Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Erik Larsen, and the issues are Doom Patrol #8 and 13, which were published by DC and are cover dated May and October 1988. Enjoy!
Larsen took over Doom Patrol on issue #6 and drew it through issue #15, when it appears he took off for Marvel. Doom Patrol #1-18 in its second incarnation is a strange beast – it wasn’t a great comic by any means, but it was interesting, and it featured art by Steve Lightle, Larsen, and Graham Nolan. It’s not anyone’s fault that beginning in issue #19 we got the best comic book run in history, throwing these issues into shadow a little. I want to show two issues, mainly because of the inking – in issue #8, Larsen was inked by Gary Martin, and in issue #13, Al Gordon inked him. Martin’s line is much cleaner, and it’s interesting to see the effects on Larsen’s pencils. Let’s go!
You’ll notice that some of the art in this post is very Giffen-esque – the side view of Joshua in Panel 4 is a very Giffeney face from this era. If you’re looking, you’ll see this occasionally in Larsen’s art from DP – there are a few pages in issue #13 that are very Giffen-esque, as we’ll see below. Also on this page, we see a lot of very Larsen-esque artwork, stuff that is recognizably Larsen even if he’s still tweaking things 25 years later. In Panel 1, Mitchell is a goofy Larsen cartoon, and Rhea is … well, she’s definitely living in 1988, I’ll tell you that much! Larsen gives her that giant mop of hair and the long ponytail, and those large eyes (made to look larger by the lack of irises) and the small nose and mouth. It’s exaggerated with Rhea, but it’s still a fairly standard Larsen face, especially the more “mature” Larsen that we begin to see emerge on this comic and moving forward. Down in Panel 5, we see Scott pretty clearly, and he’s another good Larsen creation, with the very 1980s hair, the thick black eyebrows, the biggish eyes, and the smaller mouth. Notice the sign in the final panel that reads “Backs by Monika.” Monika Livingston was doing background inks, and she and Martin use thin lines, generally, to keep the art clean. Larsen does use spot blacks well (it’s actually another Giffen-esque touch, especially on this page), but the page doesn’t look rough at all. That would change when the inker changed.
This is a nice drawing of Shrapnel – Larsen doesn’t get to draw a close-up of him that often, so he really goes to town here. Even though he’s made out of metal, Larsen still gives him Larsen-esque qualities, from the “eyebrows” extending outward quite far to the jutting lower chin. He’s a typical Larsen villainous type, in other words. Larsen’s details are really nice, as he draws in all the little pieces of metal and he and Martin use some nice line work to add shadows and texture to the metal. Shrapnel still looks sharp and shiny, but he’s also been beat up a little bit, and this is reflected nicely. Michele Wolfman uses just a little bit of blue to add even more nuance to his face, which is nice. Larsen and Martin remember to place Shrapnel’s eyes in shadow a bit to make him seem even more ominous. It’s a really nicely done face.
Shrapnel does his thing and kills the dude, and Larsen does a good job with it. He uses speed lines nicely to make the scene look even messier – yes, Walter gets shredded, and Wolfman adds plenty of red splotches to show him bleeding, but the speed lines put it over the top a little. The pieces of metal are flying away from Shrapnel at high speed, and the lines not only hammer that point home but make Walter’s body seem even more torn apart. I always liked the way colorists colored a corpse all red, like Wolfman does with Walter – it signifies the violence done to them, but doesn’t look as gory, weirdly, as if we saw splotches of blood. Walter has blacks on him to show the blood, while the red overwhelms the horrible shredding of his flesh. Notice the way Larsen draws Shrapnel in Panel 3, too. His legs are good and thick, but Larsen gives him a slightly thin waist and then gives him a ridiculously broad chest. If you’re familiar with Larsen’s work at all, you’ve probably seen him draw a character like this. This is actually not as pronounced as it would get, but it’s an early example of it.
