Friday, June 30, 2006

Out of the inkwell, part one

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to Blue Diamond Growers, the makers of those tasty Smokehouse Almonds. I wish I had a can right here, right now.

Speaking of almonds, the work of inking specialist Bob "Smokehouse" Almond (so dubbed by yours truly, because everything he does is smokin') will already be familiar to those of you who drop by regularly for Comic Art Fridays. In previous CAF installments, we've presented several scintillating before-and-after studies showing Bob's domination of the embellisher's craft, taking simple pencil drawings and transforming them into fully rendered masterpieces.

Lucky for all of us, Bob recently completed a fresh batch of inking commissions. We'll admire two of these today, and two next Friday. Bob's a busy guy, in constant demand both from publishers and collectors, so I'm excited that he was able to fit these projects into his schedule. I think you'll agree the results are well worth the wait.

Let's look first at this scrumptious pencil sketch by one of our perennial Comic Art Friday favorites, Michael Dooney of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fame. Mike's subject is Mantis, an unusual character who figured prominently in Marvel's Avengers during the '70s.

A unique blend of the ubiquitous Asian martial artist heroes who arose in the wake of the Bruce Lee phenomenon (Mantis was Vietnamese by birth, if I recall correctly) and the telepathic/empathic heroines (Saturn Girl, Jean Grey, et al) who've always made popular comics fodder, Mantis went through this bizarre story arc where, at one point, she was revealed as the Celestial Madonna (not to be confused with the pop singer who came later), mother-to-be of "The One," deliverer of the universe. She also provided the third leg (ahem) of a love triangle between the Scarlet Witch and the Vision — a challenge Wanda eventually fended off handily.

My favorite factoid about Mantis, the one that endeared her to me more than any other, is the fact that she hung around with a race of intelligent plant people from outer space (hey, it's a comic book) called the Cotati — who just happen to share their name with the town next door to mine. I've never seen any plant people in Cotati — mostly just aging hippies and other bohemian types — but I keep looking. (For the record, I've never seen Mantis there either. Again, I keep looking.)

Now here's Dooney's Mantis, after the tender ministrations of Mr. Almond's pen and brush.

I'm advised by Mr. Dooney himself that Bob's approach to inking this piece very much resembles what his own might have looked like. For that reason, he's quite pleased with the results. Considering that pencilers often dread seeing how an inker will interpret their work, I think Mike pays Bob one of the highest professional compliments possible.

Speaking of the Scarlet Witch — and I was, wasn't I? — here's a pencil sketch of Wanda by Greg LaRocque, a prolific artist whose work was inescapable in comics from the mid-'80s through the '90s. Greg illustrated several Marvel titles ranging from Web of Spider-Man to Power Man/Iron Fist, though he's probably best known for his work on DC's The Flash.

As you can see, LaRocque's original pencil drawing was rather unrefined. So much so that I thought at one point about selling it, as it just didn't seem to fit with the quality of the other art in my Scarlet Witch collection. (No negative reflection on Greg's work intended, by the way. This was probably just a quick sketch he dashed off in a few minutes at a convention, and was never supposed to accurately represent his finished art.)

Bob Almond, however, asked to take a shot at rehabilitating the piece. I was hesitant at first, but given that Bob's fondness for Wanda equals my own, I knew he'd try his best to make something of her portrait. Here's the final result. Amazing, yes?

In contrast to the Dooney Mantis, where Bob's primary task is to faithfully mirror and enhance the quality of a clean, finished drawing, here the inker has to take a rough outline and bring forward the completed, fully dimensional image LaRocque probably envisioned as he sketched. The transformation is phenomenal — a perfect example of how a skilled inker can totally transform unfinished pencils. Now I have an artwork, the product of two great talents, that I'll be proud to display.

Next week on Comic Art Friday, the big boys take over. Stop by in seven and check out how Almond delivers the goods embellishing a trio of muscular heroes. And an owl. (You'll just have to come back and see.)

Until then, unless you're the Human Torch, keep your fireworks safe and sane.


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