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Practitioners 48: Frank Miller (Part 2)

With the monumental success of the Dark Knight Returns at DC, Miller himself had returned to Marvel as the writer of Daredevil. Following his self contained story ‘Badlands’ pencilled by John Buscema in #219 and writing #226 with departing writer Dennis O’ Neill, Miller teamed up with David Mazzucchelli, crafting a seven-issue story arc that redefined the character of Daredevil. Miller often takes his marks from his previous projects and this was no different. Having offered DC’s Batman a dark and brooding future in the Dark Knight Returns it came now for Miller to obliterate Daredevil’s present. Daredevil: Born Again (#227-233) chronicled the hero’s catholic background and the destruction and rebirth of his secret identity, Manhattan Attorney Matt Murdock, at the hands of malevolent Wilson Fisk, also known as the Kingpin. Taking Murdock to the edge by losing his job, his identity, his ability to continue as Daredevil – Miller had Murdock do something unexpected. Cope. Rather than destroy Murdock completely and have him fight back from the bottom, Miller proved him a different type of hero. Not unbreakable and ultimately vulnerable but unflappable. This wasn’t the last time that indominitable trait has surfaced in Miller’s central figures. All others afterwards have stood defiantly in the centre of battlefields against unstoppable numbers or survive being hit by cars amidst rain mottled gunfire on a darkened street. Though Murdock was the last of these figures that could exist in the real world, a lawyer and a reasonable human being. Whether it be Leonidas of Sparta with his unbounded rage, Marv with his alcoholism and violent compunctions or Robocop with his unrelenting pursuit of the law the other characters are subjects of their worlds, also created by Miller. Outside of them they would be redundant. As such, Miller’s work on Daredevil is probably his most subtle.

Miller and artist Bill Sienkiewicz produced the graphic novel Daredevil: Love and War in 1986. Featuring the character of the Kingpin, it indirectly bridges Miller’s first run on Daredevil and Born Again by explaining the change in the Kingpin’s attitude toward Daredevil. Miller and Sienkiewicz also produced the eight-issue miniseries Elektra: Assassin for Epic Comics. Set outside regular Marvel continuity, it featured a wild tale of cyborgs and ninjas, while expanding further on Elektra’s background. Both of these projects were well-received critically. Elektra: Assassin was praised for its bold storytelling, but neither it nor Daredevil: Love and War had the influence or reached as many readers as Dark Knight Returns or Born Again.

Miller’s final major story in this period was in Batman issues 404-407 in 1987, another collaboration with Mazzucchelli. Titled Batman: Year One, this was Miller’s version of the origin of Batman in which he retconned many details and adapted the story to fit his Dark Knight continuity. Proving to be hugely popular, this was as influential as Miller’s previous work and a trade paperback released in 1988 remains in print and is one of DC’s best selling books and adapted as an original animated film video in 2011.

Miller had also drawn the covers for the first twelve issues of First Comics English language reprints of Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s Lone Wolf and Cub. This helped bring Japanese manga to a wider Western audience.

During this time, Miller (along with Marv Wolfman, Alan Moore and Howard Chaykin) had been in dispute with DC Comics over a proposed ratings system for comics. Disagreeing with what he saw as censorship, Miller refused to do any further work for DC, and he would take his future projects to the independent publisher Dark Horse Comics. From then on Miller would be a major supporter of creator rights and be a major voice against censorship in comics.

Miller, like many of his colleagues had had enough and declared that he would only work through Dark Horse, preferable because it was an independent publisher. Miller completed one final piece for Marvel’s mature imprint, Epic comics. Elektra lives again was a fully painted one-shot graphic novel, written and drawn by Miller and finished by his long term partner Lynn Varley (who had coloured the Dark Knight). Miller has had a complicated relationship with Elektra, having killed her off once but brought her back several times since – of which this is the first in a story of Elektra’s resurrection and Daredevil’s attempts to find her. Released in March 1990 it marked the beginning of a decade of great change for Miller. This was the first time that Miller had inked for himself, dispensing of the brilliant Klaus Janson.

Meanwhile Miller was working on an amazing piece of pulp comic book artwork, Hard Boiled. In it, Carl Seltz, an insurance investigator, discovers he is also a homicidal cyborg tax collector who happens to be the last hope of an enslaved robot race. Drawn by the inimitable Geoff Darrow, Miller’s script encouraged incredibly meticulously detailed design work and a happy nightmare for any eyeballs brave enough to brush over it. Effectively, Where’s Wally if you are looking for a robot nipple or a discarded bullet casing instead of a fool in a bobble hat, it is a visual feast. Published by Dark Horse Comics Frank Miller and Geoff Darrow won the 1991 Eisner Award for Best Writer/ Artist for Hard Boiled. A largely forgotten piece now outside of collectors, Hard Boiled was a diamond made of corrugated Iron and blasted with a blowtorch.

At the same time again, Miller teamed up as writer with another even more legendary artist, Dave Gibbons and produced Give Me Liberty. The story is set in a dystopian near-future where the United States have split into several extremist factions, and tells the story of Martha Washington, a young American girl from a public housing project called “The Green” ( Chicago’s Cabrini–Green). The series starts with Martha’s birth and sees her slowly grow up from someone struggling to break free of the public housing project, to being a war hero and major figure in deciding the fate of the United States. After three series, according to Dave Gibbons himself at last years Kapow! – Martha Washington is dead. But those three series allowed Miller to flex his satirical muscle, using it forcefully on the political structure of the United States and its major corporations.

Falling out of love with the movie making process during ‘interference’ on his script writing duties on Robocop 2 and 3, Millr wrote Robocop vs. Terminator with art from Superman artist Walt Simonson. In 2003, Miller’s screenplay for Robocop 2 was adapted by Steven Grant for Avatar Press’s Pulsaar Print. Illustrated by Juan Jose Ryp, the series is called Frank Miller’s Robocop and contains elements of plots from both Robocop 2 and 3.

In 1991, Miller started work on his first story set in Sin City. His time in LA had brought about the same effect as his time in Hell’s Kitchen New York, only this time with an imaginary city populated by every dreg and lowlife you can think of. Every corner now a dank shadow for a mugger or rapist to wait, every street a setting for a murder, a shooting or a car chase. This was noir darker and with only two colours consistent throughout. Sharp black against a savage white. Using innovative silhouette techniques by colouring in the shadow to form figures, buildings and compositions.

The first Sin City ‘yarn’ was released in 1995 under the name The Hard Goodbye. Sin City proved to be Miller’s main project for the rest of the decade, as, responding to demand, Miller continued to put out more Sin City yarns. With it, Miller helped to revitalise the crime comics genre – giving way to other sprawling crime epics like Azzarello and Risso’s excellent 100 Bullets.

