Practitioners 49: Jack Kirby (Part 1)

Jack Kirby was born Jacob Kurtzberg on August 28, 1917, in New York City. His parents, Rose and Benjamin Kurtzberg, were Austrian Jewish immigrants, and his father earned a living as a garment factory worker. Growing up on Suffolk Street, Kirby was often involved in street fights with other kids, later saying that “fighting became second nature. I began to like it.”

Throughout his youth, Kirby wanted to get out of his neighbourhood. Knowing how to draw he sought out places to learn more about art. Essentially self taught from a very young age, Kirby was by comic strip artists Milton Cariff, Hal Foster and Alex Raymond as well as editorial cartoonists such as C.H. Sykes, ‘Ding’ Darling and Rollin Kirby, the first winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. In the shadow of the depression, people had found the capacity to improve their circumstances and those who looked were beginning to find them again. It was the American Dream certainly. But it was Kirby’s dream too.

Steve Canyon by Milton Caniff, in a style very close to that developed by Kirby in later years

Kirby claims he was rejected by the Educational Alliance because he drew ‘ to fast with charcoal’. He eventually found an outlet for his skills by drawing cartoons for the newspaper of the Boys Brotherhood Republic, an astonishing sounding ‘miniature city’ on East 3rd Street where kids ran their own government. This no doubt inspired the Newsboy Legion, a hustle of likely kids that have been repeated several times by both Jon Bogdanove in Superman for DC and Grant Morrison in the Seven Soldiers crossover event in 2009.

Kirby enrolled at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, one of the leading undergraduate art schools in the United States today, at what he says was the age of 14. He left after a week, dismissing the factory line nature of the teaching at the time. Speaking about that time Kirby said, “I wasn’t the kind of student that Pratt was looking for. They wanted people who would work on something forever. I didn’t want to work on any project forever. I intended to get things done.”

According to Kirby’s occasionally unreliable memory, Kirby joined the Lincoln Newspaper Syndicate in 1936, working on comic strips and single-panel advice cartoons such as Your Health Comes First!! This he did under the pseudonym Jack Curtiss, the first of a great many name changes throughout his career. Kirby reacted angrily at any suggestion that it was an attempt to cover up his Jewish heritage throughout his career. He began to work for movie animation company Fleischer Studios as an inbetweener (an artist who fills in the action between major-movement frames) on Popeye cartoons. This was something Kirby couldn’t tolerate, seeing at understandably as a menial job. “I went from Lincoln to Fleischer,” he recalled. “From Fleischer I had to get out in a hurry because I couldn’t take that kind of thing,” describing it as “a factory in a sense, like my father’s factory. They were manufacturing pictures.”

Fliescher Popeye Inking Chart, reinforcing Kirby's opinion that his work at Fliescher animation was factory-like.

At the time the comics industry was booming. Today the sales figures of the early 90s are considered impressive if they hit 500,000. In the late 1930s and early 1940s companies could expect sales figures in their millions. This was the industry Kirby stepped into as young man, starting at Eisner & Iger, one of a handful of firms creating comics on demand to publishers. It was here that Kirby remembered as his first comic book work, for Wild Boy Magazine. Wild boy, Jumbo Comics and other Eisner-Iger clients gave Kirby the chance to work on numerous titles something we can only assume he achieved admirably. He used the various strips to test out any number of pseudonyms such as ‘Curt Davis’ for The Diary of Dr Hayward, or as ‘Fred Sande’ for the western crime fighter strip Wilton of the West, he returned to ‘Jack Curtiss’ for the swashbuckling Count of Monte Cristo and for the humour strips Abdul Jones he drew as ‘Ted Grey’ and with Socko the Dog simply as ‘Teddy’. Ultimately though, he settle on the pen name Jack Kirby because it reminded him of actor James Cagney.

In the summer of 1940, Kirby and his family moved to Brooklyn. There, Kirby met Rosalind “Roz” Goldstein, who lived in his family’s apartment building. The pair began dating soon afterward. Kirby proposed to Goldstein on her eighteenth birthday, and the two became engaged. However, there was one other partnership that Kirby would enter into that would change the face of popular comic books forever and provide the world with one of it’s most iconic figures.

