Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Kelley Jones, and the issue is Grimjack #73, which was published by First Comics and is cover dated August 1990. Enjoy!
After working on Action Comics and some other stuff, Jones really made his mark with his two-issue Deadman mini-series with Mike Baron, Love After Death. He then drew “Calliope” and “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” in Sandman #17-18, which also raised his profile. Around the same time he drew two issues of Grimjack, the first of which I want to check out here. I haven’t seen his Action Comics work, but based on everything he drew at this time, I think we can confidently call this Jones’s “middle period,” which lasted until, I think, the end of his Batman run. This issue of Grimjack, therefore, comes right in the middle of it!
I haven’t read this issue of Grimjack, because of reasons. Y’see, I started getting the back issues years after it ended, and then IDW began releasing trades of the series. They only went through the “John Gaunt” part of the series, and then stopped doing trades. Well, there were still 30 issues or so after that, weren’t there? Eventually I found the back issues from issue #56 (or whatever) on, mostly thanks to Mike Sterling, who had a bunch of them. By the time I got them, a few years ago, I had already passed “G” in my reading of my back issues, so I just put them where they belong and figured I’d read them when I got back around to that letter. Yes, I’m anal. Deal with it. So I have no idea what’s going on here. I guess Gaunt, or James Twilley, or Grimjack, has been sent to prison. Let’s just move on!
Jones inked himself in this issue, and it was beautifully colored by Martin Thomas, as you can see on this page and will see throughout this post. The crazy details on the prison have been a staple of Jones’s art, but the inking on them is slightly rougher than we’ve seen, giving it a more brutal look. It reminds me a bit of Kevin O’Neill’s linework, to be honest. Meanwhile, Jones’s use of blacks serves him well on this page, as we’ll see throughout this issue. The black looks thick and miasmic, and the black ground stands out nicely in the twilight. Thomas uses quite a bit of orange in this comic, so the sky sets a nice tone for the rest of the book.
This is a classic Jones page. The faces are much more exaggerated and cartoony than they were a few years earlier, as Jones has begun turning more and more characters into caricatures. He’s still quite good at faces, but they’re just becoming more and more “unrealistic.” So in Panel 1, Gaunt’s mouth is huge, emphasizing his rapacious nature as he smiles. Jones draws a large nose, eyes that seem to sink into his face, and bushy eyebrows. These features, however, look almost naturalistic when compared to the doctor in Panels 2 and 3, with his wild, horizontal hair, his walrus mustache, the thick glasses, and his giant proboscis. His assistant is as ridiculous, with the giant chin that extends far out from his mouth and his even bushier eyebrows. He also has a giant nose, of course. Jones did this more and more – create these ridiculous characters and give them extremely exaggerated features, which made his books veer far more into weird horror than you’d expect. Occasionally, of course, he’d draw an actual horror comic, but he did this on every book, and it led to some cognitive dissonance. The inking on this page is marvelous, though. The thug in Panel 2 has such deep-set eyes we can’t even see them, and Jones inks the hell out of Panel 3, with the doctor’s hair seemingly straining to leave his face and the crinkles at his eyes going deeper than you’d think possible. Panel 4 gives us heavy, thick folds in Gaunt’s prison outfit, confining him as much as the chains do. He’s turned away from the light, so his face is in semi-darkness, and it looks like he’s being crushed by just the experience of being in prison.
This is another example of how Jones was drawing at this time. Once again we see Gaunt’s eyebrows taking over, extending so far from his face that they’re three-dimensional. The old dude’s brows are similar, and his hair looks like the ocean during a storm. Note that Jones, moving from relatively precise lines, is using fewer holding lines, creating contrast by his heavy blacks – the old dude’s ruffles in Panel 3 don’t appear to have any lines, just blacks to create an impression of ruffles. This is fascinating, as it shows how confident Jones is in his abilities with black, and it makes his work even more atmospheric.
