Practitioners 51: Stuart Immonen

Stuart Immonen is a Canadian comic book artist, best known for his work on Nextwave, Ultimate X-Men, The New Avengers and Ultimate Spider-man. Teamed usually with the elegantly named Wade Von Grewbadger, Immonen is responsible for some of the most memorable page layouts of the last decade as he effortlessly combines composition, characterisation and razor blade lettering to allow any script writer’s ideas to flow.

Immonen was, until recently, a hidden master in the recesses of the comic industry. In recent years – working on New Avengers, Ultimate Spider-man and the most recent Marvel event Fear Itself in which he was lead penciller on the main series at the core – Immonen has found his rightful place among the most recognisable artists in the industry. With an ice cool approach to complicated and original compositions Immonen has an amazing reputation for taking complex ideas and communicating them effortlessly out of the page.

Studying at Toronto’s York University, Immonen pursued a career in art immediately. In 1988, he self published a series called Playground. It was his frst published work. He progressed quickly, working at several small comic book companies before being hired by DC Comics, and most recently (since 1993), Marvel Comics, where he gained greater notoriety. In this time he had handled some of the biggest names in the industry – fictionally speaking. At DC his clean line work introduced Immonen to the great kryptonian and DC flagship, Superman. He remained with Superman for some time though more on the fringe of the associated titles – contributing to multiple artist titles such as Superman Metropolis Secret Files, Superman Red / Superman Blue and Superman: The Wedding Album. His posting on Legion of Superheroes gave him a chance to practice the combination of multiple characters in a range of compositions – something that would prove his defining characteristic later in the industry.

But it’s Immonen’s adventures in Marvel that everyone began to notice – handling the most characterful figures in the universe – with a run on Ultimate Fantastic Four and Ultimate X-Men with the newest and coolest writers of the time Warren Ellis and Brian K. Vaughn – both of whom enjoy lightweight, dialogue heavy scriptwriting. It was the deliberately outside continuity in-joke Next Wave that Immonen had the greatest impact.

A re-teaming with Ellis saw a highly collabrative approach to the book, with Immonen given the opportunity to stretch his creative muscle. A rag tag batch of fringe characters from many of the Marvel books; Monica Rambeau, the former Captain Marvel; Tabitha Smith, Boom Boom of X-Force; Aaron Stack, the Machine Man, monster hunter Elsa Bloodstone; and new character the Captain previously called Captain ☠☠☠☠ (the obscured words being so horrible that Captain America allegedly “beat seven shades of it out of him” and left him in a dumpster with a bar of soap in his mouth).

Nextwave's unambiguous cover for the Marvel Civil War Crossover event of 2006

Into this chaotic and satirical book Ellis leaned heavily on Immonen’s pencilling style – almost every edition in the 12 issue run a master class in humorous, action filled perfection. Every quirk and idea was beautifully realised. When Fin Fang Foom unceremoniously passes Machine Man it is both perfectly drawn and hilariously realised. Immonen’s panels in which the Captain beats the living hell out of Suicide Girl loving demi-daemon of a pervo elseworld, Dormmu was so well realised that Dormmu became a surprise bonus character in last year’s Marvel vs Capcom to everyone’s significant joy!

But more than that – in a later book Immonen demonstrated his absolute mastery of multiple styles. As the Forbush man overwhelmed the senses of the assembled Next Wave each was presented with their own versions of reality. Leaping seamlessly between the Captain’s naturalistic, paired down artwork on a faraway world, Captain Marvel’s transluscent trip out, seemingly influenced by African American art styles of the late 70s and early 80s, from Machine Man’s Garfieldesque adventures as an Insurance agent to Elsa Bloodstone’s battle against ancient monsters in a perfect recreation of Mike Mignola’s legendary work on Hellboy. All were simultaneously equal to the art they were satirising while distinctly mocking in style. The balance was met beautifully in a way that can only be understood when viewed.

All of this was recognised by Ellis on the run of the book. Taking the highly rare decision to allow effective free reign over a series of no less than 5 double page spreads in which a series of increasingly deranged battles ensued between the Nextwave team and a procession of bizarre choices for soldiers, launched by the H.A.T.E. corporation. This included a Brontosaurus, Battle Tigers, Two headed Samurai, Elvis MODOKs, Golems and spike-wheeled Steven Hawking’s as well as a number of other characters – some too difficult to accurately describe. The end result was an absolute unalloyed joy. Page after page of freewheeling battle lunacy, deftly executed with pin point accuracy and frankly joyous abandonment of any convention.

It is rare that any artist is given the opportunities that Immonen was with Nextwave but very few artists can inspire the sort of confidence that Immonen clearly inspired in Ellis on that book. Whether it was intended to be, it was either a showcase for Immonen’s abilities or one that Immonen refused to let pass. Most likely, given Immonen’s relaxed style he merely did exactly what the project called for.

