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 Amazing Spider-Man #335 (plus a few cameos from other issues), which was published by Marvel and is cover dated July 1990. Enjoy!
Larsen took over the penciling gig on Amazing Spider-Man from Todd McFarlane, and early on, a lot of people thought he was just aping McFarlane. The similarities are certainly there, but as we've seen over the past few days, Larsen was always more cartoony even than McFarlane, while he and whoever was inking him seemed to get by with fewer and cleaner lines. One reason I think people compared him unfavorably to McFarlane is because he kept some of McFarlane's innovations - most notably a lot of thin vertical panels, which was such a shift in the way the comic looked that if anyone continued it (and I still think it was usually a pretty good idea), they'd be accused of looking like McFarlane. I was never a huge fan of Larsen on Amazing Spider-Man, because back in 1990 I didn't really appreciate his style of artwork, but going back and looking at it over the years, it's grown on me. I had a hard time picking an issue to show, actually, because Larsen hit the ground running with issue #329 and all of the his 21 issues on the book look very similar. I picked issue #335 partly because I dig the Shocker. Yeah, I said it.
When he was drawing the series, Larsen was usually inked by Mike Machlan (early on) and Randy Emberlin (later on). Of course, the issue I picked has Terry Austin inking Larsen, because I just like to be contrary. Austin, actually, tends to add more lines to Larsen's work than either Machlan or Emberlin, so we get that really decrepit and scaly Hobgoblin face in Panels 3 and 6. Every artist tends to have some fun with Doc Ock's arms, but Larsen really goes nuts with them, especially in the final panel, where they're just wandering far and wide. Notice that Larsen probably didn't re-draw the panels 1, 2, and 5, but he changes just enough to make them interesting so we don't really mind that he's just using one drawing three times.
This is pretty much "mature Larsen" by now, and we see that a lot in his work on faces. We've seen him moving this way, but here it's in full bloom. Goldman is a typical "ugly" Larsen character, with a wide face, a squat nose, and a horrible haircut. Peter looks a lot like Scott from the Doom Patrol, as Larsen gives him those thick black eyebrows and large, soulful eyes. Larsen gives Mary Jane large eyes and a large mouth, with a bigger nose than we usually see on women in comics. It's actually not that big, just drawn in, which, given that so many artists just give women nostrils, makes it look a bit bigger. Larsen kept the lush, curly hair that McFarlane gave MJ and took it even further, reflecting both the era and the fact that Mary Jane is now working on a soap opera, where excess is the name of the game! Here's a slightly better example of how Larsen was drawing Mary Jane, from issue #331:
Either Larsen or Mike Machlan puts too many lines on Mary Jane's hands, so they look crone-ish, but the face is a good representation of how Larsen was drawing women at this time. Mary Jane not only has giant eyes, but giant irises, too, and while her mouth is twisted in way that doesn't show its width, you can still tell that it's fairly large. That's Felicia Hardy, by the way, who played a major role in this part of David Michelinie's run on the comic.
Larsen and his inkers make May and Nathan look really old, as they really line their faces with deep wrinkles. I know May is perpetually 93 years old, but sometimes she looks younger, and that's not the case when Larsen and the inkers get their mitts on her! The reason I love this sequence is because of Larsen's use of duo-shade in Panel 4. Larsen draws the reflection of May in Nathan's glasses, and the glass is tinted nicely and duo-shaded to get that line pattern. It's a clever device, and doesn't intrude on Larsen's cartooning.
Presented without comment.
Flash does have a nice ass, though.
Just to prove it wasn't a fluke, here's a panel from issue #341. Holy crap.
Okay, I have to comment a little. Obviously, fashion changes and anyone who makes fun of this will be mortified by their stupid hipster beards in a decade (not you, though - your beard is awesome). I do like how Larsen draws Flash, as he was always the big jock, and as he grew up, he found a way to remain in good shape so he could rock those ridiculous outfits without shame. Larsen gives him plenty of body hair, which is another interesting cultural thing, as it seems "manscaping" has become a big thing these days and Flash's back hair would not be tolerated! (I don't have time for "manscaping" - it sounds painful and time-consuming, I've been married for 20 years and don't need to attract a mate, and I'm really lazy). Even though they're just walking and talking, Larsen does a pretty good job showing the dynamic - early on, Felicia was dating Flash to get to Peter, but she slowly fell for the big lug, and Larsen draws them as a nice couple. And, of course, there's Felicia's glorious head of hair!
