Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Greg Ruth, and the comic is The Lost Boy, which was published by Scholastic and is cover dated September 2013. Enjoy!
In my humble opinion, The Lost Boy was the second-best graphic novel of 2013, and a lot of it had to do with the art. Ruth's story was excellent, too, of course, but we're here to look at the art, confound it!
Ruth is still using a brush, but it's interesting that his artwork on this book is a bit more precise than it was on Conan and even Freaks of the Heartland. Conan is a broader book, while Freaks has a bit of a nostalgic vibe, so I wonder if that was it. Ruth is also creating an odd dichotomy between the "real" world and a fantasy world where crickets wear tuxedos (as we see here), so it seems he's trying to be a bit crisper in the "real" world, as he's still willing to be a bit broader, as we'll see below. His technique is still wonderful, as he uses thin lines on Walt to make him look more part of the "real" world, while the strange woman is a bit rougher and thicker, not only because she's older but because she represents a more fantastical world. Ruth uses light lines in the background quite often - both to make sure we're aware of the characters but still notice the world, but also because it gives the book a hazy, summery feel, as the strange things that happen in the book seem to fit the heathaze of summer more than the cold rationality of winter. Ruth uses beautiful strokes on the Baron (the cricket) and the dog he rides, too - the clothing matches Walt's, to a degree, but again we see the thicker lines for the Baron's face as opposed to the delicacy of Walt's features. Ruth also uses heavier inks/paints in the "Walt" sections of the book (which take place in the early 1960s, as opposed to the present), which helps set them apart from the story of Nate and Tabitha in the present.
Ruth does wonderful work with the way Nate and Tabitha interact with each other, as this page shows. Nate is grumpy in Panel 1 because he lives in a haunted house, and Ruth narrows his eyes and bends his eyebrows downward. Tabitha looks apprehensive in Panel 2, as if she's not sure that Nate will believe her. Ruth shows his attention to detail in Panel 3, as they look up at the tree house. He constructs the house like it would look if a kid built it, and uses nice brush strokes to make the wood of the house and the tree look more real. Nate is still skeptical in Panel 4, and Ruth scrunches his face slightly, and in Panel 5, Tabitha looks mischievous as she suggests they find out what really happened to Walt. In every panel, Ruth doesn't overdo it with the line work, sticking to quite a bit for the kids' hair but not marring their faces too much. It allows their eyes and mouths to express their emotions and it keeps them "young" - obviously, they're kids, but too much hatching tends to age characters, so Ruth wisely stays away from it.
Walt gets in a fight with a bully, and Ruth does a nice job showing the brutality of the world of children. He uses thick, dark lines to make the encounter more disturbing, and we can see that this is a bit of a shift from the thinner and crisper line work above. We'll see more of that, but here it's to make the tussle between Walt and Bill uglier, as Walt does what he must to win - biting Bill on the ear - and we get a glimpse of some of his rage, which is something that plays into the larger theme of the book. Ruth does a really nice job with Walt in Panel 3 - his eyebrows are roughly painted, and they bend violently inward, highlighting his eyes, which are thin with anger and a bit scuffed, which makes Walt look a bit crazed. The splash of blood on his mouth and cheek completes the picture. In Panel 4, we don't see all of Bill's face, but the way Ruth draws his eyes, a bit wider than usual, makes it clear that he believes that Walt will do what he threatens. This is a brutal page, and Ruth gets that across very well.
Nate meets the Vespertine (sort of), the book's main villain, and Ruth really nails the utter creepiness of the creature. He's detailed enough that we see the ridges over his eyes, the reptilian aspect of his face, and the wooden grooves on that face, but he also wants to make the Vespertine much rougher, so he uses thicker brush strokes and much darker paint to make him more horrifying than anything we've seen in the book so far. Ruth did the lettering on the book, too, and he does a marvelous job making the Vespertine's letters sound grating, creepy, rustling, and ancient. Never underestimate the lettering!
