Friday, September 02, 2005

Join the expedition — watch out for flying werewolves

So why do they call it Labor Day when most people have the day off?

Just one of the many questions I'm pondering on this pre-Labor Day Comic Art Friday, dedicated to all the men and women out there in big beautiful America who work for a living.

And speaking of big and beautiful...

My comic art collection takes an odd turn now and then. SSTOL regulars know that the cornerstone of my collection is what I refer to as my "Common Elements" series; an ever-expanding gallery of two-character artworks that pair otherwise unrelated superheroes who share some feature in common. You've also seen numerous iterations of several characters whose images I specifically collect: Wonder Woman, the Black Panther, Mary Marvel, the Scarlet Witch, and Captain America. Each of these heroes and heroines holds some special sentimental value to me personally, and I never tire of adding new likenesses of them to my collection.

The other day, I was leafing through my collection and noting with surprise the sizable number of Lara Croft (also known as Tomb Raider) images I own. Surprise, because unlike the quintet mentioned above, I never set out to build a gallery of Lara Croft portraits. I've never played the Tomb Raider video game, nor any of its innumerable sequels. I've never read an issue of the long-running Lara Croft, Tomb Raider comic book. Although I found the two Lara Croft, Tomb Raider films starring Angelina Jolie entertaining enough (the second flick especially), I wouldn't call myself a fan of the series.

So why do I have all these Lara Croft pictures?

I suppose the bottom line reason is simple: I enjoy seeing comic artists doing what they do best, and what many in the current crop of artists do best is draw attractive female characters. This is, to my observation, a relatively recent phenomenon. Although "good girl" art (also called cheesecake or "headlights" art) has a long and storied history in the comics — perhaps best exemplified by the work of artist Matt Baker for Fiction House and other publishers in the 1950s — many of the greatest artists in the superhero genre didn't render women particularly well. Jack Kirby, perhaps the most revered superhero artist of all time, couldn't draw good-looking women to save his life. (I'm already anticipating a flood of hostile commentary from Kirby fanatics. You're all entitled to your opinion, even if it's wrong.) Gil Kane, another giant of the field, was a master at depicting male anatomy, but his figures of women always looked awkward and somehow unfinished.

In the past 20 years or so, however, a whole cottage industry of good girl art has appeared on the comics scene. There's even a subgenre called "bad girl" art, in which the lead characters are even more sexualized and, usually, less heroic. Many of the superstar artists today, such as Adam Hughes, make their living almost entirely on their drawings of gorgeous females. (In fact, I think I can count on my fingers the Hughes cover images I've seen that featured male characters.) Young artists seeking to ape the Big Name Artists' styles therefore focus on learning to draw women.

And because Hughes spent several years as the primary cover artist on Dark Horse Comics' Lara Croft, Tomb Raider books (he has since moved on to the covers of DC's Catwoman), there are a ton of very nice images of Lara floating around out there — images that quite often represent the best efforts of these young good girl artists. Some of these images have wended their way into my collection.

(I apologize in advance for posting links instead of actual pictures. My DSL provider is experiencing technical difficulties, and I can’t upload files of any decent size. I’ll reconfigure this post when order is restored to my online universe.)

Take, for instance, this wicked cool scenario by Filipino artist Noah Salonga, in which Lady Croft is being threatened by some manner of tentacled beast not normally found in ancient tombs.

Or this one by Salonga’s countrymen Ariel Padilla and Ernest Jocson, wherein our heroine finds herself at the mercy of a horde of nasty lycanthropes. (And no, I do not understand why in the fictional archaeologists constantly find themselves up against monsters. I’ve visited a dig or two in my day, and never seen anything more frightening than a desiccated cricket.)

And, just so you don’t feel that I’ve completely abandoned you to linksville, here’s one worth repeating: the Tomb Raider all by her bad self, as penciled by her longtime scripter Dan Jurgens, and inked by Joe Rubinstein, who has applied his skillful touch to practically every comic book hero known to humankind.

That’s our Comic Art Friday. As Lady Croft always says, don’t take any wooden artifacts.

2 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Blogger Joel offered these pearls of wisdom...

Two posts?

12:48 AM  
Blogger SwanShadow offered these pearls of wisdom...

No, just a clumsy error on my part. ;) Thanks, Joel!

10:13 AM  

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