Working with comic-book publisher and newspaper syndicator Fox Feature Syndicate, earning a then-reasonable $15 a week salary, Kirby began to investigate the superhero narrative with the comic book Blue Beetle, published January to March 1940, starring a character created by the pseudonymous Charles Nicholas, a house name that Kirby retained for the full three month strip. During this period, Kirby met and began collaborating with cartoonist and Fox editor Joe Simon, who worked freelance as well as his staff work. In 1988, Simon recalled, “I loved Jack’s work and the first time I saw it I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. He asked if we could do some freelance work together. I was delighted and I took him over to my little office. We worked from the second issue of Blue Bolt…”

It was then that Kirby and Simon met what-would-be Marvel Comics, then Martin Goodman’s Timely Comics. Joe Simon had concieved the idea of Captain America and made a sketch, writing the name ‘Super American’ at the bottom of the page. Simon felt there were too many ‘Supers’ around but very few Captains. Presenting it to Martin Goodman the go-ahead was given but trying to fill a full comic with primarily one character’s stories, Simon did not believe that his regular creative partner, Kirby, could handle the workload alone. Two young artists from Conneticut had made a strong impression, Al Avison and Al Gabriele having worked together regularly and proven they could adapt to each others styles.

Simon recalled, ‘The two Als were eager to join in on the new Captain America book, but Jack Kirby was visibly upset. ‘You’re still number one, Jack,’ I assured him. ‘It’s just a matter of a quick deadline for the first issue.’

‘I’ll make the deadline,’ Jack promised. ‘I’ll pencil it [all] myself and make the deadline.’ I hadn’t expected this kind of reaction … but I acceded to Kirby’s wishes and, it turned out, was lucky that I did. There might have been two Als, but there was only one Jack Kirby.’

You can imagine the dull thunder of New York outside somewhere as the image of Captain America was formed at the hands of Jack Kirby, the bombs of the War in Europe also audible to him. A full year before Pearl Harbour was attacked both Kirby and Simon were morally repulsed by the actions of Nazi Germany in the years leading up to the United States’ involvement in World War II and felt war was inevitable: “The opponents to the war were all quite well organised. We wanted to have our say too.”

Aware that he was creating a political figure, Kirby generated an iconic figure, broad shouldered and powerful, incorporating the red, white and blue, the stars and stripes, the eagle wings (however small) and the bright red boots that have survived almost unaltered for 70 years. The first Captain America comic in early 1941 saw him punching Hitler squarely in the jaw at the heart of a Nazi headquarters.

Simon negotiated 15% of profits for both he and Kirby as well as salaried positions as the company’s editor and art director, respectively. The first issue sold out in days, the second print run set at over 1 million copies. This enormous success established this creative team as a formidable creative force in the industry. After the first issue, Simon asked Kirby to join the staff as Art Director.

With the success of Captain America, Simon felt that Goodman wasn’t paying them the promised percentage of profits and so found work for them both at the National Comics (later to be called DC). Kirby and Simon negotiated a deal that would secure them $500 a week, compared to the $75 and $85 they respectively earned at Timely. Keeping the deal secret, fearing that Goodman wouldn’t pay them what was owed if he discovered their approach to National, both Kirby and Simon continued to work on Captain America. Goodman in fact did become aware of their plans and both of them left after Captain America #10. Kirby and Simon were leaving behind the highlight of their partnership, though Captain America wouldn’t return fully for some years yet.

The first few weeks at National were spent trying to devise new characters while the company sought to figure out how to utilise the pair. After a few failed editor-assigned ghosting assignments, National’s Jack Leibowitz simply told them to ‘just do what you want’. The pair then revamped the Sandman figure in Adventure Comics and created the superhero Manhunter. Not the Martian Manhunter, Kirby and Simon created a character that became adapted, represented by numerous alter egos and finally depersonified throughout the decades, Kirby’s original design returned nearly completely unaltered with the Manhunters, creations of the Guardians of the Universe as a forerunner to the Green Lantern Corps, most prominent in the recent Blackest Night saga. The ongoing ‘kid gang’ series Boy Commandos was to be their biggest hit, launched in the same year to become a national feature, selling more than a million copies a month and becoming National’s third best- selling title. They also scored a hit with the homefront kid-gang, the Newsboy Legion in Star Spangled Comics.