Teaming up with John Romita Jr, an artist comparable in style to Miller himself, Miller returned to the Daredevil canon. This time rewriting again the creation story of Daredevil and provided additional detail to his beginnings. Miller also returned to superheroes by writing issue #11 of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. In 1995, Miller and Darrow on Big Guy and Rusty the Toy Robot, published as a two-part miniseries by Dark Horse comics. in 1999 it became a cartoon series on Fox Kids. During this period, Miller became a founding member of the imprint Legend, under which many of his Sin City works were released, via Dark Horse, Miller did any number of covers for many titles in the Comics Greatest World / Dark Horse Heroes line – immeasurably valuable as one of the most recognisable and popular artists in the world.

Written and illustrated by Frank Miller with painted colors by Varley, 300 was a 1998 comic-book miniseries, released as a hardcover collection in 1999, retelling the Battle of Thermopylae and the events leading up to it from the perspective of Leonidas of Sparta. It played on the most basic Miller themes to great of success – those of honour, self determination and bravery in the face of great adversity. 300 was particularly inspired by the 1962 film The 300 Spartans, a movie that Miller watched as a young boy. In 2007, 300 was adapted by director Zack Snyder into a successful film, with Miller and Varley’s visuals the basis of the look of the entire film. Entire panels were effectively populated and animated digitally in a way that saw it leave an indelible mark on cinema goers minds. Even now, 5 years later, 300 is the film that prolific actor Gerard Butler is asked about most – most notably because of the notorious ‘eight pack’ on his stomach developed in order to match Miller’s incredible artwork.

Finally putting aside his dispute with DC, Miller picked up the pen once more for the giant and wrote the sequel to The Dark Knight, Batman: Dark Knight Strikes Again. Released as a three issue miniseries it was universally panned by critics and fans for beinga shadow of it’s predecessor and introducing too many obscure characters. In 2005, he took on writing duties for another alternative universe Batman story for All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, with Jim Lee on pencils. This also proved to not turn out as intended – somehow the characters unsympathetic and uneven – the Dark Knight himself unpredictable and aggressive. Jim Lee’s visuals also struggled to put across the hard edged nature of Miller’s script which hindered the expression inherent in it. A rare team up, it was perhaps ill advised – although both are clearly at the same level in their careers, neither had worked with someone like the other.

Miller has said he opposes naturalism in comic art. In an interview on the documentary Legends of the Dark Knight: The History of Batman, he said, “People are attempting to bring a superficial reality to superheroes which is rather stupid. They work best as the flamboyant fantasies they are. I mean, these are characters that are broad and big. I don’t need to see sweat patches under Superman’s arms. I want to see him fly.”

Miller’s previous attitude towards movie adaptations was to change after he and Robert Rodriguez made a short film based on a story from Miller’s Sin City entitled “The Customer is Always Right”. Miller was pleased with the result, leading to him and Rodriguez directing a full length film, Sin City using Miller’s original comics panels as storyboards. The film was released in the U.S. on April 1, 2005. The film’s success brought renewed attention to Miller’s Sin City projects. Similarly, a film adaptation of 300, directed solely by Zack Snyder, brought new attention and controversy to Miller’s original comic book work. A sequel to the film, based around Miller’s first Sin City series, A Dame to Kill For, has been reported to be in development.

Miller is no saint. In the renewed scrutiny over his existing projects, popular culture has balked at his depiction of female characters in particular. In Sin City almost every female character is a prostitute, victim, psychologically damaged or a killer. His depiction of women in his books is reminiscent of Noir conventions – and the men represent those conventions just as clearly. However, in the case of the female characters those conventions have perhaps become outdated and have less place in popular culture as a result.

With the poor critical response to his two most recent books and the furore throughout the comic industry over his statements about the Occupy Movement in the US, Frank Miller is perhaps a practitioner for his time. However, equally his work is, almost completely, a perfectly timeless collection, that may fall out of favour at times and find great recognition at others. Regardless, at the time – almost every comic book fan knows the adventures of Leonitus of Sparta, Robocop and Marv and in comic book stores all over the world copies of Martha Washington and Hard Boiled sit, hidden and waiting to be discovered by someone in that way that all great literature should be. But no one moves through the comics world can say they aren’t aware of The Dark Knight Returns, a book that will outlast Miller himself in terms of bringing generations of future readers, if not joy, a steady dose of gritty, hard won realism. And really, you suspect, that’s just the way Miller wants it.

Practitioners 47: Alan Moore (Part 3)

In an unusual third part for The Practitioners, Alan Moore furthers the boundaries of leftist and liberal ideologies through comics and marriage and promptly slides back into the thorny embrace of the mainstream…

Alan Tiberius Benedict Leoness Moore III has almost none of those names. However, in 1988 he had a hate on for all things commercial and vowed to work separately from the mainstream with the able help of his wife Phyllis and their mutual lover Deborah Delano. As you might expect the independent comics publishing run by them was known as Mad Love. Tired of the requirements and apparently double handed treatment of creatives in his chosen field Moore moved away from his mainstay subjects of Science Fiction and Superheroes, revealing clearly a wish for more literary comic work, concentrating now on social, political and current subjects for his work.

'Growing Out of It' by Mark Vicars, Jamie Delano, Shane Oakley and Tom Frame for ARGH!! (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia) (1988)

Beginning with their first publication ARGH (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia)- an anthology of work by a number of writers (including Moore) that directly opposed the Thatcher Government’s Clause 28, a law designed to prevent councils and schools ‘promoting homosexuality’ with sales going towards the Organisation of Lesbian and Gay Action, it’s fair to say they went for the political jugular of late ’80s Britain, something Moore, a dignified and practicing leftist all his life found great satisfaction in. Moore was pleased with his involvement, stating at the time “we hadn’t prevented this bill from becoming law, but we had joined in the general uproar against it, which prevented it from ever becoming as viciously effective as its designers might have hoped.”

His title, Shadowplay: The Secret Team, illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz for Ecipse Comics and commissioned by the Christic Institute, a public service law firm founded in 1980 and based in Washington DC, with offices on other major US cities, included in the anthology ‘Brought to Light’,a description of the CIA’s covert drug smuggling and arms dealing furthered his ideological goals to great success.

Adding to this Moore’s Big Numbers, an unfinished title involving a hardly disguised Northampton known as ‘Hampton’ and dealing with the effects by big businesses on ordinary people – a story certainly prescient of the situation we have found ourselves in now – and a Small Killing, hailed as Moore’s ‘most underrated work’ about a once idealistic adveritsing executive haunted by his boyhood self for Victor Gollancz Ltd publishing, it looked as though Moore was finally getting what he wanted. A career without compromise. An opportunity to change people’s minds without speaking through a (however kindly) censored soundbox.