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Practitioners 40: Dan Jurgens

Now, let’s make this clear. Dan Jurgens killed Superman. There were others involved of course, talented individuals -each with their own individual styles, across the four titkes of the time – most of whom will appear here. The editorial team was monitoring the whole process as well – however, one man wrote and illustrated the moment the man of Steel and his mysterious opponent, Doomsday, struck each other for the last time, shattering the front of the Daily Planet in the heart of a decimated metropolis. He captured the two characters hitting the street and the shocked reaction of the surrounding onlookers. Jurgens presented a moment a determined and fatalistic Superman embraced a desperate and frightened Lois Lane, shrouded in steam and smoke before the final, tumultuous cataclysm. Jurgens was responsible for all of the editions of Superman, the most popular of the four titles at the time (the others being Superman: Man of Steel, Adventures of Superman and Action Comics) and a Justice League of America issue in the story arc in which Doomsday took apart the current members. In the intervening time, the Death of Superman has become an irrelevancy – not least because of his return a year later – and even a joke but at the time the images of Superman’s cloak ripped and torn on a post in the heart of Metropolis made world news. At the centre of the story was the writing and assured artwork of Dan Jurgens.

Dan Jurgens, born June 27, 1959 is an American comic book writer and artist with a clear, concise and uncomplicated style that has earned him a reputation as a safe pair of hands. He is best known for creating Booster Gold (present in the JLA taken apart by Doomsday in ’93) and his lengthy runs on the Superman titles Adventures of Superman and Superman (Vol.2). In spite of this notable writing and artistic accolades, making news globally with the death of arguably the most iconic hero in comics, he appeared in books that , perhaps unsurprisingly, never reached the same level of popularity and critical acclaim. These included The Sensational Spider-man, Captain America, Thor (Vol 2), Justice League America, Metal Men (Limited Series), DC Crossover Zero Hour, Tomb Raider. Aquaman and the creator of DC Comics’ imprint Tangent.

Jurgen’s started out in comic books for DC Comics on Warlord 63 following a recommendation from Warlord series creator Mike Grell who was deeply impressed by Jurgens’ work after being presented with his portfolio at a convention. He began, naturally, as an artist for the Sun Devils limited series from 1984-1985 with Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas. Jurgens’ took on a writing role as he scripted from Conway’s plots and took over the writing duties fully within 2 months (artist for issue 8, writer/artist by issue 10).

His successes in his early career were with DC – Jurgens is credited with creating Booster Gold, who became a member of the Justice League, whom Jurgens wrote and drew with the introduction of Doomsday in his rampage to reach Gotham City. As to who created Doomsday, this remains a mystery. He has enjoyed successes with other companies, namely Dark Horse – with Superman vs Alien – and Sensational Spider-man during the Ben Reilly period with Marvel.

But it was with DC that Jurgens proved most notably to be a safe hand. He pencilled and wrote the wide scale Zero Hour crossover in the mid nineties which incorporated all of the DC Universe in a rarely coherent and accesable storyline that tied the threads of a faily convoluted universe together well enough for laymen to understand what was going on – something perhaps only recently valued by DC with the recent title relaunches. This is perhaps Jurgen’s greatest strength. His style assured and uincomplicated, Jurgens presents very clerly the events being portrayed in any series he involves himself in. A less stylistic artist than most, it can be arged he lacks flair which is perhaps why he hasn’t been hailed in the same way as others. But his line work and naturalistic style is as distinct and effective as George Perez and more so than old hands like Jerry Ordway yet fresh and clear. Relatively timeless, it is often difficult to place Jurgen’s work into a particular period if you are unfamiliar with the storyline he is working on. It is a hard case to push to place Jurgens among legends but he is the professional Practitioner, hard working and diligent, efficient and clear – and perhaps unusually – unselfish in his style. His is a page of creative draftmanship, and his pride is in the simple imparting of feelings, ideas and story – setting him apart from the many peers of his that arew notable for their distinct style. Jurgens is a legend because he appears not to be. His stories live on in legend where his name, perhaps, does not. Surely, when a true artist is pressed that is the value of his work and for me, it is something that Jurgens represents. Unsurprisingly, without even trying.

Practitioners 38: Jeff Smith

Jeff Smith was born in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania in 1960 and grew up in Columbus, Ohio, where he now lives.

The Valley (Bone, Jeff Smith, 1992)

Smith learned about cartooning from comic strips, comic books and animated television shows. He has cited Charles M Schulz’s Peanuts as a very early influence on his understanding of comics, some of the style of which are highly visible in Smith’s tome Bone, now a classic of the medium. He has also named Walt Kelly’s Pogo, which he discovered at the age of nine, as his biggest influence in writing comics. Smith began to create comics with the ‘Bone’ characters as early as 1970, at about the age of 10.

Smith graduated in 1978 from Thomas Worthington High School in Worthington, Ohio, where he was a classmate of Jim Kammerud; later on in 1986, Smith and Kammerud would co-found Charcater Builders, an animation studio in Columbus where Smith worked until 1992. After high school. Smith attended the Ohio Stae University where he created a comic strip called ‘Thorn’ for the Campus Newspaper ‘ The Lantern’ which included some of the characters from the Bone series.

In 1991, Smith created his company, simply entitled, Cartoon Books, in order to publish his comic book series Bone. Smith published 55 issues of Bone between 1991 and 2004, blending influences from Walt Kelly, Carl Barks and J.R.R. Tolkien. The black and white tale of Bone, Phoney Bone and Fone Bone into the mysterious valley populated by the Great Dragon, talking mammals,a beautiful young girl named Thorn, her grandmother and a horde of carnivorous fur balls named Rat Creatures, among others proved popular in individual format of 55 issues and 9 volumes were collected to present them. However, its the Bone saga in its entirety that reveals the depth and clarity of vision (as well as the lunacy and oddity) of Smith’s vision. Broad mythical themes play to Warner Bros cartoon physics (the snow falls out of the sky in a blanket in one go instead of as snowflakes and old ladies can outrun cows) in a story of immense scope and no shortage of silliness. Smith dotes on his characters, allowing each one to breathe and develop independently of all others, blending disparate characteristics and even dialogue styles to forma complete, populated and diverse world filled with giant, flat insects, giant mountain based wild cats and mysterious warrior cults (no, seriously).

