Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Ken Krekeler, and the issue is Westward #2, which was self-published and is cover dated November 2012. Enjoy!
Krekeler's latest comic, Westward, is a ten-issue epic (seven of which have been released) about Victor West, the scion of a powerful company in a steampunk present, and his sister, Annabelle, and what happens after Victor gets in a horrible accident and wakes up after ten years in a coma. It turns out that Victor actually died in the accident, and his father used a small amount of his tissue to create a "manifold," a robot that has the personality of Victor West. It's best not to think too much about it! So Victor has to reconcile that he thinks he's Victor but he's really not, all the while trying to figure out his operating system, and while secret factions are moving against his company. It's a fantastic comic, and Krekeler's art is very keen. So let's see some of it!
This is a flashback, so it's actually Victor, visiting his niece Penelope on her birthday. As we've seen the past two days, Krekeler takes photographs of models and then uses those in his comics, but he keeps getting better at making sure those characters interact well with each other. Just moving Penelope's eyes to the side in Panel 3 helps make her statement about getting laughed at more tragic, and Victor's downcast look in Panel 4 shows that he feels for her, too. When Penelope says he's cool, we get that nice final panel, where Victor crooks his mouth and scratches his cheek, as he's not sure if Penelope's admiration of his "cool" is really a good thing. As we've seen over the past few days, Krekeler continues to use thicker lines, which adds heft to his characters and helps make them work together much better. The thick lines on Penelope's long gloves give her both a unique look and also make her feel more real. The fact that Krekeler doesn't ink the page so precisely is smart, too, as it helps balance the strange machinery that we see in this steampunk world. It makes the characters more human, which they need in this technologically marvelous place.
In this two-page sequence, Victor is trying to use his many steampunk-y contraptions, but he hasn't read the manual and he doesn't really know what he's doing. Krekeler gives us a wacky gun coming out of his arm in the first few panels, as it unfolds menacingly while Victor watches in horror. In the mechanics of Victor's gun, we can discern that Krekeler probably uses some images ganked from the Internet - some of the gears in this book look a bit too perfect - but as usual, he integrates it so well into the overall design that it works really well. Penelope hits the reset button on the back of Victor's neck, and he "explodes" in Panel 1 of the second page, as we see all the clockwork inside him. Krekeler uses blacks really well on the page, as he places Victor in front of a window so that we get a light source on the weapon, which also backlights everything in the room, so the weapon stands out while Victor and Penelope are thrown into deep shadow. As we've seen, this helps make Krekeler's use of models less of an issue, but it also places Victor literally "in the dark" with regard to his abilities - the weapon looks almost like it's dominating him, which for a moment, it is. The second page is tremendous, too. Krekeler doesn't take the easy way out with regard to Victor - he's a jerk in the past, and even though he's trying to be better now that he's a cyborg, he still knows that he's not very bright. So Penelope is comforting him, and then he breaks down, which surprises her immensely (and it's a callback to the page above, where she wants to be cool but not smart). Krekeler does a good job with Victor in Panel 7, but an even better job with Penelope in Panel 8, as she's stunned that Victor would admit something like that. It's a nice moment for both of them.
We get a good look at the "manifold," and it's clear that Krekeler uses some images from an Internet search - the gears and bike chain in Victor's midsection are fairly obvious - but as I've noted throughout the past few days, he integrates them really well into the whole, so it doesn't look bad at all. Krekeler is still using nice, thick inking lines, so that even though Victor is state of the art, he looks just creaky enough that we can believe he's part of a steampunk aesthetic. He still does nice work with the ladies' facial expressions at the bottom of the page, as they're stunned that Victor would expose himself like that (his sister is on the right). This comic can be funny, and Krekeler sells the understatement here.
This is a flashback again, as one of Victor's friends finds out something Victor did and decides to beat him up. It's another good inking job, as Krekeler does nice work with the blood on Bentley's fist in Panel 2 and the blood on Victor's face in Panel 5 done nicely. Even Panel 1, where it's a bit confusing because it looks like Bentley is standing over Victor, which makes his slap a bit odd, but when we read the previous page we realize he's kneeling over Victor, is nicely done, as the small blood drops connect Victor's face to Bentley's hand. As you can see in Panel 3, Krekeler doesn't always drop Photoshopped images into the background, although he does it in other places in the book. If he did so here, he inks the image roughly to match it with what's going on in the foreground. Again, Krekeler uses a solid line to make it less intrusive that he's using some computer tricks to achieve his art.
I've written quite a bit about the way Krekeler uses models in his work, and unlike some other artists I could name, I have no problem with it when he does it. I think it's clear that Krekeler uses them well, gets good "acting" into the book, and unlike some other artists, he tends not to re-use poses too much and he tries to mix things up when he does. The way he inks his work helps a great deal, too.
So that's Ken Krekeler, a name more comics people should know. Westward is a superb comic, but it's in danger of falling below the threshold for Previews because it's being ordered in such low numbers. That's too bad, and I hope that Krekeler can manage to get the final three issues done and out into the world. That would be nice.
Tomorrow: A new artist! I have a few ideas about who it will be, but I'm not sure yet. It will be someone, I promise you! It might even be someone who's better than the artists that now reside in the archives!