Following this with Warren Elis’ ‘all-time favourite graphic novel, the now notorious From Hell, in which Moore, inspired by Douglas Adam’s Dirk Gently’s holistic detective reasoned that in order to solve a crime holistically, one would need to solve the entire society it occurred in. Using a fictionalised account of the Jack the Ripper stories almost every lasting figure of the period is in some way directly or indirectly involved in the story, including ‘Elephant Man ‘John Merrick, Oscar Wilde, textile designer William Morris, artist Walter Sickert and occultist, astrologer and ceremonial magician, Aliester Crowley among others. Taking nearly ten years to complete, using sooty, scratched pen and ink style by Eddie Campbell, it was a great work, very much toiled over. Hilariously, this caused it to outlive Taboo, the small independent comic anthology created by former collborator, Stephen R. Bissette that it had originally been intended for.

With his other work, Moore wanted again to attempt something innovative in comics, and believed that creating comics pornography was a way of achieving this. This is perhaps something that only Moore could tackle and remain viable, given what he did after completing this project. He remarked that “I had a lot of different ideas as to how it might be possible to do an up-front sexual comic strip and to do it in a way that would remove a lot of what I saw were the problems with pornography in general. That it’s mostly ugly, it’s mostly boring, it’s not inventive – it has no standards.” His answer to this conundrum was Lost Girls, another title that outlasted Taboo itself, in spite of also being intended for it, a story in which three women – of different ages and classes – Alice, of Alice in Wonderland, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and Wendy, of Peter Pan meet in a European hotel and regale each other with stories of their sexual adventures. Illustrated by Melinda Gebbie, whom Moore, in spite of being visually part-wookee, entered into a relationship with, Lost Girls was published erratically until the work was finished and collected in 2006.

In this time, Moore wrote a prose novel, Voice of the Fire, which was published in 1996 – following linked events through the Bronze Age to Present day in Moore’s hometown of Northampton through linked stories that formed ingeniously into one coherent story. It remains available online in Hardback and Paperback versions.

It was around this time that Moore became a ceremonial magician. Ceremonial magic, also referred to as High Magic and as learned magic and developed via Hermetism which, in late antiquity, grew in parallel to ancient religions including early christianity and was “characterized by a resistance to the dominance of either pure rationality or doctrinal faith.” Moore practices his magic through long, elaborate and complex rituals of magic and is far too complicated and steeped in ancient lore and anti-religion to go into fully here.

Big Numbers by Alan Moore and Bill Bill Sienkiewicz

At the same time, Moore made a choice that took him away from the core values he had grown to be known for throughout his career and took him back to the heart of mainstream comics, joining Jim Lee at Image Comics – something that shocked a great many of his fans. Image well known at the time for it’s ‘flashy artistic style, graphic violence and scantily-clad large-breasted women,’ it seemed an odd choice for a writer like Moore. But it was the content of Image that had enticed Moore, now looking at an industry that had changed dramatically in his time away. His first work was an issue of Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, which was then followed by the creation of his own Mini-series, 1963, “a pastiche of Jack Kirby stories drawn for Marvel in the sixties, with their rather overblown style, colourful characters and cosmic style.” According to Moore, “after I’d done the 1963 stuff I’d become aware of how much the comic audience had changed while I’d been away. That all of a sudden it seemed that the bulk of the audience really wanted things that had almost no story, just lots of big, full-page pin-up sort of pieces of artwork. And I was genuinely interested to see if I could write a decent story for that market.”

Writing what he saw as “better than average stories for 13 to 15-years olds” including three mini-series based on Spawn: Violator, Violator / Badrock and Spawn: Blood Feud, it appeared that Moore had grasped the nettle on this one. Perhaps even more unlikely, Moore was given Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.S. at issue #21, which he ran with for 14 issues.The series followed two groups of superheroes, one of whom are on a spaceship heading back to their home planet, and the others who are instead remaining on Earth. Moore’s biographer Lance Parkin remarked critically of the series, feeling that it was one of Moore’s worst, and that “you feel Moore should be better than this. It’s not special.” Moore himself, who remarked that he took on the series – his only regular monthly comic series since Swamp Thing – largely because he liked Jim Lee, admitted that he was not entirely happy with the work, believing that he had catered too much to his conceptions of what the fans wanted rather than being innovative.

It was arguably a laudable gesture and to Moore’s credit, conceding a great deal of control to the hands of the artist after years of delicate and intricate control of content, though it was – as conceded by the man himself – a mistake. History would confirm that this period had little lasting creative effect on the industry but at the time writers such as Moore were sidelined and choices were made based on the industry at the time – though with hindsight it is clear that this became a missed opportunity. Moore could have potentially reignited great writing in popular works, dragging the rest of the industry with him as he had done so many times – but that would have had to be intentional and Moore has never tried to influence the industry beyond the borders of his own work.

However Moore took over Rob Liefeld’s Supreme and acknowledging the considerable similarities with DC’s Superman, took the title towards the Silver Age Superman comics of the 1960s, introducing a female superhero, Superema, a super-dog Radar, and a Kryptonite-like material known as Supremium. This ‘mythic’ reimagining of Supreme departed from the character he was templated upon, giving the title fresh air between it’s content and that of the title it had so visibly been based on and under Moore, Supreme was to prove to be a commercial and critical success. Moore announced that he was finally back in mainstream comics after several years of self-imposed exile – something that no doubt saw the older reading fraternity cheer. Moore hadn’t realised something yet. That fans were still following him and waiting for the old Moore to return, fully formed and reinvigorate an ailing art form in a thriving industry. Something Moore tried soon enough with Rob Liefeld’s branched-off Awesome Universe.

With Liefeld’s departure from Image, he hired Moore to create a new universe for the characters he had brought with him from Image. This was Moore’s chance to bring to bear his considerable powers of imagination and he took to the job enthusiastically. Moore’s “solution was breathtaking and cocky – he created a long and distinguished history for these new characters, retro-fitting a fake silver and gold age for them.” Moore began writing comics for many of these characters, such as Glory and Youngblood, as well as a three-part mini-series known as Judgement Day to provide a basis for the Awesome Universe. However Moore was dissatisfied with Liefeld, saying “I just got fed up with the unreliability of information that I get from him, that I didn’t trust him. I didn’t think that he was respecting the work and I found it hard to respect him. And also by then I was probably feeling that with the exception of Jim Lee, Jim Valentino – people like that – that a couple of the Image partners were seeming, to my eyes, to be less than gentlemen. They were seeming to be not necessarily the people I wanted to deal with.”

And so with that, dear reader, the Ceremonial Magician named Moore chose instead to take to his own universe, forming it in the kernel of his own magnificent mind. To help him form the crucible in which this magnificent new universe would sit he employed his old friend Jim Lee and set about finally realising the great aspiration of generations of writers and artists. This time; the Magician Moore decided, he would finally create America’s Best Comics…

Part 3 Coming Soon

Practitioners 46: Jim Lee

Jim Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea on August 11, 1964 and emigrated to the United States with his family at the age of four, growing up in St Louis Missouri. In Lee’s St. Louis Country Day School his classmates predicted he would found hi sown comic book company. Despite this, Lee seemed resigned to following in his father’s profession of medicine, studying psychology at Princeton University, with the intention of becoming a medical doctor. However, medicine’s loss was certainly going to be popular culture’s gain as Lee became one of the most influential and well known artists on the biggest selling comic book of all time. One that founded movie franchises and supported an ailing Marvel in the late ’90s and found some of the most famous comic companies in the world to rival it.