The artwork begins with luxurious pencil and ink work and develops into fine line and detailed vistas and events, Smith’s style visibly developing over a very personal project.

Two additional volumes, Stupid, Stupid Rat Tails and Rose, collect a number of Bone prequels created by Smith, working with collaborators.

Following from Bone, Smith has developed Captain Marvel series for DC; SHAZAM! The Monster Society of Evil, published in four prestige format issues in 2007 and later collected into a hardcover. In 2008 he released RASL ‘ a stark Sci-fi series about a dimension-jumping art thief with personal problems.’ In 2008, a six issue preview was shown at the San Diego Comic-con, origianlly intended to be released in an oversized format. Onlookers and advisors were unanimous in their warnings about selling an oversized book so Smith, seemingly happy to oblige and accept advice reduced it back down as a black and white, normal sized comic book. However, the first trade paperback ‘The Drift’ is out in the original oversized format.

If anyone had any doubt as to the importance of Bone, Smith’s art featured in a pair of Museum shows during 2008. ‘Jeff Smith: Bone and Beyond,’ at the Wexner Centre of Arts and Jeff Smith: Before Bone’ at the Cartoon Research Library of the Ohio State University. That’s right. The Cartoon Research Library of Ohio. It’s real. In 2009, Smith was featured in The Cartoonist, a documentary film on his life and work.

In a new 32-page graphic novel released in 2009, specifically released through the children’s book line launched by Art Spiegleman and New Yorker Art Editor Francoise Mouly, for very young ’emerging readers’ called Little Mouse Gets Ready, Smith noted that it featured another character Smith created in his childhood, ‘a little grey mouse with a little red vest.’

Bone alone won 10 Eisner Awards and ten Harvey Awards. In 1995 and 1996 he won the National Cartoonists Society’ss award for Comic Books. Smith’s 1332 page single-volume paperback was named one of Time magazine’s list of Top Ten Graphic Novels of All Time.

To get any clear idea of comic book history you have no choice but to pick up Bone. It is simultaneously a quiet delight and a seminal work and belongs firmly in the annuls of comic book history as a timeless piece of visual literature and BLAT! sound effects.

Practitioners 29: Goseki Kojima

Goseki Kojima is the artist of the stunning Japanese Manga Lone Wolf and Cub, written by Kazuo Koike. Kojima was born in Yokkaichi and began his career as a poster artist and painter, before finally settling in Tokyo in 1950. There he worked as an artist on ‘Kamishibai’ (illustrated stories) for a number of publications. In the late 1950s, he was also turning to mangas and created serials like Omnitsu Yureijo (1957), Yagyu Ningun (1959) and Chohen Dai Roman, a series of classic novel adaptations (1961-67), all distributed through libraries.

In 1967, he switched to a more conventional distribution and made appearances in several magazines. Tgether with Kazuo Koike, he created ‘Kozure Okami’, published in Manga Action form from 1970 through to 1976. The legendary series was finally introduced to English readers as ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ in 1987 and the influence of it should not be underestimated. Lone Wolf and Cub influenced a great many Practitioners globally. Its paired down, naturalistic, imperceptibly detailed ink line work has certainly and notably influenced Frank Miller in particular, Kojima’s sharp and emphatic black and white line work visible in works as disparate as Sin City and 300. The later works of industry leaders such as Jamie Hewlett have they’re basis Kojima’s work whether it is immediately obvious or not. The artwork for Monkey (Hewlett and Damon Albarn’s recent foray into media-opera) is toned perfectly with period material lifted from that referenced in Kojima’s work. Most artists working in the comic book industry (and most likely in Illustration as a whole) will know Kojima’s name as a global mainstay of the industry. Truly representative of Japanese Manga artists, Kojima is efficient, technically acute, lavishly artistic and truly prolific. Lone Wolf and Cub accounts for more than 8000 pages alone (completed between 1970 and 1976).

As well as ‘Lone Wolf’ Kojima and Koike cooperated on other series like ‘Kawaite Soroi’, ‘Kubikiri Asa’, ‘Hanzo Nomon’, ‘Bohachi Bushido’ and ‘Tatamodori Kasajiro’. In 1994, he became editorial consultant for the magazine Manga Japan.

Kojima teaches all new artists what it truly means to be a great artist within your own lifetime. The production of pages at the speed he achieved is almost unthinkable to western artists. Dave Gibbons is considered efficient at 2 a day but Kojima is representative of a different breed of artist, perhaps now gone. Personal design work and augmenting and introducing a distinctive or recognisable style was clearly never Kojima’s primary function. To introduce alternative or unusual visuals was not Kojima’s main drive. His compositions are drawn with clarity and an instantaneous sense of scale and visual communication. Basic, simple compositions are given focus and artistic value with the addition of a dropping branch from the top of the panel or his decisions in showing objects in part to allow the reader to be absorbed into the story.

