in which “Sprite” tells Chandra’s origin. It’s a beautiful page even without all the breasts, as Morrow takes a lot of time to give everyone very distinctive outfits, with some interesting details. It’s 1978, so Chandra’s groovy purple outfit in Panels 2 and 3 shouldn’t come as too big a surprise, unless you consider that’s not much of a shirt (to be fair, it appears that no women wear proper shirts in “Orion,” and often the men are topless, too). He doesn’t lead us from panel to panel too well, but it’s not too bad – in Panel 1, Chandra leads our eye to Thon, who’s on the right side of the panel; in Panel 2, the kneeling sycophant is part of the flow that leads us to Panel 3. As we saw yesterday with Ellen, Morrow draws evil women really well, and Chandra’s crisp eyebrows and high cheekbones give her a slightly devilish look. In Panel 4, Morrow does a nice job with the background design, as it implies a weird, somewhat drugged-out atmosphere, showing the effect Sprite has on men. The colors are wonderful – the reptilian green of Chandra’s outfit in Panel 1 is slightly analogous with Thon’s deep blue robe, linking the two of them, but Thon’s robe also gives him a majestic look, so that Chandra’s betrayal feels more duplicitous. Morrow’s strong brush strokes make the robe look lush and velvety, again in contrast the Chandra’s bejeweled look. It’s very nice work.
Here’s more beautiful coloring from Morrow. Chandra is painted a sickly green and white, again implying her despicable nature, even as Morrow’s precise line work makes her a beautiful woman. Below her, the rough strokes that show the “alien mind” help separate him (it?) from this universe. Thon’s laboratory contains the clichéd “mad scientist” tubes and containers, but Morrow uses gorgeous colors to make it sparkle and shine, contrasting to Chandra’s nauseating green hues. Morrow slides from her green to the richer blue of the cave, once again linking the two of them but also separating them. The blues in the cave are also linked to Thon’s blue robe, so that it’s removed even more from Chandra’s grasp.
Orion, who’s wildly impulsive, tears off Sprite’s mask, which she wears so no man can see her and fall hopelessly in love with her, and in doing so, he … falls hopelessly in love with her. So yeah, they get it on. Morrow uses thinner lines to show the tenderness of their lovemaking, and the way he draws them together, especially in Panel 1 (the drawing closest to the left, as the panel borders don’t really exist), is a nice contrast to the way Ted gripped Ellen in the Man-Thing story we saw yesterday. Orion and even Sprite smile in the middle drawing, as they get swept away a bit. Morrow uses hotter colors – red, yellow, orange – during the sex, and in the middle drawing, when they’re smiling (and presumably taking a break from the banging), he paints it pale purple, and then, in the afterglow on the right side, he colors it a deeper purple. In the final drawing, he eschews pencils, it appears, and goes straight to brush work, softening the two people, who are now snuggling in the aftermath of sex. The color choice and the softening of the two is something that can only be done in comics, and it’s neat to see Morrow take advantage of these … um, advantages.
Chandra invites Orion to a banquet, where she plans to seduce him and, using an unguent applied to her nipple, make him her slave when he sucks on it (I love the word “unguent,” by the way, and I’m fairly certain I first read it in a comic book, because comics expand your vocabulary!). Sprite, naturally, stops him. Once again, Morrow dresses his characters very well – this time Chandra is wearing a fiery red outfit, because red is also an evil color. Orion isn’t quite decked out in royal blue, but his outfit is a dull blue, again providing a contrast to Chandra but, because of the red trim, linking the two of them. I don’t even want to know what’s going on in Panel 2! Morrow does another good job with the way Chandra changes in Panels 3-5 – she’s trying to seduce Orion in Panels 3 and 4, so Morrow closes her eyes and even makes her eyebrows a bit less severe, especially in Panel 4. Then Sprite appears in Panel 5 to warn Orion, and Morrow cocks her eyebrow, widens her eyes, and flares her nostrils, making her once again the evil witch. Orion, being the goofball that he is, looks awfully surprised in Panel 5 considering he knew Chandra was trying to steal his sword. But Morrow makes Orion a bit of a goofball throughout – in the grand tradition of barbarian warriors, he thinks he can do whatever he wants and is surprised that people are in any way underhanded. You’ll also notice that Morrow draws women very well – he grew up in the 1950s, so they look a bit curvier than the standard of beauty in the late 1970s, but they have natural-looking breasts and round hips, so they look like healthy and gorgeous women. As they’re almost naked throughout this comic, it’s nice that Morrow knew what he was doing!
I’m only going to feature Morrow for one more day – I could do two more days, but one of the comics I was thinking about doesn’t really show us anything new with his work, so I’m skipping it and moving on to the most recent comic by him that I own, even though he kept working almost until his death. Be here tomorrow for one more look at Gray Morrow’s art! And while you’re waiting, be sure to traipse through the archives!