I Never Saw It Coming

I’m a product of the Seventies in that both my social sense and my creative vision were influenced a great deal by what was going on in the decade from 1970 to 1979. Economically speaking it was terrible with most of the decade stuck in ‘stagflation’ – a stagnant economy wracked by inflation,  and the country suffered a major geopolitical black-eye in Southeast Asia. At the same time it looked like racial issues were being addressed, and the multicultural bridge crew of the Starship Enterprise more than an escapist’s dream – which made my heart warm. My parents were an anomaly for their generation in that they were color-blind when it came to race, and so the idea of  everyone of all colors getting along and working well together seemed only natural.

I was excited to be studying ‘commercial art’  as well and I loved the flamboyant renderings and splashy color choices of illustrators like Bob Peake that were so popular at the time. I looked forward to working in that design world, so at times it was challenging to have my illustration career on hold for five years while I served in the Army….but when I came out of the Army things were starting to change. Individual art directors were being replaced by committees and group-think tends to shun the experimental. Race relations were starting to change as well and the future didn’t seem as positive as we thought in the previous decade.

One indication of the changes was also one of my signature bodies of work –  the group of uniform designs I created in 1986 and 1987 for FASA’s foil-covered BattleTech House books. It was a marvelous opportunity and a great learning experience: if you line the books up in order of their production you can see a gradual positive change in both my figure drawing and marker technique.

Unfortunately that project is unlikely to happen again with the same results.

Why? Jordan Weismann was the sole art director for the entire project and he pretty much let me run with my ideas  –  in the entire series he turned back exactly one drawing. Unfortunately by the last book Jordan had left and I had to contend with three different people dictating often conflicting changes which made for a drop in concept and quality. I no longer had the freedom to excel.

There were other trends that were disturbing me… Early on in the BattleTech project I was able to keep that Enterprise bridge crew model-mix of genders and races but as the series wound up with the committee in charge, it seemed like all the figures they took exception to had darker skins or only “X” chromosomes. Those committee objections took me totally by surprise (hence the title of today’s post). I’d been tooling along with my Seventies goggles but when I stopped and took a good look around in 1988 everything was very different.

I won’t even go into how I feel about the way things are now, but rest assured that I still prefer that Seventies perspective and I still put more stock in a person’s actions than the way they look.

 


 

This laser-equipped trooper from the Eridani Light Horse happened at the very beginning of the series

Eridani Light Horse 19860001

Re-visualized version from earlier in this decade

Eridani Light Horse Color Rework

UFO: 1908 Moonbase Commander

The only thing better than the stuff Sir Gerry Anderson and his crew thought up is tweaking the details. I love retro-designing vehicles and costumes and when I was dusting some of my “trophies” in the sitting room I got the idea for a uniform for the Moonbase ladies had SHADO been organized in 1908 instead of 1980.

2018-12-03 UFO Moonbase 1908

 

 

Unto the Third and Fourth Generation

Working with my Star Pupil doesn’t always entail slaving over the drawing board. This picture documents one of the many breaks we take in between drawing and sculpting,  though you could refer to this as yet another study session.

Art history –  because we are analyzing a classic television program…

Unto the third and fourth generation

I definitely I learned a lot from this session – as in discovering  the degree to which my hair has gone  thin and white…

Class Update

TheGuySIngularIt’s a busy time of year and I get to have my Star Pupil with me in the studio a bit more often than usual. After our last session Jaybug has developed a passion for sculpture, which for a five-year old usually means he will stay on task for seven to ten  minutes at most. However, It’s been a little different this time around and I know for a fact that we’ve had three episodes of Dynotrux air since he started pushing Super-Sculpey this afternoon.

3 x 23 minutes = 69 minutes or an hour & change.

It’s amazing.

I am not sure what to make of it.

I’ve had fourth-year art school students that can’t focus for that long….

Sketchbook 17 DEC 2018

Creative CurveI have to consider this sketchbook drawing to be  a “qualified success”. I’m happy enough with the drawing but at the same time I am frustrated with the way some of the thinner black lines have faded, changed colors and bled into large areas of color. The pens and markers didn’t work as expected.

 In our age of instant/constant feedback manufacturers change products to follow changing market trends which may or may not be really there. It used to be that I knew what each medium, support and tool did both by themselves and combined with each other but now I have to make preliminary tests for everything – even sketchbook drawings.