Tom Button, the living doll, tells Nate and Tabitha that it wasn't exactly the Vespertine, but it's close enough! One thing Ruth does really well in this book is portray the "real" world parts in a very naturalistic way, so that creatures like the Baron and Tom actually look like crickets and dolls, which makes it much weirder when they start talking. He does wonderful work with Tom on this page - in Panel 1, he uses darker tones to shade his face when he speaks of the Vespertine, which adds some weight to those words, while in Panel 3, Ruth shows him in the light, making sure to draw in the lines that crack his delicate and ancient face. His eyes move in the book, but his expression never changes, which is of course quite unnerving, as in Panel 3 is appears he's staring at the reader and not Nate, which is a bit freaky. In Panel 4, Ruth makes sure to draw him stiffly, as he's, you know, a doll, which makes his reach toward Tabitha look unnatural. Ruth blends the two elements of the book - the "real" and the fantastical - really well, which is partly why the creepier aspects of the comic are so effective.
This sequence comes after an amazing two-page spread that would be difficult for me to scan, so you'll just have to go buy the book. I mean, you should buy it anyway, but the double-page spread really is nice. Anyway, the characters get attacked by birds, and while the double-page spread is a better example, this is a pretty good one, too, of how Ruth changes his style to fit the tone and mood of the book. He's still using thin lines for the human figures, but look at those wonderfully thick, almost brutal strokes that he uses for the feathers of the burds. He doesn't take any details off - we can see each feather, from the wings to the breasts, but he's using a thicker brush and more inks to achieve a terrifying effect. On the pages preceding this, he's a bit more abstract, because the birds are farther away, but even here, he's not as crisp as he has been - note the wild owl in Panel 3 - because he wants to show chaos. He does that, I can say confidently.
The climax of the book takes place over a gorge on rickety wooden bridges, as we see here. The entire sequence is stunning, but I'm only showing a couple of examples from it. Here, Nate and Tom run onto the bridges because a giant army of insects is firing tiny arrows at them. That has to suck. As we're now in a fantasy world, Ruth is using broader strokes - the rocks around the gorge are more, well, "rocky," as they represent ancient rocks untouched by human hands. The brush strokes are thicker and even sloppier, as the rocks don't fit into your narrow perceptions, man! I love the bridge in the foreground in Panel 1 - it looks simplistic, but Ruth knows how a bridge hangs, so the way it twists is beautifully done, even if it looks easy (which I'm sure it's not). In Panel 2, we see a bit more of his work with the insects - they aren't anthropomorphized very much at all (I mean, they wear clothing and speak English, but still), which makes them creepier than if Ruth had made them more cartoony. Ruth, we see here and will see in the next example, has become even better at moving his figures around, so his action scenes - which aren't too common - are very fluid and "realistic," as the characters move like we'd expect them to. So Nate twisting around when the bridge is shattered looks real, which seems fairly difficult to do.
Ruth lays out this page wonderfully, as the bridge stretches from the top of the hoodoo and leads us down toward Haloran, giving the top panel a lot of depth while balancing the action occurring on the right side with the stoic rock on the left. Once again, we get the thick, craggy strokes on the rock, adding stability to the scene that needs it, as the bridge certainly doesn't add any. The Vespertine's pose is marvelous, as he leaps down toward Haloran, and Ruth uses lighter lines because he's a bit farther away. Haloran himself is drawn wonderfully, as his body contorts from his fall, while the dog in the upper right is also twisted as it struggles against gravity. Once again, we get the tremendous work on the bridge itself, as Ruth makes each plank look "wooden" while still remembering to leave gaps and show bits and pieces of it falling off, as it's just not that sturdy. Panel 2 continues to motion of the first panel, as the Vespertine lands on Haloran, and once again Ruth shows his knowledge of how bodies move, while still doing wonderful work on the wood of the bridge and the spooky face of the Vespertine. He's using broader strokes, much like we saw above, in order to make the violence a bit more brutal. It's a nice choice.
Ruth doesn't do too many comics, but when he does, they're extremely impressive, and The Lost Boy is just the latest. I always look forward to what he's doing next, even if I have to wait for it! Check out some of his work today!
I had a good idea that I was going to follow Steve Rude with Greg Ruth (as I mentioned, the similarities of their last names made Ruth's pop into my head when I was working on Rude, even though I would have featured him eventually), but now I don't know who I'm doing next. Not Greg Land, I can assure you! I guess you'll just have to come back tomorrow to see, okay? As always, I also direct you toward the archives - who knows what days you missed!