Year of the Artist, Day 92: Steve Pugh, Part 4 - <i>Shark-Man</i> #1

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today's artist is Steve Pugh, and the issue is Shark-Man #1, which was published by Thrill-House Comics and is cover dated July 2006. Enjoy!

I had always liked Pugh's art, even though it wasn't the kind of stuff I was really into during the 1990s. It was something I liked when I saw it, but didn't think much about. When Shark-Man dropped in 2006, however, his new style blew me away. Shark-Man and tomorrow's entry are amazing, and even though it's still recognizably Pugh's work, he made some interesting changes.

Obviously, Shark-Man is digitally painted, and we'll see some neat things Pugh does with that. But notice a few things about his figure work on this page. The young blonde woman has a typical "Pugh face," but the captain and the older lady are a bit more varied. Pugh is not inking very heavily, if at all (Pugh used Photoshop for this book, and I imagine the art was colored directly from the pencils, although I don't know it for sure), so his art is not quite as chunky as it has been in the past (we'll see below that he still uses blacks effectively, but he doesn't on this page as much), providing a good contrast between the figures and the strange submarine things coming toward them. The lighter lines help make Pugh's characters a bit more expressive - as I've noted over the past few days, some of Pugh's more exaggerated faces work quite well, but he's not always the most subtle artist, but here it's definitely better. His paints are tremendous - the panel where the sleek black pods are leaping out of the water is very nicely done, as Pugh gives the submarines a metallic sheen that makes them look even more dangerous, while he uses really nice blues, greens, and white paint on the wave caps. Yesterday we saw an inker adding motion lines to Pugh's work, but we don't get that here. Pugh, however, has become better at contorting his characters so that when the captain "moves" in Panel 5, his body does all the work and Pugh doesn't need motion lines. It's obviously something he's gotten better at over the years, even though we'll see right now that he doesn't eschew them completely.

The boat is sunk, the sharks come in, and I assume that nice lady in the bikini is shark food in Panel 1/3. But onto the scene comes our hero, and Pugh gives us this very nice page. At the top, Shark-Man comes in hard from the upper left, smashing the shark in the gills (we all know that you stop a shark by punching it in the gills, right?). Panel 2 interrupts Panel 1 as an inset, but Pugh leads us back to the larger panel, where the shark is having a meal. The shark's direction leads us to the bottom row, where we find Edgar, directing traffic, and then Shark-Man swimming up and to the right, toward the next page.

The costume's design is very nice - it's a bit flashy, but because Pugh colors it a dull blue and red, the more wacky aspects of it are toned down slightly. The mask is wonderful, with the rows of teeth and the green-rimmed eyes - it both looks like a shark (naturally) and some kind of kabuki mask. Pugh colors it a dull silver, which helps it look metallic but also fits in well with the other muted colors of the costume. The colors on the page are really well done - Pugh moves from green to blue to purple to red, sliding along the color wheel from cool to warm without creating eye-popping complementary colors - the green is far enough removed from the red that it doesn't work as a complement in the upper panels, but the shift from red of the middle of the page back to the greens in the lower row help make the red in the middle stand out a bit. The analogous colors moving toward red make the ocean sludgy with colors like it's sludgy with gore, but Pugh's precise line work force us to see all the viscera and every horrible corpse. Shark-Man isn't a horror comic; it's more of a sci-fi superhero book, but Pugh can still draw horrific things when he needs to.

We're introduced to Shark-Man's son, Tom, who will eventually become Shark-Man in his turn but for now is romancing his father's adminstrative assistant, Jenny. I wanted to show this panel because it's a good example of how Pugh has gotten better with facial expressions. He raises Jenny's right eyebrow slightly and cocks her lip in that direction subtly, as she wonders why all the girls like a billionaire's son. It's something that isn't rocket science, but as we've seen in some of his other work, Pugh does well with exaggeration but not always with more subtle expressions. This is a nice drawing that shows he can be more understated.

As I noted, Pugh used Photoshop Creative for this comic, and we can see that it allowed him to do some beautiful stuff. The underside of New Venice is bejeweled with flashes of glowing neon, showing the technological glory of the place, while Pugh does nice work with the undersea scene, contrasting the man-made beauty above with the natural beauty below. Once again, the colors are dazzling - lots of blues, purples, magentas, and greens, which help link the city floating on the water with the display below the surface. It's a clever way to show how dependent New Venice is on the ocean and how vulnerable it is to a threat from the water.

Alan, who is also Shark-Man, gets attacked by the Shadow-King in his own office, and things don't end well, as we'll see below. The Shadow-King is probably the most obvious use of Photoshop in this book, but when he looks as cool as he does, it's perfectly fine. As we see in the middle of the page, Pugh is better at his figure work, as Alan is posed but not as rigid as we've seen some of Pugh's characters have been in the past. In the bottom panel, we see that Pugh still needs a bit of work with his facial expressions, as Alan's gritted teeth is actually a bit understated for the dialogue. I know that the script, by Ronald Shusett, was reworked a bit by Pugh, and I'm not sure if this one a spot where the original dialogue wasn't quite as "angry" as the new script. It's not a bad drawing, and it shows again that Pugh's lack of harsh blacks doesn't hurt his art, but it does seem that the art doesn't quite match the words.

Here's a better look at the Shadow-King, after he knifed Alan in the back, setting the scene for Tom to 1) be accused of his father's murder; and 2) become Shark-Man himself. I don't know much about Photoshop, so I don't know how Pugh created the Shadow-King, but he's pretty cool, isn't he? He has the giant, bony hands and the amorphous body, and Pugh colors him a dull red with some nice teal shades around the hands, moving along to simple white outlining the hands and the face. The way he's colored, he looks almost like a wave, which fits in very nicely with the sea-based motif of the comic. This is also evident in Alan's green suit, which evokes the ocean as well. Pugh knows what he's doing with the colors in this book!

Tom gets into the office and foolishly pulls the knife out just as the cops show up, so he's off to prison. Chief (later Commissioner) Raymond is another nice example of the new kind of "Pugh face" - the characteristics are still there, but they're muted a bit. Pugh does a nice job showing her disgust at what she thinks is a son killing his father - her mouth is turned downward and open a bit, showing her teeth bared like a predator about to attack. Pugh once again uses a metallic sheen, this time for the police uniforms, which fit a bit tightly on the officers, but look very much like neoprene or spandex and contrast nicely with Raymond's classier outfit. As we've seen throughout, Pugh uses the spectrum from red to green and everything in between - more purple in this panel - to link these pages to water and blood. Tom's bright red shirt stands out in this muted environment, turning him into a hotter symbol, almost signifying guilt. He pops nicely off the page, and of course is linked to the blood dripping from the ornate dagger he holds in his hand.

Pugh's work on Shark-Man is a giant leap forward (I wrote about the comic here, where you can see more of his art), and tomorrow, for our last day of his work, we'll see how much better it can be. Come back to see what's going on! And spend your evening trawling the archives!

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