Lee’s rise to fame with Marvel Comics was inevitable as it was undeniable. In 1986, as Lee was preparing to graduate from his psychology degree, Lee took an art class that reignited his fascination with art at a time when seminal work such as Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s Watchmen was reinvigorating the American comic book industry. With the psychology degree complete, Lee did something, with the reluctant blessing of his parents, that shows incredible courage and clarity of mind and self belief. He postponed his medical degree. The rest is without a doubt comic book history. He vowed he would return if he failed to break the comic book industry. Not something that should’ve worried him.

Submitting examples to various publishers, Lee did not see success until a New York comic book convention where he met Archie Goodwin, comic book editor (regularly cited as the ‘best loved comic book editor… ever), artist and writer who introduced him to Marvel Comics. Now it seems hard to believe that Lee was not snapped up immediately by the first commissioning editor to spot him but Lee exposes the nature of the industry. Retrospectively, artists are professional, passionate and confident in the style they work in and seem undeniable masters of their art but even the most capable artist can be subject to the pressures, misunderstandings, bad luck and bad timing of the industry. Lee began on Alpha Flight and moved over to Punisher: War Journal, his work there inspired by Frank Miller, David Ross, Kevin Nowlan and Whilce Portacio, as well as Japanese Manga.

Then came the crossing of two similar talents, one more senior than the other as Lee filled in for regular illustrator, Marc Silvestri on Uncanny X-Men 248, which was, due to positive response and Marvel’s own enthusiasm for Lee’s style followed up on issues 256 through to 258 as part of the ‘Acts of Vengeance’. The timing of this was key as X-Men, under Claremont was not only ground breaking and beautifully written at the time, it was on a meteoric rise in terms of popularity, beginning to challenge the more mainstream titles of Spider-man, Fantastic Four and Avengers. Eventually, Lee became Uncanny’s full time penciller, working for the first time with inker, Scott Williams, who would become his long time collaborator. To cement his position as an X-men innovator, Lee co-created the smooth talking mutant thief Gambit, with Chris Claremont. Lee’s popularity crystallised in these months, becoming more and more representative of what fan’s wanted. He gained increasingly greater control of the franchise and in 1991, Lee helped launch the second X-Men series, X-Men (Volume 2). He did so, not just as artist but as co-writer alongside Chris Claremont, giving the book a more broad and cutting edge feel to it’s perhaps more thoughtful predecessor. X-Men 1 was raw edged, fun comic book pinned with the wisdom and knowledge of an older and more restrained writer. Lee pushed Claremont’s boundaries while Claremont restrained the more inexperienced artist to just the right degree. The result was comic book history and rightfully so. However, Lee redesigned costumes, entirely successfully for Cyclops, Jean Grey, Rogue, Psylocke and Storm as well as creating villain Russian Super Soldier Omega Red.

X-Men 1 (Vol 2) remains the best selling comic book of all time with sales of 8.1 million (and nearly £7 million). This was confirmed in a public declaration by the Guinness Book of Records at the 2010 San Diego Comic con. While one aspect of it’s success was that it was released with five different variant covers as well as a limited edition gatefold edition that revealed it all in its glory, the success was thanks to Lee’s distinctive, modern take on a fan favourite and the development of the X-Men in an exciting new direction. The variant cover trick became a weight around collector’s necks in years following with Gold and Silver foil, holograms and gatefolds every few months for some titles, but this first incarnation was about piecing together a piece of art, mass produced and available to anyone who wanted it. Only Jim Lee and perhaps one or two other legends of the industry could’ve commanded such a response.

The success of X-men saw Lee hungering even more for greater creative control over his own work, and as soon as in 1992, Lee accepted an invitation to join six other artists (Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio, Rob Liefeld) who broke away from Marvel Comics to start Image Comics, which would release their own creator-owned titles. Lee’s batch of titles included Wild C.A.T.s, which Lee pencilled and co-wrote, and other series created in the same universe, including Stormwatch, Deathblow and arguably the more successful Gen13.

Lee and his close friend, Valiant Comics publisher Steve Massarsky, arranged a Valiant / Image crossover, Lee’s characters being used, alongside those of Rob Liefeild. Four central titles would exist – two from each company – in single edition format, each edition known as a colour rather than a number, plus a prologue and epilogue book. Wildstorm produced Deathmate Black, with Lee himself contributing to the writing, illustrating the covers of that book, as well as contributing to the prologue’s interior links. The assignment was given to Valiant creators against their better judgment, in particular Editor-in-chief Bob Layton, who complained about Image’s inability to meet their deadlines. Deathmate Black came out a few months after Valiant’s Blue and Yellow installments, which had come out on time, and Liefeld’s Deathmate Red was so late that Layton flew to California to procure that chapter personally, and ink it himself in an Anaheim hotel room. Layton see’s Deathmate’s lateness as one of Valiant’s ‘unmitigated disasters’ and views that project as the beginning of the spectacular collapse of the 1990s for the comic book industry. A collpase that would pull in Marvel and a collapse that comics has not, if ever, recovered from.

Wildstorm continued on, expanding it’s line to include other ongoing titles. As publisher, Lee later expanded this by creating two separate imprints for Wildstorm, Cliffhanger and Homage (to be replaced again years later to reform as a single Wildstorm Imprint, now owned by DC).

Moving back, with Rob Liefeld, to Marvel for the Heroes Reborn alternate universe storyline of the mid-late nineties, Lee was given the opportunity to plot the new Iron Man and wrote and illustrated The Fantastic Four. Both used existing storyarcs and developed them, bringing them more up to date. The innovations on these titles, however, were arguably greater than the more successful Ultimate Universe that has existed since as an Imprint of Marvel, though that is more subject to greater popularity of the industry as well as greater sophistication in art and writing in modern comic books.

Lee returned to Wildstorm, where he would publish series such as The Authority and Planetary, as well as Alan Moore’s imprint, America’s Best Comics. Lee himself wrote and illustrated a 12-issue series called Divine Right: The Adventures of Max Faraday, in which an internet slacker inadvertently manages to download the secrets of the universe, and is thrown into a wild fantasy world.

Sourced from HERE Check out the gallery there for more awesome images. Thanks to Alexandre Bihn for the awesome scan.

