TRANSMETROPOLITAN: FILTH OF THE CITY
You know what kind of book I don't think we see enough of? Gallery books. Pin-up art books. Art books. Whatever you want to call them. One shots meant to serve one and only one purpose – show off a variety of artists' work by commissioning full-page illustrations in line with some theme.
Top Cow has done a couple with WITCHBLADE and FATHOM. DC did some a few years back with Batman and Superman. Heck, they even did one with Death. Marvel did their MILLENIAL VISIONS special.
That's one of the reasons I found TRANSMETROPOLITAN: FILTH OF THE CITY so exciting. The 48 page prestige format book collects single- and double-page splash art from a wide variety of talented artists, not the least of which are Brian Bendis, Matt Howarth, Judd Winick, J. Scott Campbell, Klaus Janson, and Kevin Maguire. There aren't too many clunkers in this book, either, with the possible exception of the coloring faux pas on Steven Pugh's page.
The good news is that you don't have to be a TRANSMET fan to appreciate this book. You can revel in all the pretty pictures. Warren Ellis provides snippets of Spider Jerusalem's columns and writings to accompany each image. Most of them are not spoilers (although there are a few big ones throughout the issue), and I doubt many of them would leave you lost.
Most of this issue is Jerusalem describing some situations that go on in his city. Ellis gets the chance to show off some fancy prose. The pages are cleverly disgusting in many cases, ironic against the images, satiric in spots, and poignant in others. (There are also the police-bashing pages and the America-bashing pages, but if you hang out long enough on Ellis' forum, you get used to both and the water rolls off the duck's back.)
The book stands on its own nicely, as you can follow Spider from place to place and get a general overview of the city, with a great mix of humor and drama along the way. Ellis keeps his pen in check on this book moreso than the last one shot special, I HATE IT HERE. I think it works better this way in most cases.
And it should be noted: This book ain't for all ages -- neither the images nor the words.
The book is presented in prestige format for six bucks. I'd love to see more art-centric books. And if a writer can put some text to the images that would work as well as this, it would be a great bonus. I just don't know if the prestige format is the way to go for other pin-up specials, though. You'd need something with paper nice enough to handle the art, but the cardboard cover and square binding wouldn't be completely necessary. 32 pages of pure art would be good enough. Maybe a $3.50 price point. Or maybe I'm just dreaming. It would be a nice idea, assuming a theme could be found that's interesting enough. Heck, I say give the artists a chance to draw any characters they want, so long as it fits a theme. It could be like a professional themed sketchbook. What if DC published a book by various big name artists of whatever DC characters they wanted to draw all fighting the same guy, like Darkseid? (Just make sure to get Evan Dorkin for one of the lamer heroes…) What about Marvel publishing a book of mutants on their day off? Something that would give some talented artists the chance to shine without necessarily being pretentious would be fun.
Just a thought.
THE ART OF INKING
I don't talk all that much about inking around here. Certain names always perk my ears up, such as Mark Farmer or Art Thibert. You can see their influence on any book that they do. But it's always interesting to see how different inkers can affect the same penciller. I didn't much care for Jimmy Palmiotti's unbalanced inks on top of Mike McKone's art in the SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPER-HEROES Elseworlds mini-series. On the other hand, Dan Jurgens' art on CAPTAIN AMERICA right now looks as good as it ever has, thanks to Bob Layton's inks.
But one book that shines right now because of the inking is MARVEL KNIGHTS. Eduardo Barreto is a pretty good artist. Klaus Janson inked his first issues on the series. It looked fine, but didn't seem very polished. This might just be a stylistic choice on my part, but I can't recall ever seeing Janson's inks on anything I liked, aside from some John Romita Jr. work. His inks on Erik Larsen's pencils in THE DEFENDERS were pretty bad. Larsen blames it on his own tardiness, but I think it's just a stylistic clash.
Barreto's art now, however, is inked by one-name wonder Nelson. His inks there add all sorts of dimensions to the pencils.
Take a look at the shadow work, in particular. Nelson pays very close attention to the shadows at work in any given panel and pays meticulous attention to the shape of his spotted blacks. It's not enough just to put in a large area of black ink. He does some fine crosshatching along the outer edges that doesn't look busy. It adds dimension to the art. He also breaks up the solid areas in spots where some light might touch on a protruding bit, such as a nose of the edge of a brow.
It reminds me a little bit of Kevin Nowlan's inks. It's not heavily stylistic. In a way, it's fairly classical and adds to the art in a more natural way than a stylistic way. I think this style of inking reminds me more of non-comic book artwork.
