New Avengers

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.

Practitioners 23: Leinil Yu

Leinil Francis Yu (born July 31, 1977) is a filipino comic book artist, working, prominently, in the American Comic Book market.

In an in interview published in Mavel’s Daily Bugle Newsletter, he has described his style as ‘Dynamic Pseudo-realism.’ This seems fair as his grasp on Human anatomy is compounded by his considerable capacity for presenting it kicking ass!! His compositions are always wild and aluring, appearing spontaneous and explosive but within a moment present a much more impressive grasp on detailing and nuance that imbeds the image with more natural feeling. Its a circular effect that feeds both aspects of his style and zeroes in on minute detail in mad action sequences.

Leinil Francis Yu was first recognised after winning Wizard’s Drawing Board Contest, his first published work. Signed up initially by Whilce Portacio to do some work for Wildstorm, that work fell through unexpectedly. Portacio passed on Yu’s work to Marvel who immediately hired him to take on the Ol’ Canucklehead himself, Wolverine in one of its flagship titles. Few artists have catapulted so quickly to the forefront of one of the largest comic companies in the world but the decision was well justified. Yu’s combination of one-two knock out action sequences and ferocious line work gave him considerable notoriety among fans. Mostly positive, his loose lined inking style drew a more scattered and abstract look from his work which more story minded readers struggled to get to grips with. Artistically however, this was powerful, forceful stuff, the more vivacious line work offering more emotional punch to the action, communicating more than the panel might have with a more steady hand. Innovative work however can polarise and while many more were drawn to Leinil’s unique style some were put off (Dan Thompson of BTB for one).

Following his run on Wolvcerine he moved on to work on Marvel’s flagship X-Men title in 2000, written by legendary X-scribe Chris Claremont. Yu blazed a trail with his pen through the upper echelon of Marvel titles such as Fantastic Four, Ultimate Wolverine Vs Hulk and New Avengers working with the foremost creators. In the same period he co-created High Roads with writer Scott Lobdell at Cliffhanger, Superman: Birthright with Mark Waid and Silent Dragon with Andy Diggle at DC Comics.

Individual legends of the medium were queuing up, most likely to see their character drawn in the Yu style. It was different than what had been seen before and his wave of effect can be seen across the comic book fermament. New artists now offer greater naturalism and can apply more artistic flare perhaps following the arrival of Leinil Yu. His artwork representing a higher plateau of draftsmanship in mainstream comics, augmenting the existing standard into visceral and at times abstract line work. Movement depicted in high detail, not with cross hatching but with disparate, fractal scattered lines sometimes following the line of air across a moving figure or to emphasise effort and movement, light and shadow.

Leinil Yu worked on the edgy incarnation of the Avengers with New Avengers, featuring perhaps for the first time a team of outsiders to the Marvel Universe, Dr Strange, Luke Cage, Spider-man, Hawkeye (now Ronin), Jessica Drew and Echo (from Daredevil). His work matched well the disparate, kinetic and edgy nature of these characters and his line work became more clean and commercially accessible perhaps than before. Somehow, rather than being a shame it enhanced Leinil’s work and certainly broadened his appeal. His work on Marvel’s New Avengers finished with issue 37 so he could begin with Secret Invasion with New Avengers writer Brian Michael Bendis. Secret Invasion involved every major character in the Marvel Universe pitched against an insidious Skrull invasion. His depiction of the Marvel cast against the highly individual Skrull warriors makes clear how good Yu is. More than 100 figures occupy a double page spread and Yu’s composition maintains speech bubbles coherently keeping the various battle cries and Bendis’ dialogue functional and understandable throughout.

Leinil Yu continues to go from strength to strength and has now matched luminaries like Romita Jr, both Kuberts and Epting as synonomous with quality and unflappable content no matter the requirement. Though he carries more zest and raw vigour than the afore-mentioned artists he still instills the same values in his artwork. His work is reminiscent of sketch works by Master artists at the same time as encapsulating what makes a legendary comic artist.

Marvel gets Fearsome!

Teaser for the X-Men branch of the event. I must admit to geeking out a little bit when I saw this.

Morning chaps,

If you’ve read Steve’s latest post then you’ll probably have guessed that things are getting rather busy here in the bunker. We have a couple of massive announcements due very soon but in the meantime we’ll continue to bring you all the geeky news you can fit in your face.

Speaking of announcements Marvel had a little proclamation of their own last night. After weeks of teasers and hints, Editor-in-chief Joe Quesada finally unveiled Marvel’s big project for 2011: Launching in April, Fear Itself is a seven issue crossover written by Matt Fraction (Invincible Iron Man, Thor) with pencils by Stuart Immonen (New Avengers).

