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 Hotwire: Deep Cut #2, which was published by Radical Comics and is cover dated October 2010. Enjoy!
Pugh has been working back in superhero comics recently, but I want to check out Hotwire, because it features the style he debuted in Shark-Man, but refined almost to perfection. Let’s see some of it, shall we?
The conceit of the series is that Alice Hotwire is an “exorcist” for a police department in the near future, where she fights “ghosts” that aren’t really ghosts. Don’t worry about it! The two mini-series are really good, so just go get them! Anyway, here we get a nice two-page sequence in which a young woman doesn’t realize she’s dead. Well, that sucks. Pugh switches back and forth from her “imagination” and reality, so we see what has really happened to her even though she doesn’t. We get some nice, delicate lines and colors when Eva is imagining things, from the soft pastels in the background to the smooth shadows on her body and face in Panels 1 and 4 on the first page. She’s seeing Tom, her husband, as an actual person, and Pugh is sure to use lighter lines and a soft brown for his clothing and face, contrasting nicely with his brutal reality. While Pugh uses a light blue in Panels 1 and 4 to imply Eva’s and Tom’s states, he uses deeper blues when we see the reality – the “ghosts” in Alice’s world are called “blue-lights,” so there’s a lot of, you know, blue in this comic. As we saw with Shark-Man yesterday, Pugh does very nice work with metals, as Tom’s exoskeleton is a harsh machine, contrasted against Eva’s light cotton shirt and leggings. Pugh wisely keeps Eva’s face hidden (for now), which helps sell the illusion that she’s still alive even though it’s clear she’s not.
This page is a good example of how much better Pugh has gotten at facial expressions. Alice’s partner, Mobey, is your standard tough guy, and Pugh gives him a granite-faced countenance that gets tweaked a bit through this page, and because Pugh has gotten better, it doesn’t need to be too exaggerated. In Panel 4, for instance, Mobey wrinkles his mouth and crinkles his eyebrows just slightly to express his disapproval with the doctor’s antagonism of Alice, and that’s enough. In Panel 2, the doctor’s wry look back at Mobey is done well – Pugh again doesn’t change his expression too much, just enough to show that he’s speaking about something he doesn’t necessarily believe in. Alice’s grumpy face in Panel 3 is nice, too – Pugh covers her head with the police hat, so it’s not as easy to see, but he thins her eyes and bunches up her mouth, so it looks like she swallowed something sour. Pugh wouldn’t necessarily have drawn these expressions this well a decade earlier, and it’s cool to see it here.
Alice gets attacked by a blue-light in her apartment (he’s haunting her; it’s a long story), and she doesn’t appreciate it. Pugh once again shows how good he got at using the computer to create a comic book, as the special effects on this comic are magnificent. The “ghosts” are incredibly eerie, and he uses just enough solid line work to create an impression of them, which he then details with paints, making them both tangible to a degree but weirdly ethereal and electric. Pugh uses a lot of blue in this comic, naturally, and he uses it well on this page, as he tinges Alice blue in Panel 2 and she’s bathed in the light thrown off by the “ghost.” As we saw above and in this panel, Alice knows how to dress – she’s wearing a jacket that could easily by the spiritual twin of Xander Cage’s awesome coat (seriously, that coat should have won Best Actor at the Oscars), and Pugh does beautiful work with it and the rest of her outfit. She’s wearing tremendous boot-cut jeans, which is good because she’s wearing, you know, boots. The red skintight undergarment is part of her uniform – it helps her deal with the blue-lights. Pugh takes his time to draw in every fold, and even though computer-assisted art like this often looks stiff and posed, Pugh is good enough that despite the hyper-realism of the clothing, the work is very fluid. There’s another nice facial expression on Alice in Panel 2, as she strains to drag the blue-light along, and Pugh scrunches up her eyes and nose and purses her mouth to show how hard she’s struggling. The overwhelming blue on the page makes the red “mouth” on the blue-light, the green neon in the device Alice is using, and the red in her bodysuit stand out even more. It’s well done.
Alice manages to open the window, which causes the “ghost” to die (again, it’s a long story – don’t ask!). I like how Pugh depicts its “death” – it’s getting sucked out the window, and Pugh draws it disintegrating. Notice again how well he blends the “organic” – the blue-light’s “skeleton” and the inorganic – the blue-light’s eye is obviously “robotic.” Despite not being flesh and blood, the blue-light’s disintegration is accompanied by some dark red spatter, and Pugh makes sure that it’s not excessive, so it blends nicely with the blues and greens that he’s been using throughout. It’s interesting that he uses the red, blue, and green as the main palette, and then blends in some lighter hues of blue and yellow in the motion lines as the “ghost” gets sucked away – the colors are really nice in this panel. He adds the crackles of electricity to once again remind us that these aren’t true “ghosts,” they’re electrical impulses, and even without the motion lines, the way he shows the skull getting ripped apart does well showing in which way the blue-light is moving. Alice forms a nice frame to the destruction, and Pugh uses the shadows very well – the right side of her face is, naturally, bathed in the light of the apparition, while the left side is shadowed, making the lit part of the panel even brighter. Again, we see how nice Pugh’s details are – the zippers and button fly on Alice’s pants are very clear, and it adds good realism to a scene in which a ghost skull is getting sucked out a window.
We return to Eva and Tom, who are still wandering in the forest. Pugh again switches from warm sepia tones when Eva believes she’s seeing herself and Tom as they really are to colder blues when we see their actual reality, and it’s again an interesting switch. The big reveal in the final panel is wonderful, as Pugh shows us what Eva really looks like, with her ghost face superimposed over the horrific injury to her head. Pugh’s use of blues through the series comes into play very nicely in this panel, as Eva’s blue face is juxtaposed with the horrid red of her bloody head. Pugh’s Photoshop use also makes the “ghostly” part of Eva as prominent as the solid part of her, which I imagine would be very difficult to achieve with just pencils and paints. Pugh’s details are nice on this page, too. He lettered the book, so the difference in the word balloons show Tom’s more metallic state and Eva’s “human” state, and as Eva begins to realize she’s not alive, smudges of gray creep into her word balloon in the final panel. Pugh also frays her shirt just a little in the final panel, which is of course a contrast with the pristine state it’s in when she’s seeing the world the way she thinks it is.
In recent years, Pugh has returned to Animal Man, and he just began working on The All-New Invaders for Marvel. He’s back to doing straight pencils, though, as I imagine it’s a bit quicker than doing art in this manner. I’ve liked his work since Hotwire, but it’s not as brilliantly done as this series, and I hope he can do something in this vein again. We shall see! Tomorrow, we’ll move on to a new artist, so if you’re not lost in the archives at that time, come back to check it out!