SOME FURTHER WORDS ON GEORGE ROUSSOS
In one of the most overlooked deaths in the comics industry in a long time, Marvel bullpen veteran George Roussos died a couple of weekends ago. Former Marvel Editor - and current Stan Lee Media writer/editor -- Jim Salicrup was kind enough to share a few words with Comic Book Resources about Roussos:
"George Roussos was one of the first people I met at Marvel when I started there as a kid back in ''72. I learned a lot about coloring just by looking over his shoulder for years. Even though he seemed determined to work in isolated, hard to find parts of Marvel's offices over the years, he never seemed to mind my asking him all sorts of questions about his long, incredible career in comics. I loved his stories about having to run up to the Bronx to get his paychecks from Bob Kane during the early years of BATMAN or working with Stan Lee inking and coloring for years.
"One of my favorite memories of George is when whichever company owned Marvel that week sent an efficiency expert around asking everyone about his or her job. When George was asked how long it took him to color a cover he said, "Fifty years." And indeed, it was a true answer because it took that many years in the business for George to be able to bang out so many covers as quickly and as well as he did.
"They say modern civilization began with the ancient Greeks. For the last 28 years, I was honored to have known one of 'em! I'll miss you, Mr. Roussos!"
Welcome to part two of the Pipeline2 discussion on best writer/artists of the 1990s (or so). Last week we took a look at several of your candidates. This week it's my turn. Because today's my birthday so you're reading about who I like! Nyah! ;-)
BRING OUT THE BRITISH…
I couldn't put Alan Davis in the Writer/Artist team category last month. While his early work on EXCALIBUR with Chris Claremont was good, I think his solo stuff in the 40s, ably assisted by Mark Farmer's inks, was more entertaining. The storyline held together better. The sense of humor was a little wilder. The characterization was on-key. The art was better. The situations were kookier, but without the feeling of rambling on that the Crosstime Caper gave you.
I also happen to think that Alan Davis and Mark Farmer produce the best-looking and most technically superior art in comics today, bar none. The anatomy is well done. Female characters can be sexy without resorting to balloons on their chest or legs that are twice as long as torsos. The characters all come from different stock. It's not like with some artists, who seem only capable of drawing two or three body designs. Howard Chaykin draws one male figure. That's it. John Byrne has a larger supply, but you can still see a lot of repetition in his character designs.
It's also a shame that we don't see the kind of groundbreaking, self-propelled work from Davis that we should be seeing. The work on UNCANNY X-MEN recently was fine, but lacked excitement due to being caught up in larger editorial plans. JLA: THE NAIL had some gorgeous artwork and a good story, I though. I can understand that he felt burnt in the whole CLANDESTINE situation, but I'd really like to see Davis do something creator-owned. In the meantime, we'll have to wait and see how the KILLRAVEN mini-series he's doing for Marvel turns out later this year. Maybe it'll have the same kind of personal stamp that EXCALIBUR had.
Amongst all the names you probably have circulating in your minds, one name that isn't there (most likely) is Don Rosa. For the past dozen years or more, he's been (arguably) the most popular Uncle Scrooge storyteller in the business. For various reasons (legal and financial), his work can't currently be seen in America. Disney's comic license for Scrooge, Donald, and the rest of the gang is currently in limbo. That's a damned shame, made doubly so because it deprives those of us in America of seeing Rosa's work in its original and intended language.
His art, if there's any argument to be made against it, can come off as stiff and awkward. Compared to the Duck King, Carl Barks, Rosa's characters are more likely to look wooden. Compared to William Van Horn's ultra-cartoony work, Rosa's characters look like posed action figures, articulating only at the shoulders and elbows. But it's also jam-packed in every panel. There are three different levels you can be reading a Rosa story at at any given moment. Background gags flow like margin-fillers in MAD. Little bits of continuity, as well as lovingly recreated scenes and backgrounds from classic Carl Barks stories are part of the mystique.
Like Barks, his stories are often based on fact, derived from the latest pages of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC or some valued literary text. You may not notice it when you first read through them, but when you start answering obscure questions on JEOPARDY!, you'll see what just happened. But the stories don't suffer from this. Rosa knows how much info to put in the story, and always crafts something interesting around that. Besides, what's more fascinating than real life, and real history?
