Practitioners 54: J H Williams III

It’s back!! Practitioners, our weekly article featuring the people who made the comics industry, went on a three month away day while we continued to complete Moon but it’s now back!! Practitioners will now be bi-weekly, while every second week on Tuesday Practitioners Reloaded will present the previous 1 – 53 (Simon BisleyChris Bachalo) and then continue to showcase all the new articles until we’ve written a comprehensive history of the comic book industry!! Or die.

James ‘Jim’ H. Williams III, usually credited as J.H. Williams III, is a comic book artist and a penciller, best known for his work on titles such as Promethea (with Alan Moore), Desolation Jones (with Warren Ellis) and Batwoman (with W. Haden Blackman).

J H Williams is a master of his art and others aside. Most Practitioners have a near-complete grasp of the comics page, panel to panel storytelling, placement and composition. Most pages produced for comic books are purpose built as little more than a rendition of a writers words and descriptions. J H Williams III limits himself to nothing, challenging himself to extrapolate only the most complex compositions in the history of comics without losing control of plotting, pacing or flow. Bleeding edge double page spreads, multiple styles and techniques combining into both unique and familiar page styles. Able to mimic the most prominent and recognisable legends in comic book history, while able to seamlessly drop into his more comfortable naturalistic style, Williams has defined himself as a master draftsman and a timeless artist.

Williams’ early work includes pencilling the four-issue miniseries, Deathwish (1994-1995) from Milestone Media, a company founded to present a platform for characters of ethnic minority, the most famous of these Hardware, Icon, Blood Syndicate and Static. Deathwish – tag line: ‘Paint the Town Dead’ – was a dark number, featuring Wilton Johnson, the victim of a brutal family raping from which only he survived. Appearing in Hardware six times, the series was notable for it’s use of a pre op transexual, obsessed with sex related crimes, as it’s protagonist. It also featured the exclamation ‘Fuck art! Let’s dance!’ at the close of the third issue. This was a dark and distinctive introduction to comics for J H, the artwork visceral, savagely brutal, anarchic and powerfully emotive, Deathwish presented as a damaged, frightening and unpredictable figure – rendered powerful with extremely tight line work from Williams. It’s hard to imagine a more fringe entrance to the popular comics industry but JH held nothing back and presented himself as a strong contender. Written by Adam Blaustein, Deathwish has disappeared into the murky comic book back catalogue but JH Williams III was to plough on to handle some of the most challenging and venerated comics in the industry (most often thanks to his art work). It also gave Williams the chance to work with legendary inker and Joe Quesada partner, Jimmy Palmiotti.

But it was on the short-lived 10-issue (including a special 1,000,000 issue) Chase title, with writer Dan Curtis Johnson that he came to prominence. Based on a character, Cameron Chase, that appeared in Batman #550 in January 1998, it followed Chase as an agent of the Department of Extranormal Operations tasked with monitoring and neutralising Metahuman threats to national security. The blend of the extreme metahumans and the noirish, dark edged naturalism made Chase a moderate hit for fans of fine comic art, J H Williams’ involvement perhaps elongating the short run. Never the less, it was here that J H Williams entered the DC firmament and began to make creative ripples throughout the industry.

Even then, at the start of his main career, J H Williams III demonstrated all of the skills that have made him a watchword for both wild experimentation and paradoxically professional reliability of quality. Every page bled with the precise representation of the writer’s ideas somehow locked seamlessly between naturalism and comic book fantasy. Anchoring the content with a powerful grasp of expression, anatomy, light and composition, JH Williams III draws in the reader, pacifying their expectations with beautifully accessible detail while introducing dizzying and brave compositions.

Williams collaborated with inker Mick Gray on two DC Elseworlds graphic novels, Justice Riders – in which the Justice League of America are recast as western figures – written by Chuck Dixon and Son of Superman, written by Howard Chaykin and David Tischman. Justice Riders would likely inform Williams’ interest in drawing wild west heroes, as they appear again in the later Seven Soldier’s series bookends (written by Grant Morrison) and a single issue of Jonah Hex (#35) on which Williams said “I certainly want to do more issues myself or even a graphic novel if the opportunity and schedule presented itself.”

It was with another of DC’s most famous writers – the legendary Alan Moore – that JH Williams was to find yet greater prominence, both as an interior and cover artist, with the utterly glorious Promethea (32 issues, 1999–2005). It was here that Williams’ now legendary capacity to twist the logic of a comic book page really took hold. Taking first of all the poetic and holistic plots and scripts of Mr. Moore, JH Williams treated every page (or double page) as single images, and rather than simply breaking them into neatly compartmentalised shot boxes, expanded the use of the form in a way most artists would never think to. Some panels were simply single figures occupying space centrally in the page, events, language and conversations rotate around specific images at the heart of the image, where panel work took place in more conventional ways, large, iconic panels drew the scene effortlessly across the top of a double page spread, making the remaining panels parts of that larger image. A dramatic understanding of fable, fantasy, ancient historical and the art nouveau style of Alphonse Mucha, popular with other legendary artists such as Joe Quesada and Adam Hughes, permeates the indelible world of Promethea. Notably, it wasn’t Moore that walked away with as many accolades as Williams, Moore taking considerable criticism at the suggestion that Promethea was acting as a mouthpiece for his religious beliefs while praise was heaped on the series for the beauty of it’s artwork and innovation regarding the medium itself. It is there that Williams excels, breaking tradition and standards perhaps unitentionally layed down at the birth of early comic books and again indirectly cemented by the unquestionable work of Kirby, Ditko, Gibbons – even Otomo through the popularity of their work.

But Williams isn’t trying to change the industry. His work isn’t a clarion call to other artists to try to do the same. Should too many try, comics would most likely become a chaotic mess. Williams’ work is innate and personal to him, a style and level of detail and naturalism that comes from pure, raw talent. His work is a treat. His is the Art Deco print amongst the Metallica posters. It flatters the owner and offers a beautiful and enlightening alternative to the great and beloved standard.

Detective Comics with writer Greg Rucka gave birth to the series that will leave JH Williams III in the upper echelons of comics practitioners. In the wake of the loss of the title character, ‘Detective’ Batman was absent in the aftermath of Batman R.I.P. and Final Crisis, causing the title to focus on Rucka’s Batwoman. Williams has returned as an artist and now writer of the new Batwoman series, accompanied by co-author W. Haden Blackman. Using all of the talents and skills from his previous work, Williams has formed a title of delicate and volatile beauty. Batwoman, shock of sharp red hair and porcelain white skin, is an even more distinct figure perhaps than Clark Kent when not Superman, and should be easily recognisable in the bat suit as the only person in Gotham with no pigment on their skin. None of this matters though, as a languishing presence of a child-stealing spirit of a bereaved mother haunts the waterways of Gotham. Blending dizzying but easily maneouvrable double page spreads with fine art, profound expressionism, watercolour, pencil line, ink and hand drawn finishes entwined with a haunting, feminine and original story line, Batwoman ticks a lot of boxes. It is, of course, Williams’ unerring pages that draw the real attention. Williams seems to have come full circle from his days on Deathwish – pushing the boundaries of sexuality (Batwoman is one of only a few prominent gay characters in comics – of which she is perhaps the most prominent) and using the backstreets, slums and sidewalks as his backdrop – JH Williams remains, for now, a million miles from the twisting reality of the Promethea universe, the hardy western violence of Jonah Hex or a thousand miles at least from the old swamp hut where ancient beings redesign reality, visited by I, Spyder in Morrisons’ crazy Seven Soldiers bookends.

Able to mimic Kirby, Simone Bianchi (Seven Soldiers: Shining Knight), Cameron Stewart (Seven Soldiers: Manhattan Guardian), Ryan Sook (Seven Soldiers: Zatanna), Frazer Irving (Seven Soldiers: Klarion the Witch Boy), Pascal Ferry (Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle), Yanick Paquette (Seven Soldiers: Bulleteer) and Doug Mahnke (Seven Soldiers: Frankenstein) in order to combine the varied strings of Morrison’s seven different titles stylistically and draw them to a very specific close in his own style. Given that that style involves pages made up of puzzle pieces, whole newspaper pages, Western scenes involving giant spiders, world twisting imagery and the destruction of the end of the Sheeda, a devilish Hybrid civilisation born from the remnants of the Human society it’d be a crisis for almost any other artist – though a challenge many will take on. But a man like JH Williams III, it appears that it’s terrifyingly par for the course.

At present, a talent unlike any other in the comics industry, which in an industry built on clear principles and methodology, only highlights just how special the third JH Williams really is….

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Practitioners 53: Walt Simonson

Walter ‘Walt’ Simonson is a cheerful poster boy of independent creators within commercial comic books. An exceptional writer and artist, his love and enthusiasm for the boundless scope of possibilities available to any comic writer. His is a mind that smiles wryly at the prospect of turning a God into a frog or constantly bringing back an old idea from school to be enjoyed by many others. Simonson, more than most other artists displays an enthusiasm reminiscent of a boy. While most adults have carried the medium away from the stuff of boyhood dreams – Simonson’s work is fuelled by it creating a body of work that remains timeless and universal as childhood itself. Welcome to the House of Fun! Welcome to World of Walt Simonson!

Simonson was born in September 2, 1946. Studying at Amherst College he transferred to the Rhode Island School of Design, graduating in 1972. He found work almost immediately, at the age of 26. As his thesis, he created the Star Slammers, which was released as a promotional black and white print in 1974 at the World Science Fiction Convention in Wahington DC (also known as Discon II). A decade later the Star Slammers returned with a graphic novel for Marvel Comics, the standard of the work strong enough to go straight to mainstream publication. 10 years later, the Star Slammers returned renewed with the fledgling Bravura label as part of Image. His is the story of an imaginative artist with his own ideas, and ones that survived decades. He has won numerous awards for his work, influencing the art of Arthur Adams and Bryan Hitch.

Effectively bulleting straight out of education and directly into work, Simonson’s first professional published comic book work was Weird War Tales #10 (Jan. 1973) for DC Comics. He also did a number of illustrations for the Harry N. Abrams, Inc. edition of The Hobbit, and at least one unrelated print (a Samurai warrior) was purchased by Harvard University’s Fogg Museum and included in its annual undergraduate-use loan program. However, his breakthrough illustration job was Manhunter, a backup feature in DC’s Detective Comics written by Archie Goodwin.

Recalling in a 2000 interview, Simonson recalled that “What Manhunter did was to establish me professionally. Before Manhunter, I was one more guy doing comics; after Manhunter, people in the field knew who I was. It’d won a bunch of awards the year that it ran, and after that, I really had no trouble finding work.” Simonson went on to draw other DC series such as Metal Men and Hercules Unbound.

A page from Thor revealing the close collaboration between Simonson and his letterer, John Workman.

In 1979 Simonson and Goodwin collaborated on an adaptation of the movie Alien, published by Heavy Metal. It was on Ridley Scott’s Alien that Simonson’s long working relationship with letterer John Workman began. Workman has lettered most of Simonson’s work since. It’s a highly collaborative unity, both professionals understanding the requirements of the job; Goodman’s lettering fitting seamlessly among the bombastic and dynamic panel arrangements.

In Fall 1978, Simonson, Howard Chaykin, Val Mayerik, and Jim Starlin formed Upstart Associates, a shared studio space on West 29th Street in New York City. The membership of the studio changed over time.

