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 The Zaucer of Zilk #1, which was published by IDW and is cover dated October 2012 (although it was originally serialized in 2000AD in March, April, and May of 2012). Enjoy!
After McCarthy returned to comics, he started doing more obvious computer-aided work, especially in the coloring of his comics (which here he does with Len O’Grady). The typical McCarthy weirdness is still in effect, but there’s a slightly different vibe to the art. His best work from his recent period, I think, is The Zaucer of Zilk, so let’s take a look at that!
One thing McCarthy does more of these days is use backgrounds that are obviously digitally created from photographs. I’m not the biggest fan of it, even though I know why artists do it, and especially here, as McCarthy is contrasting the drabness of the “real” world with the colorful insanity of Zilk. He’s wise enough to muddy the background up so the obviousness of the photography doesn’t stand out too much, and he and O’Grady give the sky a sickly, strange hue to create a sense of unreality even in this supposedly “real” world, but I’ll probably never love this part of artwork. McCarthy also layers the raindrops onto the page – I don’t know if he’s drawing exclusively digitally these days, or if he had a board and he dripped paint across it. Probably the former, but it’s an odd effect over the “realness” of the background.
Our hero eats a candy heart (which is actually a circle, but they’re called “Sweet Hearts”) with “Zilk” written on it, and he’s transported to the fabulous land of Zilk, where he is the Zaucer. McCarthy’s design sense is as strong and crazy as ever, with the dog creature and the woman with the helicopter rotors on her hat, not to mention the awesome costume of the Zaucer himself. The advent of computer technology, which was in its infancy during McCarthy’s first heyday, allows him to drop in those light bursts to make the scene look more ethereal – they herald the Zaucer’s arrival, but because they’re just colors, not lined in any way, they makes the world he’s entering seem a bit more magical. Our friend the Zaucer will soon put on a helmet, but notice that even with the breeze ruffling his hair, we can see it’s the standard McCarthy hair style – parted in the middle, with long bangs framing the face. He just digs it, man!
More very cool design work and very cool coloring. McCarthy and O’Grady take full advantage of the electric shimmer you can get with computerized coloring that is far more difficult with traditional methods (which, it seems, involves a lot of airbrushing), so they create that blue haze around Errol Raine and the jagged lightning that fires at the Zaucer and his cohorts. McCarthy’s line work is as strong as ever, which helps keep this story from being too overwhelmed by technology, and it makes the effects look a bit more oddball, which is a good fit for the very bizarre place that is Zilk.
McCarthy, of course, has always known what he’s doing with regard to good old-fashioned pencil work, so it’s not surprising that he draws Carnival Street so well. He gives it an olde-tymey feel, as the houses look almost medieval, all while populating it with wonderful creatures. Obviously, once again we get the astonishing palette, as he and O’Grady use the bright colors to very good effect, especially considering the few pages of this issue that take place in a danker spot (one of which we’ll see). The contrast between Zilk and the “Dankendreer” is stunning, but it makes its point.
I don’t know how McCarthy and O’Grady get that effect – again, I imagine it’s digital, and I assume someone can practice swirling colors in a program and achieve that – but I just wanted to show it, because it’s so danged cool. More comics should use insane colors schemes. The world would be a happier place.
Tutu ends up in the Drankendreer, which is not a nice place. A couple of things stand out here. Tutu is a strange creation – she’s a very small woman who acts very young but is apparently somewhat old, and her schoolgirl look combined with her large breasts is a weird combination. That said, McCarthy does a good job making her act with her facial expressions, as she uses that device in her hand to talk. The second thing that stands out is that McCarthy, naturally, hasn’t lost the ability to draw “regular” people, and he does a good job showing the way the poeple in the “guest room” have deteriorated. It’s still an odd place – the one man has a tea cup on his head – but it’s also dreary, which is the point. We’re back to a dark palette, but notice that the oddly-colored rain drops are drawn in, as opposed to the first page, where they appeared to be digitally created. It makes the Drankendreer, even in its awfulness, more like Zilk and less like the “real” world. And, of course, the colors are still tremendous, especially on the couple in the foreground, as we get a twisted version of the bright palette of Zilk – we still get some reds and oranges, but the nauseating green and flaccid blues have moved in, making the people far more depressing.
McCarthy continues to draw stories in this vein, as he’s been serializing stuff in Dark Horse Presents recently. Of course, he also did that Spider-Man/Dr. Strange mini-series, which is worth a look. He’s gone through some interesting changes over the past 35 years, and one thing I like about him is that he always seems to experiment with new technology and new techniques. That’s neat.
Tomorrow I start a new artist, and while I’m pretty sure I know who it’s going to be, I always reserve the right to change my mind! But don’t worry – the archives are set in stone!
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