A MUTANT, A DRAGON, AND LOTSA NINJAS
If Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis do another DEFENDERS mini-series and Kevin Maguire isn’t available to draw it, I nominate Paul Smith to take the drawing board. The man is perfect for their needs. He draws expressive characters, can handle any situation they might be placed in, and can make it look good in the end.
KITTY PRYDE: SHADOW & FLAME is the latest collection of his artwork, drawn from the six-part mini-series Marvel published last year. It’s a stunning book, with ample opportunity for Smith to show off his chops in drawing an X-Men book with a certain old school charm. Akira Yoshida’s story gives us an action movie in six parts, each with its own set piece and action agenda. It may not be anything revolutionary or mind-blowing, but it is enjoyable. While the story flows along gracefully and logically, it’s Smith’s art I couldn’t help but stop to admire every couple of pages.
First, the set-up: Kitty Pryde receives a letter from Japan from an “old friend.” It’s a green dragon friend of her purple dragon, Lockheed. Pryde immediately hops a flight overseas to help out the dragon, and quickly is dragged into the world of spies, ninjas, generational duties, past glories, and Japanese history.
Smith gets to draw a little of everything. He throws in dot tones throughout the series, especially in the first chapter set in street level Japan. He’s approximating a manga feel in a Western comic. Those patterns are seen throughout the book, often as background coloring. Japanese characters also take on their own style, looking very much pulled from the pages of manga titles without being distracting or too derivative.
Smith’s art is open, not weighed down with cross-hatching or feathering. It’s all solid line construction, using the bright coloring of Chris Walker with Christina Strain to add shadows and texture. Smith doesn’t need the colors to add depth, though. His storytelling and panel layouts take care of that easily enough. This is the kind of storytelling that should be studied by modern comic artists. It’s almost a throwback to the eighties. Smith doesn’t use flashy gimmicks or extreme angles to make interesting pages. He distinguishes between foreground, middle ground, and backgrounds by placing objects in each. He leads the eye through the page like there’s nothing to it.
Joe Rubenstein steps in to ink the second half of the series. While the tonal patterns mostly disappear in his inks, there are plenty of speed lines to make up for that. Rubenstein breaks up those lines to make each panel interesting, while maintaining the basic feel of Smith’s artwork. There is a slight shift in style with Rubenstein’s inks, but you don’t notice it after a few pages. It’s very subtle.
This isn’t all to say it’s a perfect book. There are a few oddities in it. Smith succumbs to a continuity gaffe early in the second part of the story. As Kitty stands still, the jacket she just took off suddenly appears back on her shoulders for a couple of panels.
Production has its gaffe, where the back cover copy says this is a reprint of a five part mini-series, when in fact it’s a six-parter.
(UPDATE: Whoops. Apologies to Marvel’s production department: The mini-series is only five parts, indeed.)
And perhaps most annoying of all is the lettering from Randy Gentile. The word balloons are shaped wrong. It looks like he’s going for a John Workman feel with the balloon style, but he’s using the wrong font to fill the balloons. Far too many have lots of white space under the lettering, while others wind up in funny shapes. It’s an interesting attempt to approximate the style you see in most Robert Kirkman titles these days, but it doesn’t work. If that’s the style they wanted for the book, they might have been better off using Rus Wooten, who currently handles Kirkman’s lettering on THE WALKING DEAD and INVINCIBLE.
Still, for $14.99, you’re not going to get much better art in comics today. I was also pleasantly surprised that Marvel chose to reprint this series at standard comic size instead of their digest size. It could have gone either way, but I’m glad to have the chance to enjoy Smith’s beautiful art at its standard size.
SO YOU SAY YOU WANNA PUBLISH?
