Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Gray Morrow, and the graphic novel is The Dreamwalker, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated 1989. Enjoy!
I have a confession to make, good readers. As of the day I’m typing this (15 February), I have not yet read The Dreamwalker. Not too long ago, my comics retailer had one of his big ol’ blowout sales, where he prices to move a bunch of collections and graphic novels, often for a buck, and I go in a scoop some up. I got this because Morrow drew it, but I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. From the description at the Grand Comics Database, I guess it’s about a CIA agent whose bosses try to kill him and when he discovers that his father was a costumed vigilante back in the 1940s, he decides to adopt that persona. Whatever. It was written by Miguel Ferrer and Bill Mumy, which is really weird. In 1989, Ferrer was riding high from his work on RoboCop, and Mumy was a child actor in the 1960s (he played Will Robinson in Lost in Space), but he didn’t seem to be doing much in 1988/89. What they were doing writing a graphic novel for Marvel remains a mystery! Anyway, I’ll read The Dreamwalker soon (maybe even before this post goes live), but for now, let’s check out the artwork! [Edit: Yeah, I still haven’t read it. I have a lot to read, people!!!]
Morrow was 53/54 when he was drawing this, and it’s a bit old-fashioned for the time, but we can still see how good he could put together a comic. He’s still coloring his own work – I imagine this was painted, much like his other work – and so Morrow can use a lot of different subtle things. When our hero – Joshua – drops down on the guard, Morrow uses thick brush strokes and some white paint on his jacket to show that it’s leather, contrasting it with the wool (presumably) of the guard’s uniform. We can see his nice thin lines, but because he uses paint, he can obscure the lines a little to make the work more “realistic.” The shift from blue-black darkness to bright light in the final sequence is a bit weird, but Morrow needs to show what’s going on, so that’s why we get the shift. His page layout is pretty neat, too – he has to fit a lot onto the page, so we get 10 panels on the page, but it doesn’t feel crowded. The final 5 panels can be shrunk because everything is moving quickly – Morrow is just showing flashes of things happening, as opposed to the first 5 panels, where Joshua is moving a bit more deliberately.
The nice Asian gentleman in this scene tried to kill a nice blonde lady, but Joshua (as the Dreamwalker) was having none of it! Whenever I’ve seen Morrow do pure action, it always seemed a bit stiff, and this is a good example of that. It’s not terrible, but it’s not as fluid as the best action artists. Morrow does some nice things, naturally – the bursts of red and yellow make the blows look more violent, which is the point. Morrow is using thick inks here, giving his characters a much tougher, more “realistic” look than we saw with “Orion” yesterday. He lets his precision go a bit to show the Asian dude’s hair mussed and even Joshua’s thinner hair flopping around a bit. These small details are why the fluidity of the characters doesn’t matter as much – this does look more brutal because of those details, and the slightly stiff figures make it appear that they’re struggling to bash each other, unlike superheroes, who often do it effortlessly.
This is another nicely laid-out page, as Morrow rotates our perception so that when Ehrlich falls, it feels like he’s been falling for a while. Morrow leads us onto the page with Leonard, the “fat man,” and his eyes appear to be watching himself in Panel 2. Morrow shows us Ehrlich’s back and then rotates us around so that we see his front. Our eyes move from Leonard in Panel 2 down to Ehrlich, over to Leonard looking back up the panel at Ehrlich, and then, in Panel 3/4, from Ehrlich’s face to Leonard letting him down, then to Ehrlich’s body hitting the floor. That moves us to Panel 5, where Ehrlich moves us back up to Leonard, which moves us to Panel 6. It’s an unusual layout, but it works quite well. Morrow is still using thin lines, but he’s added some more frenetic inking lines, such as the ones that show the folds in Ehrlich’s shirt. He’s being a bit more gritty (as gritty as he can be), which suits the subject matter nicely.
Here’s another action scene, and Morrow again does some nice work even though he’s not a traditionally strong action artist. The layout is odd but still symmetrical, with Joshua in the middle becoming a center of gravity around which the entire page revolves. So in the top layer, he leaps toward us, then Morrow rotates the “camera” so that he finishes his leap by moving away from us. Then we get the frontal shot of him, looking back where he came from, and in the bottom layer, he leaps back through the hole at the bad dude, and Morrow again moves the “camera” so that he’s leaping back toward us again. So the first and last panel are linked, and the whole scene comes full circle. Morrow once again uses a bit heavier inks on the men, but notice that he still uses fairly delicate line work on Andrea in the background, and, of course, she’s still sexy even though she’s getting abused by the bad guy. Morrow does a nice job with the way the clothing flows and the hair flies as the characters move, which is a nice touch. Even though it’s still not his strength, Morrow does a decent job with the fight.
This is a flashback to Joshua’s father’s time as the Dreamwalker, and Morrow does a good job showing that it’s happening in the past. He uses much thicker brush strokes on the ground in Panel 2 and in Panel 4, when the Dreamwalker takes the dude off the motorcycle, and on the clothing of the hood in Panel 6. He can still do delicate brushwork, as we see on the bushes in Panel 2. We can still see that Morrow’s action scenes are a bit stiff, but he still does a good job when characters aren’t “moving.” He doesn’t use absolute black and white, and the browns and grays help create a more nuanced flashback rather than it just being a stark view of the past. It’s quite keen.
Morrow continued to work after this – he was drawing Tarzan for the newspapers at this time (from 1983 almost to his death), and in the 1990s, he drew a serial for Penthouse Comix which I, alas, don’t own (his work from the magazine is collected, but I don’t think much else is, and it’s too bad – Penthouse Comix featured some really cool artists). He developed Parkinson’s in the late 1990s, and he died in 2001. Morrow doesn’t seem to be as well known as many artists who came of age in the 1950s, which is too bad. I hope you enjoyed this brief look at his artwork!
Tomorrow I’ll return to a more recent artist, and I’m sure T. will be here! And remember that there’s a lot of cool artists in the archives!