Now if only we could get Barreto to start throwing backgrounds into more of his panels…
Westerns in comics are funny things. There are a number of professionals who say they want to do one, but they rarely sell so companies don't want to foot the bill. In the past few years, what few westerns we've seen on the stands have been remarkably well done. John Ostrander's been responsible for most of it, starting with the superb THE KENTS at DC and then moving over to Marvel with BLAZE OF GLORY. Jeff Mariotte has scored with the only other big name Western, DESPERADOES. Just take a look at the talent list involved with those books: Ostrander, Mariotte, Tim Truman, Tom Mandrake, John Cassaday, Leonardo Manco. Chuck Dixon has often said he'd love to write Westerns. Those are some seriously talented people. And yet Westerns still don't sell. I admit that it's not my favorite genre, but like anything else I can enjoy a well-written one.
It wasn't all that long ago that Jeff Mariotte sent around the black and white photocopies of the first issue of his upcoming (at the time) Homage series, DESPERADOES. The first thing I noticed (and subsequently wrote about) was the absolutely unbelievable art in the issue. Sadly, John Cassaday would only last four or five issues before moving on. DESPERADOES was more or less sunk at that point. It came back for one iffy one shot with Cassaday layouts, but hasn't been heard from since.
Now, DESPERADOES is back with "Quiet of the Grave," a new five part story with Jeff Mariotte back in the saddle again. This time around, he's got the timeless art of John Severin on his side. The book looks just as beautiful, in its own way, as it did back at the start again. Severin draws more naturalistic people than most artists today. They're not caricatures for one another. They have a wide variety of expressions. Inking himself, he shows a great command of lights and darks. I think this book would look just as good in black and white as it does in color. He spends time drawing shadows, such as the ones falling on the face from the brim of a hat or the ones on the side of buildings coming off of posts embedded therein.
Nick Bell is restrained in his coloring, too. While keeping everything in a more earthen tone and natural palette, he doesn't overpower the art. He doesn't drown the out art with overly moody coloring. It compliments the art, keeping things bright enough to be able to savor the pen and ink present on the page.
It's tough to talk about the story without spoiling anything. You don't need to have read the original stories to jump in here. If you did, you'll catch some of the side references in the dialogue, but it won't affect your understanding of the greater story. This first issue of the mini-series is a nice lead-in. It sets up the characters for you and gives you a taste of what the story will be about.
DESPERADOES crosses Western with horror and the supernatural. None of that actually shows up in this issue, unless you use your imagination and try to stay ahead of the author. It's just a gang of diverse outlaws on the run, relying on each other and trying to stay out of trouble. But trouble has a funny way of finding them.
There is a trade paperback collecting the original series, and I would highly recommend that, if only for you Cassaday completists. I think you'll find the story offers just as much entertainment as the art does. While this storyline just cries out for a trade after its completion, don't count on it. The way westerns sell, I'll be half amazed if all six issues make it out to market. So buy it now to encourage them to print all six. It looks like it will be worth it.
MIDNIGHT NATION 1/2
…is my favorite story of the series so far. Unfortunately, since this column is as spoiler-free as I can make it, I can't really discuss the story too much. Suffice it to say, JMS comes up with a great high concept for this issue and runs with it, in a way that's funny, fresh, poignant, and inspirational. It's got all the JMS hallmarks. Reading the dialogue coming from the mouths of the three main characters in this book should be all you need to figure out who wrote it. There are a couple of unfortunately clichés in the book (including a real groaner on the penultimate page), but it should be easy enough to read around those.
Michael Zulli does the art for the issue, and it's beautiful stuff. It looks unclean. It's obsessed with loose lines and shadows and architectural detail. He "gets" Laurel and David without relying too heavily on Gary Frank's designs. He can make them his own for the purpose of this story.
Unfortunately, the issue is only available via a Wizard mail-in offer that's long expired by now, I'm sure. If you can grab someone else's copy to read, I thoroughly suggest doing so. Heck, if you've never read MIDNIGHT NATION before, this story stands on its own well enough that you could get into it.
Don't forget, in two weeks: Pipeline goes daily. There will be a new Pipeline column every day of the week from Monday to Friday during the week of May 28th.
And sometime between now and then, I promise a review of the two issues so far of the great NBM book, BONEYARD. I don't want to rush it. The book is worth the extra time to review, I think.
More than 200 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.
This year, you can still catch me at the Chicago Comicon (i.e. WizardWorld) and the San Diego Comicon (i.e. the Comic Con International: San Diego). Things are looking good for the Small Press Expo in Maryland later this year, too.