Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Joe Quesada, and the issue is Spelljammer #8, which was published by DC and is cover dated April 1991. Enjoy!
Spelljammer #8 is not the first comics work of Quesada’s career, but it’s really early, so I figured it would be fine to show it. It looks like it might be the second comic he ever drew, but even if it’s not, it appears he had been in the business less than a year when he got this gig, so that’s probably good enough to track his development, right?
I’ll try not to get into the story too much, as this is the only issue of Spelljammer I own and I’m not terribly interested in getting the rest of them. Quesada was in his late 20s already when he broke in, so he obviously had some time to hone his craft (I suppose he could have just decided at 27 or so to become an artist and only then picked up a pencil, but I doubt it), and we see that here. The art is rough, certainly, but pretty good. Quesada would become somewhat infamous for his hatching, and we already see him embracing it, unless that’s inker Dan Panosian’s contribution to the comic. But there are certainly a lot of lines! For the most part, it’s not bad – the hatching on the dragon makes it look rough and ancient, which is a good look. The line work on Bors is a bit less successful, as it seems a bit unnecessary, especially along his cheek in Panel 3. Quesada, like a lot of artists, is not as good at things farther away, so the figure work in Panels 4 and 5 is a bit stiff, although we’ll see that his closer-up figure work is pretty good at this point. Bors in Panel 3 has a bit of a Paul Grist vibe, doesn’t he?
Quesada’s character work is not bad, although it could be better, naturally. He breaks this tableau into six panels, which is clever as it allows him to focus on the six different characters in the frame. He moves from disbelief in Panel 1 to foreboding in Panel 2 to curiosity in Panel 3 to awe in Panel 4 to … well, we’ll get back to Panel 5 – to fear in Panel 6. That’s not bad, although he does get help from Barbara Kesel’s script. Once again, there’s a lot of hatching – along the jaw lines of the boy and Bors in Panels 1 and 2, which I suppose might imply stubble, and hatching on Jien’s and Kirstig’s breasts in Panels 4 and 6, plus the trendy thickening lines on Tenah’s leg behind Kirstig in Panel 6. In Panel 5, he doesn’t do the best job with Meredith, which is unfortunate. Meredith just killed the dragon with a simple spell, and everyone is impressed with her power, but Meredith claims she doesn’t remember doing it, which implies that here, Quesada is trying to show confusion. I don’t think he does it too well, although he gives it the old college try. She looks more scornful than anything, which, given Meredith’s haughty attitude, might be true, but when she immediately begins talking about the dragon getting killed by others instead of her, it’s obvious that she’s supposed to be a bit puzzled in this scene. I do like how he lays the scene out, with Bors – Meredith’s son – “behind” her, so that the adults are in the two center panels while the younger people revolve around them. It’s a nice way to show the scene.
This page really shows a lot of the problems with Nineties art, as well as Quesada’s limitations early in his career (would they continue? stay tuned!). There’s a lot of unnecessary hatching on this page, mostly on that rock – there’s no subtlety to the line work, just whooshing speed lines rushing upward, which makes the rock look like it’s flying through the air. Quesada’s figure work isn’t great, either. In Panel 2, Tember’s face is okay, and I actually kind of dig how furry his eyebrows are. Quesada seems now to be channeling Chris Sprouse in Panel 5 (I would imagine at this time that Sprouse was well known enough for this to be possible), but it’s not a terrible look, although Jasmine’s lips, like the ones we’ve seen above, are a bit puffy, and hatched for some reason. But in between, we get some wonky figure work. Quesada and Panosian don’t do great work on Jasmine’s wings. They’re a bit sloppy, but more than that, they don’t look strong enough to get her off the ground – the haphazard and asymmetrical line work make them look ratty and sickly, which is odd. Quesada’s feet, like so many artists of that era, are extremely weird – I get that he’s trying to create depth in the drawing, which is why they’re smaller in, say, Panel 7, but the fact that Quesada barely draws them and in Panel 6 just ends Jasmine’s leg in a point is just lazy. It’s frustrating, because as we see from his close-ups, he already knows what he’s doing, and the fact that he and so many others didn’t even try to draw feet correctly is very strange.
Quesada shows that he’s not bad at motion, as Jasmine is attacked by the security measures on her own ship and fights her way out of it. Once again, he draws a pretty decent monster, and the hatching on said monster tends to work well to show its … oogieness, I guess? He does a good job with Jasmine’s face in Panel 2 as she strains against the monster’s coils, and when she does break out, he does a nice job showing her cutting through the tentacles in Panel 3, avoiding another tentacle in Panel 4, and searching for the “off” button in Panel 5. His feet are still regrettable, but the figure work is fluid and loose, so that Jasmine moves across the page well. This time his art reminds me of Vince Giarrano’s work. Man, a lot of artists are coming to mind when I look at early Quesada!
We get some nice work on this splash page, as things keep getting worse inside the ship and Jasmine is still bitching at Tember. Her wings are a little better here, but still not great, and of course her feet are still odd, but Quesada does manage to create depth in the page, as he remembers to draw each character a bit smaller as we move “back,” while the vortex pulling them is done well to give us the illusion of three dimensions. The hatching is kept to a minimum, as Quesada/Panosian use lines to make Tember a bit more rustic, but resist using too many lines elsewhere on the page (the vortex doesn’t count, because of course it will have a lot of lines). Tenah, in the foreground, is done well – she has a crush on Tember, so she’s happy that he and Jasmine are bickering, and Quesada draws a really nice, blissful expression on her face and puts her in a good pose – she’s just enjoying the ride, man! Quesada, as we see here and as we’ve seen above, has a decent handle on how to draw bodies in motion, which bodes well for a career in superhero comics.
There’s nice use of blacks on this page, even though Quesada goes a bit clichéd in Panel 2 with the silhouette except for the streak of white hair, but it still works, especially as he uses good blacks on Tember, too. His bodies at rest are still a bit weird – they just look a bit disproportionate, which is worse when they’re not in action, as we expect it a little in action scenes – but they’re not terrible. Tenah and Tember’s faces in Panel 4 are a bit goofy, while Meredith’s in Panel 3 is quite well done (which isn’t surprising – as I noted above, many artists get less precise the farther away from the reader they get). Quesada and Panosian give her strong eyebrows, and just that twitch around her mouth is enough to show her scorn. For the last time, I’ll mention the lips, as this is a good example – they look a bit too plump, and the unnecessary hatching on them doesn’t help one bit. Unfortunately, this was the trend in comics at this time, so Quesada didn’t ease back on this as he became a bigger star.
Quesada was already on DC’s radar, obviously, and it didn’t take long for him to be in demand for bigger and better books. I have a few choices about what to feature tomorrow, but I haven’t made up my mind yet. We shall see, shan’t we? And remember: there’s nothing like a journey through the archives!
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