Speaking at Midtown Comics in Times Square last night, Quesada opened proceedings with a rather curious statement: “All you need to do really is turn on a TV, a computer, a radio, and you’re sure to find a pundit, a politician, a prophet out there ready to tell you what you should be afraid of, who’s responsible and why you should be afraid of them. It’s a world divided. At the end of the day, you’ve got to ask yourself who should you trust? Who do you trust? 24 hour news cycles, weather change, WikiLeaks, depression, recession, bailouts, bankers.” He then handed over to a pre-recorded video from Matt Fraction in which the writer hinted at specifics and gave the usual “nothing will ever be the same!” speech that these events require.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4nIDfHA1Y4&fs=1&hl=en_GB]

So should we be excited about all this? Well, right now my personal jury is out on the matter. On the one hand I’ve gotten less and less interested in mega-crossovers in the last few years. By their very nature they tend to be overhyped and because of the difficulty of coordinating so many different titles all telling the same story, the pacing is often a little wonky in places (remember Secret Invasion?) There’s also the issue that in order to really get the most out of an event you have to dump a tonne of cash into buying all the tie in books so that you get the scope. I did that with Civil War and it was a great comic book experience, but I’m not sure I see myself spending this much again.

But then there are some pros too. I’ll be honest, the high gloss, retro feel of The Heroic Age has been fun but it’s not really produced a great deal of ground breaking material and I can’t see myself trying to get a friend to read Avengers in the same way I would with some of the Civil War/Initiative era stuff. For me Marvel comics are at their best when they’re talking about the real world and if Quesada’s speech is anything to go by, this may well signal a return to that.

The team is a good one too. While events are often the great leveller of talented writers, I really really love Fraction’s work and (as much as love Bendis) it’s refreshing to see somebody else get a crack at a big event like this. Immonen is another personal favourite of mine so the thought of him handling a big event like this is pretty exciting (he’s even handing over his spot on New Avengers to give it his full attention).

There are other factors to think about. For example, the title leads to speculation that the villain could be Phobos, child-god of fear from Secret Warriors and if you know anything about Secret Warriors you know that Phobos is freakin cool. But stuff like this will have to wait until we know more details. For now it’s time to sit back, make wild predictions about who dies and enjoy the cascade of parody work that’s already appearing on the web:

Credit for this goes to Ryan Higgins of the bleedingcool.com forums.

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Is TV ready for Jessica Jones?

Jessica as drawn in Brian Michael Bendis & Michael Gaydos' 2001-2004 series 'Alias'

We’ve spent a month here at the bunker touching upon the portrayal of women in comics and lamenting the lack of strong, believable female leads so today’s announcement from Marvel comes as a rather pleasant surprise. It seems that the merry Marvel marching band have teamed up with ABC and writer/producer, Melissa Rosenberg (you’ll know her from the Twilight movies and Dexter) to produce a prime time TV show based on the character of Jessica Jones.

Now, if you’re not a big comics fan then there’s a good chance that you’ve never heard of Jess so I’ll do my best to give you a quick rundown. Jessica was once a fairly unremarkable superhero by the name of Jewel but she quit that lift following a traumatic encounter with a villain called Purple Man (you’ll have to take my word that he’s scarier than his name implies) and set up her own detective agency. From here she chain smokes and smart mouths her way through a string of super hero related cases with a kind of modern noir feel. Her adventures are all available to read in a series called Alias (no relation to the TV show of the same name) and you should damn well pick them up if you’ve not already.

Alias a solid gold choice for a TV show. It’s a story about a fearsomely intelligent but heartbreakingly damaged woman, trying to leave an old life behind but constantly being drawn back in. It’s witty, it’s sad and it’s got one of the best female leads in comics, a woman who’s problems are her own and a woman who overcomes them on her own. The real question is perhaps, is American TV ready for such an edgy character as Jessica Jones? The themes in Alias are hardly what you’d call family friendly and elements that make the character work (ie the balance of strength and vulnerability) are so specific that a heavy studio influence would likely derail the entire thing.

Jess as depicted in a fabulous cover from New Avengers. (The baby is Jess and Cage's daughter, Danielle)

I’m defaulting to a stance of cautious optimism on this one. There’s a lot of scope to balls this one up but at the same time Rosenberg is a solid choice and since Jess is one of my all time favourite comic characters, it’s hard not to be excited. It’s also worth pointing out that of the four big comic-to-tv projects in the works right now, three of them have female leads (the other two being DC’s Wonder Woman and Raven with Guillermo del Toro’s Hulk bringing in one for the boys). Throw in that a Jessica Jones series has a good chance of featuring Luke Cage and things are starting to look pretty good for moving comic book properties away from the endless parade of white, male front men. Diversification in our industry is an excellent thing and if Jess is a part of that change it then I’m more than pleased.

I wonder if they’ll include that bumming scene though…

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