In a typically astute and decisive choice, Lee sold Wildstorm to DC in 1998 because he felt that his role as publisher was interfering with his role as an artist. In an echo of the choice made many years previously, he put his calling first. In 2003, Lee collborated with Jeph Loeb for a 12 issue Batman run. Introducing a new nemesis from Batman’s past, ‘Hush’ was a tightly packed and neatly executed trip through the Bat universe. Lee’s images were sumptuous, his design work intricate, emotive and innovative. Lee, the artist, through all the pitfalls and difficulties of publishing had lost none of the values and passion he had when working on X-Men 1 more than 12 years before. He followed this up with ‘For Tomorrow’ a 12-issue story in Superman by 100 Bullets writer (and Bunker firm favourite) Brian Azzarelo, although this didn’t achieve the same level of success, Lee’s work showed a maturity and stillness that perhaps wasn’t visible in his earlier career. In 2005, Lee collaborated with Frank Miller on All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, a series plagued by delays. Lee’s work was spotless throughout, in particular a redesign of the batmobile and a gatefold image that folded out from the book itself that revealed the full scale of this Elseworld Batcave. While Lee’s contribution was near infallible, Miller’s writing was unsophisticated and cynical in most ways and alienated a great many readers. During this period, Lee returned to WildC.A.T.S with Grant Morrison. The gap between All-Star Batman and Robin 4 and 5 was one year and to date, only 1 issue of WildC.A.T.S (Vol 4 has been published. During thsi time, Lee also drew covers for the Infinite Crisis series.

Lee was named Executive Creative Director for DC Universe Online MMORPG. This was released in 2009, with Lee responsible for concept art for the project.

Lee’s meteoric rise did not falter there, as he has now taken a position alongside Dan Didio as Co-publisher of DC Comics. Despite obvious concerns, Lee maintains that this will in no way effect his capacity as a creative. He cited two projects, Dark Knight: Boy Wonder – a follow up of the Frank Miller series he had worked on and also a painted cover for Giuseppe Camuncoli’s layouts in Batman: Europa 1. Neither projects have surfaced yet. The Wildstorm imprint was officially declared ended by DC in September 2010.

With DC’s enormous revamp of it’s entire line, A-List artists were brought to the forefront to work on the most prominent titles. With a Justice League movie in discussion /pre-production at present DC was always going to put JL first in their choices of creative teams. The illustrious team of Jim Lee as penciller and Geoff Johns as writer is certainly, still, a cocktail that no true fan of the artform can ignore. If anything that is Lee’s great talent. Enduring popularity. His art work remains so fresh and clear, and so respresentative of what people want from their books – in spite of changes in the industry itself – that Lee has proven himself a Practitioner who has wandered away from the thing he is most beloved for, but like a much younger, more south east asian Peter Cook, retains a place in every fan who ever saw his work. This is testament to Lee’s enormous talent. His offers to put out projects reveals a conflict of interests that has taken him away perhaps too much in the last two decades, however he is a brave artist who pursued greater goals. Without finding ourself in the same situation who are we to say we wouldn’t pursue those same goals…. however Lee’s example is certainly a cautionary one. Swathes of exceptional artwork, pages and pages of classic comic work haven’t seen the light of day. From the top down the industry runs on one thing – putting out the best books possible. While we can never undermine someone’s right to do whatever they want – what would we have given to see more Lee?

Diary of a Bum Artist: Part 1 12.12.11

‘As you climb the ladder of success – make sure it’s leaning against the right wall.’

Kabbala

Only it wasn’t. It was an ad for the kabbala centre in Stratford. It’s rare you see words of wisdom on a wall in the London underground. Given that I stood at a three arm width distance from the ad taking a photo of it on my I-phone at the base of the escalators in Bond street with Oxford street shoppers, disgruntled office workers and less harried Westminster media types and commuters changing to the central line trying to pass me means it didn’t inspire an intelligent response, but it did give me my starting point for the first diary of an artist blog here on BTB.

‘Blogging is not writing. It’s graffiti with punctuation.’

Elliot Gould, Contagion (2011

I’d been struggling. I feel like an ongoing diary at undecided intervals – when something interesting happens – might be cool and helpful to others that come up behind us. Whether it’d be a diary on how not to do it is another matter and remains to be seen. At a recent con (thoughtbubble) much was discussed about the likelihood of the blog ever seeing the light of day. The problems facing the project were multiple…,

Firstly, time. Time is not my friend when it comes to these things. This is something I’ve since conquered slightly by discovering how to use an I-phone properly. It’s a common problem, particularly for artists- who need a zen like calm and paper and pens to be able to complete the work. But that is definitely coming up in a future blog so I’ll leave that until I have more ….(ahem).
Secondly, what would it be about. In spite a predilection for the use of the letter ‘I’ in my sentences, specifically at the beginning – I struggled to think of a reason to write this. What was the angle on this one. I don’t even tweet. If I was going to take a crack at this it was fairly obvious which one to go for. I’m going to write about the difficulties of getting started as an artist. Which brings me onto my next point.
What if I fail? Writing on a weekly basis about not working, living on beans and borrowing other people’s pens might make great reading. Frankly, for the sake of this blog I hope things don’t take off too quickly. However, in the real world – should beyond the bunker start to sell moon in their thousands to syndication and distribution around the world then screw the blog. I hope by then I’ll have suffered enough to make it a happy resolution for anyone who reads.
Fourthly, who cares? Guess we’ll just have to find out. If no one reads it that’s alright. I’d happily sit alone in a room talking about myself and my view on the world, marvelling at my own echo. But it’d be great if someone wants to take a look every once in a while. I’ll try to make sure it’s as entertaining as possible. Given my capacity for finding odd ways to achieve simple things and the fact that we write a comic book about a man with a moon head and my partner Dan is an ex stand up I’m pretty sure we can offer up some entertaining moments from cons all over the country. Hopefully, one day the world!!

So, to the basics of the blog – my name is Steve Penfold and I’m an artist (sort of). I hope to work with some of the greatest companies in the world and develop new and old characters in the pages of famous comic books. I run a website and comic company with Dan Thompson (writer) with whom I’ve developed a title involving the Moon dropping out of the sky in the early hours of the morning, putting on a suit, taking out a gun and fighting ridiculous crime. We think it could be quite popular. Only, to bring you back to the original quote at the top of the page, I’m not only an artist. To bring you up to speed – I am 31, I’ve accidentally ended up living with my Mum and Dad (again), have somehow found myself working as an actor for 5 years and am currently dressed as Santa Claus in a basement of a famous Oxford street department store. So not quite going to plan. My beautiful, adventurous, sexy, girlfriend lives on the other side of London to my computer and equipment. I plan, as promised, to make 5 short films in the next 6 -8 months based on a script by Samuel Lewis and have 3 issues of Fallen Heroes and 5 issues of Moon to complete (one currently on it’s way). At this stage I have no idea how to get into a studio and I’ll be unemployed as of Christmas Day. What will our hero do? Read on to find out… (honestly, I don’t know how this is going to work out so it’ll be interesting for all of us)

My current place of work - lovely and impressive but sadly not a comic book company or artists studio

Man of Steel: First look at the new Superman

Despite being two years away, Zach Snyder’s reboot of the Superman franchise has acknowledged that folks all over the world’d like to take a look at how the new Man of Steel, Englishman Henry Cavill shapes up. Christopher Reeves has occupied the role better than any other actor, as pretty much everyone, still, refers to how much or how little any new actor taking on the role looks or doesn’t look like him. Giving a nod to fans all over the world, WB have released this image of the Man of Steel. It reportedly doesn’t relate in any way to the intended plot of the final movie but is there to give folks something to moan about. Most notably the lack of red pants. It looks like Henry Cavill has what it takes visually to fill the red rubber boots and with steady hands like Christopher Nolan involved in the process hopes remain high.

