Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Brendan McCarthy, and the comic is Rogan Gosh, which was serialized in Revolver #1-6, which was published by Fleetway and is cover dated July – December 1990. These scans are from The Best of Milligan and McCarthy, which was published by Dark Horse in 2013. Enjoy!
Revolver was another one of these anthology magazines that makes anthology magazines sound awesome, as the issues contained this story as well as the Morrison/Rian Hughes Dan Dare stories and a story by Shaky Kane, to boot. Rogan Gosh was published in 1994 by Vertigo, but for some reason I didn’t get it and had to wait until Dark Horse reprinted it in their Big Book O’ Milligan and McCarthy. It’s best not to worry too much about the plot and just sink into the dazzling artwork.
This is the first panel of the book, and it doesn’t really hint at the insanity within, although look how gorgeous it is. As we’ve seen, McCarthy is very accomplished at “realistic” artwork, which underpins his more fantastical stuff very nicely and makes it more easily digestible. Here, he draws an Indian city in the High Empire era (Rudyard Kipling is narrating, which tends to date it), and we see how well McCarthy creates the scene. We’ve seen him use the shaky inking to show aged stone, as he does here, and on the right side, he draws beautifully delicate idols. The people are also very nicely drawn – they’re not the hyperactive fever dreams of a lot of McCarthy’s art (and which this book will morph into), but they give us a good sense of the place and the people of Cawnpore (which today is called Kanpur). You might notice a somewhat Orientalist “exotic East” feel to the scene, which, given where the story goes, has to be deliberate and parodic. There’s very much in this story that has “White Man’s Burden” feel to it, which Milligan and McCarthy tend to upend at every opportunity.
In Rogan Gosh, McCarthy used a lot of techniques he had been refining over the years, including this panel, which appears to be airbrushed with paint layered over it. McCarthy doesn’t do this a whole lot in this book, but he does it here. The face is all colors, making it gauzy and illusory, while McCarthy uses thick paints for the markings on his face. It makes the swami a bit more dreamy and unreal, which is because he’s not exactly in the real world.
Rogan Gosh is riding a bull, and McCarthy uses straight pencils with delicate inking, which is his “base” style for the most part. As usual, he doesn’t use a lot of hatching on either Rogan Gosh or the bull, preferring instead to use painted loops and streaks as a substitute. Rogan Gosh is holding a sun in his hand, and to me, it appears to be another drawing that McCarthy found elsewhere and pasted onto the board. He could have drawn the entire thing, of course, but it definitely looks like something he found and decided would look nice in the book. Meanwhile, the background is a swirl of paint, and I have no idea how McCarthy did it, unless it’s just a canvas that he painted and then photographed to place the other stuff on top of it. That seems likely.
And, of course, we get what appears to be straight painting. This doesn’t look like the swami, who was (probably) airbrushed, as it just looks like McCarthy got himself a board and took a brush to it. He uses a base blue, which sets off the red and orange quite well, while the analogous green makes this look a bit more marine than just the blue would. Even with the unusual character, McCarthy does a nice job with the eyes, and they’re downturned and melancholy even though the thing is supposedly angry. Yes, he’s angry, but he’s also disappointed. Isn’t that always the way?
Tom Frame lettered this, but I wonder if McCarthy did these letters, because they’re part of the artwork (yes, I cut some of it – the entire thing didn’t fit on my scanner!). Once again, we get beautiful paints, and once again, McCarthy uses very few lines to define the eyes, the nose, and the rest of the face, saving the most precise line work for the beautiful red lips. He does use thicker lines for the hands, however. He uses the paint to create a fluidity to the face and the rest of the scene, which fits with the drifting narration. It’s a clever way to show how hallucinatory the story is.
Here, McCarthy takes the previous page and uses the negative, while adding a few images of Dean’s head into the mix. I’m not sure if McCarthy just used the negative image of the previous page or if he used the negative and added some of the colors – I’m inclined to think it’s the latter, as the yellows and pinks seem a bit too cleverly placed. I don’t have much else to say about this, because it’s just too trippy.
On this page, McCarthy simply uses cut-and-pasted photographs to fill up the page. It’s a clever way to show “everything,” as in a comic, doing this sparingly helps break down the barriers between the comic book world and the “real” world, drawing us into the comic even as we recognize the artifice of it all. The giant white panel is simple and perhaps obvious, but its intrusion into the mad riot of images hits very hard, especially because the rest of the book is so colorful. It’s cleverer than you might think!
I love the weird animal that pulls Rogan Gosh along, as the design is bizarre, of course, but McCarthy uses just a little bit of inking on the head and neck that makes it look like plumage, while the sparse inking on the wings allows McCarthy to create the feathers with beautiful brush work. Notice the hair on both Dean and Rogan Gosh – the part-down-the-middle, feathered bangs look is kind of McCarthy’s go-to hair style, and it stays that way even into the new century. It’s rather interesting. Meanwhile, the background is once again light paint, adding again to the dream-like atmosphere of parts of the book.
Rogan Gosh is absolutely stunning in terms of artwork, and I apologize for not writing more about it, but it’s just a distillation of everything McCarthy had been doing throughout the Eighties. Weirdly enough, as the Nineties began, McCarthy drastically cut back on his comics work. He drew a few short stories, a single issue of Shade, the Changing Man (#22, cover dated April 1992), and he inked some stuff. By 1993 or so, it seems he was completely out of comics. He went into movies and television, and it doesn’t appear that he came back to comics until 2006, when he did the final issue of Solo. Since then, he’s been relatively busy, and for tomorrow’s final day, I’m going to take a look at probably his best work since he returned to comics (although Solo #12 is a strong contender, as that thing is bonkers and also adheres to the Batman Axiom of Comics, even though McCarthy might be the least likely artist to draw the Caped Crusader). Be here and see what kind of work McCarthy is doing in the new century! And don’t forget to check out more modern work (and, of course, not-so-modern work) in the archives!
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