In 1982, Simonson and writer Chris Claremont produced The Uncanny X-Men and The New Teen Titans Intercompany cross-over between the two most successful titles of DC and Marvel. This would undoubtedly have been a premium title given the popularity of both parties and both companies selected quite deliberately an exciting and safe pair of hands. The additional excitement that Simonson’s graphic and powerful layouts and fun style perfectly matched such a deliberately populist title, making it a valuable asset to anyone’s collection.

However it is on Marvel’s Thor and X-Factor that Simonson is best known (the latter being a collaboration with his wife Louise Simonson, who he married in 1980 and who herself would become writer on Superman titles). Walt Simonson’s brilliantly wild imagination thudded beautifully against Thor’s mythological and fundamentally otherwordly content. He took almost complete control of the title, famously changing Thor into a frog for three issues and introducing one of the most distinct characters in the Marvel Universe, the Orange, Horse Skulled, Thor matching Beta Ray Bill, an alien warrior who unexpectedly became worthy of Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir – both characters making a lasting mark on the Marvel character landscape. Starting as a writer and artist in issue #337 (Nov. 1983) and continued until #367 (May 1986), he was replaced by legend Sal Buscema as the artist on the title with #368 but Simonson continued to write the book until issue #382 (Aug. 1987) to great success.

Simonson left Upstart associates in 1986. In the 1990s he became writer of the Fantastic Four with issue #334 (Dec. 1989) and three issues later started pencilling and inking as well (accidentally the exact issue he started on Thor).

He had a popular three issue collaboration with Arthur Adams. Simonson left the Fantastic Four with issue #354 (July 1991). His other Marvel credits in the decade included co-plotting/writing the Iron Man 2020 one-shot (June 1994) and writing the Heroes Reborn version of the Avengers. His DC credits over the same period were Batman Black and White #2 (1996), Superman Special #1 (writer/artist, 1992) among others. For Dark Horse he was artist on Robocop vs Terminator #1-4. His distinctive, thick lined work matching perfectly the heavy metal nature of the storyline and central figures.

But he continued to dart seamlessly between writer and artist, never having to seek a project. His was a cheerful bounding from one distinctive project to the next across some of the greatest heroes in history.

In the 2000s Simonson has mostly worked for DC Comics. From 2000 to 2002 he wrote and illustrated Orion. After that series ended, he wrote six issues of Wonder Woman (vol. 2) drawn by Jerry Ordway. In 2002, he contributed an interview to Panel Discussions, a nonfiction book about the developing movement in sequential art and narrative literature, along with Durwin Talon, Will Eisner, Mike Mignola and Mark Schultz.

From 2003 to 2006, he drew the four issue prestige mini-series Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer, written by Elric’s creator, Michael Moorcock. This series was collected as a 192 page graphic novel in 2007 by DC. He continued to work for DC in 2006 writing Hawkgirl, with pencillers Howard Chaykin, Joe Bennett, and Renato Arlem.

His other work includes cover artwork for a Bat Lash mini-series and the ongoing series Vigilante, as well as writing a Wildstorm comic book series based on the online role-playing game World of Warcraft. The Warcraft series ran 25 issues and was co-written with his wife, Louise Simonson. As a mark of his considerable impact on Marvel’s most recognisable Norse God, in 2011, he had a cameo role in the live-action Thor film, appearing as one of the guests at a large Asgardian banquet. Simonson serves on the Disbursement Committee of the comic-book industry charity The Hero Initiative.

Simonson inked his own work with a Hunt 102 Pro-quill pen. He switched to a brush during the mid-to-late 2000s, and despite the disparity between the two tools, Bryan Hitch, an admirer of Simonson’s, stated that he could not tell the difference, calling Simonsons’s brush work “as typically good and powerful as his other work.” This is reminiscent of other master artists, such as Joe Quesada, who moved to digital penmanship from the original pen. To completely alter your tools without affecting your work is an incredibly difficult thing to achieve, particularly to a discerning eye such as Hitch’s.

Simonson is a cheerful and active character in the comic book industry. His technique is impeccable, distinct and miles ahead of his peers. His was a bombastic, thick-lined and crystal clear world. His visuals developing to meet the WAM BAM impact of 90s comics. He was a capable enough artist that at all times he appeared to be a much younger, much more modern artist. His was the legacy of the double page spread, the high impact panel and the perfect blend of effective technical skill and instinctive, intuitive and timeless visuals. More than anything Walt Simonson is fun to read and fun to look at. It’s an undervalued quality. A Simonson piece has the effect of a circus poster, triggering simple, cheerful reactions of universal ideas. His sense of humour permeates everything, his artwork bound ideas off the page.

Simonson’s distinctive signature consists of his last name, distorted to resemble a Brontosaurus. Simonson’s reason for this was explained in a 2006 interview. “My mom suggested a dinosaur since I was a big dinosaur fan.”

Says it all really.

Practitioners 50: Stan Lee (Part two)

In 2011 the first Kapow convention in London pulled together a line-up of incredibly popular and legendary writers and artists. Mark Millar, Frank Quitely, John Romita Jr, Lienil Yu, Dave Gibbons, Chris Hemsworth, the cast of Being Human, Merlin, Misfits, IGN stands, Marvel, DC, film previews and a Guinness World Record attempt. In 2012, arguably it’s main competitor has Stan Lee in his first visit to a British Comic Convention. People actually saw this as a coup.

Stan Lee, legend of legends appeared at the first Super Comiccon in February 2012 at the Excel Centre in London. The effect was enormous. In an industry trying to find it’s feet it had exactly the right effect. The event was an enormous success. The crowds were more mainstream than had previously been seen. You can claim a number of reasons for this but what it boiled down to was this – it was a chance to meet the man who changed the face of comics.

In the late 1950s Stan Lee was working for what was known as Atlas Comics. He was disgruntled, writing Romance, adventure, westerns, humour, medieval adventure, horror and suspense. By the end of the decade, Lee had become dissatisfied with his career and considered quitting the field.

A curious set of circumstances began to accumulate that was to fuel the creation of Marvel Comics. In DC, Editor Julius Schwartz had run into considerable success with the updated version of the Flash, reviving the superhero archetype, and later had the same success with the Justice League of America. In response to this, publisher Martin Goodman asked Lee to create a new superhero team. Lee’s dissatisfaction with the industry was now turned into an advantage. With his intention to leave comics and with nothing to lose, Lee’s wife urged him to experiment with stories he wanted to write. It was here that the crucible of the entire Marvel Universe was formed. Lee, who, having dutifly worked for comics since he was 19 was about to change every rule.

Lee acted on the advice, giving his characters a flawed humanity, a leap from the god-like archetypes that had been striding the pages of superhero comic books. Lee introduced complex, naturalistic characters who could have bad tempers, melancholy fits, vanity; arguing amongst themselves, but crucially propelled downwards at terminal velocity back to the streets of the real, now forced to worry about bills, relationships, homework. The Superman had been knocked off his perch, dressed as Clark Kent forcibly and told to work his way back up to Superman. Champions were no longer heroes by right; Lee brought the demi-gods of Golden Age comic books back to their literary roots. They were now subject to heartache, anxiety and could even get physically ill. These aspirational figures had become accessible. No longer beyond the reach everyone on the streets, they are everyone on the street – struggling with the same impassable issues we all do.

The first was the Fantastic Four. Workaholic Reed Richards, brash and impetuous Johnny Storm, thuggish and crude Ben Grimm and the occasionally ferocious Sue Storm were hammered with cosmic rays and thrown back to Earth where they respectively gained the powers of elasticity, fire and flight, invulnerability, super strength and impervious rock skin and invisibility. The combination of super powers and real life drama is reflected now in the popularity of supernatural and superhero TV shows. It proved a flawless and undeniable combination; real life issues and concerns propelled into battles with monsters, investigation of interdimensional travel and space giants!! The most noteworthy character was Ben Grimm, named ‘The Thing’ thanks to his new found craggy demeanour. Reflected in his personality, his is in fact a science fiction story of a successful, confident figure being faced with dismemberment. Susan Storm’s feelings of abandonment by the man she loves and his lack of understanding as to why his work isn’t more important to her are universal ideas, locked in high literature and TV soaps. When the emotional story lines might dip in other genres now there were Mole Men to smack down, or intergalactic heralds declaring the arrival of a globe threatening natural disaster.

The Fantastic Four’s immediate popularity led Lee and Marvel’s assembled Marvel Illustrators, including Steve Ditko, Bill Everett and led by Jack Kirby to create a field of dreams that would outlast almost every other book on the market. With Kirby, primarily, heroes known throughout the world, representing ideals and concerns and fears recognisable to everyone began to appear out of the smoke of heady creation. Bruce Banner saved Rick Jones moments before a Gamma blast irradiated him and created the angry, defiant, thundering Hulk, genius inventor Tony Stark meets his greatest fears as he is forced to create a metal suit to save him from shrapnel wounds to create Iron Man, the mutant X-Men are assembled in a Westchester School of Higher Learning by Professor Xavier, Lawyer Matt Murdoch gains super senses as a result of losing his sight as a young boy, swearing to represent justice at both ends of the spectrum. Captain America returns from the icy seas of the North Atlantic, Namor is resurrected from war-time comic books, the Norse God Thor appears from the thunder and the Avengers are formed. Finally with Steve Ditko, Doctor Strange – an arrogant doctor who loses his hands and uncovers, in his desperation to regain them – the art of mysticism and finally, the figure that represents most clearly Stan Lee’s ideals.

Lee had been watching a fly crawling on the surface of a window and ‘marvelled’ at it’s ability to move as it did. Imagining a man capable of the same thing he decided that ‘Fly-man’ had little appeal however perhaps a ‘Spider-man’ would have a better time in the cavernous streets of Manhattan.

Stoic, brave and heroic, Peter Parker is the absolute embodiment of the Marvel ideal and it’s most successful character. Representative of every one in America, his struggles are real, his fears and worries palpable and his capacity to overcome them unlimited. Parker is the little guy, the sickly, victimised orphan boy mollycoddled by his Aunt, he is clever and brave but struggles to utilise either. With the bite of a radioactive spider, Peter Parker gains the proportional power of a Spider. Over the years Spider-man has fought every major villain in the Marvel Universe, wise-cracking all the way in a fit of denial as to the situation he is throwing himself into. Those idiosyncracies and habits are real. The overcompensation of Peter Parker to be Spider-man on the battlefield historically irritates more seasoned, honed fighters but that’s the point. He’s no professional. And Lee understood this and presented a boy trying desperately to keep up with the lot life had shown him, without realising, as so many of us do, how capable he always was. The perpetual underdog, Spider-man shines with a humanity that Lee gave him more than half a century before – and one that will never dim. Editor-in-chief Joe Quesada’s decision to scrub out Peter Parker’s life with Mary Jane, his wife, was one of genuine affection and a need to return to the vulnerability that Lee had imbued him with previously. While the character was growing, it was the innate lack of experience that Lee had given him that made Spider-man such a mainstay character and it’s testament to Lee’s decisions so long ago that Quesada felt the need to reset it.

The other defining characteristic introduced by Stan Lee was that of a shared universe. This connected all of the various characters together in a way that united the creators and readers in a way. A community could now be formed around that universe. Based in the real world, the cities were those that the readership woke up in every day. The Human Torch left a message for Spider-man across the sky over the real Manhattan. Gods walked amongst men in a way unseen. The Hulk smashed in real states, not the purpose built spires of an imaginary city such as Metropolis, Gotham or Coast City. It also reduced the level of destruction that took place in the confines of the books which bred greater creativity in developing the plots. It turned the real world, in particular New York into a sandbox world to be played with, both recognisable by real and fictitious characters. It raised the stakes as well as the events taking place had the potential to end everything we all knew. Galactus would devour our homes and towns. The nuclear threat created by Magneto would radiate part of our planet. These were gods given consequences.