Practitioners 22: Dave Gibbons Pt 2

Following on from part 1 from earlier in the week, we continue taking a look at the work of Dave Gibbons. In Part 1 we took a glance at the Gibbon’s beginnings with 2000AD and IPC and his rise (alongside Alan Moore) to create the Watchmen the only graphic novel to be included in Time’s ‘Top 100 Novel’s list’. This time, Tales of the Black Freighter, the Watchmen Movie and Green Lantern.

A shot from Tales of the Black Freighter (2009) originally by Moore and Gibbons


At the beginning of the 1990’s Gibbons began to focus as much on writing and inking as on drawing, contributing to a number of different titles and issues from a variety of different companies. Highlights from all of this include writing the three-issue World’s Finest miniseries for artist Steve Rude, while drawing Give Me Liberty (following a girl from the projects in a dystopian future through to her becoming an American hero) for writer Frank Miller and Dark Horse comics. Perhaps less known is that he penned the first Batman Vs Predator crossover for Andy and Adam Kubert and inked Rick Veitch and Stephen R Bissette for half of Alan Moore’s 1963 Image Comics series (1993).

Rejoining Frank Miller in mid-1994 on Martha Washington Goes to War, and the following year writing the Elseworlds title Kal for Jose Luis Garcia Lopez, melding Arthurian legends to the Superman ethos in an alternate DC Universe. Proving his capacity again as an auteur, in Marvel Edge’s Savage Hulk #1 (Jan 1996), Gibbons wrote, penciled, inked, colored and lettered “Old Friends,” a version of the events of Captain America #110 from the point of view of the Hulk. In 1996 and 1997, Gibbons collaborated with Mark Waid (and Jimmy Palmiotti) on two issues of the Amalgam Comics character “Super-Soldier,” a character born from the merging of the DC and Marvel Universes after the events of the 1996 intercompany crossover DC vs. Marvel/Marvel vs. DC. He continued on working on many other covers, one-shots and minor works for the rest of the ’90s including the Alan Moore Songbook and the first issue of Kitchen Sink Press’ The Spirit: the New Adventures. He pencilled and inked Darko Macan’s 4-issue Star Wars: Vader’s Quest miniseries for Dark Horse.

A reworking of Gibbon's original panel design (1988) from Watchmen (2009) on which Gibbons advised


In December 2001 Gibbons helped Stan Lee’ reimagine’ the Green Lantern in the pages of Just Imagine… Stan Lee creating Green Lantern. (Why exactly it was necessary to give the creator of Spider-man, Fantastic Four, X-Men and the like another imaginary credit is hard to glean but Gibbons was the choice to work with the great man himself). It was to be a fanfare for his later return to Green Lantern (Corps).

Throughout the naughties Gibbons continued to move from position to position from title to title, taking on more and more challenges. Unlike any other artist Gibbon’s pitched himself as the go-to all encompassing talent. This has stopped him perhaps becoming as publicly reknowned as he would’ve been had he simply remained an artist as he is less and less associated with anything specific since the 80s and Watchmen. But fame isn’t all and for those who are fa,miliar with his work and those who take the time to follow his pin ball trajectory around two of the biggest comics companies around, a picture of a very talented writer, artist professional everyman begins to form very quickly.

In 2002, Gibbons followed Chuck Austen on Captain America 17-20 (Nov 03-Jan 04). In 2005 he produced a handful of covers for Geoff John’s JSA, as well as producing a complete graphic novel himself called The Originals, a black and white graphic novel which he scripted and drew. Published by Vertigo, the work is set in the near future but draws heavily on the imagery of the Mods and Rockers of the 1960s.

As one of the four lead-ins to DC’s infinite Crisis storyline, Gibbons wrote the Rann/Thanagar War with legendary GL artist Ivan Reis. This put him within spitting distance of the Green Lantern Universe and he returned to the Green Lantern Corps with a five-issue ‘Recharge’ storyline – co-written with Geoff Johns, which in turn spun-off into an ongoing, Gibbons written series in August 2006.

Its difficult to pursue Gibbons through his career as he has more recently worked with Alan Moore’s daughter (providing cover artwork) on DC/Wildstorm’s IPC buyout title Albion and writing its spin-off Thunderbolt Jaxon, with Art by John Higgins. Due to scheduling difficulties the August 2005- launched Albion actually finished two months after Thinderbolt Jaxon (Nov 2006).

Continuing with DC, Gibbons provided covers for three issues of Action Comics (Home of Superman) and co-pencilled (with Evan Van Sciver) the Green Lantern: Sinestro Corps issue as part of the Sinestro Corps story arc (which culminated in the industry pausing Blackest Night saga). He contributed to the ongoing Green Lantern story on issues 18-20.

Returning to his routes (which frankly looking back he never left) Gibbons provided new, alternative covers for IDW publishing’s reprints of the original Marvel UK Doctor Who Comics. He also designed the logo for Oni Press, the publishers of Scott Pilgrim.

Gibbons was never limited to comic books, he has always been an artist foremost, working on as many and in as many ways as possible on any number of platforms. He provided background art for computer game Beneath a Steel Sky (1994) and the cover to K, the 1996 debut album by psychedelic rock band Kula Shaker. In 2007, he served as a consultant along with John Higgins for the film Watchmen adapted from the book, released in March 20098. However his name was only credited as co-creator as Alan Moore refused to have participation in the film.