Practitioners 41: Erik Larsen

If Simon Bisley is the Heavy Metal and Neil Gaiman the careful lyricism, Erik Larsen is the rock and roll of comic books. Bold colours, flash bang visuals, heavy weaponry, implausible chicks, nasty ass comic book violence and a great hero rising through the pile of body parts and big boobs. Creating a middle ground for those becoming disillusioned with the ‘big ones’ homogenised, careful storytelling, Larsen grinds the pulpish, the extreme and the deliberately silly and offensive together in a cathartic throw back to comics pulp heyday in an unapologetic, hedonistic and ultimately downright fun experience. Recognising that a page is an empty space, pregnant with possibilities, the only limitation – the edges of the artist and writers’ imagination.

Even in the boom days of the nineties, the average comic book geek was under the age of 12 or most likely a social pariah. To these people, escapism was characters that did what they wanted, represented ideals they believed in, got the busty girl and were never intimidated by a sky full of Martian space ships. These readers had a well developed silly bone and an understanding of pulp humour. The readership wasn’t frightened of a book that revelled in random events in the name of kitsch entertainment. This escapism saw heroes appear that were bright, bold, unremitting and smart mouthed. Cartoon heroes for Saturday morning television, made untransmittable before 10PM EST. Erik Larsen was the king of this. A master of crazy, bombastic pulp.

Larsen was born in middle America in Minneapolis, Minnesota. As a child growing up in Bellingham, Washington and Albion, California he created several versions of a character named ‘The Dragon’, a batman like character, driving a car copied from Speed Racer’s Mach 5. Producing a fanzine with a friend which featured ‘The Dragon’ the character was developed into a character able to change using a magic word like Captain Marvel.

Taking his first paid work, working on Megaton, co-creating and illustrating a feature called ‘Vanguard’ with publisher Gary Carlson. The Dragon appeared, slightly revised in the second edition. Larsen went on to work on the Sentinels of Justice for AC Comics and DNAgents for Eclipse Comics.

His work at DC included The Outsiders, Teen Titans, Adventures of Superman and Doom Patrol. For Marvel he completed a The Amazing Spider-man fill-in story and 5 issues of the Punisher. Frankly Larsen made it look easy. Wandering from company to company, first working on incredibly diverse titles for DC and ultimately extremely high end titles for Marvel. Aside from a Nova storyline cancelled for Marvel Comics presents, his flight up the ladder at Marvel was unstoppable. Alongside his master work, as writer and artist on Savage Dragon, Larsen has found an occasional home with Marvel, returning to write and illustrate on Fantastic Four, The Defenders, Wolverine and Nova. He briefly returned to DC to write Aquaman.

Just a selection of the alternate Dragons from the incredibly wild Larsen Universe (by Art Adams)

In 1990, Todd McFarlane was leaving the title Amazing Spider-man, a title he had visually revolutionised and Larsen took over the reigns as of 329, having previously pencilled issues 287, 324 and 327. With writer David Michelinie and Larsen, the series experienced increased sales, with stories such as ‘ The Cosmic Spider-man’, ‘The Return of the Sinster Six’ and ‘The Powerless Spider-man’ that deliberately took off the gloves Spider-man had been treated with. Larsen kept pace with the extreme nature of the story lines, Mary Jane never looking sexier, the character numbers and speed and occurrence of events break neck.

It was during ‘The Return of the Sinister Six’ and before ‘The Dragon’ found his place among the comic book elite that Larsen cemented his place as a true Practitioner. During the production of the book his house was destroyed by flood. While trying to deal with this situation he never missed a page, or reduced the quality of his work – instead accepting an offer by Marvel to reduce the page numbers for two months and fill with back stories. Larsen’s enthusiasm and strength of character bled through here as the rendering of the characters and storylines never missed a beat. Doc Oc swung menacingly into view and epic conflict between multiple characters played out across page after page. Had it not been mentioned in the collected graphic novel, no one would have ever have guessed what was taken place. Not only that, but the faith and help offered by Marvel, a large corporate company, was willing to move mountains to see Larsen complete the project – such was his popularity at the time. His influence on one of the most popular books in comics history, exceptional even in a field of high selling books, places him retrospectively among the greats. But the best was still yet to come. A bawdy, violent, crazy and personally driven comic, seeing his childhood creation fall into the hands of millions of readers around the world. Image had been born under McFarlane and Larsen was going to prove a true linchpin and the very epitomy of the companies ethos. Creator owned and creator driven books were to be given an icon. And that icon was the absurdly named Savage Dragon.

Shedding ideas like an enthusiastic 8 year old, completely unafraid of running out of original material, Larsen took readers on a roller coaster ride experience. Pneumatic vixens and wild mutant monsters crowded the streets of Savage Dragon’s home town Chicago, while Larsen was the man to pull back together the Sinister Six (a combination of all the worst enemies of Spider-man) in New York for Marvel. Artist, script writer, plot and character designer – Larsen could barely contain his ideas on the page. This was what Image had been formed for and Larsen was about to take it by storm.

Seeking greater control and profit over the work they created, Larsen and six other illustrators abandoned Marvel to form Image Comics, where Larsen finally gave his childhood creation life in the form of the fin-headed, green super-cop, The Savage Dragon. This time a massively-muscled green amnesiac who joins the Chicago Police Department after being found in a burning field with no memory of how he ended up there. After a series of self-published redesigns of the character, the stripped down version of the Dragon was given a three issue limited series in 1993, expanding to a full length ongoing series completely under the control of Larsen. Astonishingly, in self-publishing, Larsen has maintained a reasonably consistent monthly schedule (excluding a couple of occasional lapses) in comparison to the other Image titles. Larsen describes Dragon as the missing like between Marvel and Vertigo, aimed at older Marvel readers ready to throw in the towel on comics altogether. And in this he has pitched it perfectly. With a much more adult view, the Savage Dragon bridges the gap neatly between the teen orientated Marvel and the devoutly adult Vertigo titles.

If in any doubt as to why Larsen belongs among the hall of Practitioners, here it is. One of the brave and the bold to leave the relative safety of Marvel behind in order to self publish, Larsen’s title, The Savage Dragon, is the only title in the original line-up (besides Spawn) to still continue to exist and the only one still created by its creator. Image was built on Larsen’s ideals and he has proven that he always intended to see his dream through – marking him out as perhaps the most diligent, determined and honest creator to have left Marvel in the ’90s. Add to that his unnatural talent, enthusiasm and sense of humour and you have a natural comics talent with no time for the limitations of modern books. Larsen will continue to do it his way. Exotic women, massive guns and superheroes with Chicken heads prevail and the day Larsen stops doing that, a little light on an era that harks back to the beginning of comics will go out. Until someone finds a copy of Savage Dragon….