While Superman’s Metropolis had been laid to waste by Doomsday and flood and rebuilt, Batman’s Gotham destroyed by plague and earthquake and Coast City decimated by star ship as a mere plot point someone else’s story in order to facilitate a plot that would bring back Superman in Stan Lee’s Marvel Universe a single school is destroyed in middle america in a dust up between super powered ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’ and the effects are far more divisive and far reaching than the destruction of an entire state in DC. Stan Lee gave Marvel pathos, real life drama, boundaries and greater emotional punch. He gave us figures that could bring down buildings but crack under emotional pressure. He gave the super humans their humanity. It is something that cannot be undervalued.

Stan Lee’s Marvel revolution extended beyond the characters and storylines to the way in which comic books engaged the readership and built a sense of community between fans and creators. There has been some dispute as to the creative credit associated with his works – particularly in the case of projects with Kirby and Ditko, however Lee did more for creative credit than any other editor previously. Lee introduced the practice of including a credit panel on the splash page of each story, something now adopted into every book brought out in some manner, naming not just the writer and penciller but also the inker and letterer. This has fuelled fans of writers and artists as well as characters, titles and companies over the years and has really allowed articles such as The Practitioners to develop. Regular news about Marvel staff members and upcoming storylines was presented on the Bullpen Bulletins page, which (like the letter columns that appeared in each title) was written in a friendly, chatty style. Lee had made the Marvel Universe friendly and easy to visit – his welcoming and inclusive style and his love of people clear in his approach to how he ran this company.

Throughout the 1960s, Lee scripted, art-directed, and edited most of Marvel’s series, moderated the letters pages, wrote a monthly column called “Stan’s Soapbox,” and wrote endless promotional copy, often signing off with his trademark phrase “Excelsior!” (which is also the New York state motto). To maintain his taxing workload, yet still meet deadlines, he used a system that was used previously by various comic-book studios, but due to Lee’s success with it, became known as the “Marvel Method” or “Marvel style” of comic-book creation. Typically, Lee would brainstorm a story with the artist and then prepare a brief synopsis rather than a full script. Based on the synopsis, the artist would fill the allotted number of pages by determining and drawing the panel-to-panel storytelling. After the artist turned in penciled pages, Lee would write the word balloons and captions, and then oversee the lettering and coloring. In effect, the artists were co-plotters, whose collaborative first drafts Lee built upon.

Because of this system, the exact division of creative credits on Lee’s comics has been disputed, especially in cases of comics drawn by Kirby and Ditko. Lee shares co-creator credit with Kirby and Ditko on, respectively, the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man feature film series.

In 1971, Lee indirectly helped reform the Comics Code. The US Department of Health, Education and Welfare had asked Lee to write a comic-book story about the dangers of drugs and Lee conceived a three-issue subplot in The Amazing Spider-Man #96–98 (cover-dated May–July 1971), in which Peter Parker’s best friend becomes addicted to pills. The Comics Code Authority refused to grant its seal because the stories depicted drug use; the anti-drug context was considered irrelevant. The comics sold well and Marvel won praise for its socially conscious efforts. The CCA subsequently loosened the Code to permit negative depictions of drugs, among other new freedoms.

Lee also supported using comic books to provide some measure of social commentary about the real world, often dealing with racism and bigotry. “Stan’s Soapbox”, besides promoting an upcoming comic book project, also addressed issues of discrimination, intolerance, or prejudice. This has been seen throughout Marvel’s history as writers introduce plots they feel particularly strong about, Peter David’s continued inclusion of gay and lesbian agendas in his work from The Incredible Hulk and X-Factor has allowed a subject he feels strongly about be presented in an unusual but popular medium. That, in part, is thanks to Stan Lee’s years of effort and devotion to putting out positive messages of tolerance and civility.

But it is Stan Lee’s lasting legacy (one that he still fuels) that has elevated him above other writers, artists and creators. His relationship with his fans and his creations have made him synonomous with them. If you type in Stan Lee into any search engine, the majority of the images generated will be of the man himself; as famous as any one of his creations. That was what we saw at Super Comicon in London on February 25th and 26th in 2012. A man who allowed millions to dream of seeing a man fly through the sky on rocket jets – but more importantly – made it clear that they could just as easily be that man themselves.

Next: The Legacy of Stan Lee.

Comics, Controversy and Joe Quesada. Full Kapow Guest List Announced!

Ever since London Super Comic Con announced Stan Lee as their guest of honour, all eyes have been on the UK’s other big cons to see how they would respond. Well, the first retaliatory shot in the (largely imaginary) battle for convention guest supremacy has now been fired as Kapow Comic Con announced today that Marvel Chief Creative Officer, Joe Quesada will head up their own guest list. Now in its second year, the Mark Millar fronted convention is seen by many as the closest match (in terms of style) to the new born LSCC, so a lot of people have been very excited to see what kind of guest list Millar’s team would pull out in the face of LSCC’s behemoth of a line-up.

As well as serving as Editor in Chief for 10 years, during which time he masterminded much of the modern Marvel universe, Joe Quesada is also a hugely celebrated artist in his own right. A feature that we ran back in October, collecting a selection of his “building the cover” tweets, remains our highest ranking post (largely due to Joe himself being kind enough to give us a shout out on twitter and facebook). While he may not be a household name in the way Stan Lee is, Joe Q is a massive guest in comic book terms and a lot of fans are going to be very happy indeed about this announcement.

Other guests announced for the show include Warren Ellis (another good catch as he’s a relatively infrequent convention attendee), Frank Quitely, Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr (who apparently wrote some stuff for CLiNT Magazine). It’s not a list devoid of controversy (it is a Mark Millar project after all) and the failure (once again) to feature any female creators is unlikely to do Kapow any favours when it comes to silencing some of their more vocal critics (the con has been accused of deliberate sexism in the past). Likewise packing the top of the bill with stand up comedians while relegating writers and artists to the lower rungs could be seen as something of a cynical move for a convention that claims to be all about the comics. On the whole though, it’s a pretty solid line up and the majority of fans should be pretty happy.

If you want to learn more about Joe Quesada’s work then you can check out his Practitioner’s article and you can buy tickets for Kapow itself from their website.

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BTB Awards: Biggest Story

Biggest Comic Book Story

Joe Quesada’s Building the Cover – Avenging Spider-man #1 (October 16, 2011)

Marvel Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada often applies his long honed artistic skills to emblazon the titles he was supervising. One of the best artists in the history of Marvel, Quesada is known for his unflinching determination to create the best piece of art he can. Beyond the Bunker’s Dan Thompson discovered JQ’s post in which he revealed the process behind his most recent project and posted it with us. Amazingly Mr Quesada saw the tweet and tweeted it way beyond our limited range. Que the highest number of hits we’ve ever received and, deservedly, almost the highest number of hits for any post we’ve ever put up – in certainly the shortest time. Thanks again to Mr Quesada for taking the time to point his fans to our humble site…

Those of you who follow Marvel Chief Creative Officer, Joe Quesada on twitter may have seen his occasional “Building The Cover” sessions in which he explains the entire process of creating his astounding cover images. He posted a special one from New York Comic Con last night and I thought that it was interesting enough to share here. Just so we’re clear, this is not our work or associated with us in any way. The intention here is simply to compile together Joe’s tweets on the subject for easy reading. Enjoy.

“First step was to work up a few thumbnails. Here’s a thumbnail template I made just for such an occasion”
“These initial thumbnails were drawn in Sketchbook Pro. The absolute best pencil sketching program on the market”
“I was immediately partial to the center image, but decided to make life difficult and make it a wraparound cover…Once again, in Sketchbook, I used their mirror function in order to get a nice symmetrical framework”

“Not crazy with Spidey’s head, too stylized and he looks hunchbacked. also started toying with possible background”

“Still in mirror mode and trying a different positioning for his arms and hands. Also expanding the web idea.”

“Since Hulk and Wolvie are in the issue I decided to alter the arms again and to make room for cameos. I also decided to drop the web motif…So lets try a gargoyle while we’re at it”

“Not killing me, so perhaps a more passive Hulk and Wolvie and a smaller gargoyle”

“For those wondering, I’m drawing all of this digitally on my Cintiq using their stock pen tip and working in Sketchbook Pro at the moment…I switched over to Manga Studio EX 4 and start to lay in a perspective grid for possible buildings”

“In the middle of working on this cover I see Joe Mad’s AMAZING cover for the book, he has Hulk and Wolvie on it so I abandon the idea…No longer in mirror mode, I now start to rework Spidey’s arms and hands so that they’re different and have a much more naturalistic feel…And also back in Sketchbook, notice the digital pencils are getting tighter”

“It’s at this point that I regain my senses and wonder if I’m working to hard, maybe a single cover will do”

“Okay, who I kidding, I’m a masochist, lets go back to wraparound. I bounce now to Photoshop and start building the figure in black line…Here’s the beginning of that”

“Also, I’ve abandoned the gargoyle idea altogether, I think it’s going to be webbing and noir cityscape…Next is a light study, the idea being that Spidey is lit from the city streets underneath him”

“Now for a much tighter drawing, we’re getting close”

“A real rough pass at the kind of feel and weight I want the webbing to have”

“Time to block out the webbing for real now. Keep in mind, this is for placement only, sans all detail”

“Okay, I’ve got webbing, figure, lighting and city perspective done. Now I print this out at actual page size, light box and start penciling…here’s the final pencils as Danny Miki received them”

“For those unfamiliar with this kind of stuff, the X’s on the board indicate to the inker that that area needs to be a solid black…I rarely use x’s, but this cover had so much black and shadows that it would have been a gray mess if i had actually filled that stuff in…And, this afternoon I just got the final inks from the brilliant Danny Miki TAA-DAA!”

Fascinating stuff. If you want more stuff like this then be sure to follow Joe on Twitter.

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Biggest Movie Story (Biggest Number of Combined Hits)

A Merry Band: The Band of Dwarves Part 1, 2 & 3 (February / March 2011)

Always best to write about things you’re interested in. In 2010, one of us missed an open audition in London for The Hobbit. Upon realising that the first days of the shooting for Peter Jackson’s version of The Hobbit and those cast chosen to become the Merry Band that takes on old Smaug was en route to New Zealand, we wanted to know who played who and where these men had come from… While the three all appear in the top 25 most popular posts, combined they make more than 1000 hits.

Part One

‘The Dwarves of yore made mighty spells / while hammers fell like ringing bells / in places deep, where dark things sleep / in hollow halls beneath the fells.’

JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit begins with 13 Dwarves arriving in small groups and one by one at Bag End to meet with a surprised Hobbit of the Shire, Bilbo Baggins and convince to aid and abet in their plot. Doughy, rough faced, beardy cave miners – sturdy and brutal warriors and cheeky imp like mini-vikings, the Dwarves represent a family of MiddleEarth’s population only a mother could love. Even Tolkien doesn’t rate them much; admitting that trouble is never far behind them.

His first depiction of Dwarves in the Silmarillion (the first of the Middle Earth novels) depicts them as evil employers of Orcs and Tolkien’s urge to fill his roll call for the Hobbit with them demanded a more sympathetic perspective. He draws most heavily from the Norse storytelling of the ferocious warrior midgets and endowed them with armour and weaponry befitting this background.