For me however, the crowning glory of Gibbons career isn’t the broad strokes and infintisimal detail and characterisation of Watchmen, or his tireless capacity for providing any aspect of the creation of a comic book (having tackled pencilling, inking, lettering, writing throughout his career). Its a comic book within a comic book. Its the Tales of the Black Freighter read by a side character throughout Watchmen. It is the tale of a lost sailor, surviving an attack by the Freighter and his descent into madness. Gibbon’s represents the epitomy of classic comic art here, reminiscent of the boys-own books of the 80s Victory and Battle, he forms a completely engaging and encapsulating package for Moore’s words. Bloated bodies supporting a derelict raft in an inky sea and the perfectly depicted descent of a good man (or normal man) descending unstoppably into madness. At once timeless and of its time it represents great visual storytelling while still offering an alternative style to the book around it. Tales of the Black Freighter was converted into a short animation piece as an extra to the Watchmen DVD on its release and Gibbons had a hand in its creation. The rendering of the animation fails it but the inspiration is there for an entire battalion of animators. It represents the pinnacle of modern storytelling in comic book form and represents perfectly Gibbons himself. On its own it still stands up to scrutiny and is a work of art in itself but it also rests perfectly within others’.

Frame from Tales of the Black Freighter (2009) based on the comic book of the same name (1988) in a comic book of a different name.


Gibbons is a selfless and tireless artist. His work is draftsman-like and still retains the inherent emotion and power required to carry the words of writers like Alan Moore. One half of a duo that generated one of the great comic works of our time; Gibbons continues to being a working artist first and foremost, his professionalism and talent the most important thing to those around him – the reason he has enjoyed almost 40 years in the industry.

Practitioners 22: Dave Gibbons Pt 1

Born 14 April 1949, Dave Gibbons has already made his way into the hallowed halls of historical figures associated with comic books. It is no exaggeration to say that Gibbon’s name could appear alongside great artists and writers like Ditko, Miller, Eisner and Kubert. But while Gibbons is associated with one of the greatest (certainly the most critically and commercially successful) series of all time – his is not a career that is shrouded with his name. Whereas Quitely, Romita Jr and Kubert can occassionally dwarf a project and become the defining feature of it – Dave Gibbons has achieved something much more noteworthy – the project he works on and not his name remains the talking point of projects he is associated with. Dave Gibbons is a prolific Practitioner with a style that puts content and communication of the story first and foremost and has allowed (in a way that no other artist has been able to facilitate) a series to transcend the medium and be considered a work of awarded literature. No other artist in the medium has achieved this and that is why Gibbons is one of the most noteworthy practitioners in the list – effectively for not being as deliberately noteworthy as some of his peers. For those who know, Gibbons is a legend and one of the foremost practitioners working today.

Gibbons broke into British comics by working on horror and action titles for British 2000AD publisher DC Thomson and IPC. With the inception of the quintessential British weekly comic publication, launched in 1977, Gibbons was in a position to contribute artwork from the very start on Prog 01. As a founding member of the title Gibbons went on to draw 24 installments of Harlem Heroes (written by Pat Mills and making up the original 2000AD ‘Thrill 5’ Line-up. It was a cross between kung fu films and the Harlem Globetrotters with the crazily violent Aeroball set in a desensitised 2050). Gibbons almost wasn’t the artist on the project, originally intended to be drawn by Carlos Trigo but for reasons unknown Gibbons appeared in the starting line up. From Prog 25, Massimo Belardinelli drew the remaining episodes of the first run and remained its regular artist for the strip’s reinvention as Inferno.

Mid-way through the comic’s first year Gibbon’s began illustrating Dan Dare, a project close to his heart as he had always been a fan of the original series, his own work inspired by Frank Hampson who had provided the visuals for DD in its earlier years. Gibbons was also inspired by Frank Bellamy, (the noteworthy) Don Lawrence and Ron Turner. whose ‘style evolved out of (his ) love for the MAD Magazine artists like Wally Wood and Will Elder.

Also working on Ro-busters, Gibbons became one of the msot prolific of 2000AD’s earliest creators, featuring in 108 of the magazine’s first 131 Progs (issues). He returned to 2000AD in the early eighties to create Rogue Trooper with writer Gerry Finley-Day, about a cloned battle-hardened soldier and his cybernetically enhanced equipment imbued with the personalities of his fellow soldiers, providing the fans with an acclaimed early run that saw it roll well beyond his tenure under many more artists.

It was around this time he formed a working relationship with Alan Moore, working most regularly with him on his Tharg’s Future Shocks feature.

On the roll into the ’80’s, Gibbons took on the position of lead artist on Doctor Who Magazine, undoubtedly another character that’s stood the test of time more than a little well. The Doctor Who Storybook 2007 features the name ‘Gibbons’ in a list of the greatest artists of all time.

One of the British comic book talents identified by Len Wein in 1982, Gibbons was hired to draw Green Lantern Corps backup stories within the pages of Green Lantern for DC, starting with a Green Lantern story in Green Lantern 162 (March 1983) with writer Todd Klein, as well as the concurrently released ‘Creeper’ two-part back-up story in Flash 318-319. By Green Lantern 172 (January 1984) Gibbons was on the lead feature with Len Wein while still illustrating the back-up features through to issue 181. Finishing his run in issue 186 (March 1985) he briefly returned however to pencil a back up feature ‘Mogo doesn’t socialize’ with Alan Moore in Issue 188. Gibbons would later return as writer on Green Lantern Corps back up stories and his association and partnership with Moore was about to go from strength to strength, leaving him responsible for one of the foremost works of comic book fiction ever created, and by that I don’t mean ‘The Man Who has Everything,’ written in the 1985 Superman Annual by Moore and pencilled by Gibbons and collected in Moore’s greatest works for DC reprint a few years ago.