Kirby married Roz Goldstein on May 23, 1942. The same year that he married, he changed his name legally from Jacob Kurtzberg to Jack Kirby.

The war had been brought to American shores. Pearl Harbour was bombed by Japan and the US, after several years of tacit support to Britain through supply could no longer remove itself from armed conflict. Jack Kirby was going to war.

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Practitioners 33: Ivan Reis

Born in 1975, Rodrigo Ivan Dos Reis was born in Sao Paolo, Brazil and is a penciller with projects under his wing for Marvel, Chaos! but most prominently – and most recently – DC.

Blackest Night

For three years, Reis worked under Mauricio de Sousa in Brazil. De Souza is a prominent cartoonist who has created 200 characters for his popular series of children’s comic books. His characters are more Jeff Smith than Alan Davis and Neal Adams (as recent collaborator Geoff Johns described Reis’ drawing style) but clearly this time under the tutelage of such a prolific cartoonist taught the young Reis lessons in productivity.

He began his international career for Dark Horse working on titles such as Ghost, starting with Issue 17 and acting as regular artist until the title ended at Issue 36. During his tenure working on Ghost, he also worked on The Mask, Time Cop and Xena. Later, he worked for Lightning Comics (a fairly shameless comic company from the mid-nineties that offered nude variant covers for their female character titles; Hellina, Catfight and other female heroines).

For Vertigo, Reis pencilled an issue of Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles. He became better known for his work on Lady Death for Chaos! Comics. Written by Brian Pulido, Len Kaminski and Bryan Augustin, Reis drew for the title for three years (from 1999 to 2002). Lady Death was a Previews favourite, enjoying large scale pre orders and carrying a lot of popularity from the success of the nineties. It was from this good girl art that Reis enjoyed popularity, however it would be in working on much more unconventional artwork for a mainstream title that Reis would find legendary fame.

For Marvel, Reis worked on the Thing & She-Hulk: the Long Night, Avengers Icons: Vision, Captain Marvel, Iron Man, Defenders and Avengers. It was on Avengers Icons: Vision that Geoff Johns worked with Ivan Reis for the first time and formed a partnership that would literally turn a major publisher on its head and redefine the popularity of a 60 year old character.

It was with DC, after a series of short stints on a number of titles that Reis arrived at Green Lantern volume 4. A well known but slightly unnoticed character in the DC Universe, the number of Volumes was indicative of GL’s troubled past as a title. Consistently reinvented and repackaged, the story of Hal Jordan; test pilot and interstellar police officer with a magic ring had been transposed regularly. Driven nuts and killed in the 90s as part of the Return of Superman storyline and replaced by another character entirely noone was expecting great things from Green Lantern. However, under Geoff Johns the title was beginning to pick up considerable pace. The scope of the burdgeoning conflict and the introduction (after 60 years!!) of the idea that there might be other rings of alternative colour out in the universe that represented danger broadened the scope of the title considerably. Reis worked from Issue 11-38 alongside Geoff Johns, presiding over the introduction of the now famous Sinestro Corps storyline that kicked off the enormous Blackest Night storyline.

Throughout all of this Reis maintained an even tiller at all times. As Johns clearly became increasingly convinced of Reis’ capacity to produce highly detailed and dramatic artwork at incredibly short notice the scope of the title gained considerable pace. More than pure talent, Reis offered Johns a reliable and dependable creative crucible from which to expand the embryonic saga that would incorporate the entire DC Universe.

Not only in Green Lantern but in the Rann / Thanagar War mini series (written by Dave Gibbons) Reis demonstrated an incredible eye for detail, composition and anatomy. His grasp of an empty page allowed him to fill the page with hundreds of variant starship of a multitude of designs, realise the designs of almost limitless alien characters and still maintain scale and scope as a hole in the size of the universe was torn open by giant hands. The requests placed on Reis in the Rann / Thanagar war show a resolute faith in Reis’ capacity to complete the storyline and present it effectively. The complexity of what Reis has been continuously asked to do on behalf of multiple DC writers suggests that writers, if told that Reis is the assigned artist, know that they can let their imaginations run wild. In an industry that still relies on deadlines, even with increasing expectations being placed on artists in terms of quality and precision – that truly is priceless.

