Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Wallace Wood, and the story is "To Kill a God!" in Vampirella #12, which was published by Warren and is cover dated July 1971, as well as "Sally Forth" #4 and excerpts from "Cannon," which were published in Overseas Weekly in 1971-1974. The scans of Vampirella and "Sally Forth" are from WoodWork: Wallace Wood 1927-1981, which was published by IDW/Éditions Déesse in 2012, while those from "Cannon" are from Cannon, the hardcover collection published by Fantagraphics in 2014. Enjoy! And yes, it's late-era Wood, so it's pretty Not Safe For Work below!
In the early 1970s, Wood began drawing two strips for Overseas Weekly, the U.S. Army's newspaper. These were "Sally Forth" (the name of which was inexplicably co-opted after Wood's death) and "Cannon," both of which featured lots of naked woman. In fact, a lot of what Wood drew in the 1970s featured a lot of naked women, including a stunning story he wrote and drew in Vampirella #12, which is where we begin!
This story is about Marc Antony and Cleopatra, although we don't know that (we can guess) until Vampirella tells us at the end (see below). In the 1970s, Wood produced more and more subpar work, but when he wanted to, he could still do amazing work, and this story shows that off. He uses Zip-A-Tone wonderfully to create textures, while his brush work is excellent as usual. In Panel 1, his blacks and blurry whites help make the scene murky and exotic, as the "god" approaches Cleopatra, the sacrifice. Wood never drew horrific violence too much (perhaps because of the time in which he drew), but by 1971, all bets were off, and he does a good job with the spattered black of the "god's" blood in Panel 3. The shading on the page is terrific, as we can see everything perfectly well but still get the impression that the room is dim. It's all about atmosphere, and Wood nails it.
Cleopatra is taken away to the land of the dead by the actual Anubis, and Marcus takes off after her. He finds her on a shore of skulls, and we get this incredible page. Wood never skimps on details, so we get the Roman armor intricately inked in Panel 1, while their vessel is beautifully drawn as it approaches the beach. Wood uses black expertly to create a dark reflection in the water, and of course the starry sky sets the scene nicely. Wood makes sure that in the foreground, each skull is clear, so that the blackness of the eyes is fairly creepy and leads us upward to the blacker mass in the distance. He draws weird and terrifying creatures in the smaller panels at the bottom. The way he uses Zip-A-Tone and black chunks is marvelous, as we see in the final panel, where Marcus's face is shadowed, while Cleopatra's body is shaded differently because of the Zip-A-Tone. This allows Wood to achieve a shaded effect without using paint, which is why Zip-A-Tone was so neat.
On the next page, Marcus actually fights the god, and we get this cool scene. We saw Wood do action a little bit stiffly when he drew Daredevil, but the fight here, while brief, is terrific - notice how Anubis tosses Cleopatra aside in Panel 2, and how much smoother both figures look when compared with the Ox chucking Matt behind him a few days ago. Marcus's sword stroke that destroys Anubis's mask is also well done, as Wood uses beautiful black chunks to make the encounter more violent, while Marcus moves very fluidly as he swings. Wood uses a lot of blacks without holding lines in this story, which makes it a bit more organic, as Marcus's armor has seen battle and therefore isn't as sharp and shiny as it used to be. Of course, Wood does very well with Anubis, because his brush work is so sensational, so the god looks suitably terrifying as it attacks and bites Marcus. That can't be pleasant.
We find out that Marc Antony and Cleopatra are still alive and living in Transylvania, which is the big twist of the story, but the way Wood draws Anubis's transformation is what's really neat. This is original art, so I imagine the printed stuff looks a bit different, but it's still neat how Wood places the man's transformation from wolf to man to skull on a different layer than Cleopatra's surprised reaction. I'm not sure how he did it - I imagine, once again, that it comes from the treated paper and he can brush the area around the heads to make it fade a bit, but it's still pretty cool because it makes the focus of the panel stay on the devolution of the god instead of, you know, Cleopatra's breasts. I'm sure someone knows how this is done, but I don't. It's still keen.
I wanted to show one example of "Sally Forth," as it's a different style from what Wood was doing at this time, although its cartoony line would fit perfectly with his earlier work on MAD. Here's one strip:
"Sally Forth" is a silly sexy romp, full of dumb characters, but Wood's art is quite good. His shift from the fairly realistic Sally (yes, her boobs are large, but she's still fairly realistic) and the detailed surroundings to the comically goofy other characters is odd, as Wood infantilizes the men in this comic and idealizes the women. If we take the psychological angle about this, we can infer that Wood was writing about himself - according to some sources I've read, at the end of Wood's marriage to Tatjana Wood (which came in 1969, a year after he created Sally), he was acting more and more like a son and she like a mother as his health deteriorated due to his drinking. By 1971, Wood was remarried (a marriage which didn't last long), but he probably still had very complex attitudes toward women, attitudes which would become increasingly misogynistic over the course of the 1970s. We see some of that in "Sally," especially in this strip, where she doesn't actually speak (in later strips she would take a more active role), and especially in "Cannon," where Wood seemed to struggle between depicting women as nothing but sex toys and showing them taking care of things on their own. Later in the decade he would give up altogether, and his pornography would take a much darker turn. But here, we see his strengths - beautiful women, silly but somewhat endearing characters, and a cheeky sense of humor. As with everything where Wood gave a damn, he takes time to make the submarine and the boat look very good, and even Lieutenant Dahl's smirks when he's around Sally are good, as Wood's lowering of his eyelids in Panels 5 and 10 show that he knows that he has it good and he should just enjoy it. Even though Sally doesn't get any lines, her expression in Panel 10 implies that she's simply tolerating these infant-like men because that's what women do. Again, Wood had a complicated relationship with women, and it seems to come out in "Sally Forth" quite a lot.
