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.
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.
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….