Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Steve Rude, and the stories are “Sales Call, Part Two” in Vanguard Illustrated #2 and “Munden’s Bar” in GrimJack #6, the first of which was published by Pacific Comics and is cover dated January 1984 and the second of which was published by First Comics and is cover dated January 1985. Enjoy!
In 1982 and 1983, Rude drew Nexus, and his art developed, but as I noted yesterday, I’d like to avoid Nexus as much as I can – I kind of had to feature Faust for Tim Vigil, because it’s the majority of work by him that I own, but with Rude, I actually have quite a variety of his stuff, so let’s jump to late 1983 and late 1984 (Vanguard Illustrated #2 came out in October 1983, while GrimJack #6 came out in September 1984) to see some of his non-Nexus stuff. The first example is somewhat rough, which is kind of odd, while “Munden’s Bar” shows a lot of the Rude we all know and love. You’ll notice that I’ve already shown an example this year from Vanguard Illustrated, as the Milligan/McCarthy story from issue #1 is reprinted in The Best of Milligan and McCarthy. While I was poking around in the cheap boxes at my comic book store, I found issue #2, which has the second part of that story, which is strangely not reprinted in the hardcover. I would have gotten it just for that, but it also had the Rude story, so I snapped it up! It also has a sweet Dave Stevens cover and a really good “Stargrazers” story as the lead, which features the best Bob McLeod art I’ve ever seen. Finally, on the back there’s an ad for Somerset Holmes, which I had never heard of until I got this issue but now need to track down and get. I’m just amazed Greg Hatcher has never waxed rhapsodic about Somerset Holmes, because he has to own it, doesn’t he?!?!?
Anyway, let’s get to the artwork!
This is the second part of “Sales Call,” and I have no idea what’s going on. John Killam is selling encyclopedias in what appears to be a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but is he something more than that, because he’s carrying a rifle, or is that just what traveling salesmen have to carry in this post-apocalyptic wasteland? This story, actually, highlights one of the problems I have with Nexus – Mike Baron (who wrote this) never even tries to make the world futuristic, as the scripts of Nexus are full of references to things that existed in the 1980s and Baron never seems to consider that things might change in 200 years. Meanwhile, even in 1983 traveling salesman were pretty much relics of the past, yet Baron thinks they’ll still be around after 1997 (that’s the only date we get in this story, and it’s clearly in the past). Maybe Chapter One of this story explains some things, or maybe Chapter Three does, but this chapter certainly doesn’t. Oh well, let’s move on.
Rude’s art is much rougher than what he was doing on Nexus at this time, which makes me think it was simply because of the tone of the story (he was inking himself for the most part – in some issues of Nexus around this time, Eric Shanower inked him, but mostly it was Rude himself). It’s an interesting choice. John has rough black marks on his face, implying the tough time he’s had selling his encyclopedias, and Rude inks his hair more thickly than we saw yesterday. He uses rougher speed lines, too, as we can see in Panels 3 and 4. The dog is drawn very well, but its nature means that Rude uses more rough blacks rather than the smooth chunks we saw yesterday. If Rude is matching the art to the tone, he’s doing a very good job (and I’m saying he’s not, but we’ve seen artists not do that, so maybe Rude was just experimenting or rushed, although I think it’s more that he knows the story calls for this style). The layout, as usual, is well done – the story is six pages long, so Rude has to fit in a lot, and he manages to get the dog attack and John’s counter-attack and flight into four tight panels.
John eventually gets inside a house, even though the woman – Edna Perlmutter – says she doesn’t want to buy any encyclopedias – as we’ll see, she seems to want John to protect her from another traveling salesman. Anyway, Rude packs a lot into this sequence, as John rings the doorbell, has a quick conversation with Edna, sets up his “Hotchkiss projector,” and shows scenes from the 1970s. Rude, once again, uses some rough lines, although his inking on Edna’s hair, for instance, is much closer to his smoother work on Nexus. Rude uses the diagonal panels well to take us out of the narrative and show us that these are images from the past, as he puts Edna and John in the corner so that they can see all the images simultaneously. Phil Philipson colored this, and I love how he uses sickly greens and yellows and oranges on the panel with the cars on the highway – it gets across the pollution aspect far more than just showing the cars or even showing smoke from the cars could.
Rude remains very good at facial expressions, which is why he’s able to do tense moments pretty well – occasionally his facial expressions don’t match the script, but here it does, so the tension is ratcheted up. The smoke from John’s tea leads us to Panel 2, passing by the sound effects as it does, so when Rude rotates around, John looks to his right and faces the audience, which Edna looking worried in the background. Rude again uses somewhat rough inks as John turns, showing his suspicion and concern well. He tilts the door in Panel 3, which is a fairly stereotypical way to add tension, as its skewed nature upsets the balance and makes the reader disoriented. He puts the cat at the bottom to provide some perspective, while the salesman through the window is inked very darkly. In Panel 4, Edna is in the forefront, as she’s the one who has something important to say, while John looks a bit hapless in the background. Rude gives us a close-up of the salesman’s hand, both the increase the tension again – he’s banging even harder – and to show without showing him completely that he’s a tough customer, as we can see how big and meaty his hands are. By Panel 6, Rude is even using rougher inks on Edna’s hair, showing how discombobulated she’s become.
About a year later, Rude’s back-up story in GrimJack #6 appeared. This is much more “Nexus-like” than we saw above, even though Rude had been drawing “Nexus-like” work in, you know, Nexus for a while by this time. But that’s neither here nor there! Let’s just get to the art!