He's also done some very inventive gag stories. There's the one where gravity turns sideways and much of the storytelling is done sideway to go along with it. I'd put that story up against just about any other you could name that used the visual storytelling process against itself so well. There are some straight slapstick stories, as well, but it's the historical action/adventure story that Rosa is most known for.
William Van Horn, on the other hand, draws mostly ten page gag stories. His cartoony action and liveliness make for some of the most active comics I've ever read. His Ducks make Carl Barks' look posed.
He also is possessed of a gifted tongue. Reading the linguistic gymnastics he puts some of his characters through is an education all unto itself. I've never known a writer to make better use of a thesaurus.
Not only can he write and draw, but he also letters all his own work, in a style very reminiscent of early Carl Barks' work. We're lucky in America to be able to see his lettering, and not some translation of it. Foreign translators working on his stories can't possibly get paid enough for the work they have to do to his stories for foreign audiences.
MORE LIGHT-HEARTED MADNESS
Along the same light-hearted lines, I put Kyle Baker on my list. He wrote some of the funniest stuff I had the pleasure of reading in the 1990s, even if all of it didn't necessarily originate then. YOU ARE HERE, THE COWBOY WALLY SHOW, WHY I HATE SATURN, I DIE AT MIDNIGHT. These are all great self-contained books that not only have a story to tell, but do it with flair, with great humor, and with style. He brings a great "outside" voice to comics, showing different influences than you might otherwise see.
His style is interesting, too. He draws his comics straight on the computer nowadays, coloring and lettering them there, too. He doesn't use word balloons, placing the dialogue under the panels, instead. It's an interesting effect.
Baker did an interview with THE COMICS JOURNAL that appears in this month's issue. He has a very different voice that most comics professionals. For him, it's about ownership and money. And he makes no bones about it. He can knock out these books pretty quickly and takes great joy in that. To Kyle Baker, comics are not rocket science.
YOU HAD TO KNOW THIS ONE WAS COMINGSummer 1999
On the lifelong comics insider track, though, we have Erik Larsen.
I would rank Image as the #1 development in comics in the 1990s. It created new awareness for creators' rights, it got people to look outside of the Marvel/DC deadlock in comics, and it did affect the rights creators got across the board in comics. For better or worse, Image Comics had the greatest and most profound effect on comics in the past ten years. Not WIZARD. Not eBay. Not Vertigo.
But the only one of the founding fathers to stick to his guns and produce actual work has been Erik Larsen. Month in and month out, he's produced now close to 75 issues of THE SAVAGE DRAGON, on more or less a monthly basis. He's the only one still writing and drawing his own book.
If only politically, he merits inclusion in this list.
But it's more than just that. DRAGON is one of the most entertaining books on the market, too. Larsen's irreverent romp through some of comics' more hoary clichés earns him scorn from some, and laughter from those "in the know." His characters are always in danger. Death is real. Actions have consequences. People act real. Time does pass by. The action is top notch, the situations go from ludicrous to melodramatic.
In a company dismissed because of its "hot" art styles, Erik Larsen's art is geared towards the storytelling, in addition to being eye candy. Able to put in 16 panels on a page or one panel across two, he can use the right one at the right time, controlling the pacing to a fine degree. Both writing and drawing his stories means he can tell them right, and as the writer envisions them. Being an artist, he has a very visual mind. It's a combination that works for all the writer/artists mentioned here this week.
DRAGON is an amalgamation of everything that's great about comics. It's just a shame it doesn't sell better.
LAST COUPLE OF QUICK MENTIONS
Brian Michael Bendis easily enters this list, too, but I already extolled his virtues at great length a couple of months ago. Go read that column instead. =)
Frank Miller makes my list, but I mentioned him last week.
Jay Hosler's CLAN APIS was a darn fine read last year, but a single mini-series does not a career make. In the meantime, look for the trade paperback collection in the latest issue of PREVIEWS, page 198.
Scott McCloud gets honorable mention, too, if only for UNDERSTANDING COMICS and THE NEW ADVENTURES OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
J. Scott Campbell would have a chance at making this list if he had produced more DANGER GIRL.