Saturday, November 27, 2004

In the Wakandan night he walks — a king and a hero

Okay, I don't get giddy about much at this advanced and jaded age, but I'm giggling like a plaid-skirted schoolgirl over this. Here's a scan of a commissioned drawing just completed for me by Bob McLeod.

If you were reading comics in the '70s, '80s, and '90s, the name Bob McLeod will immediately resonate with you, as McLeod was one of the most talented (as well as one of the most prolific) inkers of that period. Although perhaps best recalled by fans as the co-creator (with writer Chris Claremont) of Marvel's New Mutants, a group some of us lovingly referred to as "Junior X-Men" (as in, "Up in the air, Junior X-Men...") when they first appeared in the early '80s, Bob's pencils and inks graced dozens of titles for both of the big comics companies, including Adventures of Superman and Wonder Woman for DC, and the various Spider-Man and X-Men titles for Marvel. Bob was one of my favorite inkers on Spider-Man, because he always managed to give the character something approximating the classic John Romita, Sr. look, even when inking over a penciler who had no clue (or worse, didn't care) what Spidey was supposed to look like (I won't mention any names here, but the initials "Todd McFarlane" come to mind...).

When I discovered that Bob was available for commission work, I simply had to ask him to draw T'Challa, the Black Panther, for me. McLeod inked several issues of the Panther's adventures in Jungle Action in the early '70s, over the pencils of the incredible and underrated Billy Graham, at the time best known as the art director at Warren Publications, home of Vampirella. I didn't know it until Bob told me, but the Black Panther strip was one of his first major comics jobs, and he was, as he puts it, "learning to ink on the job." You wouldn't have known it. I recall his replacing Klaus Janson as the Jungle Action inker as generating an immediate improvement in the book's art, because McLeod's line-focused inking style was better suited to Graham's pencils than the heavier approach of Janson.

The Graham/McLeod run on Jungle Action was important as perhaps the first time mainstream comics faced the subject of racism head-on. Scripter Don McGregor, one of the most literary writers in the history of comics in my humble view, spun a powerful and action-packed storyline about the Panther taking on a clandestine cabal of hood-and-robe-clad evildoers obviously based on the Ku Klux Klan. That Billy Graham, one of the few African Americans working in comics then, penciled the tales lent a beautiful irony to those of us who knew. Graham, unfortunately, is no longer with us, having passed away several years ago. But I'll always remember how significant his artistic contributions to the Panther (created by Stan Lee and the King, Jack Kirby) and Luke Cage, Hero for Hire (the brainchild by Marvel writer Archie Goodwin, with collaboration by artists Graham and George Tuska), were for children of color who had rarely, if ever, before seen superheroes who looked like us.

Fast-forward thirty years, and I now have my very own Black Panther, penciled and inked by one of his original artists, Bob McLeod, winging his way to me. When T'Challa arrives in the mail next week, it will be as though a long-lost piece of my childhood has been returned. I'll whoop with joy. I'll do the happy dance. I may even shed a tear or two. But never fear -- I'll hold Bob's beautiful art at arm's length, so as not to smear the ink.

If you'd like to see more of what Bob McLeod has been up to lately, you can browse some eye-popping galleries of his recent commission work at his Web site. I also understand that Bob recently wrote and illustrated a children's book entitled Superhero ABC that will be published by Harper Collins in 2005. Keep it in mind for the little ones in your life next Christmas.

And in other news, Marvel recently announced that a new Black Panther comic, to be scripted by filmmaker Reginald Hudlin and penciled by John Romita, Jr., will premiere in February 2005. If only they could get Bob McLeod to ink it...

2 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger frinklin offered these pearls of wisdom...

Commisions are always fun. I ended up with a Derek Aucoin Spider-Man at the last San Diego Comic-Con.

I'm a big fan of T'Challa, and if the Hudlin/JRJR relaunch is a half as good as Priest's recent run, it could be a great book.

10:29 PM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

Priest (I still remember reading his work when he was Jim Owsley — mostly because my mother has some relations with that last name — but if he wants to be called Priest, who am I to quibble?) is indeed an outstanding writer. I only saw a couple of issues of his run on the last Panther series, but I liked what I read.

I'm guessing the main attraction for Marvel in having Reggie Hudlin write the new series is that he and his brother Warrington are known outside the rather insular comics community, and will draw attention to the book from the mainstream media (as evidenced by the fact that the New York Times has already published a story about it). I'm just glad to see the Panther getting back into print, regardless of who's on the creative team.

2:18 AM  

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