This is another Baron-penned tale, and it’s about a parolee visiting Munden’s with his new singing act. First Pockets tells Gordon about his time in prison, and Rude does a good job distinguishing it from the present. In the inset panels where Gordon pours him a drink and Pockets quaffs it, Rude uses blacks nicely, turning it into a “negative” view while Janice Cohen adds slivers of blue instead of white, which links those small panels to Pockets in prison, which is also colored with deep blues. Rude again uses nice black chunks to define a good deal of the prison and it works well to set it apart. Rude has always been good at showing things from unusual angles, so in “Panel 3” (the vertical one on the left that’s interrupted by the two smaller panels of Pockets getting his drink and drinking it), Rude shows it from high up, with the window letting the rain in to drip down next to Pockets. He uses the perspective to show how high the ceiling is in the cell, but also to show how isolated Pockets is – he’s at the bottom of a deep hole with no hope of escape. Rude shows him from outside the cell door in Panel 4 so that he can emphasize the spikes on the bars, and notice how he uses the blacks very effectively to shade Pockets’s face (the fact that he’s checking out “Cellmate” magazine is quite funny, too). Rude does a wonderful job bringing us out of the reverie, as he turns the flashback into smoke from Pockets’s crumpled cigar, blurring the stripes on his clothing as it moves into the smoke. Notice that he uses thicker and wider hatching on Pockets’s chin in the flashback, which makes his stubble rougher, while in the present, the lines are thinner and closer together, making it smoother. It’s a nice shift.
Rude has always been really good with insane stuff, which is why he fits so well on Nexus, which is pretty insane. Here, Pockets shows Gordon the McJaggerz, his new singing group, and Rude does a fine job with them. He draws a nice bandstand, but his judicious use of motion lines help make it more cartoonish, which is something Rude excels at. The group itself is silly, as Rude makes them thin and bendy, so they seem to leap off the page, especially in Panel 4, when they beginning playing their instruments, where we see again Rude’s clever use of motion lines. As always, Rude can be counted on to use interesting views, so Panel 3 looks down on the characters, so we can get both Pockets and Gordon in the panel and also show how the bandstand is laid out and where the McJaggerz are hopping around. Rude doesn’t forget to put Clonezone’s hand in the lower right of Panel 3, shooing away the one band member (or perhaps the cigar smoke), as ‘Zone (a Nexus character Baron brought over to Cynosure) is important to the story. That’s another reason to use this view – it allows him to slip ‘Zone’s hand in without drawing too much attention to it.
Clonezone is hungry, and he ends up eating the McJaggerz (well, not quite, but that’s what Pockets thinks), which causes Pockets to get a bit upset, as you can see. Rude uses smudgy blacks in Panels 1 and 2 to show the toxic smoke Pockets’s gun emits. Once again, Rude’s looseness of line makes the scene move really well as well as amp up the cartoonish nature of the scene. He draws ‘Zone clutching the globe hanging from the ceiling, and he makes sure to show his tail wrapped around it as well. When ‘Zone drops into Gordon’s arms, he does very nice work with everyone’s faces – ‘Zone’s eyes don’t change too much no matter what mood he’s in, but his body language – his legs are curled up and he’s shrinking away – is very good, as is the way Rude crinkles his mouth in Panels 4 and 5. Gordon, meanwhile, is a bit more expressive simply because he has eyebrows and a forehead, so Rude makes sure to draw nice furrows in his skin as Pockets advances. Rude even gives him puffed-out cheeks in Panels 5 and 6 as ‘Zone starts to crush the air out of him. Pockets, meanwhile, seems to get bigger as he advances, and Rude gives him those giant hands so that he looks even more menacing. Rude gives him a Vin Diesel coat and does some nice rough hatching on it to make the fur stand out, and I love how he moves the knife into position to keep it in the frame as Pockets closes in on ‘Zone. It begins above his head and slowly moves down so it’s next to his eye, all the while moving slightly toward ‘Zone himself. Panel 6 is brilliant, as Rude gets all the elements into the panel and crumples ‘Zone’s nose, so that while Pockets is still menacing, Rude plays up the humor of the situation as well. It’s nicely done.
Clonezone tries to negotiate, and eventually Gordon comes up with a solution, as Pockets ends up taking all of the lizard’s clothing. Rude moves in closer and closer on Pockets while pulling back on ‘Zone, which is clever, as Pockets continues to get angrier while ‘Zone is more and more isolated. Rude does nice work with the facial expressions of both figures, as ‘Zone looks like the salesman he is but Rude still manages to add an air of desperation to his wheedling, until he shrinks him down in Panel 7 when ‘Zone is finally beaten. Meanwhile, he continues to draw Pockets cartoonishly large, adding smoke coming out of his ears and then his nostrils. He becomes less detailed and more abstract as he continues to lose it, until finally Rude simply focuses on his giant eye, with ‘Zone reflected in it. It’s a funny scene, but it also shows that Rude knows how to manipulate the characters quite well to get the tone across.
By this time, as you can tell, Rude was pretty much “Steve Rude,” the Dude we all love, but it was still early in his career. So should I stop showing his artwork? Bite your tongue, you rascals! I still want to check out some of his later art, because he’s always refining things even if he’s not changing his style too much. So tomorrow we’ll check out some of his mainstream superhero work. He hasn’t done too much of that, but what he has done is, not surprisingly, pretty stunning. Remember to find more mainstream superhero art in the archives!
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