This is a fairly typical Larsen-esque fight scene - at least one page of one. We get an interesting and somewhat chaotic mix of vertical and horizontal panels, one of which is tilted and the edges roughed to make it more "extreme," which was the style of the time. Larsen's details have always been a great feature of his artwork, and he just doesn't take panels off. In Panel 1, he and Austin take time to make sure the Shocker's quilt is nicely drawn, with some extra line work to show that it's fabric and not metal, while every instance of the Shocker using his powers is accompanied by the nice electric effect, which Larsen and/or Austin goes nuts with, filling the panels with jagged speed lines to show how powerful the Shocker's shocks are. Larsen draws a pretty cool Spider-Man, too - again, it's influenced by McFarlane, but that's because McFarlane's idea to make Spider-Man more spider-like, while not absolutely revolutionary, was very neat, so Larsen just continued that. He makes Spidey look like a spider as he leaps over the shockwave, and he and Austin remember to not hatch the parts of his body closest to the shock, because it's illuminating those parts. It's pretty clever.
There's a lot of cool stuff on this page, as it's another example of Larsen's well-done fight scenes, and if you've noticed, the small amount of stiffness in his figure work from a few years earlier than this is completely gone, making him a very good superhero artist. In Panel 1, we get Paul Shaffer and his band, dressed in hideous 1980s/1990s fashion and fleeing the fight, and Larsen does well to fit it all into the panel. In Panel 2, we see plenty of "Larsen faces" - the large eyes, the wide mouths, the somewhat squat noses - as the onlookers cheer the two combatants on. Panel 3 is kind of awesome, as Larsen puts the point of view above Spidey, who's hanging on the wall with the Shocker below. Larsen does a wonderful job framing the Shocker with Spidey's body, so that we don't miss him firing at the wall and disintegrating it. The reverse destruction - moving up the wall, against the grain - is really nicely shown, and it leads us to Peter's foot, which was on the wall and is now dislodged. It's deceptively complicated, but Larsen makes it work really well, as it also reminds us that of all the superheroes, Spider-Man might live in the most three-dimensional universe, because he's always tumbling around and with his sticking ability, anything becomes a floor for him. Meanwhile, in Panels 4-6, we see more Larsen faces, including Mary Jane's scared face. Despite the cartoonish nature of his work, Larsen does pretty well with facial expressions, as he gets the right mix or worry and scorn on Mary Jane's face in Panel 6.
The climax of the fight is fun, because Peter uses SCIENCE!!!! to defeat the Shocker (remedial science, sure, but still), and Larsen draws it really well. Once again we get the tilted panel showing something dramatic, both at the top of the page and at the bottom, and we also get the wonderful details that Larsen always brings to his work. Larsen didn't invent that pose that Spidey hangs in, but it's pretty terrific, and I always dig seeing it. Plus, we get nice Kirby Krackle on this page, and considering Larsen is one of a handful of modern comics artists who conceivably be called Kirby heirs, that's nice to see.
This is from issue #331, but I wanted to show it because I don't recall any artist narrowing Spider-Man's eye holes like Larsen did (quite often, I must say). It's kind of weird. Does anyone remember any other artist ever doing that?
After following McFarlane on Amazing Spider-Man, Larsen went off and followed him on Spider-Man for a while, before deciding to jump ship and start a comic book company with a bunch of other dudes. He really hasn't changed his art style that much in the subsequent 20+ years (that is, not that much, although he always seems to be tinkering) but we'll finish tomorrow by looking at some recent work and also something a bit odd that shows he can still alter his style when he feels like it. So come back for ... well, you know what I'm going to show! (I could show Spider-Woman, you know - don't tempt me!) While cooling your jets, perhaps you can take a tour of the archives!