Friday, November 09, 2007

Ink 'em up, Joe

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to the memory of legendary comic artist Paul Norris, who died on Monday at age 93.

Norris will be most widely recalled as the co-creator of Aquaman. Apart from his Sea King, however, Norris enjoyed a lengthy and varied career drawing numerous comic books and newspaper comics. Most notably, he drew the daily strip Brick Bradford for 35 years, beginning in 1952.

Norris was one of the last survivors among the great Golden Age comic creators. His work will live on long after him.

Speaking of comic artists with lengthy and varied careers, I recently received a package of completed commissions from Joe Rubinstein, who's been inking comics for almost as long as I've been reading them. As you Comic Art Friday regulars know, that's pretty darned long.

Joe started inking jobs for the major comics publishers while still in his teens, as an assistant to influential giants Wally Wood, Neal Adams, and Dick Giordano. Unlike many of his contemporaries who entered the field in the early 1970s, Joe has continued working regularly in comics to this very day. His list of inking credits covers pretty much every familiar superhero published in the last 35 years, plus hundreds more that even Joe has probably forgotten. His line work — smooth, crisp, graceful, eminently adaptable yet distinctive — continues to flourish. (He's also one heck of a painter, specializing in fine portraiture.)

So let's take a before-and-after look at what just rolled off Joe's drawing board.

The very first two-character piece I ever commissioned was this Michael Dooney stunner featuring the first two Marvel Comics heroines to bear the code name Spider-Woman. That's the original Spider-Woman, Jessica Drew, on the left; her successor, Julia Carpenter, on the right.

This was the commission that inspired and laid the foundation for my Common Elements theme series. For that reason, it carries a mountain of sentimental value for me. Joe and I first discussed him inking it shortly after Dooney drew it, nearly three years ago. It took me a long time to pull the trigger, but I'm glad that I finally did.

Speaking of Common Elements, one of the pieces in that series that consistently draws raves from artists and other collectors is this pairing of the Valkyrie (late of the seminal '70s superteam, the Defenders) and Nightcrawler (longtime stalwart of the X-Men and Excalibur), drawn by the incredible Dave Ross.

Like the Dooney Spider-Women artwork, I had Joe in mind to ink this one almost from the day I first saw it. And of course, when I finally let him have it, Joe did a spectacular job. He even went to the surprising (to me, anyway) length of contacting Dave Ross to get his input on how the inking ought to be approached. A true professional, that Rubinstein.

I love the work of Brazilian artist Al Rio. I'd own several dozen of Al's fully penciled pieces if I had the means to afford them. Alas, I'm a mere working stiff, and Al's commissions cost serious bank. I've had, however, remarkable success picking up Al's less costly rough sketches and having them embellished in ink by other artists.

This Supergirl sketch was a preliminary drawing for a commission Al did recently. (His finished piece features the Maid of Steel flying in from another angle, with a completely different aerial perspective of the building behind her.)

The moment I saw this sketch available for sale, I wanted Joe to ink it. Originally, I had planned to send Joe a different Rio drawing in this batch of commission projects. Once I scored this little number, that piece ended up in the hands of another extremely talented inker instead. Both decisions turned out perfectly.

I never cease to marvel (no pun intended) at how two comic artists — one working in pencil, the other in ink — can seamlessly meld their imaginations and skills to create artworks that reflect the talents of each. I consider myself tremendously fortunate to have so many beautiful examples of that phenomenon in my collection.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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