As Jones became a bit more exaggerated, he also became more Romanesque (unless I’m completely misusing the term, as I often do), as his buildings began to feature more solid stone work, which we see here. He turned Gotham City into a bizarre masterpiece a few years after this, but here he just confines himself to the prison, using blacks with mortar spaces in between them to imply the giant stones used to build the walls. Once again, he confidently uses blacks as substitutes for holding lines, so that Boitoi in Panel 1 is shrouded in shadows and Gaunt is a black mass in Panel 2. Jones uses thick black lines for the bars and the shadows in Panel 2, and Thomas colors the scene gorgeously, with dirty yellow streaming through the window and mixing with the sooty air inside the cell. Gaunt is in the cell, but he’s also trapped inside the cage created by the light, which sets him apart even from his cell mate.
This is fairly classic “middle period” Jones, so it’s another good page to ponder. In Panel 1, we once again get the exaggerated face, as Gaunt’s eyebrows have a mind of their own, his teeth stand out against the blackness of his gums, and his smile seems far too large to fit on his face. Jones’s thick inks, combined with the light source (which seems to be coming from behind him in other panels but from below him in this one), create the deep blacks on his face, making him look more maniacal than usual. In Panel 3, Jones uses a fairly regular trick of his, as the background simply swirls around the two participants, inducing a bit of nausea. The figures aren’t too exaggerated, but they’re not exactly “realistic,” either. Once again, the use of blacks helps create a nice sense of ugliness to the scene. The panel leads to Panel 4, where Gaunt leaps and kicks the thug in the face. It’s yet another typical Jonesian action shot, with the starburst lines behind the two figures adding to the dynamism of the panel. Thomas’s soft colors on the man’s torso make it almost Cubist, which is odd. Jones, you’ll notice, uses pencil lines more when he’s farther away from the subjects, but he still simply uses thick black inks on the prison uniforms.
Man, Kelley Jones was really being “Kelley Jones” in this issue, wasn’t he? I do like the way he smears Gaunt’s cigarette smoke up the page in Panel 1, but then we get to the giant snake eating that dude. He’s almost all black, so that Thomas’s greens stand out much more sharply. In Panel 3, we see Jones’s predilection for sharp and somewhat mismatched teeth – it’s certainly not as pronounced as in other comics, but Seth still has a lot of them. His muscles bulge as he goes for the old man’s head, and in Panel 4, we get more rough swirls behind the scene as he begins to swallow. The thick blacks once again dominate, making Seth’s head even more grotesque. His mouth, distended to swallow the prisoner’s head, looks exaggerated, fitting in with Jones’s style, but only because he’s a giant snake swallowing a human, so the mundane act of a snake swallowing its prey becomes horrific. Panel 5 is more of the same, and Jones does a superb job with it.
This is an interesting example of Martin’s coloring. We still see the exaggeration from Jones, and again we see how well he uses blacks – in Panel 2, Gaunt’s hair is almost all black, with Thomas’s orange adding a nice highlight to it. Then Layla appears in Panel 3, and because only Gaunt can see her, Thomas softens her considerably, so it looks almost as if he colored her with pencils. Jones exaggerates her a bit, with the crazy hair flying out around her head and her akimbo pose, but the coloring is what makes the image cool-looking. In Panel 4, we see more of this – Jones, moving into close-up, makes Layla much more “realistic,” and Thomas adds beautiful white highlights to her purple hair, so that she almost shimmers. This is a nice contrast to the rest of the issue.
For this final panel, I just wanted to show “Kelley Jones” blood. In Panel 3, Gaunt is bleeding from the mouth, and Jones draws the blood as black lines seeping along his chin. Jones almost always draws blood as black, and he uses far finer lines for it than a lot of artists. It’s interesting, because it’s one of those tics that you can point out and say, “Yep, that’s a Kelley Jones image.” Obviously, someone as idiosyncratic as Jones isn’t hard to miss, but the way he draws blood is just another way to identify him. Those blacks in Panel 1 are cool, too, aren’t they?
Jones moved on soon after this to start working with Doug Moench on the “Vampire Batman” books (he may have already been working on them at this point; I’m not sure), and after that, he and Moench did one of the most unusual runs on the main Batman title – and one of the most unusual runs ever in mainstream superhero comics. I’m skipping that, though – I wrote about it quite a bit here – and jumping ahead to later Jones! Come back tomorrow to see where I go next! In the meantime, don’t be afraid to check out the archives!