Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Ted Naifeh, and the issue is GloomCookie #1, which was published by SLG and is cover dated June 1999. Enjoy!
Man, remember the goth craze in comics? Yeah, me neither, because I didn’t buy them, but they were big for a while, weren’t they? Naifeh was in on it, and while I don’t know if GloomCookie was the first time we saw this kind of artwork from him, it’s perhaps notable that his biography on his web site begins with his work on this comic and not before it. It would really point the way to his current work, as we’ll see below. So let’s get to it!
Naifeh has become more cartoonish, with the exaggerated figures – the tiny bodies and the huge heads – and the large eyes on the girls that make them more expressive. As we’ve seen, he’s always been using thick lines, but here he’s not quite as detailed, so the bold lines stand out a bit more. He uses the lines and the chunks of blacks well together – the blacks on Lex’s outfit are bounded by lines, which makes it look more leathery. Naifeh is also using light well, as we see in Panel 1 with the girl on the right side of the scene and with the two people in the deep left side. In Panel 2, the men who surround Lex are weird and creepy, but the way Naifeh draws them will become a staple in his work. Lex has a pointed chin, but her wider face softens the point a bit, but the men have thinner faces, emphasizing the points of their chins. Naifeh gives them smaller eyes than Lex, which make them seem a bit shiftier, while the curls at the ends of their smiles is also something Naifeh would use a lot in the future. Naifeh still manages to give the men plenty of personality, as their hair, their facial characteristics, and their poses do well with that. Notice, too, the pointy fingers and the fact that the characters only have three of them. This is something Naifeh would run with in the future. Also, Comic Sans. Oh, Comic Sans. How you vex me.
Naifeh’s line work has always been strong, but he’s gotten starker with his art, as he’s using an angular style much more, and we see that here. Max is a lean, etched, almost unhealthy dude, and Naifeh gives him a long face, but his big-ish eyes link him to Lex more than to the men we saw in the last example. Naifeh is still using a decent amount of cross-hatching, but the way he fades it in the room is done well, as it adds a bit of dreaminess to the bedroom. He also uses the blacks really well, forming a cage around the window in Panel 1, trapping Max within, as he and Lex are trapped by their fears of rejection by the other. Naifeh, as we see, is doing a nice job mixing the hatching with the big chunks of black, which makes the mood eerie and sad, which is what Serena Valentino and Naifeh are going for.
Naifeh has become more fascinated by olde-tyme architecture – Victorian stuff, sure, but really all sorts – and we get that on this page with the coffee house. He even bends the frame a little to make it look older and more rickety, while the roof over the shop, while obviously modern, is lined so that it looks a bit like thatch, which is interesting. We get more of the kinds of characters he’s drawing these days – Chrys has giant eyes and a tiny nose and mouth, and she and Sebastian are all hard angles. Even though this looks more “simplistic” than Naifeh’s previous work, he still does nice work with the body language and facial expressions. Sebastian is dramatic in Panel 3, Chrys is vexed in Panel 4 and furious in Panel 5, and while we get that from the dialogue, Naifeh’s drawings convey that nicely too.
Naifeh draws a good monster, as he goes with the curled smile again, making it go beyond what a normal mouth should do, and bends the monster’s horns over its eyes, so while we don’t see its eyes, we see the space where the eyes should be framed by the horns. Naifeh’s new style of jagged lines is suited for monsters, as this thing is obviously furred but its skin still looks sharp, implying the violence of its being. Naifeh uses the blacks well to shroud its face and place it in semi-darkness, as it probably doesn’t want to come into the light. He uses lines judiciously, most notably on its tail, which winds around the monster creepily, and Naifeh’s short, flicked lines on the tail help us track it around the panel. There’s a weird sexual tone to this story, as the monster is killing the girls that Sebastian brings home, and Naifeh implies that the monster is naked in this story, so the way it’s sitting is disturbing on that level. Obviously, Naifeh keeps its crotch shrouded, but it’s still unsettling.
There’s obviously something going on with Chrys, as she faces down the monster, and Naifeh does a good job with both characters, but especially with the monster. Chrys’s face in Panel 2 is well done, as she snaps her head forward and sees the monster, a half-smile on her face, implying that she knows what’s what here. The monster, however, is drawn even better, as Naifeh uses the blacks well in the dark room to hide but also highlight its bulk as it approaches Chrys in Panel 1. He uses the thick lines on the monster’s face to make it look more menacing, which makes its meek reaction in Panel 2 more interesting. He even uses fewer lines on the monster’s horns and ears in Panel 2, which makes him look less rough. He also curls its ears downward, making it even meeker. Notice, too, how its mouth curls downward this time – it’s not smiling anymore. Naifeh does a very nice job conveying its mood, which could have been anything – it could have recognized Chrys but still had a different attitude toward her, but Naifeh makes it clear that it’s not only not happy to see her, it seems a bit intimidated by her.
The characters end up at a party, and I can’t decide if it’s a costume party or if these people just dress like this all the time, because who knows in comics like this? Either way, Naifeh does nice work with the Queen, making her the most angular of them all, with those high, pointed cheekbones and dominating chin. Naifeh exaggerates her bust and waist, but it does give us the sense of artifice that the party has, as the Queen is all about image. Once again, the line work is detailed but not excessive, giving us a sense of glamor and refinement when it comes to the Queen’s dress, and the deep blacks Naifeh uses add to the gloomy mood and imply that the Queen is, naturally, eeeeevil. Naifeh makes her irises slits, giving her a feline appearance, something that becomes more noticeable when we see her extra-long pointy fingers. Naifeh has become quite good at mood, especially a gloomy yet weirdly playful mood, and that’s clear throughout this comic.
Naifeh decided that this style suited him quite well, and he’s been working in it ever since. However, that doesn’t mean he’s stopped evolving! Tomorrow I know I’m taking a look at perhaps my favorite Naifeh comic, but I might have some added bonuses, too. We shall see! And you know where you can find a lot of added bonuses: the archives!
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