Year of the Artist, Day 324: Erik Larsen, Part 1 - <i>Faze One Fazers</i> #4

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Erik Larsen, and the issue is Faze One Fazers #4, which was published by AC Comics and is cover dated 1986. Enjoy!

Erik Larsen's first published artwork came out in 1982, when he was a mere 19/20 years old, but I don't own that (I suppose I could own it, as it's reprinted in some Savage Dragon collections, but I don't!). By 1985/1986, he was getting some more work, and while trawling through my comic shoppe's 50¢-boxes, I happened to find Faze One Fazers (or maybe it's just "1"), which is the final issue of a four-issue mini-series and the only one that Larsen drew (creator Vic Bridges drew the others). So I have no idea what's going on in this issue, because I don't own the first three. So let's take a look at the art!

Looking at this book is interesting, like it's been interesting to look at so many other artists' early work, because we can see some things that would become a distinctly "Larsen" style and others that wouldn't. Larsen was just working things out, and when you consider that he was an emergency fill-in on art, you can appreciate even more what he's going through on this comic. As this was a rush job, four inkers are credited - Ralph Cabrera, Doug Hazlewood, Emil Novak Jr., and the actual editor of the book, Bill Black. So who knows how much the inkers contributed to these pages - there's some nice line work here on the back of Tim Garnett's head in Panel 3, for instance, but I don't know if Larsen laid that all down or let the inkers fill it in. But that's not important right now! We'll see some action below, so here I want to focus on the faces, because Gina Norell there in Panel 1 has a proto-Larsen face if I've ever seen one. We'll see more of Larsen's giant eyes as we move through this series, but here they're interesting because in later Larsen comics, the eyes - as big as some are - fit the faces better. Gina's face doesn't seem to mesh with her eyes too well, which makes them stand out more. His characters' eyes aren't always huge - none of the other characters have particularly big ones - but Gina's eyes are fairly interesting when we consider where Larsen went with his facial compositions. (There's a real Ditko vibe with the faces, too, in case you didn't notice - I miss influences all the time, but this is pretty obvious!)

Okay, so the Fazers - who are a bunch of people with superpowers, apparently given to them by Dr. Faze, that dude who woke up in the previous example - are on a distant planet, fighting against some lizard-like emperor. The last time we saw Steve and Larry, they decided to have a chat to figure out what to do. And yet, here they are, fighting each other. For shame, gentlemen!!! (It turns out they staged the fight so the Fazers would feel good about themselves? Yeah, it doesn't make much sense.) Larsen shows that he has a pretty good grasp of where characters go on the page, as the layout isn't revolutionary but it gets the job done. Larry chucks Steve in Panel 1, and it's only through the context of Panel 2 that we realize it's onto the floor, as taken in isolation, it appears Steve is smashing against a ceiling or possibly a wall. In Panel 2, Larsen places Larry in the background, standing over Steve, while George - the "overgrown Slinky" - steps in between them. Larsen does this so that Panel 3 flows nicely from Panel 2, as Steve leaps up and bashes Larry, causing George to Slinkify. Then, in Panel 4, Steve turns and begins whipping George around while Larry sits on the floor, head aching from the blow. As I noted, nothing revolutionary, but Larsen gets the job done clearly and with a minimum of fuss. He draws all three characters well, but the way he draws George, with the coils linking his body parts and Larsen using only thin black lines, points toward his more cartoony future. In hindsight, it's fascinating.

So Dr. Faze's daughter, Francene, has apparently become "Girl-Bot," who can disconnect her many body parts so that she's just a floating head and can apparently control said body parts. Man, Faze One Fazers is a weird comic. Anyway, Silver took her apart without her consent, and Girl-Bot is fighting back. Panel 1 shows us another interesting proto-Larsen face, as we get large but not too-large eyes and a wide smile, foreshadowing Larsen's use of somewhat large mouths in the future. The way he draws Francene puts me in mind of characters from the 1940s and 1950s - it's just a vibe I'm getting, and while today Larsen is fascinated by that time period, I wonder if he was back then and let it seep into his art a bit. Panel 2 is a nicely aligned drawing, as Francene's body parts fly from the upper left to the lower right, knocking Silver down in the process. I don't know the green-haired lady's name, but Larsen shows a good sense of design as he draws four small panels to show how she outwits Howie. Unlike the previous example, she and Howie are a bit stiff, and it's clear that even though Larsen does know what he's doing, he can always get a bit looser with his figure work.

So that's the Supreme (Mary Wilson?), the ruler of the Repth Empire (look, I don't make this stuff up, I just report it!), and he's speaking to Eaglon, who is ... someone. I'm not sure. Does it really matter? Anyway, Larsen draws a really nice Supreme, especially his face in Panel 1. Again, we see some proto-Larsen tics, like the large, jutting chin, the wide nose, and the heavy brow, but we could also chalk that up to the fact that the Supreme is a lizard and a bad guy, and that's kind of the way you draw one such as that. It's still a nice drawing, however. The inker does some good work, too, giving the Supreme some thicker lines on his face and body to make his skin look tougher and knottier. Larsen draws a nice villain in Panel 4, too, as we see the standard way of drawing a bad guy, with large hands. The Supreme is a big dude, of course, but it often seems that artists make the hands of villains somewhat disproportionately bigger. I don't know why. Eaglon's pose in Panel 3 is pretty nice, too, as it's clear he doesn't have a lot of respect for the Supreme (man, if only the Supremes had sung "R-E-S-P-E-C-T," that would have made a nice turn of phrase). Finally, we get a nice move from left to right in Panel 5, as Larsen knows that he should push our eyes that way to lead us to the next page.