Reis simply makes it work. Whatever the script demands appears and is perfectly well realised. Features are precise and emphatic, representing the thoughts and feelings expected in any scenario. If thousands of figures are required they are provided in bold detail. Increased objects on a page in no way denotes how much or how little detail is applied either. In Reis’ work there are no shortcuts.

Green Lantern threw up yet more challenges. In order to create Red, Orange, Sinestro, Blue, Indigo and Violet corps/tribes each had to have all original characters, each with their own specific designs and detailing. Reis not only designed his own but then enhanced the work of others, adapting them into his own naturalistic style without losing the dynamism of the work being done in GL’s sister title, Green Lantern Corps. As the title that centred the epic, Reis was handling hundreds of different alien designs, at least 7 variants of uniform and insignia design which was then extrapolated and different for each different character of any shape in any Corps, as well as the introduction of DC’s Hall of Heroes as well.

It was with Blackest Night, the final part of the epic that Reis came into his own. 7 Lantern Corps, the entire frontline cast of DC, alien entities, dynamic twists, almost unlimited environments, all colliding on Earth. Reis didn’t miss a panel. Consistent, epic, engaging and faultless – cities collapsed, Lanterns were born, literally thousands of dead aliens fell from the sky, people turned to salt – all of it was incredibly realised at the hands of Reis. Whether it was stormy coastlines in battles against undead merpeople and sharks or porting into a Telephone call centre, Reis struck the right chord in every single scenario.

In Blackest Night his lack of ego and professionalism was there for all to see. It was never about quick tricks or advertising himself as artist but realising as perfectly as possible the best way to present an enormous, sprawling epic, incorporating literally hundreds of characters and incredible events. Reis proved himself a true Practitioner by being put in the spotlight and never missing a beat. His art is so advanced, every aspect of it so precise and well realised that it is impossible almost to fathom how he achieved it in the short time available to him. That is the mark of the true artist, to move beyond what can be done and instead extend to what is needed.

The cast of Brightest Day - Geoff Johns' and Ivan Reis' follow up to Blackest Night

Ivan Reis could’ve come from nowhere (as his Wikipedia profile suggests). His pencil work is now synonomous with the most prominent work being put into the public eye. Seemingly without faltering he has drawn every member of the DC Universe and incorporated a thousand different species into the Green Lantern Corps, a feat that the Green Lantern movie with literally hundreds of technicians and special effects experts are struggling to bring to the big screen. Ivan Reis is the epitomy of big thinking artists.

It Ain’t Easy Being Green…Lantern

Muppets are wonderful, Muppet parody trailers are even better, Muppet parody trailers that are based on the Green Lantern movie, well you work it out. Gotta give thanks to Lee Ravitz for flagging this one. It’s very silly and may indeed contain one of the finest ‘hit in the face with a door’ gags of all time.

Can’t wait for this movie.

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Green Lantern Trailer #3

The quest to halt the Marvel studios Juggernaut continues apace as a new Green Lantern trailer drops. This one has the unenviable task of explaining the backstory of the Green Lantern Corps to non-comic book readers and in that it succeeds fairly well. To be honest it’s always gonna be tough to explain the inherent evil of the colour yellow without sounding a little odd.

It’s still a long way from my must see list, but my interest is gradually growing. Time shall tell.

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Kapow in Pictures

Evening all,

I’m still recovering somewhat from the mania that was Kapow Comic Con. We got a lot of interest in the book over the weekend and it looks like we’re gonna be pretty busy for some time to come, which is rather nice. I’m pretty neck deep in work on the Clancy Wallencheck Fallen Heroes spin off this week, but I have managed to find time to upload some of the many photos from the event so that those of you who couldn’t make it can feel like you were really there.

Seems like everybody took this photo at some point during the day. It’s rare that you get such a good vantage point and can really appreciate the scale of an event like this. It also shows of just what a lovely venue the Business Design Centre really is. I know the temptation is going to be to move it to a bigger venue in years to come, but I really hope they stay put. It’s a splendid place.

The Warner Bros Stand was directly opposite the Beyond the Bunker one. This meant that not only were we driven insane by the Arkham City Trailer but we got glared at disapprovingly by Superman for 2 days straight.