Practitioners 32: Marc Silvestri

Marc Silvestri (born March 29, 1959) is an American Comic Book artist and more recently, creator and publisher and one of the lead names in the formation of Image comics in the 1990s. He currently acts as CEO of Top Cow Productions.

A small number of creators in the comics industry can honestly be described as masters of their art and Silvestri is certainly one of them. Simultaneously a draftsman, visual storyteller, artist and stylist he is responsible for rendering some of the most indelible images into some of the greatest titles ever told in comic books. His anatomy is perfect, stylised only in as much as offering graphically engaging characteristics, his panels loaded with Hollywood visuals. He takes the finer details of characters and simplifies them to make almost all of his characters simultaneously interesting, intelligent and emotionally charged. All of this combines into extensively sexy visualisations of even the most familiar and well worn characters in comics.

Silvestri began his career with DC comics and First Comics (an American comic-book publisher, around from 1983-1991), but made clear to the world just how damn cool his work was at Marvel Comics as penciller on their second coolest title, Uncanny X-Men between 1987-1990. Having made his name there he began a two year run taking the ol’ Canuckle head, Wolverine on a spin around the world in his own book. This secured him as a world class talent and frankly the ambassador of the cool pencil art in modern comic books. A mix of naturalism, sketch and scratch art techniques reliant on light cross hatching, tempered with technical skill leaves Silvestri compositions illustrative and incredibly affecting. Want to sell a million books? Get Marc Silvestri.

From X-Men : Here Comes Tomorrow (with Grant Morrison, 2004)


In 1992, Silvestri became one of the original artist – along with Jim Lee (with whom Silvestri shares a stylistic similarity), Whilce Portacio, Rob Liefeld, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane and Jim Valentino – to form an independent ‘Daniel’ to DC and Marvel’s ‘Goliath’ that had the potential to topple both. At the time the artist was king and disillusioned artists saw a gap in the market they could fill. Effectively the superstars of the time – Silvestri can now claim to be a true Practitioner among them as only he and Jim Lee truly survived the nineties as popular artists. Silvestri’s table of titles was published under the imprint Top Cow with the first title released being Cyberforce (in a neat nod to the creative freedom of an indy comic it was written by his brother Eric Silvestri. while plotted and pencilled by Marc). Cyberforce was a darker nineties remodelling of X-Men effectively, following a team of Mutants who had all at one point been captured by Cyberdata, an enormous corporation with ambitions for World takeover. The series was limited to begin with but enjoyed a monthly run of 35 issues which introduced a young David Finch to the industry. The criticisms of the series came thick and fast and were the same that were being levelled at all Image titles, that the characters were all modelled on existing Marvel characters, Cyblade is very similar to Psylocke, Ripclaw; Wolverine; Impact; Colossus and Stryker; Cable etc etc – effectively making Cyberforce little more than a reimagining of the coolest characters from X-Men. Other complaints were the level of violence and highly sexualised female characters, making the project appear (much like all Image titles of the time) as little more than the wish fulfillment of artists at the top of their game. Under this heavy criticism, Cyberforce faded away, Ripclaw occassionally reappearing elsewhere in other Silvestri projects such as the Darkness. In a clear indication of how these creative choices were more lightly viewed by the industry itself than the fans, Ripclaw and Cyblade appeared in a crossover with Wolverine and Psylocke recently.

Disputes among the Image partners led to Silvestri breifly leaving the publisher in 1996, but he soon returned after Leifeld severed his own ties with Image.

Top Cow’s successes include the titles Witchblade, The Darkness, Inferno Hellbound (publication of which was interrupted for unknown reasons) and Fathom.

In a dream team up in 2004, Silvestri returned to Marvel briefly to pencil several issues of X-Men, collaborating with Grant Morrison to bring his run on the title to an incredible close. Surplanting the action of modern day to 200 years into the future on a desolate earth, plagued by an outbreak of new and monstrous species, it was an incredible return to form for a master of the art. Working with arguably the foremost mainstream writer of the time, the feline countenance of Beast (now named ‘Sublime’) and the ensuing battle on a battered warship in the middle of weather strewn Atlantic was brought to solemn, beautiful and rude life by this illustrative pass master. Every emotional blow, every battered viewpoint, every severed cityscape, every battle sequence and exploding birth of mutant life was brought screaming out of the page in one of the finest team ups in comics history. A shame it arrived at the end of a commercially middling run (the kids didn’t like it so much) – the Morrison / Silvestri run on X-Men should be collected as an example of how beautifully the form can be used to tell grand fairy tales. Only that team could have plausibly created a cowardly Humpback with a strong Scottish accent and maintained such undeniable cool.

Later that year, he launched a new Top Cow title, Hunter Killer with writer Mark Waid. He provided covers for Marvel Comics mini series; Deadly Genesis by Ed Brubaker and Trevor Hairsine, which were woefully misleading as Hairsine’s interiors just couldn’t keep up and the plotline was critically and publicly panned.

Cyberforce 0 was released in 2006. The pulling power of Silvestri being enough to reinstate, however briefly, an only averagely well received title.

In late 2007 he launched X-Men: Messiah Complex with an incredible turn on pencils on the new X-Men, so far removed from his original team back in the 90s. He returned once more, pencilling the one-shot Uncannny X-Men/ Dark Avengers ccrossover Utopia in 2009.

He also contributed to Image United, pencilling all the characters he created during his run at Image that feature in the story.

Whether working for Image, Top Cow, Marvel, First Comics or DC, Silvestri has demonstrated a talent that only enhances with age. The intelligence and foresight he applies to his compositions add to the innate freshness and clarity of the light line work. A deft touch on any comics page, with a natural grasp of pathos, myth, legend, technology and cool, his charged panels batter and cajole the reader, offering up a sexier, more glorious and interesting world without ever losing the touch of reality and gravity that carries any tale from beginning to end. Every rendering of an existing character gives it a fresh spark of life; reinstating it instantly to Alpha status among its surrounding company; something Silvestri has brought to the companies he’s worked for. A successful creator that remains a core artist in mainstream books; he offers fantasy we can all get involved with and books anyone can be in awe of. An illustrator of monumental proportions his abilities crystallised for me in a simple double page spread during Morrison’s run on X-Men. The first double page spread of his run, Morrison clearly understood what he was dealing with and allowed Silvestri to speak through the story. The double page spread is nothing but 5 characters, Wolverine, Cassandra Nova, No-Girl (complete with floating brain bowl), Tom Skylark, Birdy’s eagle headed nephew (baseball bat over the shoulder, bandana around his cranium) and the enormous feet of a reassigned Sentinel in the background walking towards the reader in the rain. These are the most difficult compositions to get right. These are only about feeling. In such a simple composition every muscle, detail, foot placement and expression has to be perfect. Every ripple and placement of character carefully applied in order to maximise the emotional punch intended. Morrison was right to give over this space to Silvestri, offering proper respect to a senior Practitioner. Silvestri made clear why Morrison’s faith was well placed. All you can think when looking at the image is ‘I hope they come back’ and ‘I know they won’t’ mixed with ‘they know that’ and ‘they just don’t mind’. The collection of sensations from such a simple image falls at the feet of Morrison for building to a subtle crescendo but mostly it makes clear that if you give Silvestri the space, anything can happen, even when nothing really is….