At the time Tolkien was reportedly heavily influenced by his selective reading of Jewish history and the Jewish community oddly found representation in the band of short men that visit Bilbo. Dispossessed from the Homeland (the Lonely Mountain; their ancestral home is the goal the exiled Dwarves seek to reclaim) and living among other groups while retaining their own culture, while true of many cultures in modern history, was derived by Tolkien by the medieval image of Jews, whilst their warlike nature stems from accounts and tales from the Hebrew Bible. The one cultural similarity with Tolkien’s (and Dwarves themselves) initial approach to Dwarves was that both Medieval views of Jews and the fictional Norse Dwarves were seen and referred to as having a propensity towards making well-crafted things. This, to a writer so absorbed by the representation of cultures in his own work rings very true.

Tolkien was faced with a number of choices in how to present his 13 characters – while a small number of the Dwarves are prominent in the book; fundamentally they’re a mass of opinions and reactions to the events of the book. But the reader behaves among the group as a guest would – noting those most familiar with and recognising the others as individuals that make the whole more interesting. Even with Peter Jackson’s love of characterisation ( shown in LOTR, King Kong and The Frighteners) he’ll have a tough time making sure each and every one of this band of Dwarves will be introduced to us fully over the course of the adventures. Though how they might appear on screen is of great interest….

So who are these dwarves? And perhaps more importantly in the advancement of our expectations of what we’ll see in 2012 – who has been chosen to play them? If you are expecting a repeat of John Rhys Davies’ sturdy and gravity hugging Gimli in the Lord of the Rings trilogy you may be in for a surprise as the foremost in the cast look very little like the little men they’ve been called to play.

The band of Dwarves and the Hobbit - after arriving for Dwarf bootcamp in New Zealand

Though on the whole broad and powerful looking as a bunch they’ll no doubt fulfill every expectation put upon them. Assembled are new, younger, upcoming stars, more established actors, long standing performers who have enjoyed many roles but little recognition (most likely until now), older, less well known gentlemen and a familiar face from the previous films you just won’t recognise. They are now assembled in New Zealand for Dwarf Bootcamp, in which they will gain training, linguistic and accentual and physical, performance and technical to prepare for the role. Aidan Turner (of BBC3 horror comedy Being Human) is doing all he can to grow his own beard in time for preliminary shooting.

They are;

Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakensheild). The most prominent of the Dwarves in the book, Armitage appears on first glance an odd choice. Predominantly a theatre and television actor his only movie credit so far is as an uncredited Naboo Fighter Pilot in Star Wars: Phantom Menace, however following some very prominent roles in mainstream British TV in recent years; Cold Feet, North and South, ShakespeaRe-told, a strong performance BBCs Robin Hood series as misunderstood villain of the piece Guy of Gisbourne and an Armed Police Officer in Spooks he will appearing in Captain America: The Last Avenger this year as Nazi Heinz Kruger. (Whether he’s a misunderstood Nazi is yet to be seen). Regardless, his climb up the ladder has been steady and long and his strong voice and glower will add a lot to the head Dwarf, Thorin Oakenshield. I’ll be very interested to see how he’s presented.

Tolkien borrowed Thorin’s name from the Old Norse poem ‘Voluspa’, part of the poetic Edda. Thorin appears in stanza 12 and used for a Dwarf and the name Oakenshield (Elkinskjaldi) appear in stanza 13. Thorin is proud and brash and while he and Gandalf stand their ground in the Goblin tunnels and he is the least surprised by an encounter with Trolls but his leadership is far from distinguished and generates most of the difficulties the party face on their journey. Driven into exile by the Dragon Smaug in 2770, he wants to retake his homeland. He carries a charmed blade named Orcrist, a similar weapon to Frodo’s ‘Sting’ in LOTR.

Aidan Turner (Kili) – standing at 6′ and slim in build Aidan Turner is one of the main cast members that is undergoing a transformation in order to play his part. A British Television actor, Turner found prominence in BBC1’s Desperate Romantics as Romantic period painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti and more notably BBC’s Being Human as Vampire Mitchell. His performances are strong and he’s physically a very capable actor. He tends to play romantic, self-destructive leads because of his appearance so his casting as a short stop will be another interesting one. A capable character actor however and great things should be expected for him. His character in Being Human has been told he’ll be killed by a Werewolf (cool) and much of Series 3 has the appearance of a rushed rewrite – as well as reduced budget – which is unsurprising as his character will be disappearing for at least a year shooting The Hobbit (original estimate under Del Toro was 377 days before final production on the second film).

Kili is one of two brothers, both young in Dwarf terms, younger than most of the group by as much as fifty years. Both brothers are described as having the best eyesight and are often sent for searching and scouting. They are also described as cheerful, as the only Dwarves to emerge from the barrels at Lake Town ‘more or less smiling’.

James Nesbitt (Bofur) – a bit of a statesman of British television, Nesbitt (like Turner) is an Irish actor witha strong, clear accent. A powerful and capable character actor Nesbitt has forged a distinctive career since appearing in A Play for Today in 1984. His status has grown progressively with Tv projects Ballykissangel, Playing the field and most notably Adam Williams in Cold Feet ( a precursor to Friends made in the UK about 3 couples of which Nesbitt was arguably the most prominent) as well as film roles – playing Ivan Cooper in Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday – a dramatisation of the Irish Civil Rights protest march and subsequent massacre by British troops on January 30, 1972. Most recently he’s appeared in mainstream series such as the tepid The Deep and as the central character of Murphy’s Law (for ITV). Nesbitt is an actor of considerable character and is hilarious to watch in most things he’s in. A capable performer able to handle broad styles and physical performance (Jekyll, 2007) and sympathetic roles (also Jekyll, 2007 perhaps unsurprisingly).

‘Poor, fat,’ Bombur us frequently shown as having been the last in everything. A comedic character through and through, introducing himself by tumbling into Bifur and Bombur as they arrive at Bag End at the very start of the story and falls into the enchanted river. Bombur sleeps at several key moments of the book. Having fallen into the Enchanted River he sleeps for days, forcing his already frustrated companions to carry him. Understandably edited out in Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo asks after Bombur and is told that he had grown so fat it took six young dwarves to lift him, as he could no longer move from his bed to the couch.

Bombur is simply written and easy to delightfully realise. He’s right up Peter Jackson’s comedic street and we can expect great moments from the fattest Dwarf in the band. He also plays a drum.

Graham McTavish (Dwalin) is a perrenial and long standing character actor on British TV and film as well as a prominent voice artist. His distinctive and boxy appearance have given him many military and hardman roles throughout the years though he injects intelligence and character well in each case. A theatre actor he has appeared as Banquo in Macbeth, as well as Thangbrand in Erik the Viking, one of the best things in a flawed series as Warden Ackerman in Red Dwarf VIII as well as with James Nesbitt twice in Jekyll as Gavin Hardcastle and Murphy’s Law. He has made the jump to US projects in recent years, appearing in Quantum of Solace, 24, Prison Break, Lost, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and the new Rambo. He also voiced Loki in Hulk Vs (Video Game), Sebastian Shaw in Wolverine and the X-Men animated TV series and Thundercracker in Transformers: War for Cybertron video game. A man of some considerable stature, he is a capable and intelligent performer which accounts for his steady success on multiple platforms. He represents a warrior in almost all he does but more often than not a sympathetic one. I look forward to him representing Dwalin.

Dwalin is the first Dwarf to arrive at Bag End. He is a kindly soul, offering Bilbo a hood and cloak as they leave Bag End. After the events of the Hobbit, Dwalin rules Thorin’s halls in the Blue Mountains. His name is taken from Dvalin, a dwarf in the poetic Edda. The arc that Dwalin’s character follows suggests that he will be an interesting one to watch. An honourable character that survives the quest and gains what he deserves in the end. A precursor to Aragorn in the LOTR trilogy perhaps.

And finally for this batch of the band of Dwarves we have Kili’s brother, Fili.

Robert Kazinsky (Fili) is the definition of how you climb the ladder as a young actor. Starting on the Basil Brush Show as neatly monickered Sven Garley and as Casper Rose in Footballing soap Dream Team he completed the populist rope walk to find a place as unhinged Sean in Eastenders. Shortly afterwards he made the leap across the pond to appear in bit parts in Law and Order: Los Angeles and Brothers & Sisters. Apart from one short (Love, in 2009) and a film called Red Tails (still in Post Production he has no cinema credits. However, his performance was strong in Eastenders (the only place I’ve seen him) and I look forward to seeing him play cheery as opposed to mentally ill (TV style). An opportunity to play a character such as Fili should cement Kazinsky’s rise nicely and I suspect we can expect to see him more things afterwards.

Brother to Kili, Fili has the longest cloak on the quest (?!!). A temperament like his brother Kili, Fili is a cheerful character. Following the battle with spiders he’s forced to cut off most of his beard due to it being covered in webbing.

It grows late and the torch grows dim and I think I must retire so I must bid you all a good night / good day and leave you until next time. In which I will introduce you to the remaining members of this merry band of Dwarves. Keep warm dear reader and if you hear your trinkets moving in the night it’ll most likely be Dwarves come back to claim that which they bothered to dig up….

The Dwarves and Bilbo by Sam Bosma

Part Two

Following a two year wait The Hobbit has now gone into production with Dwarf camp in full swing as the crew and cast prepare for initial shooting. As such Beyond the Bunker.com wants to take a closer look at the production as it happens. Last week was Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield), Aidan Turner (Kili), James Nesbitt (Bofur – it turns out), Rob Kazinsky (Fili) and Graham McTavish (Dwalin) we take a look at four more of the assembled Dwarves on the quest against Smaug the dragon and the actors playing them. Pick up your axes, we’re heading back into unfamiliar territory….

Ken Stott (Balin). Stott is an exceptional Scottish actor specialising in slightly downtrodden and bitter individuals. A theatrical, Television and Film actor he began on screen in 1977 appearing in TV series Secret Army in a single episode. He has stocked up a pile of TV appearances in Taggart (1985), The Singing Detective (1986), Bad Company (1993), Silent Witness (1996), the harrowing Messiah (2001), the title character in Rebus as DI john Rebus (2006-2007) and the Runaway – due out this year. With occassional but notable positions in cinema over these years playing Dalfonso in Casanova (2005), Chancellor of the Exchequer in the much passed over Girl in the Cafe, made as a commentary on the lack of (or potential for) influence on social politics to common people made by Richard Curtis for Live 8. He also played Adolf Hitler in TV Movie Uncle Adolf in 2005, Marius Honorius in the unfortunately leaden King Arthur in 2004 and the ferocious and snivellingly brutal head of the constabulary as Chance in 1999’s Plunkett and McCleane playing opposite Robert Carlyle and Jonny Lee Miller and Liv Tyler. His performances are always gripping and impressive, Stott representing twice the man his height suggests – something pretty handy for a dwarf.

Balin is brother to Dwalin (Graham McTavish) and is the one Dwarf who carries with him a hidden purpose. Above all other Dwarves in the company he is the only one explicitly stated to have been present in the Mountain Kingdom of Erebor before the attack by Smaug. The book also makes clear that Balin was in the company of Thorin when Smaug arrived but curiously also reveals their respective ages as 7 and 24 (interesting given the difference in ages between Stott and Armitage). Balin is look out at all times and is the only Dwarf to volunteer to enter Smaug’s lair with Bilbo.

