Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Brendan McCarthy, and the issue is Paradax! #1, which was published by Vortex Comics and is cover dated April 1987. These scans are from The Best of Milligan and McCarthy, which was published by Dark Horse in 2013. Enjoy!
McCarthy and Milligan introduced Paradax, their fame-whore superhero, a few years earlier in Strange Days, but in 1987, he got his own short-lived comic, and that’s what I want to check out today. There were a few stories in Paradax! #1, so I’m going to take a look at samples from all of them. The first three samples are from the lead feature, “The Insane People,” which also has a lot of Tony Riot on pencils. Riot was sharing a studio with McCarthy, and according to the introduction, he drew “lots” of the story. How much? Beats me. But fret not – I’ll check out just McCarthy’s art later in the post!
McCarthy, as we saw yesterday, has an amazing imagination, and in Paradax!, he really went nuts with it. Jack Empty, with the planets orbiting and stuck to his face and the large gap in his stomach where a crow sits, is just the kind of creation that McCarthy does well. As we saw yesterday, McCarthy does amazing coloring work, as he uses psychedelic paints to very good effect to show how devastating Jack Empty is to Paradax. McCarthy’s comics are full of amazing designs and line work, but the colors tend to put them over the top.
Both McCarthy and Milligan are interested in sexuality, so it’s not surprising that it creeps into their work in the oddest ways. Here, we get a “dick-stick” that makes Al – Paradax – experience “an unnatural sexual delirium,” which leads to ennui (post-coital ennui?). McCarthy melds Lola into his brain in the center of the bottom panel, while turning the missiles that are threatening New York into breasts on the right side of the panel. The figure is not completely in the frame, but we can see that McCarthy gives her a wide, almost insane grin, while to the right of her, we get a totem pole that’s very McCarthy-esque – the elongated features are something of a staple in his art. As usual, McCarthy uses paints to amazing effect, with the colors swirling around our hero and Lola looking like she’s been tagged by a graffiti artist. In a lot of the story, McCarthy’s colors are a bit muted to show the “real” world, so these panels where he goes nuts are significant, showing that Al is not in his right mind.
Paradax takes out the bad guy and saves the city (although, as you can see by the bottom of the page, it’s a close shave), and McCarthy gives us yet another interesting villain. Al is a human being, and McCarthy draws him like a human being, but the villain – who might be named “Shudder” – is made up of more basic shapes and has less depth than Al, making him creepier and less of this world. He’s also Zip-A-Toned, which is an interesting choice. Just these small touches is enough to create a very weird bad guy.
The next feature is “Roaring’s Rantin’s,” which features our old friend Captain Roaring from “Freakwave.” And he’s telling bedtime stories. Yeah.
The first page is pure McCarthy. We get the first panel, where Captain Roaring sits in the background, while those people outside his bedrom look in. McCarthy gives the woman on the left amazing, plant-like hair and a multi-colored hockey mask, while her friend has thick, curly hair and a rotary phone above his brow. Why not, right? On the right side, we get another person with amazing hair holding a baby, which has the same contraption on that Captain Roaring does. The things on the bed, which aren’t, apparently, girls, are twisted and weird, which means they fit in perfectly. McCarthy’s details, as usual, are stunning. He gives Rotary Phone Dude long painted streaks under his eyes, while he’s drawn short lines around his nipples to make them look like eyes. He gives the one thing in the bed knobby skin and visible ribs, making it look more pathetic. In Panel 2, we see the captain close up as he moves to the bed. In one “Freakwave” story, he was shot in the mouth, and I thought that thing on his face might be because of that, but as the baby is wearing one too, perhaps it’s to do with the poor air quality. It’s absurd, of course, but it’s still wonderfully drawn. Notice how easily McCarthy moves from drawing an attractive person – the woman in the back is pretty – to the ugliness of the woman in the front and the captain – it’s this balance that makes McCarthy’s art so disconcerting, as it takes us to bizarre places but never leaves us fully behind.
Rudcliff and Williams, two very proper British gentlemen, go on an adventure, and McCarthy once again gets to draw the mundane mixed with the fantastic. The butler at the top is a two-headed man with animal arms, which is awfully strange, and Bunny and Constance Fortesque are silly parodies of the English upper crust, but McCarthy does very nicely with them. He gives Williams and Constance wonderful expressions as Constance breaks off their engagement, even though it’s all rather silly (punctuated by Williams’s correction of her grammar). McCarthy also does a wonderful job showing the decay of the estate, as he breaks the wall, and uses rough lines on the stone to indicate that the Fortesques have fallen on hard times, which is highlighted by the flashback, where the coloring indicates a glossier sheen to everything. McCarthy is still exaggerating things, but that doesn’t mean he can’t draw emoting people well.
McCarthy, obviously, doesn’t keep up the minimal realism of the story, as an ex-member of the aristocracy shows up and begins slaughtering people, leading our heroes to defend themselves. We have the typically outlandish McCarthy designs, but once again, we get the amazing colors – the purple swaths place the aristocrats and Rudcliff and Williams in shadow without overwhelming them, and it makes Forbes-Smythe and his hooligans stand out even more. McCarthy, as usual, doesn’t use inked lines for, say, Forbes-Smythe’s stripes, instead simply painting them on. As “1980s” as a lot of this book is, in many respects it feels very modern, which is partly because McCarthy was so ahead of his time.
The last story in the comic is “The Importance of Being Mirkin,” starring Mirkin the Mystic. I chose these samples because they show more of McCarthy’s amazing coloring but also because we can see him dropping images into the artwork, which still wasn’t done all that often back then. For me, it’s always interesting to see how artists integrate it into the penciled work, and McCarthy does it as part of the “irrational doorway” and the “realm of icon dynamism,” which makes more “sense” in a way. It’s a surreal story, and the multimedia only makes it more so.
McCarthy uses more photographs, but again integrates them well into the greater artwork. I love a few things about this sequence. First, Panel 3 looks like something you’d find in a 1950s horror comic, as McCarthy uses blacks really well to create shadows and define Mirkin’s shape as he snaps his fingers. Even the “Snap” lettering looks old-school. Second, don’t his shoes remind you of the ones on Seinfeld that Jimmy was selling? Those are actual shoes, so I guess McCarthy saw them years earlier and decided to put Mirkin in them. Unless the creators of that shoe were big Mirkin the Mystic fans …
In the late 1980s, McCarthy continued to stretch his artistic muscles, and tomorrow, I’m going to check out two more examples of him doing some weird – but different from this kind of weird – stuff. Don’t forget to come back, even though I’m sure you’ll have spent all the time between posts in the archives!
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