Practitioners 27: Frank Cho

We here at Beyond the Bunker hope to list the greatest and best creatives in the history of comic books. In a continuing series (available every week on Tuesday) the most innovative, inspirational and important comic book visionaries will be appearing here. Check on the link below to see if one of your favourites has been included yet.

Frank Cho is a controversial character in current comics. In a market where female depiction has been maligned at times and mistreated, female characters often portrayed as goddesses or weak and endangered victims. Some have broken these rules and if considered more carefully, Cho has in some ways. You will not see a continually weakened or needy figure in a woman but neither will you see a dominant and removed amazon at all times. His female characters dominate with their looks, exposing most of all the weaknesses in the surrounding male counterparts and the effect a beautiful woman can have. Not always sympathetic, at times mysoginistic in its post card humour level of nudity, Cho’s work hails back to older (and not entirely gone) ideals. While women now can (and should) enjoy all the same rights as men in society why can we not still marvel at their appearance as an ideal? While both sexes obsess about the ideal image of women in society, Frank Cho has decided on his and he loves them dearly – and frankly would like us to too.

The second of three children, Frank Cho, born Duk Hyun Cho, he was born near Seoul, Korea in 1971, but moved to the United States at the age of six, raised on Beltsville, Maryland. After graduating High Point High School in 1990, he attended Prince George’s Community College where he got a scholarship to attend the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, which he declined because he disliked the school’s academic focus. Cho ended up transferring to the University of Maryland School of Nursing, which he says was his parent’s idea. Cho eventually graduated with a B.S. in Nursing in 1996. None of this is relevant however because his education never impacted on his art work.

Cho received no formal training as an artist. Looking at his work this defies belief as his line work and control of layouts, composition and detailing is level to the most advanced draftsmen.

He got his start writing and drawinga cartoon strip called ‘Everything but the Kitchen Sink’ in the weekly Prince George’s Community College Newspaper ‘ The Owl’ where he was also comics editor. He then started drawing the daily comic strip University2 for the Diamondback, the independent student newspaper of the University of Maryland, College Park. After graduation, Cho adapted elements of his work for use in a professionally syndicated comic strip, in the form of Liberty Meadows, in which Cho created a comedic comic strip about the activities of the staff and denizens of the titular animal sanctuary / rehabilitation clinic.

In it Cho mixed up his styles freely borrowing Walt Kelly’s (classic American animator and cartoonist) style of drawing anthropomorphic animals, throwing in savage muscle men, apes and dinosaurs in an elaborate homage to multiple illustrators, including Frank Frazetta and Barry Windsor-Smith’s original Conan the Barbarian run. Cho even referenced other comic strips in his own with cameos by Calvin and Hobbes, Lil Abner, Hagar the Horrible and Dilbert. He created a weird little world he found personally appealing and others did too. He made cultural references from Michelangelo to the movie Deliverance and adverts for Crest Toothpaste.

But it was Brandy Carter – a beautiful animal psychiatrist and Jen – Brandy’s roomate. A sexy Rocket scientist who enjoys toying with men, the central characters that caught the affections of most of the readership. Many assume Cho began with Good Girl art as he is second only perhaps to the legendary Adam Hughes in reknown for his versions of vaguely realistically depicted (if unrealistically proportioned) beautiful ladies. In this respect, Cho borrowed predominantly from Dave Stevens, the creator of the lavishly designed Rocketeer comic book who died in 2008. His good girl artwork was part of what made Rocketeer a massive success, thanks to clear, beautifully rendered anatomy (male and female) and exaggerated bomber art style.

Cho signed a fifteen year contract with Creators Syndicate, an independent distributor of comic strips and syndicated columns for daily newspapers. Cho has since admitted this seemed a long time eventually but blamed it on ‘having a bad lawyer.’ Getting tored of Newspaper censorship, Cho severed his contract with Creators Syndicate and converted Liberty Meadows to a monthly publication. It was during this period that Cho came into contact with Marvel comics as part of more wide professional material he has worked on independently over the years. For Marvel, in 2005, he completed a 7-issue run of Shanna the She-Devil. His Shanna series was supposed to feature ‘mature’ artwork, including nude drawings of the heroine, but Marvel baulked at the last moment and decided to have Cho censor his already completed pages for the first five issues and the final two featuring no nudity. Cho has since hinted that Marvel plans to release a hardcover version under the MAX Imprint, which’ll contain his uncensored artwork.

Frank Cho pencilled issues 14 and 15 of New Avengers for Marvel Comics. These issues include trademark Cho-isms; the character of Wolverine is depicted wearing a t-shirt that bears the logo “Beltsville”, and many Liberty Meadows characters make cameo appearances.

Cho frequently makes use of absurd or anachronistic elements in his work, such as dinosaurs, pin-up girls, and Pogo-style anthropomorphic animals. He also enjoys breaking the fourth wall, frequently inserting himself into his work in the guise of a talking chimpanzee, and on several occasions he has drawn strips that feature his characters interacting with other popular syndicated features (for example, a character stuck in a pipe being ejected into a nearby panel apparently taken from Blondie).

To dismiss Cho as a good-girl artist is to fail to acknowledge his sheer ability. The most talented artists are always reknowned and gain success by doing what they do best and Cho is globally reknowned for drawing exceptionally beautiful women. For as long as men like ladies, men like Frank Cho will excel. If his words are as much to bring forward a beautiful female form then all the better. No one reads a Frank Cho book for plot or insight. His is a world populated by Garfield and Hagar. What he presents and represents is not a depiction of a world as it is (or as it should be) but as we like it on a page. Frank Cho’s depiction of the female form has become the reason to read Frank Cho works and the reason is that it is art that is worthy of acknowledgment. If you have to alter a plot to incorporate a Cho femme then you will. Much in the same way that you would alter a plot for Frank Miller to incorporate muscle. Cho is not a limited artist that is at his peak, he is an incredible artist that has been limited by popular demand. His good-girl art so strong that a Cho work without a strongly built, busty beauty inside it is an enormous disappointment. Frankly, I’m sure its an expectation that Cho is willing to bare.

He illustrated the first six issues Marvel Comics’ 2007 relaunch of Mighty Avengers with writer Brian Bendis. He is the plotter and cover artist of Dynamite Entertainment’s Jungle Girl. Cho drew issues 7-9 of Hulk, which were published in 2009.