Land of Lost Stories: Chapter Two
Ladrönn's Lost Adventure: The Saga of the missing Silver Surfer epic
In 1997, Ladrönn with his Kirbyesque style quickly became a fan favorite for the readers of Marvel Comics when he and then-unknown writer Joe Casey put the fledgling "Cable" title on the map for comics fandom. The Casey-Ladrönn team produced fast-paced, over-the-top stories in the excellent Lee & Kirby tradition. The title earned the cover of "Wizard" magazine while Casey and Ladrönn became hot commodities, soon getting work on other Marvel books and even branching out to DC for projects. When they were working on their biggest "Cable" storyline (a final battle between the hero and his tormentor, Apocalypse), the pair was removed from the title to make way for Rob Liefeld's -- albeit short-lived -- return to the character he created. The team was split up and Casey soon became one of comics' busiest writers while Marvel concentrated on locking Ladrönn into an exclusive contract.
For a while, Marvel had the artist drawing lackluster gigs like a "Fantastic Four Annual" and such. They had no idea what to do with him until editor Tom Brevoort let Ladrönn roam free in a beautiful back-up strip for the 2000 "Thor Annual." With this story and liberated from the monthly grind, he was able to demonstrate that he was more than just a penciler, but a true artist, a master at penciling, inking and painting. What normally would have been traditional Marvel filler material became a lavishly painted story of epic proportions causing the editors at Marvel to finally reward him with an "Inhumans" limited series that would follow the Eisner-winning "Inhumans" work by Paul Jenkins and Jae Lee. Writers Carlos Pacheco and Rafael Marin wanted to tell a more traditional Marvel story about the Inhumans and in Ladrönn they had an artist who would give the story scope. The series was a modest success, but triggered the beginning of a falling out between Marvel Comics and Ladrönn. In the beginning, the book was quickly green-lighted by editorial and solicited before the artist had completed the first book -- that's all fine and dandy, but this wasn't a typical comic book. Apparently Marvel expected Ladrönn to paint all four issues in a mere few months and they expected the same quality of work that they had seen in the "Thor Annual." The pressure was on from the beginning and yet the artist still managed, with the help of friends, to produce an outstanding piece of work in the first three issues of the four-issue limited series. The stress and sheer volume of the work had already set him behind for the fourth issue, and when Ladrönn requested additional time, the editor decided to get another artist fast to meet the deadline.
Around the year 2000, things got worse when Ladrönn terminated his exclusive contract with Marvel because they did not hold up to their part of the bargain. There were numerous conditions and stipulations that were part of his deal - the most important one being that Marvel would help him in attaining a work visa. With the bureaucracy and inner-office shuffling going on within Marvel, the artist became a victim of their red tape when Marvel stuck to the excuse that all dealings with Ladrönn's visa were done without Bob Harras' knowledge and thus removed this important provision to his contract. Already residing in California, Ladrönn soon had to pay for the costly immigration legalities out of his own pocket because his immigration status was jeopardized in part to Marvel's sudden change in attitude. He decided that with the end of the "Inhumans" series so to would be his days at Marvel (for now).
Another broken promise was a 64-page Silver Surfer graphic novel entitled "The Lost Adventure" written especially for the artist by writers Randy and Jean-Marc Lofficier which Marvel would proceed to also terminate. The Lofficiers had handed in a complete script and Ladrönn had done preliminaries and finished the first four pages when Marvel decided to pull the plug on the project for no apparent reason, even after having paid for the full script. The four fully rendered pages are all that remain of a project that had so much potential. The artist was very excited about the book and looked at it as being a significant contribution to the Surfer's legacy, Ladrönn elaborated, "I felt that it was a big mistake on Marvel's behalf because they didn't consider the importance of this project. The 'Silver Surfer' book was going to be the third arc of the 'Silver Surfer's' trilogy. The first one was the graphic novel by Kirby and Lee, the second one was with Moebius and Stan Lee, and this book was the third part, which would have completed the trilogy. When Jean-Marc and I approached Marvel with the book, we thought that we had to bring the Silver Surfer full circle. The story written by Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier -- on which I helped a bit -- was a story with the Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Nick Fury, and a few villains. Marvel decided now wasn't the time. I had completed a few pages in color, but nothing else."