Balin is the only character written to have visited Bilbo at Bag End after the events of the Hobbit but his story does not end in the pages of the Hobbit. In one of the most memorable scenes from The Fellowship of the Ring, it is Balin’s tomb in the Chamber of Mazarbul the title character’s discover. In that scene Gandalf finds the dwarves’ book of records written by Ori, and discovers from it that Balin was killed by Orcs.

The cast in question Balin, Nori, Dori and Ori (Ken Stott, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow and Adam Brown)

Jed Brophy (Nori) Jed Brophy is a ‘lucky charm’ in Peter Jackson films beginning as far back as Braindead (1992) listed as Void and Heavenly Creatures (1994). He appeared in Lord of the Rings: Two Towers as Sharku – the mounted Urukhai responsible for forcing Aragorn over the cliff and Snaga who I suspect is the Orc perturbed at the ‘Maggoty Bread’ before promptly being beheaded by the infuriated Urukhai Commander and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (simply listed as Orc Leiutentant 1) as well as James Hope – Police Officer in 2009’s SA based alien District 9, produced by Jackson. His credits outside of the franchise are few and far between and almost certainly NZ and Australian based including Joseph Savage in Return to Treasure Island and a short hilariously called Lemming Aid. Returning to the fold once again its hard to know how much or how little influence Brophy will have on the screen this time around but based on his previous work and Jackson’s clear reliance on him we can be sure that however brief a moment is offered by Nori it will likely be memorable. Notably more lightweight that his fellow actors, Brophy may need more time in the make up and costume departments or may represent a new shape of Dwarf amongst the broad cave Vikings.

Brophy hopes to ‘make it all the way through without getting killed. Horribly.’ Something his previous films with Jackson suggest is unlikely.

Nori is the brother to Ori and Dori. He is merely listed as one of the companions of Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit. His survival is no way assured.

Mark Hadlow (Dori) is another NZ veteran of Peter Jackson movies playing Harry – opposite Naomi Watts- at the beginning of King Kong and the voice of Heidi, Robert and Barry the Bulldog in Jackson’s 1990 psycho Muppet movie Meet the Feebles. Besides this he has mostly gained parts in small films and TV series (including Milo in Xena: Warrior Princess in 1999 and Orrin in Warlords of the 21st Century. Otherwise Jackson’s casting represents a great jump up for Hadlow, particularly as brave and capable Dori. He says he’s ready for the adulation taht will come from starring in a movie like this. ‘We’ve had our shots,’ he laughs on set in Wellington with the rest of the cast.

Dori is the brother of Nori and Ori. When it all goes wrong it falls to Dori to carry Bilbo in the tunnels of the Misty Mountains, but Dori dropped Bilbo and the other dwarves blame him for “losing their burglar.” In the original book, Dori is described as “a decent fellow, despite his grumbling,” while Thorin describes him as being the strongest member of the company.

Adam Brown (Ori) has appeared almost from nowhere with his online credits literally being Oswald Potter in Chucklevision in 2009 and then the youngest of three Dwarf brothers in The Hobbit: Part 1 and Part 2. Predominantly a Theatre actor, he is 29 years old (born 1980) and trained in performing arts at Middlesex University, co-founding ‘Plested and Brown’ (presumably on hiatus at present) writing and performing in all six shows (Carol Smillie Trashed my Room, The Reconditioned Wife Show, Flamingo Flamingo Flamingo, Hot Pursuit, Minor Spectacular and the most recent Health & Stacey.) He has toured with the company across the UK as well as performances in Armenia, South Korea and the Best of British Festival in New Zealand (good practice) prior to his offer to join the Dwarf cast of The Hobbit. The only American in the group and professionally the most junior Adam Brown may be said to be the only evidence of a casting held in the UK (where he was based at the time) turning out cast members. Brown is proof that success and opportunity can literally smash you in the face and drag you somewhere you didn’t anticipate at a moments notice and his presence is absolutely hilarious and most likely still a slight mystery to the man himself given the cast surrounding him though we wish him the best of luck and am sure given the scale of the casting that introduced him that his placement is entirely justified.

Ori’s knowledge of Moria helps the group. Brother to Nori and Dori, Ori is the youngest of the three. Surviving the events of the original book it is Ori’s writings in Balin’s tomb in the Chamber of Mazarbul that is read aloud by Gandalf. So in many ways Ori is the longest surviving remnant of the original story though he never lives long enough to see Gandalf again.

On that sad note, I must call it a night once again dear reader. Only one more account of the band of Dwarves is required to round off our band of 13 with brothers Gloin, Oin, Bifur and Bombur still to come. Until then I hope you sleep well and are not disturbed by the beating of a Dragon’s wing outside in the dark.

Part Three

Following a two year wait The Hobbit has now gone into production with Dwarf camp in full swing as the crew and cast prepare for initial shooting. As such Beyond the Bunker.com wants to take a closer look at the production as it happens. Last week was Ken Stott (Balin), Jed Brophy (Nori), Mark Hadlow (Dori) and Adam Brown (Ori) the week before was Richard Armitage (Thorin Oakenshield), Aidan Turner (Kili), James Nesbitt (Bofur – it turns out), Rob Kazinsky (Fili) and Graham McTavish (Dwalin) we take a look at four more of the assembled Dwarves on the quest against Smaug the dragon and the actors playing them. Pick up your axes, we’re heading back into unfamiliar territory….

Wellington NZ was shaken by another Earthquake a week following the previous more devastating one that claimed at least 160 lives in Christchurch. This will have effected the Dwarf training ground as it was near to Wellington but no cast, crew or associated PR has been created by it which is a refreshingly nice example of a production not jumping on an easy scoop. James Nesbitt (coach), Mark Hadlow (umpire) and Martin Freeman (umpire) will be involved in a charity cricket match to raise funds for the Earthquake appeal. Russell Crow is coaching the opposing team.

James Nesbitt was interviewed briefly about his training so far; “We’ve been here for training, because I’m going to be here for a year so the amount of work and the work we’ll be getting up to means we all have to be fit, you know, and a few of us are getting on a bit, so we’ve been training and horse-riding and doing stunts and all that kind of thing, and then we start.” He also revealed that filming was due to start and members of the cast had arrived in mid January but Peter Jackson’s perforated ulcer had caused delays while the Director got the necessary treatment. It all starts fully in ‘three weeks’ and Nesbitt himself is quoted as not minding the break.

But we have Dwarves still to introduce and its taken considerably longer than expected. Still remaining are two of the older members of the band and brothers one particularly tiresome character that holds up proceedings and is unlikely to be training as hard as the others and a seasoned warrior Dwarf.

Stephen Hunter (Bombur) Unwittingly cast as “the clown” from an early age, Stephen is at home with comedy roles, and has developed a great sense of comic timing from many years on stage. This has resulted in him being cast in dozens of comedic roles in TVC’s, and Television Comedy. Stephen is also reportedly a very strong dramatic actor, scoring leading guest roles in many TV dramas including All Saints (NZ), Mercy Peak and Street Legal (NZ). And he keeps himself sharp for the next role with regular “Meisner” training at The Actors Pulse in Redfern (NZ). This is a significant step up for the occasional TV actor from New Zealand, representing a character of considerable (though not always welcome) influence on the plot and the journey himself. Bombur has the potential to be a hilarious character so Hunter’s grounding in comedy puts him in good stead at playing the complete liability among the troupe.

‘Poor, fat,’ Bombur is frequently shown as having been the last in everything. A comedic character through and through, introducing himself by tumbling into Bifur and Bombur as they arrive at Bag End at the very start of the story and falls into the enchanted river. Bombur sleeps at several key moments of the book. Having fallen into the Enchanted River he sleeps for days, forcing his already frustrated companions to carry him. Understandably edited out in Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo asks after Bombur and is told that he had grown so fat it took six young dwarves to lift him, as he could no longer move from his bed to the couch.

Bombur is simply written and easy to delightfully realise. He’s right up Peter Jackson’s comedic street and we can expect great moments from the fattest Dwarf in the band. He also plays a drum.

William Kircher is a long standing TV and minor film actor from New Zealand going back to the mid-eighties as a constable in a film called Trespasses (NZ) and Worzel Gummidge Down Under (?!) as 2nd Screcrow, Farmer and Stallholder. His career has followed a path of fantasy and literary movie and TV projects such as the Enid Blyton Adventure Series (1996), the Legend of William Tell (1998) and Xena Warrior Princess as a Captain (also 1998). Almost ten years past before he returned for a couple of credits in small locally made films Out of the Blue, Wildfire and Aftershock and finally appeared in the TV series Legend of the Seeker in 2009 before being picked up to join the primary cast of the Hobbit. Kircher has a distinctive look and strong features that will likely set him apart from many of the other characters as he appears perhaps more naturally dwarf like than many. It will be interesting to see what won him the part above many others but is part of ‘ an amazing jigsaw of talent’ as he described it himself.

The clarinet-playing cousin of Bombur and Bofur, he is very fond of Raspberry Jam and Apple-tart and wears a yellow hood. He didn’t have as rough a barrel ride as many of his companions but was still too stiff to de-keg the other Dwarves. Bifur is potentially a less prominent character among the group but the long format may offer the character a little more room to breathe. While an unwritten character may be absent in the awareness of a reader, the immediacy of cinema means that a distinctive actor such as Kircher might gain a greater foothold for a footnote character. Its Bifur that will be worth watching to see how Jackson may have altered the characterisation and organisation of Tolkien’s characters as his generous nature towards characters will likely allow some minor members to offer greater influence on events.

John Callen (Oin) is a veteran New Zealand actor who’s credits begin with Pictures (NZ) as Casey in 1981, appearing in the the same Worzel Gummidge series as William Kircher though in a separate episode as a bailiff. He supplied additional voices to Star Wars: Knight of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords in 2004 and Mucor in Power Rangers Mystic Force and Sonimax in four episodes of Power Rangers Jungle Fury TV series – how many Power Rangers series were there? He also offered up voiceovers for two documentaries in 20o1 and 2002 and directed for TV in 2000. His last credit before the Hobbit was Love Birds as Professor Craddock. John Callen has been brought in for his voice as much as any other attribute as true to Tolkien’s novel ‘I’m doing boy Soprano’, he quipped at the initial boot camp.

Oin, Son of Groin (pronounced Gro-in) is brother to Gloin and was counted on – along with his brother to start the campfires which both characters bickered over. Oin was ultimately a survivor of the battle of Five Points and entered Moria with Balin (where they met their doom at the hands of Orcs). However, he didn’t die in the catacombs discovered by Gandalf and Frodo – sadly his death came when trying to escape via the Western Door (featured in the Fellowship) -taken by the slightly terrifying Watcher in the Water.

And this brings us to the final member of the collective that travels to Smaugs lair alongside a certain inexperienced Hobbit and adventurous old Wizard.

Peter Hambleton (Gloin) is another Kiwi actor who appeared in the Shark in the Park (TV series), the Last Tattoo (1994) with William Kircher and Rainbow Warrior in 1992 as Maury Whitman alongside his future brother-in-height John Callen. His parts run fairly consistently throughout the nineties (predominantly in TV) but his longest stint was as Father Donleavy in The Strip TV series in 2002 and in film briefly in Home by Christmas as Sgt Syd Gurton in 2010, His last credit before joining the cast of The Hobbit was The Inspector in NZ TV series Paradise Cafe this year. His work is mostly New Zealand based and it is unsurprising that he would’ve worked previously alongside Kircher and Callen previously as the NZ TV and Film industry is miniscule. However, clearly Jackson was influenced enough by his hoem viewing to sign up 5 kiwis (although in relatively minor parts). Hambleton’s resume runs fairly consistently which suggests a professional and likable actor with an ability. It’ll be interesting to see what chemistry he can ignite with his singing and bickering brother on the cold nights preparing the fire.