Gibbon’s clear, unrestricted and unfussy style saw him produce work for both DC’s Who Who in the DC Universe Guidebook and Marvel’s The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition. He contributed to Harrier Comic’s Brickman 1 with Kevin O’Neill, Lew Stringer and others. He provided covers for Peter David’s and Joe Orlando’s four-issue The Phantom mini-series and inked Kevin Macguire’s work on the landmark Action Comics 600 and created the cover for issue 601.

The Comedian, Silk Spectre and Nite Owl : Three characters designed by Dave Gibbons

But in September 1986-October 1987 Gibbon’s joined with Alan Moore and colourist John Higgins and rendered the blood-stained smiley badge firmly in the minds of every comic reader for 25 years. Now one of the best-selling graphic novel’s of all time and the only graphic novel to feature on Time’s ‘Top 100 Novel’s List’ Gibbon’s artwork is notable for its stark utilisation of the formulaic nine-panel grid layout, removing opportunities to embellish or emphasise through scaling or composition – forcing him to rely entirely on his capacity to communicate the effect of each panel within the fixed panel shape and size itself. To have pursued this course and succeeded in the way he did, puts Gibbons in the at the table with some of the top comic book artists of all time as he put away certain stylistic tricks and still rendered a piece of graphic literature that knocked popular novels from a highly sought after list. Its dense symbolism (some suggested by Moore, some by Gibbons) is carried throughout the piece as the conflicting and complex characteristics of the central heroes is cast against a kaleidoscope of recognisable, realistic and perfectly realised environments. Watchmen in the hands of Gibbon’s is a contained beast, twice as savage with its muzzle on. The psychotic Rorschach better realised with Gibbon’s sure, naturalistic style forming a Human around a monster wherein another artist may have depicted a much more emotional and overt depiction of the same character. Gibbons and Moore’s choice to draw Dr Manhattan full frontal nude is never gratuitous and is so innate a part of the character thanks to the clear, anatomically minded style of Gibbons that the feature film 2 years ago featured the same thing – so much an ingrained visualisation of a man’s isolation from his own society that it would have altered the character immeasurably to have simply given him pants.

In the Watchmen, alongside Moore, Gibbons created a timeless piece of literary history. He succeeded in depicting a disparate group of Supermen so flawlessly that Moore’s words can almost be redundant. The characters so well realised that you understand the innate characteristics they represent. Although originally intended to be the characters bought by DC from Charlton comics, the characters that were adapted from them (due to obvious concern that having bought them Moore would kill two and remove one from Human kind completely within 12 months) are familiar archetypes without ever being cliched. From the pug faced Comedian, scarred through years of hard living to Moloch, the curve eared ex-supervillain suffering from cancer, Gibbon’s gave them enough humanity to communicate all the frailties and complexities of Human beings without even once diminishing their inherent heroism.

The unmasked Rorschach – a pathetic, ungainly and slightly ugly figure when revealed from under his cowl is trapped in a cell being threatened by a criminal boss and his goons directly outside. By the end of the sequence all of the characters (save Rorschach) are dead in grotesque and memorable ways. All of this takes place in a space little larger than a toilet cubicle, in panels of 3x3x3 of equal size and largely using the same head on angle. It remains one of the most effecting and brutally challenging moments in modern comic books and its all thanks to Gibbon’s unswerving and meticulously precise style.

A giant space squid (or so it appears) destroys a city centre at the end of the Watchmen. Undoubtedly a moment that could have so easily been – and borders the absurd and tacky (and effectively the only detail of the film altered because of the difficulties in communicating it) and Gibbons communicates visually one of the most harrowing and frightening depictions of mass death to have appeared in any graphic novel with carefully rendered people piled high and strewn about the streets representing mega-death in its coldest aftermath.
Rorschach appears undisguised in early pages in crowd scenes and your eye never falls on him as he’s depicted as clearly and as obscurely as all others. But on a second glance, having been introduced to the character later on – all of what he is as Rorschach is present in the figure but entirely absent without the later revelation. Art on that level is masterful. Characterisation in remission, relying on something you will discover in order to validate it. That is Dave Gibbons the artist. Every panel retains as much information as the story needs you to know at that moment, and a thousand and one things you can acknowledge when your ready. Gibbon’s work doesn’t bait the eye – it waits for when the eye is ready for it. Few artists are more satisfying to revisit.

PART 2 ON THURSDAY. INCLUDING TALES OF THE BLACK FREIGHTER, HIS INFLUENCE ON THE WATCHMEN FILM AND GREEN LANTERN : BLACKEST NIGHT

Practitioners 21: Bryan Hitch

Bryan Hitch is a Practitioner in the truest sense of the word. From small beginnings in an industry that offered a great deal of work opportunities, Hitch has continued a career for more than 25 years, across the two largest comic book companies in the world. Through dedication and a willingness to engage new techniques and styles he has moved well beyond the artist he was in the early eighties with Marvel UK. His work, most recently, has graced the pages of the most sought after popular comic book in the world and launched a new literary universe that only recently ran out of steam.

