Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Steve Pugh, and the issue is Grimjack #69, which was published by First Comics and is cover dated April 1990. Enjoy!
Steve Pugh drew a short story in a British anthology magazine in 1989, but then he started work on Grimjack, his first long-form comics work, when he was 23 years old. His first issue was #66, but issue #69 is a bit more interesting, so I thought I’d start with it instead!
And, of course I begin with a double-page spread, because why should I make this easy? As usual, it’s in two scans, so if you want to see it larger, you need to click on both sides. Sorry!
I have not read this issue of Grimjack (or any issue after issue #54 – see here for an explanation), but that doesn’t mean I can’t check out the artwork, does it? This is a nicely designed page, with the flaming skull fortress in the center, around which everything revolves. Pugh uses scratchy lines around the edge of the flaming skull, and Martin Thomas colors the rest very nicely, as its brightness draws our eye no matter where we look on the page. Behind it, we get the stark contrast of the bright blue sky with the dimension in which Cynosure sits, and Pugh again draws ragged lines to separate the two dimensions. He rings the skull with a halo of explosive bursts, which helps keep the proscenium motif of the page going as it radiates outward. Around the edges, he sets three giant pyramidal spaceships, which form the boundaries of the image. Along the bottom we get the city in the distance, with Pugh again using scratchy lines to give it a rough, unhewn look, and the mounds of dirt on each side rising upward that aren’t clearly bodies but imply it – the way Pugh adds the spot blacks make some of the images look like skulls, even though it’s not obvious. In the foreground, the pyramid ships are too large to see, but Pugh places a ring of them halfway up the page, and Thomas uses white ink as lightning crackles around them. The laser cannon in the center of each of them looks, obviously, like an eye, which makes them even more disturbing. We’ll see in the next few days that Pugh is quite good at horror, so the demons flying around are very creepy. Pugh cleverly places one of them in the bottom right, coming toward the reader and leading us to the final caption box, which takes us to the next page. His design of the demon is horrific, but it does serve a nice function!
Pugh’s line work at this time was, as you can see, rather rough, but that might be because of the milieu in which this story takes place. He uses nice thin lines in places, such as the hair of the characters, which adds some haunting beauty to Panel 2. His art is still sketchy enough that we get the thin, scratchy lines of the woman John is remembering. We’ll see this later in this post, but you can see a bit of the “Pugh face” – he draws faces a bit wide, with wide noses. He uses thick strokes, too, especially on the folds of clothing and on the woman’s hand in Panel 3. It’s a nice blend of brush strokes, which adds delicacy to the characters while putting them in a gritty landscape.
As I noted, Pugh is good at horror, and we see a bit of that here. We get the rabbit head floating in the green liquid, as well as the flying rabbit head with the gun attached to it. That … thing in Panel 1 (I don’t know who that is) is marvelous – Pugh dresses it in a weird costume, and uses harsh lines on its face to create this staggeringly bizarre look. In profile, it’s even more terrifying, as Pugh gives it a deep mouth with giant teeth jutting out of its jaw. In Panel 5, Pugh draws a “Terminator”-type robot smashing its hand through William’s chest, punching out his heart. Pugh does a really nice job with William’s shocked look, which looks like the way you might expect someone whose heart has been punched out of his chest. Pugh has a nice sense of humor, too, as we see with the creature in Panel 2, as it asks a question with a sideways glance, as if it knows it’s probably overstepping its bounds (as we see in the next panel, it is). This is a weird page, but Pugh makes it work, both as a horror page and as a humorous page.
There’s a couple of neat things in this sequence. In Panel 2, Pugh uses short black strokes to create an impression of the girl’s hair, which Thomas then fills in with yellow. The white crackling around her makes her look jittery, and Pugh’s impressionistic artwork begins that process, as Pugh uses a lot of thick black lines, and then relies on Thomas’s colors to help it along. In Panel 3, the lighting is a more “normal,” and Pugh uses slightly thinner lines, even as they’re still a bit ragged. Pugh again shows that he’s good at horror – the guy in the bottom left who has lost his face is very good and very messy, and on the right, there’s a weird-looking creature, and Pugh shows its head blowing apart quite well. Pugh designs the creature nicely, with its hat coming over its eyes, which makes it look like a giant brow linking up to the odd, flattened nose. The creature’s mouth is disturbing, to me at least, as it really does appear vaginal. Whether Pugh meant it or not, the way the lips meet in a steeple right under the nose is very strange and sexual. The heavy inks on either side help create that effect, as well. It’s bizarre.
Pugh and Thomas give us the crackling effect again, and so we get frantic lines in the character’s hair, with the white inks scratching all over the panel. In Panel 2, it’s even more obvious, as it appears that Pugh perhaps erased some holding lines in the woman’s hair and Thomas simply filled it in. These are good examples of the “Pugh face,” especially in Panel 2. The woman’s face is fairly wide, from her cheeks and her nose to her smile and chin, and Pugh tends to draws faces a bit – just a bit – squarer than most artists. The inks on her face are very nicely done – Pugh does a lot of nice short strokes along her cheek, nose, jaw, and chin, which adds an aura of creepiness to her smile. Pugh draws crossed axes in her eye, and I’m not quite sure what’s up with that. Maybe I ought to read the issue. Thomas does nice work with green in the panels – the background, the tank top, the jeans, and the eyes are nicely linked, and even the woman’s hair in Panel 2 is tinged with green. It’s pretty neat.
We come full circle here, as the first page up above showed “hell” coming to Cynosure, and this page showing “hell” getting kicked out of Cynosure. Pugh takes us from the upper left caption box and swirls it from the top along the right side – showing the pyramid ships along the way and back to the left, where the funnel spits out one of the pyramid ships. The pyramid’s arc takes us back toward the dialogue balloon, which frames the path of the pyramid as it goes toward the bottom right. It’s a well designed page.
I don’t know how Pugh did this page, honestly. Obviously, the spout of the funnel is inked with black and then colored, but at the top of the funnel, it appears it’s just white paint, and I assume Pugh drew the lines but didn’t ink them, allowing Thomas to paint over them. Once again, Thomas uses thin, scratchy white across the page to imply lightning, and Pugh’s ragged lines once again gives Cynosure a somewhat slum-like look and the pyramids look more like junk than sleek ships. Unlike earlier in the issue in which the eye-cannon was partly covered, as if the pyramid was lazily scanning the scene, in the crashing pyramid, the “eye” in the cannon is unobscured, which makes it look surprised that it’s actually crashing. It’s a strange but nice touch.
So that’s early Pugh artwork. It’s quite neat, although he obviously got better as he went along. Next time, I think I’ll skip his earliest DC work and check out the first series for DC on which he was the regular penciler. What could it be? Some of you probably already know! In the meantime, be sure to give the archives a look!