This is an interesting page, because Larsen does almost everything “wrong” on it. It’s very dynamic, and he draws the characters well, but it’s odd how he moves us around the page and therefore dictates where John Workman needs to put the word balloons. In Panel 1, Larsen is moving us to the right, with Shrapnel on the left, killing the cop on the right, and the flames on the right border becoming a barrier to progress that way. Because of the thinness of the panel and how Larsen moves us from left to right, we might expect to move straight down to Panel 2, but we leap back to the left side, where we see Rhea’s dialogue. That turns Shrapnel’s head toward the reader, which works pretty well, and then we get Panel 3. It’s a nice drawing – Larsen and Martin continue to do really nice work with Shrapnel, and while Arani’s legs are a bit thick, the Doom Patrol is done well. They’re coming toward Shrapnel the “wrong” way, though, as all the movement in the panel is going from the right to the bottom left corner, which is very strange. Rhea’s word balloon finishes her quip from Panel 2, and Arani chastises her for it. That word balloon should be the last one we read, but Shrapnel’s threat in the bottom left is the actual last thing we should read, as it’s continued on the next page. When you’re reading a comic, you probably don’t notice this because you’re taking in the entire scene and you’re zipping back and forth so quickly that you don’t notice, but it’s very interesting that Larsen would lay the page out so “incorrectly.” Still, it’s a fun image of the Doom Patrol about to lay the smack down on Shrapnel.
This is a nice page, as Larsen draws the climax of the fight well and makes sure the figures are all quite fluid and lithe, as no one looks posed or stiff. Valentina attacked Shrapnel on the previous page, and that’s why our villain looks so upset in Panel 1, and that’s also the panel that looks the most Larsen-esque on the page. Obviously, Larsen’s cartooning skills are getting better, and we see that here with Shrapnel’s giant mouth and teeth. Larsen gives him a much bigger chin, too, and narrows his eyes in pain. Larsen has shown a penchant for exaggeration, and he’s using it in interesting situations, while his regular style of art was becoming more cartoony, so the exaggerated poses don’t look too out of place.
I wanted to take a look at issue #13, in which Larsen is inked by Al Gordon. It guest-stars Power Girl!
So that’s Pythia. Man, she’s something, isn’t she? This is a classic Larsen splash page, and we can see that he’s pretty much arrived at the style that he’d stick with the rest of his career. Pythia has a big mouth in a relatively small face, and she has a small waist and relatively large thighs. As with many Larsen characters, her hands look larger than they probably would be, which makes her look more powerful. Power Girl isn’t as close so Larsen doesn’t use as many details, but he still makes her look a bit cartoony. Larsen and Gordon give Pythia thick lines on her cape and … whatever the hell that thing covering her boobs and crotch is, and Wolfman, who’s still the colorist, does nice work with the flaming hair. The less said about Pythia’s feet, the better, I think.
Notice how rough the line work is here. Yes, Valentina is beating the crap out of Larry Trainor because he stole her powers, so the characters probably would look a bit rough, but Larsen and Gordon are definitely scratchier than Larsen and Martin were. The grass in Panel 1, Larry’s face in Panels 3 and 6, the thick folds on the clothing – all of it shows a rougher line than we saw above in issue #8. Larsen appears to use the same drawing of Valentina in Panels 2 and 8, too. That’s a bit odd.
Won’t someone think of the children?!?!?!? Rhea decides to work on her tan, and we get cheesecake-o-rama for a few pages. Larsen draws Rhea a lot like he would draw females going forward – she’s long, her boobs are a bit too big for her frame, her waist is tiny and looks a bit too high on her body, and her hips are very wide. Larsen uses a few lines to indicate muscles, especially on her arms, and many of his women would be muscular in the future. She’s a cartoon character, of course, so Larsen’s exaggerated figure isn’t as off-putting as it might be, I don’t think. You may disagree. I think her hair has gotten poofier since issue #8, too. Man, the Eighties were weird.
Finally, as an added bonus, he’s the most Giffeney drawing I could find in the two issues:
Holy crap, Larsen is seriously channeling Giffen here. It works well, but I wonder why he did it on only a few pages.
Larsen, as I noted, went off to Marvel not long after this and after a stint drawing The Punisher (man, that has to be a weird mix), began drawing Amazing Spider-Man. Yeah, I’m going to be boring and show some Spider-Man tomorrow. Deal with it! You can find more Spidey in the archives!
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