Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Nick Dragotta, and the issue is X-Statix #20, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated May 2004. Enjoy!
As much as I want to examine an artist’s development in this series, occasionally I just want to showcase an artist whose style hasn’t changed too radically, but who continues to get better doing what he or she does. Such is the case with Nick Dragotta, whose work a decade ago was not exactly like what he’s doing today, but which is still fairly similar. I just want to check out how much he is killing it on East of West, and if that means checking out how he got there, then I’ll do that, and you’ll get five days of good art to look at! Of course, along the way, Dragotta made some interesting stylistic choices, so of course we’ll take a look at those, too!
This isn’t Dragotta’s earliest work, but it’s close, and it’s clear that even early on, he has a good grasp of how to draw comics. He moves the reader across the page well, even though it’s just two characters talking to each other. He begins with silhouettes, while Han Allred, who colored this, uses reds in the background to foreshadow Alex’s rage as he becomes Vivisector. It sets the mood for the page, as the rest of it is colored “normally” and the backgrounds are simply what we would usually see in the backgrounds. Alex is fretting about his transformation, and Dragotta does nice work with that, showing him getting more and more upset as Polly needles him about his bald spot, until she realizes she’s gone too far. Dragotta uses simple lines to create the faces of the two characters so that their “action” comes through quite well – in Panel 2, he makes Polly’s mouth prominent as she smiles, while in Panel 6, her eyes become the focus. The freckles on Alex’s face are a nice touch, as they break up the smoothness of faces on the page, but also act a bit like wrinkles, as when Alex crinkles his face in Panels 5 and 6 as he gets angry at Polly. It’s a clever touch to make Alex look angry without cluttering up his face too much. As we can see, Dragotta’s expressions and body language are already quite nice.
Alex manages to trigger his transformation into Vivisector, as we see here. Dragotta lays the page out a bit differently to make the transformation more dramatic, as he uses oddly-shaped panels to create a feeling of tension as Alex turns, and his layout leads us well from the upper left to the lower right. In Panel 1, he uses few lines in a cartoonish manner to show Alex spinning on the apparatus, which is nicely done – it can’t be too detailed, because he’s moving so quickly, and using the white lines helps set it apart from Polly, who acts as the axis around which he spins. As he transforms, Dragotta makes the panels fall apart a bit, while Allred goes back to red in the background, which not only implies the rage he’s feeling but also lets him use green behind Polly in Panel 5, which acts as a complement to the red and sets Polly in opposition to Alex even though she’s helping him. Alex vomits downward, but because Dragotta puts Polly in the lower right, it’s almost as if he’s puking on her, which implies that he’s rejecting her (which he is). It’s a clever layout, loaded with some nice symbolism.
Alex goes after Marco, whom Polly said she had boinked after telling him she didn’t, and we get this fun page. Dragotta shows nice restraint here to show Vivisector killing Marco (obviously, it could have been Marvel putting the kibosh on showing Marco’s gruesome death, but by this time, that ship had sailed a bit at the House of Ideas, and Dragotta’s layout is much more interesting, so I’m giving him the credit). The sound effect in Panel 3 leads us to Marco, who of course refers to himself in the third person, and while it’s natural that he would look in the direction of the sound, he’s also looking in the direction of his own vivisected corpse in Panel 4, which is a clever way to lay the page out. Dragotta uses Panel 3 to obscure Marco’s actual corpse, but we get to see the shadow on the wall spurting blood, while Alex’s shadow is much larger, perhaps because he’s nearer to the reader but also because he’s just bigger. The way Dragotta tilts the panel is nice, too, as it leads us down to the right, and the sound effect, whether added by Dragotta or letterer Cory Petit, is well done. Once again, we see that Dragotta doesn’t get overly fussy with his line work – it’s bold and spare, which makes everything seem a bit more stark. This comic isn’t the most subtle of satires, so the fact that Peter Milligan was able to get artists whose style fit the tone of the book – Mike Allred, certainly, but also Dragotta and Darwyn Cooke, among others – is interesting.
Meanwhile, Myles (the ex-Vivisector) goes to his dad’s birthday party, and there he meets Raju. Dragotta uses more spot blacks on these pages, presumably because it’s not “super-heroic” and because Myles is estranged from his father and he’s not terribly happy to be at the party. Dragotta’s bold lines are thicker and blacker, as we can see, but that doesn’t mean he’s not doing subtle work with the characters. Raju knows Myles not from his X-Statix days, but because he’s a scholar, and Dragotta does a nice job showing that enthusiasm in Panels 2 and 3 as well as Myles’s defensiveness in Panel 2 before he realizes that Raju isn’t talking about superheroing. When he talks about Phat, Dragotta draws Myles with a resigned face that shows his sensitivity. He’s enjoying his interaction with Raju, and Dragotta remembers to show that even when his mother drags him away – he gives Myles a nice grin as Raju gives him his number. Things are looking up for Myles!
We get some more nice work on this page, as Alex begins to believe that he’s Myles, so he shows up at Myles’s father’s party to kill the old man. Again, Dragotta’s cartoony style helps his action scenes, as he uses some nice exaggeration on this page to make the action bolder and bigger. In Panel 1, Alex’s mouth is gigantic, taking up a good deal of his face, which makes him look all the more monstrous. Dragotta flairs his hair, hearkening back to that page where we saw his bald spot, as it’s grown as he’s become angrier (is this entire story about how a man can’t deal with going bald?). Dragotta is still using nice bold, thick blacks, but here it’s not because of the melancholy Myles feels at home, but because of the dramatic arrival of Alex into the scene. So in Panel 2, Alex’s shadow looms over Myles, and Dragotta uses blacks nicely there, while in Panel 4, Myles is hunched over the ground, throwing the front of his body into shade. Dragotta also shows his inventiveness, as Panel 2 gives us the view from inside Alex’s mouth as he stalks Alex. Dragotta uses the silhouette of his mouth very well here, and the frame of his teeth around Myles is a nice way to show the danger our hero is in. Dragotta tilts Panel 5, like he did above, to lead us from the left to the right, but it also helps keep the world off-kilter, both from Alex’s swath of destruction and Venus’s teleportation effect. Again, the use of blacks in that panel is well done, while Allred’s purple also helps make the scene a bit more psychedelic. Allred, we’ve seen, does a nice job with both more “realistic” coloring and more “mood” coloring, and the use of green, red, and purple on this page emphasizes that.
Dragotta began to get more work, and while I own quite a bit of it, I’m not sure what I’m going to show tomorrow. I’ll figure it out. Check back in and see! In the meantime, spend your Saturday night in the archives!
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