Father to Gimli, Gloin survives the events of the Hobbit and travelled to Rivendell with his son as an embassy from Dain II to bring news of Erebor, Moria and what they knew of Sauron’s plans; in time to attend the council of Elrond. Making Gloin the only character to appear in Jackson’s previous film incarnation of Tolkien’s classic.

So there we have it; the circle has formed (perhaps in the shape of a Ring) and paths are linked between the old tales and the new in ways I didn’t expect as I began investigating these strange short and stout warrior travellers. Tolkien formed this band of misfits and inadequates, proud and pompous, inept and incapable, brazen and belligerent to travel to recapture something important to their civilisation. But when compared to the heroes and that populate the later, grander saga of the Lord of the Rings trilogy you begin to see that maybe in this simpler and more honed prequel to the famous tale, Tolkien created something more Human than the Humans that followed shortly after.

Short legged and long journeyed, having familiarised myself with the Merry band of Dwarves that are to travel to Erebor on a seemingly lunatic quest to fight an enormous talking Dragon and kick start a series of events that will threaten the entirety of Middle Earth completely, I look forward to getting a chance to sit back in the darkened hall of the Cinema and watch these fools do more than they ever expect. Make millions of people happy while they fight over fires, fall into rivers, climb out of barrels, argue with town leaders and survive a great Journey… there and Back again.

Really… a Dwarves tale.

Biggest Convention Story

Stan Lee is Coming to the UK

UK conventions have been trying to secure an appearance by Stan Lee for longer than many of us have been alive but it seems one of them has finally pulled it off! London Super Comic Convention announced last night that the Fantastic Four creator will make his first UK convention appearance in 40 years at their show next year!

Lee joins an already star studded line-up of creators including the likes of Brian Bolland, Steve Epting and Duncan Fegredo. In LSCC’s own words:

“Organisers of The London Super Comic Convention 2012 are going all out to make the inaugural event unique and special for all attendees, by giving them a unique opportunity to interact with Stan, who recently celebrated his 89th birthday and created many of the most enduring comic book characters and pop culture icons of the last 50 years

Attendees can look forward to having their comics signed, their photo’s taken and watch Stan “The Man” in action on guest panels.”

In a year that will see no less than four mega comic cons taking place in London, the announcement of Stan Lee is a major coup for the newcomer of the bunch. A lot of cons can boast impressive guest lists, but Stan Lee is in another category all together.

London Super Comic Convention takes place at the Excel Centre on 25th & 26th February 2012. There will be no tickets on the door so if you want to meet The Man then you’ll need to book in advance on their website.

Needless to say, Beyond The Bunker will also be there.

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Biggest Tech Story (Biggest Number of Hits)

IPAD 2 and Comics – 5 Things You Need to Know

If you’ve not noticed from the sound of a thousand apple enthusiasts hurling their old models from balconies and shuffling, zombie like towards the high street, the new iPad has been announced. We know that some of you have iPads and that some of you like to read comics on your iPad so I thought it’d be nice if we had a sift through the piles of release notes and plucked out the choice bits that are of interest to you good people.

1 – Thinner and lighter

The original iPad is hardly a heffer (it’s one of the things that makes it so good as a digital comics reader) but it’s sexy new sibling takes this to a whole new level. It weighs in at an impressive 1.33lbs making it 15% lighter than the first iPad and at 8.4mm thickness it’s a full third slimmer, heck that’s slimmer than an iPhone! Carrying your entire comics collection around with you just got even easier.

2 – No change to battery life

If you were worried that the iPad 2’s new trim waistline was going to affect the run time then you may breath a sigh of relief. Battery uptime is staying put at a very respectable 10 hours. This may drop slightly if you want to play games on the damn thing but if you’re just reading comics then it should be just fine. Let’s be honest, if you’re starring at your iPad for more than 10 hours without a break then you’ve probably got bigger problems than battery life. One word of warning – Apple are still being their usual evasive selves about what the standby time is on the device so if the phrase “about a month” is too vague for your tastes then you’ll want to check the charge from time to time if you’re not using it for long periods.

3 – It looks better than ever…but not quite as good as it could

Apple have promised the best graphics ever but then it’s only the second in the series so you’d kinda hope they’d do that anyway. Nonetheless the step up is impressive. The iPad 2 boasts 9 times the graphical processing power of it’s predecessor and has brought a duel core processor to the fight to help back that up. Will this increase in processing speed affect your comic book enjoyment? Well maybe, but not by much. Digital comics load pretty promptly anyway so the difference probably won’t be that noticeable. The extra graphical power however will be a welcome addition to those of us who like to get in close and study artwork in detail, you’re paying for the artist’s pencils after all, not his pixels. But don’t get too excited, Retina Display (the iPhone 4 tech that renders images at the highest possible resolution perceivable by the human eye) is sadly missing from this version of the device. If that’s your thing (and it is awesome) then you may be better off waiting for the iPad 3.

4 – The stupid button problem has been fixed!

When the first iPad came out it had a button on the side that locked the screen rotation so that you could tilt the device without the image on screen moving about. Awesome for reading comics as there’s nothing as annoying has having the page spin out on you just because you’re trying to read in bed. Sadly, earlier this year Apple decided to ‘fix’ this feature for no discernible reason and changed it to a mute button despite there already being a volume control on the other side of the device. Well you can stop throwing stuff at pictures of Steve Jobs now because the new version of IOS which goes live the same time as the iPad 2 will give you the option to decide which function you want the switch to have…and yes you will be able to do that on your old iPad as well. Internet, you may unbreak-in-half.

5 – No change in price

If the sound of all this has got you salivating then you’ll be pleased to know that the iPad 2 won’t cost you any more than the iPad did. The price is staying fixed at £439 for 16GB Wi-Fi and £539 for 16GB Wi-Fi + 3G and yes, you do want the 3G one.

So is the iPad 2 worth buying as a comics reader? Probably not if that’s all you want to use it for. Retina Display is the feature that will really make comics stand out on the device and the other tweaks, while nice, won’t make a tonne of difference over the last model. If you’re in the market for an iPad then you may be better off taking advantage of the inevitable price drop of the older model as rampant Apple devotees attempt to offload their once beloved devices in order to buy the new version. If, however, you like a spot of gaming with your comics, you like taking photos or you give a shit about Face Time (queue tumbleweed) then it’s a very nice bit of kit to own.

iPad 2 hits UK stores on 25th March. Oh and did I mention, it ships in both black and white. Yeah, now you want one. 😉

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Biggest BTB Story

Bizarre Magazine Gives Moon 4 Stars

Moon has always been a fan of the bizarre but now it seems that the bizarre has become a fan of Moon! The latest issue of Bizarre Magazine contains a review of Moon #1 and it seems that they rather like it. In a section of reviews on alternative comic books they described our beloved little child as “vibrant and action packed” before going on to award us a glorious 4 stars!

We had a lovely chat with some of the magazine’s reporters at Kapow and at the time they seemed pretty keen on getting the book mentioned somewhere, but it wasn’t until today that we found out just what kind of mention it would be. A thumbs up from a publication as big as Bizarre is a massive boost to a new company like us so as you can image we’re over the…er…orbital-rock-based-satellite.

You can pick up the magazine from any newsagents as of today. If you read the first Kapow article then be sure to have a little look for Mr Penfold in one of the photos, it’ll be like the oddest game of Where’s Wally you ever played. 😉

If you’re a new follower of Beyond The Bunker after reading the review then welcome to the site. Please have a look around and make yourselves at home. You can buy the comic HERE or read more about it HERE and there’s a metric asstonne of other stuff to read and enjoy around the site, with more added each and every day. Welcome to our odd little family!

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BTB Investigates: Is Thanos the real Avengers movie bad guy?

The previews for The Avengers movie next year reveals the expected obliterated New York / Chicago / Seattle streets and the various Avengers charging into battle looking pouty and slightly impractically dressed and the suggested central bad guy, Thor’s half brother, Loki, flailing about in a cloak looking fairly imposing in a way an impish theatre actor might in a storm scene on stage. While we’re looking forward to the Avengers movie based on what we’ve seen – I can’t help but think that there’s an absent power behind the throne on this one. There’s a few reasons for this one:

  • Joss Whedon, assigned to direct this little number, is not one to work on a one threat script. Whether it’s Firefly or Buffy or Angel, it’s the initial threat, usually controlled by a shadowy puppet master and then often revealed to be a cosmic threat of unimaginable power. Not just that, he has a wry sense of humour and an acute understanding of what audiences like. He’s also a populist. Unafraid to do what is cool and follow expected narratives, he is a creature of loose habit. His plot structures have always incorporated big and very charismatic entrances of large scale bad guys. He’s also got a history of abstract and old school sci-fi and horror influences in everything he does, usually taking the source material and advancing it to be acceptable to TV/ Movie audiences.
  • Marvel has shown increasing bravery in bringing forward obscure characters from it’s ranks in it’s current spate of films and dealing with broad and fun themes rather than taking themselves too seriously. They also stick pretty close to source material and introduce figures that represent the proper threat for the development of the character.
  • The Avengers themselves have to be facing a threat on a scale that tests them well enough. Thor alone beat Loki. Loki is not a threat. The Hulk is clearly being held in reserve until the effects are finished but who is he going to face?
  • Mark Millar’s Ultimates is informing the Avengers. While there is an invasion of fantasy hordes in Ultimates 2 which may well fill the gap, it’s been well done and may still happen without undermining the theory that it’s Thanos that’ll step into the fray. An Alien invasion isn’t discounted either as appeared in Ultimates 1 and the Nazis might still be involved. Hard to say. Point is extra terrestrial or god attack, it doesn’t matter, Thanos is attached to both.
  • Rumours state that Thano’s glove from the Infinity Gauntlet series is visible on the Avengers set photos. Thanos brought the entire Marvel Universe to a standstill in the early ’90s as he took hold of the Infinity Gauntlet and threatened to destabilise the universe. A threat easily big enough to justify a call out at Avenger’s towers.

But why Thanos? 

Thanos is a being of credible bad that has sulked, skulked and schemed his way around the backwaters of Marvel’s cosmic universe, occasionally bringing the whole thing into doubt with his plans. Lover of the dubiously aged Death and as such effectively immortal, he is a corrupted Titan, a shrugging destroyer of time, space and any sentient being stupid enough to wander into his path. He’s Marvel’s Lobo. He has a death grin, incurable curiosity for how much chaos and death he can cause and how brilliantly he can destabilise the powers of the universe. For fun.