In the middle of the issue, Dr. Faze decides to reveal the secret origin of the Fazers. Apparently in 1979, a meteorite landed right outside his lab ...you know, like they do. He, being a responsible scientist, decided to allow his teenage daughter and two of her friends into the lab to check it out ... without making them put on any protective gear even though the meteorite is glowing with a hellish fire. Dr. Faze got his Ph.D. out of a box of Frankenberry, apparently. Francene is drawn to the rock, and when she touches it, she and her two friends - George and Larry (who's also her cousin, as it turns out) - get superpowers. Anyway, Larsen and the other artists do some nice work on this page - Panel 1 has good spot blacks and rougher inks, while Steve Falk colors Dr. Faze and his wife well, lighting them eerily in pink. The hatching on Francene's back in Panel 4 backlights her a little as the glow of the meteorite lights up her front, which is pretty neat. We see, however, that while Larsen's faces - as seen in Panel 2 - are more examples of "proto-Larsen" work, his figures are a bit odd. They look ... fine, for the most part, but George's arm in Panel 2 is a bit wonky, while Larry is a bit too skinny, so that he looks like Reed Richards in Panel 3. George doesn't look too much better - his legs are also too long - but he's not quite as strange as Larry is. This is a matter of perspective, I suspect, and Larsen not being quite as good at different viewpoints and angles as he would become, but it's worth mentioning because we'll see him get better over the next few days. It's also worth pointing out that Larsen probably deliberately drew Larry skinny because the meteorite makes him more muscular (as we've seen in earlier examples). Larsen goes a bit too far in the other direction, though.

The Supreme, as we can see, thinks nothing of killing one of his own, even if that one was thinking bad thoughts about him (and plotting against him, I would assume). I just like this because Larsen does a nice job showing the progression while still packing the panels together well - he draws the entire figure of the Supreme in Panels 1 and 2, but separates them with a gutter so he can show the brief passage of time. In Panel 1, the Supreme is pointing at the screen and holding the hapless minion by the neck. In Panel 2, even though the Supreme's body is the same one, Larsen has moved his hand down to launch the missile and crushed the minion's neck, so we don't see the gruesome violence but instead see the sound effect and the blood dripping from the minion. It's not too obvious, so it's not too gory. In Panel 3, he lays it out well again - and again, it's not revolutionary, but the way he leads us onto the page with the missile and then leads us off the page with Mighty Girl's body on the right (even though she's moving to the left) is well done. (Mighty Girl doesn't save him, by the way - I guess she suffers from seizures, and she has one just as she's about to stop the missile, which continues on its merry way and blows Eaglon straight to hell.)

The Fazers attack the Supreme, but it turns out he created his own, reptilian Fazers, who attack our heroes here and easily defeat them. Larsen uses a nice layout - it fans us down the page, which allows him to go "against the grain" a bit and have the main action move right to left without it becoming a problem. In Panel 1, the "Supreme Faze" leap from left to right, but green-haired girl's speech bubble moves us directly down to Panel 2, where the tilted panel moves us back to the left. George's cri de coeur about Mighty Girl leads us to Panel 3, which is a bit chaotic, but eventually takes us to Panel 4 and the Supreme gloating over the defeated Fazers. The "Z" pattern of page layout isn't new, but because Larsen tilts the panels, he's relentlessly maneuvering us across the page, and the tilt speeds the action up nicely. The fight is blocked well, too, as the evil Fazers are all matched up against their good counterparts in Panel 2 until things become a bit more chaotic in Panel 3. He uses strong lines and poses the characters well so that we can see clearly what's happening. I do like that the Fazers aren't unconscious or anything in Panel 4, because they look like they've just given up. Get up, you losers!

So the Fazers recover and fight back, because they're heroes!!! Larsen goes back to a four-panel grid here, although it's a bit off-set just for variety. Girl-Bot's punch into the bird's mid-section ("Floid" is the name of the meteorite, which turned out to be sentient and shape-shifting and looked upon Francene as its "mother" - yes, this is about as comic-booky a comic as you can get) moves us left to right, but Larsen uses motion lines to indicate where the punch came from, leading us toward the right. Mighty Girl and Flyte stretch the fake Springer, and Larsen does a good job with perspective in the panel, as he moves us down Springer's body from Mighty Girl to Flyte, and while Springer's legs under Flyte's arms are a bit weird, it's still a good drawing. I'm not quite sure why he doesn't show Flyte "undoing" Springer, but I figure it's because the drawing would probably be complicated and take up too much space, and as I noted above, this issue was under a tight deadline and Larsen (and Leo Laney, who scripted this) needed to get everything in. It means that Larsen gets to draw a nice pained expression on Fake Springer's face, and he does a decent job with it. Plus, that's a fun sound effect that belies the pain Fake Springer must be feeling. Panel 4 is also pretty neat, as Larsen uses thick black lines to create the water while Falk uses just enough blue to make it look real, and Larsen uses the foreground/background divide well to imply that Coral is in a heap of trouble. He frames her with the bad guy's head and arms, too, which is pretty neat. All the figures on this page are more fluid than some of the ones we saw above, and if you look at this issue, Larsen generally does a nice job with the action. There are a few missteps, but it's clear that he already knows what he's doing to a certain degree.

Larsen got more high profile work over the next few years, and tomorrow we'll look at one of his early DC comics (I don't own any of The New DNAgents, unfortunately, so I'm skipping that). Or maybe I'll look at ... but that would be telling! You'll just have to come back and see, and don't forget that you can always check out the archives!

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