New Look Batman

New Look Batman

Things were looking pretty grim for the Caped Crusader in the fall of 1963. The familiar Caped Boy Scout image that had seen him through the Superhero purge of the Fifties1  had started working against him driving  sales so low that all of the Bat-titles were facing cancellation. Fortunately Batman was given a last-minute reprieve in the form of new editor Julius Schwartz – the same fellow who had successfully relaunched the Flash and Green Lantern into Silver Age versions.

Julie made some changes – after learning that a simple bat shape was too generic for a trademark he added yellow oval to make it a more complete  – and more marketable – logo. Most importantly he instituted a “New Look” for the bat-books by bringing on board  comics superstar Carmine Infantino as the penciller for Detective Comics starting with issue 327 “Mystery of the Menacing Mask”. ‘

There were other changes and improvements:

  • Bat-themes associates (Bat-mite/Batwoman, Ace the Bat-Hound) were shown the door.
  • Costumed super-criminals were conspicuously close to a year ”
  • Aunt Harriet replaced Alfred the Butler
  • The bubble-top Bat-Cadillac was replaced with a convertible sports car model
  • The Bat-signal was replaced by a telephone hotline similar to the one connecting the White House with the Kremlin in real-life.

….but the biggest change was in the stories themselves. Instead of Gotham City serving as the crossroads for every itinerant alien in a saucer or stories featuring bat-uniforms constantly changing colors, shapes or themes Detective Comics now featured (wait for it!) DETECTIVE STORIES! Plot-drived who-dunnits that challenged your intellect and bore up under repeated readings, all of which pulled me into the superhero comics world in major way.

At approximately eighteen months in duration the New Look was a very short phase and was sadly replaced by a camp version reflecting the ABC Batman series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Oddly enough the television show was based on the 1950’s “goofy” Batman image that Schwartz had worked so hard to purge. At we got through eighteen months of a more realistic version and who knows – would Neal Adams have gotten permission for his darker more realistic version of Batman in 1970 if the New Look had never happened? Who knows?

This sketchbook image happened yesterday after I spent an hour or so reading a hardbound collection of Carmine Infantino’s New Look pencils. I have so many favorites when it comes to Batman artists: Dick Sprang, Neal Adams, Marshall Rogers….but in the end Mr. Infantino is my favorite.


1: See upcoming post: “Seduction of the Stupid”

Unrequited

I’ve lost count/track of all the reboots in DC Comics during  the last couple of years, reboots that have been mildly disappointing  in that a character I am following will either disappear or change beyond recognition. Such was the case with the disappearance of the Stephanie Brown version of Batgirl dating from earlier in this decade. Not wanting to see the character completely disappear I decided to create an image of her for my  studio  – and since I like more light-hearted books like Amanda Conner’s work on Power Girl  I came up with the composition pictured below.

2013-01-01 Unrequited.jpg          Sketchbook Batgirl S. Brown.jpg

The failed romance between Batgirl and Bat-mite depicted in Unrequited is something that would fit in the aforementioned books but as I was comparing the finished art is on the left with the preliminary sketch to the right I realized that this was another case where I liked the sketch much, much more that the finished art.

There is something magic in a sketch – a promise of good things to come, a promise that is not always kept. Fortunately with my cut-paper work a do-over is relatively painless …and Unrequited is definitely headed for a do-over.

I think this time I am just going to scan up and work directly from  the Batgirl sketch…

 

Nightshade

Nightshade

Another page from my sketchbook: Nightshade, a back-up character from  Charlton Comic’s Captain Atom book. Sketchbooks are good place to experiment and my books  end up with a lot of drawings from unexpected POV’s,

It’s  always a challenge to update old characters – I mean how much do you change before they start to lose identity? Added to the challenge is the shallow depth of detail in most Silver Age heroes: comic work doesn’t pay very well now and paid even less fifty years ago. The emphasis was on speed so the fewer wrinkles, seams, belts, tools and such the better and it wasn’t unusual for pencillers to see their work gutted by inkers who omitted detail and resorted to heavy shadow area just to increase daily page rates.

In some ways superhero costuming has hit a baroque – almost Rococo level of excess detail. I think  Michael Keaton’s original bat-suit/armor as designed by Jim Ringo for 1989 version of  Batman had the ideal degree of detail.