This Silver Surfer story was inspired by the fact that there was a major continuity gap between the Surfer's appearances on "Silver Surfer" #18 (Sept. '70) to his reemergence in "Sub-Mariner" #34 (Feb. '71). Somewhere between those two issues various characteristics of the Surfer had changed including his trademark angst and torment. It was as if he had taken anti-depressants. "The Lost Adventure" sought to fill in that gap and explain the Surfer's maturation, co-writer Jean-Marc also added that the story would have been "a science-fiction epic not encumbered by present-day continuity, that would have given Ladrönn the chance to shine by offering the opportunity to draw what he does best: Vast sci-fi landscapes and concepts, futuristic worlds in ruins, aliens, etc."
The story begins with the return of one of the Surfer's most powerful villains, The Overlord, from "Silver Surfer" #6 (Oct. '68). The evil foe intends on ruling the universe with his acquisition of the power cosmic. Reading the script one can only imagine how beautiful Ladrönn would have visualized these words, especially a hardcore Kirbyesque battle between Overlord and Galactus in which the devourer of worlds losses in rather dramatic fashion. (There's even a Silver Surfer versus Iron Man scenario that's highly amusing, even though we all know the rusted hero doesn't stand a chance!) The finale involves Silver Surfer together with Iron Man and Dr. Strange as they meet up with the Overlord and his herald -- Moebius's incarnation of the Silver Surfer. As to how the Moebius Surfer entered the story Jean-Marc elaborated, "My theory being that the Moebius Surfer was the same Surfer as the one from the Lee-Kirby Simon and Schuster trade paperback from the '70s -- he was from an Earth which had no other super-heroes." The tussle between the two Surfers is abounding with cosmic energy complete with Kirby-like krackle! And, in the end, the Surfer reflects on his past adventures and is reborn in spirit, no longer filled with resentment. It's a very visual story, one that's grandiose and filled with heart-pounding action. The Joe Quesada regime at Marvel apparently hasn't noticed the appeal of this story or The Silver Surfer character but that could perhaps change on any brand new day.
In 2002, Ladrönn's work on "Hip Flask: Unnatural Selection," reunited him with Joe Casey in what was a new milestone in comics and a revelation that received overwhelming praise from fandom and critics. The book involves much of the same techniques the artist employed on the "Thor Annual," "Inhumans" and "The Lost Adventure pages," but integrated with other new techniques that he has picked up along the way. "Hip Flask" creator and letterer extraordinaire, Richard Starkings, explained Ladrönn's style in detail. "What you must also realize is that the art you see in 'Hip Flask' is a combination of airbrush, watercolor, color pencils, pastels, acrylics and gouache enhanced in Photoshop and Painter and therefore the finished work only exists in cyberspace. Even the boards to which Ladrönn applies the airbrush and watercolor base are Xeroxes of the original inked pages. Only when Ladrönn's work is printed does it exist in the material world as he has envisioned it. In a sense, everyone who has brought 'Unnatural Selection' owns an original."
No matter the odds, Ladrönn is a survivor because, despite all the setbacks and obstacles, he continues to make great comics and covers with passion, detail and drive stronger than I've ever seen. Working for major companies proved that they didn't appreciate the hours of painstaking detail he puts in his art, but set free on the world of "Hip Flask" and he has managed to produce a science-fiction masterpiece about a twisted totalitarian world meeting its match in the form of a genetically-altered hippopotamus that is radiant! Having followed Ladrönn's career since his first issue of "Cable," it is utterly amazing to see the progression from a once mere Marvel penciler to a truly refined pioneer who somehow successfully made a fusion of American comics and European comics in his work.
The artist is presently working on the lavish European graphic novel "Final Incal." "Final Incal" is the final installment of the adventures of John Difool's saga, the book is written by Alejandro Jodorowsky, the Chilean poet, and film director of "El Topo" and other cult films. He also continues his brilliant cover run for "The All New Atom" at DC and rendering on the last part of the Hip Flask's mini series, "The Big Here & The Long Now." Last week saw the release of "Unhuman: The Elephantmen: Art of Ladrönn," 128 page oversized, full color hardcover art book that's full of Ladrönn goodness.
Special thanks to Ladrönn, Richard Starkings and Jean-Marc Lofficier. The original version of this story was presented in "Comic Book Artist" #23. Remember, my hope is that those folks who have this type of unpublished story material in their files may consider contributing to my desire in telling the "Greatest Stories Never Told" in comics.