Bryan Hitch started work at Marvel UK where he started working on Transformers with Simon Furman. This was the very start of American comic companies making a play for UK markets, controlled in particular as they were by transforming toys and action man figures (a quantum leap from the interests of today). While his artwork is almost unrecognisable today compared to his then, the stylistic traits were there. Hitch focussed predominantly on the person framed in each panel and made everything else secondary. A convention he has maintained even now. He joined Simon Furman again on Deaths Head, kick-starting the short career of the cult icon that would revolutionise Marvel UK and British comics.

He crossed the Atlantic in the the late 80s, early nineties as one of the first to find a footing on books specifically printed for US consumption, working successfully for Marvel and DC (both bloated at the time by the sheer popularity of the art form. Marvel Uk continued to break boundaries in the UK and Hitch continued to work for both (with Geoff Senior on Hell’s Angel and Liam Sharp on the incredible Death’s Head II for which his artwork no longer matched – Liam Sharp’s sharper, more realistic and textured style winning out).

Joining Furman again on his run on She-Hulk (9-11, 13-20, 24-26) between 1989 and 1991, Furman, his artwork at the time matched the period perfectly, clear, crisp lines, curves in anatomy and physicality, a natural and light touch. But in built even then was a very tense need to detail. In an issue in which Deaths Head attacks She-Hulk (a reintroduction by Furman and the only way I’ve seen a copy as part of a Death’s Head anthology), Hitch offered clear, buoyant artwork but the backgrounds of New York City that it took place in were well realised. Lightly detailed in terms of material texture but all the line work was there, paired down slightly for the period they were being shown in.

For a UK artist he straddled the big three (Marvel, DC and Marvel UK) perfectly – offered Adventures of Superman, Geo-force and Team Titans by DC but predominantly working with Marvel on Sensational She-Hulk, Excalibur, a Colossus 1 shot, the Maxiseries ClanDestine. He struggled as an artist to move beyond his populist routes, pencilling Captain Planet and the Planeteers for 2 issues (released through Marvel).

But it was as the decade ended that Hitch began to reveal a new style. Taking his original compositions of central character, well realised in the centre of the panel that had gained him so many character based projects previously he applied greater knowledge of detail than had previously been seen from him. The characters became more realistically humanistic,. his portrayal of events more gutteral and well realised. There was a real-world naturalism that had been applied to his template of heroic stances and impactful and bold visual storytelling that was resonant in a way it perhaps hadn’t been before. Comic books themselves were changing in style and content. Pre-millenium, comics had represented a popular form, characterised by superannuated and simplistic visuals and outlook. Hitch had typified this style and added to it technical proficiency but he was about to come into his own.

With an America at war and a dismissive left wing (comic book reading public) reeling from a Republican move towards conflict against global protests and the spectre of America a credible target for overseas terrorist organisations the mood turned more fatalistic, darker and aware of the forces the world could impose on heroes that stood against it. Fire Fighters (embattled, bedraggled and rubble strewn) were the visual hero of the early naughties. Heros would have to reflect this change of ideology in all forms in order to resonate with the audience.

Bryan Hitch had just finished a very successful run on The Authority, a deliberately sardonic and irreverant response to the World of heroes, featuring characters that took heroing to the level they would be expected to in real life – and fighting incredibly insurmountable obstacles. While the rubble was not there yet, the aggressive and brutal nature of the book was beautifully realised in Hitch’s work. His characters now represented real people with real power. His enemies squatted and assaulted a world easily recognisable. Cars were of makes you could recognise. Cities were brick by brick, people’s fashions well recognised and effectively presented. Hitch had learned some tricks and ridden the wave of realism that was being recognised in comics with its collapse in the mid-nineties. While it hadn’t fully taken hold of the industry it clearly had very much presented itself to Hitch.

Between Hitch’s steady incline into a gritty and realistic artist, imbedding his previous lessons of heroic and comic character physicalisation and technical precision with texture, detail and stark realism and the world’s (specifically America’s) sudden decline into insecurity, uncertainty and a need to acknowledge the truth of things; stepped a Scotsman. A scotsman with a plan.

Mark Millar had taken over writing the Authority after Warren Ellis and had realised the ideals it started with even more vigour, aided ably by Frank Quitely. Millar was about to start a series of books known as the Ultimate titles; a modern re-representation of the heroes created by Marvel. Essentially an if-they-start-now scenario. Central to this was the Ultimates; this universes version of the Avengers, and Hitch was selected as artist.

Here, Hitch hit full speed and realised his potential to be a full-on bona fide comic book legend.

The visuals offered up by Ultimates are staggering. The only way they can be described effectively would be like this. An Alien armada is sitting above a military base in the American midwest. A man wrapped in a red and gold sports car chassis is pummelling one of them, a blonde goliath is propelled through one with his hammer, fighters fly between these ships firing at any target they can identify. One alien ship is crashing into another and the debris from this battle can be seen impacting on the ground. Someone (perhaps from a balloon) has taken a photo of this moment – in landscape – and run it through a ‘Poster Edges’ filter on Photoshop. And it is simultaneously at once incredibly awe inspiring, artistic and realistic and thoroughly engaging.

By mixing his changes in style rather than dismantling or discarding them as he went Hitch has developed into a comic artist unlike any other seen in the medium. His blend of realism and grit imbeds the gravity and power of his compositions with an almost hypnotic grip once engaged by it. The need to look further into the panels never overwhelms the reading of the book however as many highly detailed artists have done in the past, as the first lesson Hitch ever learned – that of centralising and depicting a clear and recognisable figure central to each and every panel as a point of focus has survived all he has added to it.