He also worked on "Cannon," which is batshit insane. "Cannon" is the kind of comic that Ian Fleming might think is a bit too full of testosterone and ugly attitudes toward women. It's amazing looking, and it's very entertaining, but it's also fairly troubling. Let's check out some of the work that is a bit less troubling!
Wood uses blacks and white so well, as we see when he wants to turn up the violence. Just by using small flecks of black on a white background, as he does in Panel 1, he can achieve a bloody, pulpy mess without showing too much and possibly getting censored by the Army (they allowed a lot of nudity in this strip, but no crotch shots, so I'm not sure how they would have felt about really graphic violence). He uses white again to show the bullets bursting through the wall in Panel 3 and the roof in Panel 5. Wood, as we can see, has no issue with drawing bodies moving in action, as Cannon and his uncle are tossed about by the force of the bullets and the dude on the roof crumples nicely when Cannon shoots him. Larry Hama was working as Wood's assistant in the early 1970s, and he did some backgrounds, but I don't know if he did anything in the examples I'm showing. I just thought I'd mention it.
We get some more terrific violence in Panel 1, as the good guys fall into a trap and get shot up. Once again, Wood does really nice work with the whites and the short lines to create an effect of bullets hitting the ground, showing how deadly the crossfire is. He then switches to Sue Smith, who's a Soviet spy, trying to escape from custody, so of course she seduces the agent who's watching her. Wood does just enough with Weasel in Panels 3-5 to let us know that he's trying to resist Sue's considerable charms, but he's only a man, after all. Luckily, Sue can't shoot straight, so Weasel survives. Good for him!
Look at this excellent page. Wood again uses inks wonderfully, creating a rocky landscape in Panel 1, using silhouettes and chunks of blacks to create the guns and jeeps, which leads to the plane destroying the jeep in Panel 2. Wood had a "swipe file" (which we'll see evidence of below), so I imagine he used photographs to make the jeeps look so good in Panel 1, but in Panel 2, he does a really nice job showing how bullets would rip through the vehicle and disable it. He does a great job with McGraw in Panel 4 as he struggles to shoot down the plane, and it makes his confrontation with Weasel (who's flying the plane) all the more pathetic yet impressive. Wood doesn't get too detailed in the final two panels, as the smoke and dust is obscuring McGraw a little and the bullet holes and shattered glass hide Weasel a bit. Still, his line work is great, giving us a good sense of the horrific battle the two men are locked in.
Wood was famous for embracing tracing and cutting-and-pasting - he didn't believe in wasting time with stuff you could easily find elsewhere, and so we get pages like this, where Cannon and Finn are drawn fairly well (although there's no guarantee Wood wasn't using earlier drawings or photographs as a template there, either) while the backgrounds are obviously from other sources. This kind of thing has always worked better in black and white, and I'm not sure if Wood (or even Hama) inked the backgrounds heavily to fit them into the scene better. It's certainly not my favorite technique, although I can see why artists do it, and occasionally it works better in some places than in others. Wood uses this kind of thing judiciously, and it's not too intrusive. He also seemed to do it more when deadlines were catching up to him, which is understandable. I just wanted to show an example of what he did, because he is fairly well-known for advocating for these short cuts. It's also why his "24 Panels that Always Work" template caught on (I know these days it's 22 panels, but I found out recently that Wood had 24, except two were too faint when Larry Hama photocopied them) - they're short cuts for artists who are trying to interpret a script.
Wood's use of swiping and tracing, his reliance on his studio for pencil art during the Tower Comics phase, and his tragic end may have dimmed his legacy a bit, but in recent years, people have rediscovered Wood, and his place in the pantheon of comics artists has been restored, it seems. Yes, his late 1970s porn work is fairly unpleasant. His alcoholism, failed marriages, and poor health give us a portrait of a broken man as he turned 50 and beyond. He killed himself at 54 before the comics culture really became a nostalgia industry, when a new generation began re-assessing the greats of the past and which might have been able to help Wood fight his demons. Who knows? All I can say is that he's a great artist, one of the best, and I hope you liked checking out his work. Here's a nice article from Alter Ego by Michael T. Gilbert about Wood's life, if you want to know more. It's kind of depressing, as you might expect.
Tomorrow: the final artist of the year! Who can it be? Will it be a Golden Age artist? Will it be a Silver Age artist? Will it be a modern day artist? Will it be an artist who drew romance comics or science-fiction comics or war comics or superhero comics? Will it be an artist with a legacy that is still extremely relevant today? The answer is YES. How can someone be all those things? You'll just have to come back tomorrow and see! In the interim, feel free to check out the burgeoning archives!