Coming soon from Devil’s Due Publishing is the kind of comic book that requires a columnist to take a deep breath before daring to utter its horribly long-winded name —
— and inhale deeply —
HOW TO SELF-PUBLISH COMICS . . .NOT JUST CREATE THEM is Josh Blaylock’s new four part series meant to educate the unwashed on the ways of the business world of comics from a publisher’s perspective. It may not seem like it, but it’s a big risk for him to try this. In the long run, of course, there’s the chance that he’s showing his future competitor how to run him out of business, but that’s not what I’m thinking about. In the short term, there are people in this industry and on the internet who will dig into this book with glee looking for some hint of a scandal written between the lines. While I can’t think of any Pat Lee-like scenarios surrounding Josh Blaylock, that doesn’t mean there’s not some random disgruntled ex-studio mate or freelancer who wants to whip things up.
I hope that doesn’t happen with this book, because it’s a rather nice introduction to the world of comic book publishing. Blaylock doesn’t talk about creating properties and telling stories here. He’s not discussing the merits of Final Draft versus Microsoft Word for writing, or Painter versus Photoshop for coloring. He instead wears his publisher’s hat proudly, discussing the bare bones of the Direct Market, the timing involved with printers and distributors, and some of the essential tools for publishing comics in the modern age. It’s not authoritative or complete, but it does serve nicely as an introduction to some of the realities of the comic book world.
As with any How To book, there are parts that will seem mindless to you. “Isn’t that obvious?” will leave your lips once or twice while you read the comic, but I guarantee you that for some other reader out there, it isn’t. That other reader is muttering the same thing in completely different parts of the book. C’est la vie.
Most interesting to me is the back section of the book, which includes Real World examples of printer quotes and invoices, purchase orders, and distributor invoices. While there is the mandatory legal text at the bottom of each page explaining that, essentially, “your mileage may vary,” it’s still interesting to see the scales involved in the real world numbers given in these examples. It’s also informative to see what these things look like out in the wilds of the publishing world. This book isn’t all talk.
I also appreciate the book for its stark simplicity. It has black text in two columns on white paper. With the exception of the random house ad and the occasional pull quote, there’s nothing trying to distract you from the text or dazzle you with some designer’s brilliance. Such was the bugaboo of too many other publications, from WIZARD to MARVEL AGE.
The book has its shares of curious design features, though, such as a sidebar that runs down the right column of three consecutive pages. At that point, isn’t the sidebar a separate entry all to itself? I’m sure some better informed graphic designers might also debate the merits of pull quotes that start off the second page of an article, or the relative position and sizing of same. While that caught my eye once or twice, it wasn’t a hindrance.
The other thing that might throw you off the book is the $4.95 cover price for, essentially, a thin 25 page text. (The comic has 32 pages, but there are seven pages of ads in the book.) If you’re seriously considering entering the business, though, you’ll be able to write this off. That’s a topic that I hope will be covered in a future volume.
I made a big stupid mistake last week. My memory played some mean evil tricks on me, leading me to one of my dumber questions in Pipeline history:
. . .since when is there a NYC in the DC Universe? I thought DC stuck to made up cities like Keystone and Metropolis and Gotham. Is that changing post-CRISIS, or am I just overreacting and forgetting some obvious piece of DC lore here?
Of course I was forgetting something. Multiple somethings, even. Part of me wishes I could take that question back. After all, the Giffen-era JUSTICE LEAGUE books were set in New York City as well as real cities around Europe.
Most e-mail responders pointed to the Wolfman/Perez-era TEEN TITANS book set in New York City. I can claim ignorance on that one. I’ve never read the series, though I manage to accumulate most of the back issues at cons in the past decade.
Judging from the mountains of e-mail I received, it also looks like the JSA is set in NYC. AQUAMAN featured the sinking of San Diego into Sub Diego. Manhunter is in Los Angeles. Green Arrow could be seen in Seattle during Grell’s run, perhaps? SUPERGIRL was in Virginia. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
Don’t forget about the VandS DVD podcast, while you’re at it, looking at each week’s new DVD releases.
Various and Sundry continues its link dumps, DVD talk, Thursday Geek Talk, and more.
More than 600 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically.
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