Thursday, March 22, 2007

In Praise Of Mentors: Alan Weiss

The Wardancer panels are scanned from my original pages.

Like many comic artists, I was essentially self trained in the specifics of comic art. Like most I nicked a nose from Adams, a hand from Gulacy, a layout from Perez and tried to synthesize them as my own. As I worked more on my inking I studied different approaches, from the thick line approach of Dick Ayers and Jack Abel, to the studied contrast in Klaus Janson and Pablo Marcos' work, to the precision in Terry Austin's.

How cohesive is this really? I recall seeing the swiped Chaykin figures in Jim Lee's early work. How do we develop a style and a language that will allow us to actually critique our work and make it better?

Arriving in New York for my first comic book work back in the early '90's, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on the book Wardancer with Alan Weiss. Alan had been through the trenches of '70's Marvel with all the people that were my idols, creators of my favorite comics: Steve Englehart, Jim Starlin, Al Milgrom, Barry Smith, et al, and had a million and one stories to tell.

And he could draw. Oh yes he could.

It would end up being the best situation that I could have imagined. My ink work looked terrible on the pencillers who came up with outlines and no substance. (Take a look at the first half of Good Guys #4, or better yet don't) Alan's work was a substance and form, all muscle and sinew, light playing over the figures as they moved and breathed in a 3 dimensional space. It was both a joy to work on and pulling out my own fingernails tough.

After I did each batch of pages Alan and I would meet at a diner to have a bite, talk some life and go over the work. He had asked me to do less feathering and use more texture to round the figures. I ended using a combination of grease pencil and dry brush work to add the grain he was looking for. It made for absolutely beautiful originals; they had depth and clarity and fullness to them that is lacking on more graphic work. Given the color process at Defiant, it also led to horrible, horrible printed work. It was a shame.

Alan gave me the terms and verbage to adequately discuss the art of comics, the art of lighting a figure and how to, if need be, fix said art. I did as much fixing as I could along the way. I learned how to sculpt the figure with the brush, much you might sculpt stone in three dimensions. I also found that few editors have the knowledge and language to adequately convey what they want from artists, which is a huge issue when it comes to review artists work at con, or being able to actually discuss the work in the office. It may be one of the great failings of the comic biz, that there are very few Archie Goodwins nuturing new talent or tweaking existing talent to being better.

It was an amazing education in a short concentrated period of time, punctuated by lessons on the politic of comic books, as well as the brutal reality of the comic market circa 1993/94, which was not a great time for comics. I know that in talks with Alan, I saw an extremely creative individual with a number of fun, interesting ideas, many of which were simply too far afield to have worked in the "grim and gritty superheroes or bust" world of the 1980 and 1990's. In a world of Rocketo and Milk and Cheese, Steel Grip Starkey would certainly have had a better chance of finding the sales it needed.

While those days of living in New York are more than a few years in the past, I still remember so much of those afternoon sessions poring of the artwork with Alan, figureing out ways to make things better. I still look at my own work with that eye: does it have form? Does it have substance? Does it take life on the page?

1 comment:

Pauline said...

Hello Charles,

I bumped into your lovely blog post on Tuesday morning while I was bouncing from site to site looking for updates on Marshall.

In a time of such shock and sorrow, what a nice surprise this was. I still have great memories of Defiant - of the work we all did and the cameraderie we shared...I can't think of OJ Simpson without remembering making guacamole in your kitchen during the slow motion Bronco chase.... After all this time, I still think that the work you and Alan did on War Dancer still stands as the most aesthetically pleasing produced in those short years. (And thanks for making note of that screwed-up color process. What a pain in the ass to have to continue to make excuses for it after all this time. We really should post black-and-white scans of all the WD pages somewhere...let me get on that!)

You should see that diner on 200th Street now, they totally fixed it up, you'd barely recognize it.

We are both truly touched. Alan will be in contact directly in due time. It's so crazy - I'll let him tell you, but we both spoke with Marshall, Alan at great length, just three weeks ago. It's all still very hard to grasp.

much love to you,

pauline at surrealdeal dot net

ps - our number's the same and he keeps the same hours, if you're ever in a mood...