Year of the Artist, Day 230: Norm Breyfogle, Part 4 - <i>Hellcat</i> #2

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Norm Breyfogle, and the issue is Hellcat #2, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated October 2000. Enjoy!

Man, Hellcat. It sure is something. It's been a while since I've read it, so let's just jump right in. Patsy is in Dormammu's dimension. Mephisto shows up. It's kind of cray-cray. Let's go!

This is Breyfogle's Ditko comic, and he does a pretty good job with it. As we'll see throughout this post, he just drops weird things into the background, which is perfectly fine. In Panel 1, we get that pointy cube floating next to and behind Dormammu. In Panel 3, we get the optical-illusion shapes floating around Patsy. In Panel 5, Dormammu uses his mojo to cast a spiky spell. All of this is icing on the cake. Meanwhile, Tom Smith colors this, and it's a good fit with Breyfogle's pencils. Breyfogle, like a lot of artists who came of age in a pre-digital universe, often has a style that doesn't seem like it would fit with modern coloring - his work isn't simple in any sense, but he does use very bold, sturdy lines, which doesn't seem like it would allow for much nuance in the coloring. Smith works well with him here - in Panel 3, Patsy's face is a bit smoother than we might expect with flatter colors, as Smith gives her shading that once would have been inked lines. For Dormammu, we get just a little of the airbrush effect on the pinkest parts of the his costume, which adds a bit of texture but doesn't overwhelm the strong pencil work. It's a good mix, and I assume that Smith colored it mostly digitally, which shows that digital colorists certainly can work with artists whose work might not benefit from the rendered work we often get. It's always nice when the artists work together instead of at odds with each other.

More Ditkovian elements show up on this page, as Patsy runs through the dimension and tries to figure out what to do. In Panel 1, Breyfogle draws that purple river running across the page, inking it with nice swirls and leading our eye toward Patsy. In the background we get a constellation, and notice the way it's colored - I imagine Breyfogle drew it, but then he or Smith blacked out the background and therefore got rid of the holding lines. In Panel 2, she sees the demons ready to invade hell, and Breyfogle once again does his best Ditko impersonation. Around her float all sorts of weird shapes, while in the foreground, Breyfogle doesn't take any time off and gives us wonderfully detailed demons. Notice that his line is a bit sturdier in this comic than it was a decade earlier - his inking lines are thicker, and I wonder if an inker like Hodgkins, as I showed yesterday, had rubbed off on him in any way. As we can see, in the bottom right we get a special effect - the woman is blurred, and I assume Breyfogle did that digitally somehow, unless he left it up to Smith when the latter colored it. As I've often mentioned, I don't mind these kinds of effects, because they're used sparingly and for a specific purpose. As we'll see, it's not like Breyfogle/Smith kept the blurriness when Patsy meets the woman.

The woman is Umar, and Patsy can't free her, even if she wanted to. I wanted to show this sequence because of Panel 2, in which we get that funky background. I asked Breyfogle about it, and he told me that "the dots were all copyrite-free, black and white patterns that I myself added to the art; then the colorist would sometimes color hold them and make them various colors." It's a neat aspect of the art because it feeds into the general weirdness of Dormammu's realm. I also like the background colors in Panel 3 and inside the orb in Panel 4, because it's another example of Smith using digital coloring without overwhelming the pencil and inks. He uses that airbrushing judiciously, and it adds a nice extra dimension to the color art. Meanwhile, Umar's prison magically keeps her skirt up. That's handy!

Breyfogle does really nice work here, as his inks are very detailed and bold as he shows the horrible demons invading hell. He uses a brush (I assume) to smudge the insect-like creatures, which not only makes them look rough but also shows the battle-filled situation they're in, while his design is just tremendous. As he's done for years, he uses nice thick lines on the smoke rising from the flames on the field, because that makes everything look much worse. This is still Breyfogle, of course - we can see a fairly typical "Breyfogle" face on Daimon Hellstrom, for instance - but while he's never deviated too much from his basic style, he's constantly tweaking his art nicely, and these bolder inks are one manifestation of that.

Here's another nice Ditko-esque page, as Patsy runs along a path above the invading demons, and Breyfogle places small panels with her in them along the way to move us across the main panel. Beneath her, we once again get very detailed drawings of demons, even though they're far enough away that Breyfogle could have done a little less with them. Panel 2 gives us a nice perspective, as Patsy reaches a corner of the path and looks down through the gate into hell. It's vertiginous, but not overly so, and the concentric circles leading down help us with the perspective. Notice the one demon pointing up at Patsy, which prompts the attack in the final two panels. As usual, Breyfogle does that thing where he draws two or more panels close together in time to show a lot of motion, and we get that with the demon halfway up on the path and then completely on the path, while Patsy reacts appropriately to his threat and more demons start to clamber up. In the close-up panel ("IT'S JUST LIKE A SOAP OPERA!") we get that groovy background, with yellow squares lengthening into rectangles as they "flow" away from Patsy's face. Again, I don't know how Breyfogle or Smith achieved this effect, but it's pretty keen. [Edit: I forgot to change this when Breyfogle told me about the example above. Obviously, it was the same thing he did above, as he confirms in the comments.]

Man, for this final example, I didn't even use Hellcat, and it's her comic! Satannish betrays Mephisto, because according to Englehart, Dormammu created Satannish simply so he, Dormammu, could take over hell in a three-issue mini-series starring Patsy Walker. Yeah, okay, Mr. Englehart. A couple of things stand out here. First, of course, is the digital coloring, which again works well with Breyfogle's artwork - the blast that takes down Mephisto looks "magical" (I absolutely refuse to spell it with a pompous "k"!), partly due to the twisty way Breyfogle draws it but also due to the coloring making it look somewhat out of step with reality. In the final panel, we see once again the way Breyfogle draws sparkly lights, which we saw in Whisper a few days ago and see throughout Breyfogle's career. He likes making the light sparkles as bold and solid as anything else, and he'll be damned if he changes! It's refreshing, actually, because many artists have moved beyond actually drawing in the borders of sparkly lights, simply allowing the colorist to add it in post. The coloring on the sparkly lights is well done, and it's clear Smith could have simply added them, but Breyfogle drew them in his own damn self. That's just how he rolls!

I also love that the Kuato-like face in Satannish's gut doesn't look happy even though Satannish and Dormammu almost look gleeful. Did Head Satannish forget to feed Stomach Satannish? This demands an investigation!!!!

For the final day of Breyfogle, I'm going to take a look at one of his more obscure comics from this century. Do come back, or I may cry. And if you never check out the archives, how will you where to spend your money?

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