One of our fellow exhibitors drew this fantastic pic of our Moon headed hero which I sat grinning at for the rest of the day. I genuinely love it when people do stuff like this, especially when it’s as good a pic as this one.

The BTB stand at the end of Saturday. We sold almost every copy of the book that we brought with us on the day (and we brought a lot of em). I probably could have retaken this one so it was less blurry, but I don’t think I’d have gotten as good an expression as Steve is pulling here. Really sums up the mood at that time.

Bidding a fond farewell to Kapow at the end of a busy day. It’s odd, I’ve been doing stand up gigs around Angel for years and yet I’ve never once noticed the BDC before. This probably has something to do with it not having a massive Hal Jordan slapped on the front of it during that time but it could also be because I don’t pay enough attention to exhibition centres.

We’ve got a few more pics still to go up (including some of the Beyond The Bunker stand itself) so check back later for those. In the meantime, if you want to really recreate that Kapow experience you can go to the BTB store and buy a copy of Moon for yourself. Always working. 😉

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Kapow Diary 2: What we didn’t see…

Inevitably as an exhibitioner, even one doing the wander around – you miss things inevitably and there was a hell of line up over the course of the weekend. The day was high end and everyone involved (from IGN, Millarworld, Clint and the Business Design Centre) – had pulled out all the stops. Behind us was Markosia, run by Harry Markos. Markosia is effectively the mainstay of the independent comic book scene. I’d been lucky enough to meet up with Harry once before. We didn’t realise he was behind us until half way through the first day. I arrived at the 2000AD stand too late for a portfolio review because I hadn’t had a chance to find out where it was. The way to define a convention is not just by what you see but what you miss. Turns out, after a little scraping away it becomes clear there were some genuine diamonds just out of sight (if heavily sign posted).

Of course, Mark Millar was present but was effectively operating on an entirely different level to the rest of the place. Like a machiavellian god with Postman Pat hair he was only spotted by us once throughout the entire event. News I had back however was that he was friendly, cordial and helpful about the place. Millar is on a pedestal in an industry populated by people who are often happier being ashamed of themselves and both myself and Dan, when presented with an opportunity to meet him – didn’t want to bother him – advice I could’ve given myself earlier in the day (more on that in another blog). It was inevitable that Millar was going to take some flak across the bows for having the gall to elevate comic books above the level it has been stuck at over the last ten years. Regardless of his intentions or reasons, Kapow was a massive success with things popping out of woodwork all over the joint if you were looking.

Jonathan Ross reportedly nailed a show over on one side of the room while Quitely and Leinil Yu quietly began the proceedings on the Guiness World Record attempt to involve the most people in a single comic book in one day on the opposite side, down by the IGN stand (something I managed to be involved in). The sheer scale of what was taking place was enormous. Chris Hemsworth was in the building at some point for the Thor launch and there was talk of a mystery movie – which clearly was so unimpressive that we still don’t know what it was. Highlighted as Movie X, myself and Dan distracted ourselves from the replaying Batman/ Green Lantern game promos playing repeatedly in front of us by taking guesses as to what it’d be about.

X-Men: First Class? Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman (Jonathan Ross’ wife) have close connections with Millar following Kick Ass last year. Thor? Chris Hemsworth in place you’d think they wouldn’t bother flying him over for that one if they could preview the film. Kick Ass 2 was suggested at one point though the liklihood that messrs Vaughn and Goldman knocked out a major sequel quietly with no PR or evidence of production seemed a little far fetched. Things turned again when it was revealed (by a bloke somewhere) that it was an 18 and involved a guy in cape. At that point we gave up. If anybody’d taken a look at the Kapowcomiccon site it clearly said there was preview footage of Hobo with a Gun. Starring Rutger Hauer as the aforementioned hobo it looks like a breakneck ‘Braindead’/ ‘Bad Taste’ mash up. Someone even lets ol’ Rutger do a little ‘burning off the orion belt’ ad libbing while staring at a baby. Nobody expected this? This looks like a great movie! Why don’t they just call it Rutger Hauer is a vengeful tramp! You wouldf have had to have chained me to something to stop me from kicking the doors down to see it!