  • He’s a cosmic being and a god. Thor made it clear that Valhalla was a realm in space, responsible for galactic peace. Thanos is a deity on par with the Frost Giants. A corrupted and deformed child of gods. As the story goes according to Marvel.com – On Saturn’s moon of Titan lived a colony of Eternals, and Thanos was born as one of the last sons of the original colonists, Mentor and Sui-san. However, he was born misshapen and monstrous in comparison to the other Eternals, particularly his handsome and carefree brother, Starfox.
  • He is a collector of Cosmic Cubes. The one connecting link between all of the films (excluding Iron Man) is the Cosmic Cubes. The Red Skull was killed by it, underestimating it’s power in Captain America while the Cosmic Cube was cared for by Odin and stolen by Loki at the end of Thor. Thanos has long been associated with the cosmic cubes – which he aquires and uses regularly to keep causing trouble.
  • He’s just returned to the Marvel Universe in a plot involving a cosmic cube. Guardians of the Galaxy, while a lesser known title outside the industry is critically acclaimed and one of Marvel’s most consistent books. Returning wild and beserk, Starlord effectively punches him in the face with it to bring him down. But the fascination with the Cosmic Cube is obvious in the character and clearly a fundamental aspect of Thanos from the view of Marvel.
  • Abnett and Lanning aren’t writing him in the usual way. Thanos has never been hailed or fanfared like a galaxy spanning threat, narratively. Thanos is a tinkerer and walks in from the side lines to see what he can get away with. That wry curiosity and mischievousness was always the defining characteristic of Thanos. Even when associated with the destruction of butt loads of planets, Thanos is intellectually involved but never held up as a purveyor of all-hell-breaking-loose. But Thanos has been elevated this time. He’s not stronger, Thanos was always tough. He’s not more imposing, or larger. But the way he’s being written this time round suggests a greater awe, as if this character is just about to lift beyond his station in Marvel. It’s not uncommon, Iron Man, Thor, War Machine have all had massively increased status in the universe since seeing celluloid. Is Thanos gonna get the same treatment?

Thanos is a great bad guy and although the natural resistance has been removed now that Marvel is under the Lassetter banner of Disney and internally responsible for it’s own brand there would be sensible resistance at using an obscure, radiator chinned, purple god with a chip on his shoulder as the central pivot for a major blockbuster that’s never been tried before. Abnett and Lanning’s response is likely a reply to the existing rumours that Thanos almost got a big screen appearance.  The contrivance of plot that would be needed to introduce a second disgruntled child of the Gods when any sensible writer can apply the same emotional palette to the existing character without dropping a stocky, purple, alien gorilla face with 1980s shoulder pads into the action. But it’d Thanos. Against the Avengers. Directed by Whedon. Keep wishing guys but in all liklihood it’s just too cool to risk.

Joe Quesada’s Building The Cover – Avenging Spider-man #1

Those of you who follow Marvel Chief Creative Officer, Joe Quesada on twitter may have seen his occasional “Building The Cover” sessions in which he explains the entire process of creating his astounding cover images. He posted a special one from New York Comic Con last night and I thought that it was interesting enough to share here. Just so we’re clear, this is not our work or associated with us in any way. The intention here is simply to compile together Joe’s tweets on the subject for easy reading. Enjoy.

“First step was to work up a few thumbnails. Here’s a thumbnail template I made just for such an occasion”
“These initial thumbnails were drawn in Sketchbook Pro. The absolute best pencil sketching program on the market”
“I was immediately partial to the center image, but decided to make life difficult and make it a wraparound cover…Once again, in Sketchbook, I used their mirror function in order to get a nice symmetrical framework”

“Not crazy with Spidey’s head, too stylized and he looks hunchbacked. also started toying with possible background”

“Still in mirror mode and trying a different positioning for his arms and hands. Also expanding the web idea.”

“Since Hulk and Wolvie are in the issue I decided to alter the arms again and to make room for cameos. I also decided to drop the web motif…So lets try a gargoyle while we’re at it”

“Not killing me, so perhaps a more passive Hulk and Wolvie and a smaller gargoyle”

“For those wondering, I’m drawing all of this digitally on my Cintiq using their stock pen tip and working in Sketchbook Pro at the moment…I switched over to Manga Studio EX 4 and start to lay in a perspective grid for possible buildings”

“In the middle of working on this cover I see Joe Mad’s AMAZING cover for the book, he has Hulk and Wolvie on it so I abandon the idea…No longer in mirror mode, I now start to rework Spidey’s arms and hands so that they’re different and have a much more naturalistic feel…And also back in Sketchbook, notice the digital pencils are getting tighter”

“It’s at this point that I regain my senses and wonder if I’m working to hard, maybe a single cover will do”

“Okay, who I kidding, I’m a masochist, lets go back to wraparound. I bounce now to Photoshop and start building the figure in black line…Here’s the beginning of that”

“Also, I’ve abandoned the gargoyle idea altogether, I think it’s going to be webbing and noir cityscape…Next is a light study, the idea being that Spidey is lit from the city streets underneath him”

“Now for a much tighter drawing, we’re getting close”

“A real rough pass at the kind of feel and weight I want the webbing to have”

“Time to block out the webbing for real now. Keep in mind, this is for placement only, sans all detail”

“Okay, I’ve got webbing, figure, lighting and city perspective done. Now I print this out at actual page size, light box and start penciling…here’s the final pencils as Danny Miki received them”

“For those unfamiliar with this kind of stuff, the X’s on the board indicate to the inker that that area needs to be a solid black…I rarely use x’s, but this cover had so much black and shadows that it would have been a gray mess if i had actually filled that stuff in…And, this afternoon I just got the final inks from the brilliant Danny Miki TAA-DAA!”

Fascinating stuff. If you want more stuff like this then be sure to follow Joe on Twitter.

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Practitioners 37: Peter David (Part 2)

Peter David is an American writer of comic books, novels, TV, Movies and Video Games. In part One we looked at how Peter David came to arrive in comic books, in Part Two we arrive at how he changed the fcae of comic histories most prominent characters.

Peter David made his name on - and a legend of The Incredible Hulk with 12 Years as writer


Having been given an unpopular and derided title like the Hulk David discovered that he had greater creative control so far away from the central, more popular titles. This enabled him to investigate and test out his storytelling with impressive results. Within his first 12 month run on Hulk, David had reintroduced his estranged wife, destroyed the Hulkbuster base, sending several characters turn-coat and on the road with Bruce Banner (trying to contain his other persona), introduced X-Men – for a rematch with Wolverine, and X-Factor (who he would write for in the mid-nineties), effectively kill Hulk and have him return as the more cerebral Joe-Fixit, a figure in contention with the less intelligent Green persona. David concentrated on the recurring theme of the Hulk/ Bruce Banner’s multiple personality disorder, his periodic changes between the more rageful and less intelligent Green Hulk and the more streetwise, cereral Grey Hulk, and of being a journeyman hero, whicxh were inspired by Incredible Hulk 312 (October 1985) in which writer Bill Mantlo (and according to David himself Barry Windsor-Smith)had first established that Bruce Banner had suffered childhood abuse at the hands of his father. These aspects of the character would later be used in the slightly misaligned but well-intentioned 2003 film adaptation written by Michael France and directed by Ang Lee. In his 12-year run as writer of Incredible Hulk, in which he worked with luminaries and upcoming talents as Todd McFarlane (there when he got there) Gary Frank, Liam Sharp and Adam Kubert he developed the character further, revealing a third, and potentially less engaging Hulk. Banner and the Hulk merge in a more balanced character, retaining the intelligent characteristics of Bruce Banner and the strength and power of the Hulk. The effect was impressive. The now intelligent Hulk found a new relationship with his former wife Betty Ross and along with friends Rick and Margot found himself in control of a secret cabal of immortal heroes known as the Pantheon. David gave Hulk everything he wanted, access to his intelligent mind, strength and access to a private jet and technology bordering on magic. This is where David excels. He puts no limitations on the potential for change in his characters in order to explore possibilities in the story and is fearless in progressing the story at a break neck pace. He also listens to his artists, asking the newly signed Liam Sharp, fresh from success in the UK and US with Marvel Uk’s Death’s Head 2, what character he would like to draw. Gary Frank’s first comic book project with Marvel Uk was drawn upon as well, as the Marvel UK characters Motormouth and Killpower arrived in the pages of Hulk. Using the newly empowered Hulk as a platform to deal with difficult issues such as AIDs, false political imprisonment and homophobia. Not forgetting who was reading the book however, he soon brought the furious, sub-intelligent Hulk back to the pages of Hulk, leaving him lost and alone in the Everglades, effectively restarting the story of the only journeyman struggling with his own demons. Not to say he didn’t throw in Swamp-Thing and Speedfreak for good measure.

And was after he had been freelancing for a year, and into his run on Hulk, that David felt his career as a writer had been cemented and he began to make approaches to DC, being offered a four issue mini-series of The Phantom by Mike Gold. Finally – and astonishingly given that he had been employed on a Marvel title for a year, David only then left his sales position to become a full time writer.

Dreadstar (DC Comics)


David took on Dreadstar during its First Comics run, with issue 41 after Jim Starlin left the title, and remained on it until issue 64 (March 1991), the final issue. David’s other Marvel Comics work in the late 1980s and early 1990s includes runs on Wolverine, the New Universe series Merc and Justice, an excellent run on the original X-Factor, including issue 92 (with Joe Quesada), as part of the Fathers and Sons crossover which incorporated X-Men 25.
Peter David launched the future universe of Marvel with Spider-man 2099, a beautifully realised, dystopian tale of Miguel O’Hara, a futurist scientist who develops powers comparable to a spider in the corporate-run streets of a monolithic New York. Intelligent, witty and deliberately referential of the original without touching directly on its predecessor thematically or literally, Spider-man 2099 helped launch the entire 2099 Universe which lasted for the better part of a decade and took in almost every character in the Marvel Universe and redeveloped them. David set the tone for it all.

At DC Comics in 1990, David wrote an Aquaman miniseries, The Atlantis Chronicles, detailing the history of Aquaman’s home city Atlantis. This has since been cited by David as one of the works he is most proud. His following Aquaman mini-series Aquaman: Time and Tide and the subsequent run of 46 issues on the ongoing series gained notoriety as Aquaman lost a hand early in the series, which was later replaced with a harpoon, a feature of the character that lasted David’s full tenure on the book. He also wrote DC’s Star Trek comic books (though openly opined that Star Trek is better served in novel form as they’re not particularly visual), as well as Supergirl and Young Justice, the latter cancelld in order to transfer the assembled characters to the newly reformed Teen Titans monthly.

David’s work for Dark Horse comics has included the Spy Teen Adventure, SpyBoy, which appeared between 1999 and 2004 and a 2007 mini-series. Other independent work includes Soulsearchers and Company, which is published by Claypool Comics and the Epic Comic’s Sachs and Violens, which he produced personally with co-creator George Perez.

David returned to Marvel with Heroes Reborn: The Return for Marvel, in which the Marvel Universe’s lost characters that had disappeared in an event a year before returned to the Marvel Universe as well as a run on a new series of Captain Marvel, which was critically acclaimed.

David and his Second wife, Kathleen. wrote the final English-language text for the first four volumes of the manga series Negima for Del Ray Manga. In 2003, David began writing a new creator owned title , Fallen Angels, for DC Comics, using material left from development of the now-defunct Supergirl title as well as writinga Teenage Mutant Nija Turtles Mini-series for Dreamwave that tied into the animated television series broadcast that year. After Dc cancelled Fallen Angels, David relaunched at IDW the same year. He went on to produce Spike: Old Times one-shot and Spike Vs Dracula mini-series, based on the character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel Tv series.

X-Factor 92 (Peter David, Joe Quesada, Marvel Comics)

In 2005, David briefly returned to the Incredible Hulk but only lasted for 11 Issues due to work pressures. He also developed a new title Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-man, beginning witha 12-part ‘The Other’ storyline in which Spider-man discovers he is dying, lost a fight during a traumatic fight with Morlun, underwent a metamorphosis and developed new powers and greater understanding of his abilities. Yet again whenever experimental alterations are made to popular characters, this proved controversial with readers, who were bemused perhaps by the extended stingers coming out of Spider-man’s arms and the association of a Spider totem from which his powers were derived. David’s run ended with issue 23.