An incredible talent and a seasoned professional at the same time, realised fully in later career life through the willingness to learn and take on new techniques. You have your Quitelys and your Coipels who appear on the scene fully formed like they were birthed from some freakish artistic gene pool but Hitch is something quite different. Hitch was (and is) an artist worth waiting for.

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Practitioners 12: Simon Furman

A name almost unheard of outside of a very specific line of comic books, Furman is a fan boy. He has guided, adjusted and enhanced a comic book line attached to a creation that has reinvented and recurred in popular culture for 30 years. Furman has held on to the franchise for this entire time thanks, no doubt to his considerable love of hsi subject and continued to guide it, utilising the constantly expanding and retracting – broadening and most recently positively exploding universe of Transformers to form one third of a century of entertainment to generations of children and young adults. But not just that – Simon Furman tackled childhood stalwarts Doctor Who, Thundercats, Action Force for the UK market as well as Action Force Monthly and Dragon’s Claws for Marvel UK released into the US market. It feels like he took on what he liked and made it better.

His writing is notable for the introduction of pseudo-religion and lore as an underpinning theme to the Transformers mythology. Contradicted later in the television series – he introduced the superior idea that the Transformers had been created by the colossal god-like Primus as the last line of defence against the monstrous planet-eating colossus Unicron (borrowed from the 1986 Transformers Movie). Furman’s willingness to provide pathos and engaging gravity to toy lines and cartoon worlds saw him handle multiple story lines of cross dimensional and timeline journeys that allowed the beloved original Transformers like Jazz, Bumblebee, Iron Hide, Ratchet etc, etc appear alongside Galvatron, Scourge, Rodimus Prime etc. This inherent understanding of what the fans (including me as a kid) wanted to see kept the magic and fun of the series firmly alive.

Characterisation bled from each of the characters and enhanced immeasurably the experience of reading these comics as a child, each character following as broad an arc as was possible in the confines of a comic attached to such a popular series.

It was his willingness to throw violence and mature content into a world, softened by the acts being perpetrated by non-humans that made his run on Transformers most memorable. In an early piece crossing first and second generation characters – Jazz, captured by Galvatron, laughs uncontrollably at the explanation of a plan – fuelling a rage in Galvatron that causes him to pummel the restrained captive into unconciousness. Allies and enemies are tortured – both mentally and physically. An increasingly isolated and paranoid Shockwave keeps the corpses of Cyclonus and Scourge on his wall, refusing to concede them in the face of global destruction at the hands of a time vortex formed by the appearance of future transformers in present day, as a patient Ravage tries to convince him to hand them over. In a standard comic book a battle might have ensued or a simpler ruse employed but Furman used the conceit of the situation to create greater tension in an all out slug fest between Autobot and Decepticon future and past elsewhere – something, that while effective enough on its own, would have simply represented a ‘very cool’ set of battle scenes. Furman elevated it and this he has continued to do when Marvel UK folded in the early 90s in the wake of Marvel’s considerable financial difficulties and the Transformer line went on to pastures new.

After a ten year hiatus, Furman was brought into the now defunct Dreamwave Studios to bring back a third wave (following a limited run with Marvel in 1993 lasting only 12 issues of Transformers: Generation 2) to write some of its Transformers comics, including ‘The War Within’ set in a time before the Transformers conflict spilled onto Earth culminating in The War Within: The Age of Wrath which was left unfinished with the collapse of Dreamwave. He also wrote the Energon series – which proved more popular than the anime series it was based on.

So Simon Furman could be said to be a specialist. Except his brief time writing for Marvel US’ fringe titles Sensational She-hulk, Alpha Flight, the in-house compilation What If…? series, Northstar 1-4 and the Annihilation: Ronan series for the rebooted Marvel Galaxies. Each an achievement to have made the leap over the Atlantic in the wake of Marvel UK’s dissolution.

While Furman continues to work on Terminator series; continuing his love of expanding on existing character’s universes it is an entirely different cyborg that stands out as Simon Furman’s most notable creation.

Death’s Head. A Robotic Bounty Hunter created in the pages of Transformers UK and systematically shrunk and repositioned into the expanding Marvel UK Universe it can be said that Death’s Head surpassed any other creations by Furman. Claiming he had no idea that Death’s Head was a reference to a Nazi special forces during the Second World War; never-the-less Furman created a memorable and unusually charismatic character in his robot bounty hunter. With his prediliction for finishing his sentences as a question, yes? a penchant for heavy guns and a hatred for his assistant Spratt he blended together the greatest attributes of an anti-hero and even appeared in the pages of Marvel US. He simply was the coolest thing to come out of Marvel UK in the 80s.

Death’s Head was co-opted in the 90s and murdered and assimilated by Deaths Head 2 but Furman had left his mark. The sequel to his creation spanning another five years and a repopularisation of Marvel UK across the atlantic.

He informed and inspired me as a child, before I discovered US comic books as I’m sure he inspired others and gave legends of the industry (Liam Sharp, Bryan Hitch, Geoff Senior) a chance to move onto even greater fame.

In a corner of my heart Furman’s Transformer’s continue to rage on some forgotten plane and some of what an entirely new generation enjoy in the new movies is inspired by him. An accolade by any stretch of even his considerable imagination.