Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Jill Thompson, and the issue is Wonder Woman #46, which was published by DC and is cover dated September 1990. Enjoy!
Thompson began a decent run on Wonder Woman in issue #45, but she only drew 7 pages of that issue, so issue #46 was really her “first” one. It’s a heavy issue in which one of Vanessa Kapatelis’s good friends commits suicide, but we’re not here about the story, we’re here about the artwork!
I’ve mentioned before that fashion can date a comic in a “good” way by capturing the times without drawing too much attention to itself (unless it’s trying to), and Thompson shows us that in Panel 1. Lucy has a half-shirt on, and the artist, crouching on the right side of the panel, is wearing jeans with the knees ripped out. Throughout this book, we’ll see people wearing clothes that aren’t obnoxious, but do show that it’s 1990 quite well. You can see how much Thompson has grown in a few short years – her work is much more detailed and confident, and her characters strong and unique. Thompson adds nice touches to the work – we’ll see Diana’s hair better in later examples, but Vanessa’s thick, curly locks, heavily inked by Romeo Tanghal, are nicely contrasted with Lucy’s feathery blonde tresses. It’s not terribly subtle, but it’s still well done.
This is a nice scene. At the funeral, Vanessa sees three of Lucy’s friends, and it kicks her into flashback mode. Obviously, this is an old trick (it may have even been old in 1990), but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. Once again, we see Thompson’s attention to fashion – the outfits the girls are wearing at the funeral, with the puffy sleeves and Vanessa’s bow, are very time-specific, as is Vanessa’s short-sleeved sweater and Eileen’s pleated pants. Thompson moves us from the priest’s sermon to the girls in the background to Vanessa in the foreground, and then repeats the action in Panel 2, where Vanessa points us to the next page. The void created by Lucy’s absence in Panel 1 is palpable from Panel 2, which is, again, obvious, but well done. On the second page, we see that Thompson has gotten very good at character interaction – Vanessa’s rage in Panel 1 is so over-the-top but so teenaged, and her straight arms are perfect for someone in that moment. When she runs off, Thompson does a very nice job with Eileen’s face in Panel 3, as she’s able to understand better why Lucy would say something like that, but she’s still angry at her for it. Thompson also nails Lucy’s distant look in Panel 4, as she realizes that what Eileen said has struck home. While this story isn’t the most subtle one in the world, it does rely heavily on characters reacting to each other, and Thompson does it very well.
Thompson really does good work on this page – Diana has flown Professor Kapatelis back from a dig in Turkey, and Julia rushed to comfort her daughter. She does a wonderful job in Panel 3, where Diana bites her lip in fear that Vanessa is in trouble – they know Vanessa called her mother in Turkey, but they don’t know what happened since then. Then we get Julia’s frantic pounding on the door in Panel 4, as she desperately wants to see her daughter. The central image of the page, naturally, is Vanessa clinging to her mother, and Thompson draws it beautifully. Vanessa is a mess, of course, so Thompson and Tanghal make the curls in her hair and the lines in her face thicker, while they make sure the tears almost leave tracks on her cheek. In the final panel, we see how Thompson draws Diana really well. She gives her beautiful, thick, wild, curly hair, which suits Diana very well, even though it’s an example of Thompson giving a character her own hair style. Diana has never looked as Greek as when Thompson drew her, and there’s nothing wrong with that! Thompson and Tanghal do a very nice job with the details of the scene. The Kapatelis house has columns flanking the doors, and Thompson/Tanghal adds some cracks to them, implying that they’re ancient and not just made for the house. I doubt if they’d be columns from one of Julia’s digs, but it does add a nice touch of solidity and age to the space. Inside, the grain on the wood also adds a sense of permanence to the house. I don’t know who added all the lines to the wood, but it helps create a “real” space out of Julia’s house.
Diana visits Lucy’s parents, and Mrs. Spears tells her a bit about Lucy’s life. Once again we see the way Thompson dates the book without being too obvious about it – the hair styles, most notably, are very 1970s in the top left, when Lucy was born, and they become more 1980s as we move down the page. Diana and Mrs. Spears are drawn really well. Mrs. Spears is in a bit of a daze, and Thompson draws her with a far-off gaze as she narrates the story of Lucy’s life. She pins her hair back haphazardly, so that strands fall raggedly from the clip. It’s interesting that she has thicker lines to show her hair while Lucy’s hair was more lightly inked – I assume this is a conscious choice to show that she’s older and more haggard, while Lucy was still young, although not as carefree as her appearance implied. Meanwhile, we see Diana’s glorious hair again, and notice how Thompson draws her lip slightly pursed, with that small smudge underneath them, to show how sad she is to hear Lucy’s story. It’s another nice subtle facial expression in an issue full of them.
The final image of the issue shows that Thompson was becoming a more versatile artist, as well. The different “camera angle” in Panel 2 isn’t revolutionary, but it is a nice shift, as the chalk drawing of Lucy and Vanessa melts away in the rain (remember: this issue is not subtle). The actual chalk drawing that ends the issue shows how Thompson is growing as an artist. Some of it’s Tanghal’s influence, but just the slightly lighter line and increased hatching makes this a softer drawing, removing it from the “real world” of the issue and making it more of a, you know, chalk drawing. Thompson doesn’t use as much detail, leaving Tanghal to create nuance with horizontal lines, and the result works very well. It captures a time when the girls were best friends, and even though Lucy tried to distance herself from Vanessa, it helps remind Vanessa of their bond. It’s well done.
This style became Thompson’s default mode for a long time as she began working in some high profile comics like Sandman and creating her own stuff like Scary Godmother. But she began to move away from that just a little, as we’ll see tomorrow! Of course, you could always spend some time in the archives if you can’t wait!