Following on from David’s original and successful run on X-factor in the early 90s, he wrote a successful MadroX (Multiple Man) title for Marvel the same year which led to the reintroduction of the X-Factor title, using characters from David’s original tenure Multiple Man, Strong Guy, Wolfsbane) working as private investigators in a detective agency of the titular name. David’s work on the title proved popular with Ain’t It Cool News and David found that the new Opt in/ opt out policy on Crossovers and greater forward planning on titles made his second tenure much easier. However, his decision to create a homosexual storyline between established characters, Shatterstar and Rictor (a confirmation of clues that had been established in X-Force years earlier) drew criticism from Shatterstar’s Co-creator Rob Liefield, though Editor-in-Chief and former creative partner on David’s original run on X-Factor supported the story. The title eventually won a 2011 GLAAD Media Award for outstanding comic book for his work on the title.

Peter David announced in 2005 that he had signed an exclusive contract with Marvel, his independent works Spike, Fallen Angel and Soulsearchers and Company ‘grandfathered’ into the agreement. David wrote the dialogue for The Dark Tower: A Gunslinger Born, a comic book spin-off from Stephen King’s Dark Tower novels, bringing his career full circle. He then wrote Marvel’s Dark Tower comic book adaptations as well.

David took over She-Hulk after Dan Slott left, from Issue 22 to 38, a run which won praise. He also wrote Halo: Helljumper, 2009 Ben 10: Alien Force Manga book published by Del Rey, Ben Fold’s Four, a ‘Little Mermaid’ story in Jim Valentino’s Fractured Fables anthology that won more praise from Ain’t it Cool News, an adaptation of the 1982 film Tron to tie in with the 2010 sequel of the same name and a John Carter from Mars prequel to the film due out next year.

Peter David is a genius. His methodology is to block out different days for different projects, allowing him to be prolific in his work. Assured, well liked and professional, Peter David is a quiet voice in a creative industry but one with an enormous fan base exclusively based on the enjoyment of his work. His writing conveys his enthusiasm, wit and humour as well as never losing grip on issues close to him. Unafraid of controversy and generous in his plotting and pacing, David is a joy to read. A clear reason as to why his works are reprinted through Marvel, available as Masterworks collections and including full runs of his writing.

Practitioners 37: Peter David (Part 1)

Peter David is an American writer of comic books, novels, television, mvies and video games. He was born in September 1956 and his most notable comic book work are an award-winning 12-year run on Incredible Hulk, as well as writing turns on X-Factor, Aquaman, Young Justice, Supergirl and Fallen Angel.

Peter David made his name on - and a legend of The Incredible Hulk with 12 Years as writer

Perhaps influenced by his background, David is known for his use of real life issues and humour, as well as popular culture and self referencing within the pages of his work. He is a prolific writer who’s style shows up his natural enthusiasm for characterisation and anarchic plot development. His characters are broad and often sympathetic. He develops worlds as he sees the and when allied with the write artist (Quesada, Frank) his storytelling flows beautifully and simply to the reader. His is an entertaining read, using sardonic humour and situation comedy, action and big scale themes to put forward serious issues Peter David is a very serious campaigner for LGBT issues after he and his gay friend were targets for ostracism and harrassment from homophobes in his second home town in Verona. He had moved there from Bloomfield, New Jersey. While it was his best friend Keith that was gay, the effect was enough for him to spearhead associated story lines in his mainstream comic book with deft, frank and uncompromising cander. His home life has also informed his work as his paternal grandparents and his father, Gunter escaped Nazi Germany to settle in the US, where his father eventually met his mother, Dalia, an Israeli-born Jewish girl, to whom David credits his sense of humour. While his writing carries none of his religious or family backgrounds, David’s acknowledgment of deeper social and political movements beyond the edges of the pages and his use of humour to augment and ease difficult subjects in his work suggests influences from his home in Fort Meade, Maryland (where he was born). He has two siblings, a younger brother named Wally, a still-life photographer and musician and a sister called Beth.

David was drawn into comic books at the age of 5 when he read copies of Harvey Comic’s Casper and Wendy in a barbershop. The Adventures of Superman TV series later got him interested in Superheroes. His favourite title was Superman and he cites John Buscema as his favourite pre-1970s artist. The closest David has got to writing Superman is his first -cousin Supergirl. A character that arguably David’s style suits more though I think many would be intrigued as to what he would do with the last Kryptonian.

As a young boy, his father was a journalist, writing reviews of films, to which he took the young Peter David along with him. Whilst the elder David was writing his own review, his young son was knocking together his own back at home. Some of these appeared in the article itself.

The seminal moment however was in meeting his idol, Stephen King at a book signing, telling him that he was an aspiring writer. King signed David’s copy of Danse Macabre with the inscription ‘Good luck with your writing career,’ which David now inscribes himself onto books presented to him with the same aspirations. Other writers that David cites as influences include Harlan Ellison, Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes), Robert B. Parker, Neil Gaiman (Sandman, American Gods), Terry Pratchett (Discworld), Robert Craiss and Edgar Rice Burroughs while specific books he has mentioned as his favourites include To Kill a Mockingbird, Tarzan of the Apes, The Princess Bride, The Essential Ellison, A Confederacy of Dunces, Adam versus Jefferson and Don Quixote. Harlanm Ellison, an American writer of more than 1000 short stories, novellas, screenplays, teleplays, essays, a wide range of criticism covering literature, film, television and print media and editor of two ground-breaking sci-fi anthologies, Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions, is cited as the writer David most tries to emulate in his work. Though emulation seems pointless now as David has become such a notable writer in the field, even if in a limited number of titles.

Strangely, David had given up on a career writing and came to work in book publishing, first Elsevier/Nelson and later working for sales and distribution for Playboy Paperbacks. He subsequently worked for five years in Marvel’s sales department as Sales Direct Manager under Carol Kalish, who hired him and then succeeding Kalish as Sales Manager. At the time he he made a couple of cursory attempts to sell stories, in particular for Moon Knight to Dennis O’Neill bbut this proved fruitless. Three years into David’s time as Sales Manager ‘maverick’ James Owsley became editor of the Spider-man titles. Owsley had been impressed with David’s willingness to work under him without hesitation when Owsley was assistant editor under Larry Hama, and thus, when he became editor, he purchased a Spider-man story from David, which appeared in Spectacular Spider-man 103 in 1985. A move from Sales to Editorial was seen as a conflict of interest at the time and in response to any possible criticism, David made a point of not discussing editorial matters while in his 9-5 job of Direct Sales Manager and decided not to exploit it by promoting the title. David still attributes the poor sales of the title to this decision but has commented that crossing over from Sales to Editorial is now common. None-the-less he was fired from Spectacular Spider-man by Owsley due to editorial pressure by Marvel’s Editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, and has commented that the resentment caused by Owsley’s purchase of his stories may have permanently damaged Owsley’s career. Despite this far from ideal start in his career as a comic’s writer, arguably damaging other’s careers unintentionally in the process, (or perhaps because of it) Jim Shooter’s replacement as Editor-In-Chief, Bob Harras, offered David a position as ongoing writer on a struggling title no-one wanted to write. A difficult, curmudgeonly title that was defined by its character’s complete lack of development – even for the comic’s industry. That title was the Hulk and Peter David was about to make history….

Part 2 on Thursday.

Practitioners 35: Andy Kubert

Andy Kubert was born on February 27, 1962, the third member (after father Joe and elder brother Adam) of one of the most famous comics artist families.

While Kubert started at DC Comics, drawing Adam Strange and the Batman Vs Predator crossover, he is probably best known for his work at Marvel Comics, specifically the company’s X-Men titles. With the move of Jim Lee to Image in the early nineties, Kubert (who had already been providing cover art – including Gambit’s introduction on Uncanny X-Men and a brief stint as that titles penciller) became penciller for what was the No.1 title in the world. Starting at Issue 19, Kubert caught the potential disaster of Lee’s departure and maintained the quality. Not dissimilar to Lee’s style, Kubert maintained the lightly lined, crosshatched, clear and concise style readers had enjoyed and actually clarified the panels more so than Lee himself.

Andy Kubert’s run on X-Men was a game changer as it maintained the quality of the X-Men line through the all important X-over event that captured the work of Peter David, Joe Quesada, Adam Kubert and Greg Capullo – all legends in the field. Andy Kubert was penciller on the flagship title of not just the X-line but Marvel itself and continued to push out exceptionally engaging compositions throughout the run. While his work was perhaps less accurate and realistic than his brothers (working on Wolverine at the time), Andy’s work had a subtlety and finesse that his brother didn’t. Relying on light line work and fine detail to augment the story, Kubert’s style was more illustrative and naturally drew the onlooker into the page. Kubert’s grasp of emotive splash pages and unique angles and physicality gave new life to characters such as Gambit and Beast, their natural gymnastics perhaps less impactful under another, less confident artist. His work continued to develop and found itself increasingly enhanced by new colouring techniques as the pencil and ink linework could be more easily brought out of the page; the background and foreground becoming more distinct; a minor detail that his early X-Men work suffered from at times. Far from being a Jim Lee imitator, Kubert was his own artist, developing the characters away from Lee’s original designs however slightly.

Offering it a lighter touch, the emotional impact of the events in the story found greater scope. The romance between Gambit and Rogue that encapsulated the intelligent writing that was taking place in X-Men developed naturally under Kubert’s artistry.

In 2003, Kubert worked on Neil Gaiman’s Marvel 1602, a beautifully rendered story dropping the most central Marvel characters into the centre of the Elizabethan England at the end of Monarch’s reign. Kubert’s linework matched perfectly the lighter ink work of the period. His representations of the characters timeless and at the same time recognisably the characters of modern day. In it enhanced pencil was used, with the image painted from Kubert’s pencil line work. The effect was staggering and made clear Kubert’s natural illustrative style. Although always precise and meticulous, Kubert’s focus is not always on the central character and he enjoys playing with compositions, not necessarily filling any panel with the characters but allowing the surroundings to impose on the action. This is undoubtedly the work of an assured artist. To be able to jump from X-Men to a project like 1602 successfully shows the range of work Kubert is capable of handling.

Both Andy and his brother signed exclusive contracts to work for DC comics in 2005. While his brother Adam has returned to Marvel comics following his 3 year deal with DC; Dan Didio has confirmed that Andy still has projects with DC. Fundamentally Bat related. Kubert provided covers for Blackest Night issues of Green Lantern and Blackest Night: Batman miniseries. Andy worked with his father Joe on the first two issues of DC Universe Legacies, a 10 issue miniseries chronicling the history of the DC Universe. On top of this Andy contributed to Batman 700, teaming up with Grant Morrison to tell more tales of Damian Wayne as Batman in the future of the over-sized anniversary issue. ‘Flashpoint’ – a Flash centric event is due to start this year (2011).

Kubert is an artist who alters the projects he touches. He has handled two of the most well known franchises for the two largest comic book companies in the world and left all concerned wanting more. The youngest Kubert, Andy had something to prove and it can certainly be argued that his work is considerably more popular and well received than his brother or father. Having also handled Millar’s Ultimate X-Men – a challenge as he effectively anchored the original designs in the mid to late 90s – it’s clear that Andy Kubert is a quietly famous and exceptional talent among equally talented artists. This cannot be ascribed to genes alone, as Kubert has handled the most well known projects in the world and made them more memorable.