But there was bigger news in that the Green Lantern movie looks like its back on track. 8 minutes were played of the film – in excess of the 4 available online and everyone was turned as a result. CG more intact, tone a little heavier and more intelligent and obscure images from the original trailer resolved in the new material. This is good news as we here at the Bunker had dismissed the Green Lantern movie as a disappointer of the masses based on the previous output but right now we’ve got the focus back on. I’ll admit Geoffrey Rush as Tomar Re took me by surprise. The whole thing is

Also out there was Attack the Block’s writer and first time director Joe Cornish of Adam and Joe who was doing signings and photos at the IGN stand while I was drawing. The crowd was being ‘entertained’ by a guy who looked and sounded like he’d be happier at the X-Games than a comic convention and locked onto the idea that Spider-man 3 was shit to exactly one person’s noisy agreement. Meanwhile, pleasant man-child Joe Cornish (responsible for my favourite Radio 6 show by the way) was out of sight making geeks happy. Attack the Block is the story of hoodies battling Aliens in South London and was inspired by Joe getting mugged. The empathy of that man is astonishing. But it looks fukkin’ bo muvver! Bare Good! Check it out.

There were folks from Misfits (Iwan Rheon (Simon) and Lauren Socha (Kelly)), Merlin (Colin Morgan (Merlin)), Bradley James (Arthur), Angel Coulby (Gwen) and Katie McGrath (Morgana) as well as folks (Dakota Blue Richards (Franky), Sean Teale (Nick) and Jessica Sula (Grace)) from Skins, World Exclusive Pilot of Falling Skies and Toby Whithouse, the creator of Being Human. Games previews for Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition, Nintendo 3DS, Lego Star Wars 3, Operation: Flashpoint and Dirt 3 from Codemasters.

Present were Mark Gatiss, Lienil Yu, John Romita Jr, Bryan Hitch, Simon Bisley (which was so last minute I couldn’t find him) Olivier Coipel (apparently), Kevin O’Neill, Paul Cornell (sporting a comedy beard for charity much to his own embarrassment), Noel Clarke, Mick McMahon, Brett Ewins, Brian Bolland, David Lloyd, Andy Diggle, Liam Sharp, Sean Philips, Adi Granov, Chris Weston and Eric Stephenson. Not one of these people I saw.

The important thing is who I did….

Chris Nolan Justice League Movie in 2013?

The LA Times is reporting today that the movie version of The Justice League may not be quite as dead as everybody once thought. In an interview with The Times, Warner Motion Picture Group President, Jeff Robinov, said that his priority so far as superhero movies goes is to bring the JLA to the big screen in 2013. Let’s just go over that one more time: the man who has ultimate say in what movies Warner Bros. make says that he wants to see a movie featuring the Justice League within two years! Ok, breath.

This isn’t the first time that the League have almost found themselves in a movie. Back in 2008 a film version of the comic was all set to go into production when the writers strike and tax issues killed the project stone dead. Since then it’s been lurking in development limbo because nobody wants to upset the money tree that is Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight series by bringing out another movie with Batman in it. But with Nolan set to wrap up his Gotham opus next year, it looks like Warner is keep to pick up right where they left off. But oh lord, there’s more:

“We have the third Batman, but then we’ll have to reinvent Batman…Chris Nolan and [producing partner and wife] Emma Thomas will be producing it, so it will be a conversation with them about what the next phase is.” – Jeff Robinov

That’s right folks. Chris Nolan will be stepping in to produce the project. Ok, so it’s not the directors chair, but there’s plenty of time for a Hobbit esque incident to grant us that wish too. What’s more, scripts are already in production for both the JLA movie and the spin-off Flash and Wonder Woman movies.

A timescale, a script and Christopher Nolan? It looks like Warner may finally be getting serious about DC movies. Sweet.

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Best Captain America Trailer yet!

Another day, another new trailer, but this may well be the best Cap preview yet. We get to see a fair bit of pre-super-soldier Steve Rogers (I still have no idea how they managed to make Chris Evans look that small) as well as some previously unseen Tommy Lee Jones footage.

Ever since the first teaser appeared I’ve been totally on board with this film and this trailer has only increased that excitement. Along with Thor I have a feeling we may have two of the strongest Marvel movies yet on our hands here. It’s just a shame that Green Lantern doesn’t seem to be living up to these two. Still, it ain’t over until the credits roll, so let’s see how they pan out.

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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