Practitioners 44: Andy Lanning

Andy Lanning is a British comic book writer and inker, known, most credibly for his work for Marvel Comics and DC comics and in particular as collaborator with Dan Abnett. For an inker to make the leap to writing one of the foremost titles currently being put out by Marvel, as part of their Cosmic run, is impressive. His association with Dan Abnett has gone from strength to strength for years.

Lanning wasn’t always an inker though, at the spark of his career with Marvel UK in it’s earliest days, he found a position as penciller on the short lived, Jake and Elwood Blues inspired, futuristic Sleeze Brothers was a comic book limited series published by Epic Comics, between August 1989 and January 1990 – a run of just six issues. Written by John Carnell, it followed the titular brothers through a futuristic earth filled with extra terrestrials, pollution, crime and corruption. It was neatly drawn with a warner brothers-esque style with a semi realistic twist. The art style was arguably on par with other artists – Bryan Hitch for instance – who went on to become much more prolific and well known artists – working with Abnett and Lanning much later on their 15 book run on Wildstorm’s The Authority.

Working consistently alongside Dan Abnett, no one has ever been more of a fix-it guy on so many varying projects. He drops seamlessly into whatever position is necessary on any given project, pencilling, inking, co-writing and writing – he’s either the most prolific hanger on or one of the nicest, most capable people in the industry. To be able to work alongside so many names of the industry, including Abnett who alone is responsible for the sales of more than 1.5 million novels and hundreds of thousands of comic books, he has to be a hell of a guy to work with. Bouncing ideas backwards and forwards past him must be akin to a Chinese / South Korean ping pong final at the Olympics.

Lanning’s partnership with Dan Abnett began early on, with a Judge Anderson: Exorcise Duty for the Judge Dredd Annual 1991, with art completed by Anthony Williams. Lanning found popular acclaim inking Liam Sharp’s pencils for the industry shaking Death’s Head 2. A title with more than 500,000 preorders DH 2 was a flagship example of success at a boom time for comic books that’ll never be seen again. His sublime work on Liam Sharp’s detailed and precise and exacting illustrative work shows an incredible attention to detail. With Marvel UK Lanning was involved in Digitek (with John Tomlinson and painted art by Dermot Power) and Codename: Genetix (with Graham Marks, Phil Gascoine and inks by Robin Riggs in 1993)as part of Marvel Uk’s second generation wave of titles.

Lanning graduated to Marvel mainstream with Punisher: Year One (with Abnett, Dale Eaglesham and Scott Koblish) and the Avengers West Coast replacement, Force Works (again with Dan Abnett), which featured Iron Man, USAgent, Scarlet Witch, Wonder man and a long disappeared alien warrior guru named Century. Force Works was elevated some time later into an animated series.

Moving over to DC shortly afterwards with a run on Resurretion Man (with Jackson Guice), The Else world One-shot Batman: Two Faces (with Anthony Williams), Abnett and Lanning (or DnA as they are otherwise known) found a home with DC’s resident spit curled former-resisdent of Krypton, Superman with Prime-Time, The Superman Monster, Return to Krypton and Strange Attractors (on which he worked with Gail Simone as well as Abnett). It was the title for which Olivier Coipel became famous that raised the status for both Lanning and his writing partner as they took on Legion Lost, a reimagining of the debunked Legion of Superheroes title, that later became the ongoing Legion. In many ways Lanning maintains his Mr Fixit role in almost every job he undertakes, working alongside the big names of the industry and putting out consistent and notable writing. Impossible as it is to discern where Lanning ends and Abnett begins, it clearly works – as Abnett has worked diligently beside Lanning on almost all major projects (excluding his 2000AD output) for the last 20 years. To maintain a working arrangement like that for so long is notable in that as the profile of the two writers became greater, one would have stood apart as the creative mind. However, in 20 years, no cracks appear to have shown in the partnership. If anything both have had increasing fun obliterating universes together.

Based on Abnett’s other work (with Warhammer 40k), Lanning appears to be the populist and more comic book orientated, perhaps the thing that brings Abnett’s writing into line with audiences with less of a need for heavy weaponry and enormous armies. However it braeks down, Lanning’s partnership with Abnett clearly spawns enthusiastic and impressive ideas and narratives including some of the best character zingers ever heard. The pair have improved and enhanced their reputation in comic books by simplifying and man handling their characters and allowing events to take hold that other titles fail to. Effectively an editor’s potential worst nightmare, when handed a sand box that they have creative control of the effects are absolutely brilliant.

Lanning and Abnett collaboarted on the ongoing Nova series for Marvel in 2007, following the cataclysmic Nova series from the previous years Marvel Cosmic crossover Annihalation. Lanning and Abnett were handed the scenario whereby the Xandarian Nova Corps would be destroyed completely within 12 pages by the incoming Annihalation wave. triggering an intergalactic war. Some might have balked at the idea but this was Lanning and Abnett’s Raise en dentre. Grabbing the Xandarian Nova Corps helmet by the polished brass, they didn’t destroy the Nova Corps, they really Annihalated it. Thousands of Starships pummel the Nova Corps unexpectedly during a Corps meeting and rather than holding back slightly and allowing certain survivors to pick themselves up from the rubble and try to carry on, Lanning and Abnett killed every single Corpsman but one, our very own Richard Rider in less time than it usually takes to have a two headed character discussion. Rider doesn’t simply get knocked aside, he survives because he’s effectively at the heart of it. He spends four or five panels flirting with a fellow Corpswoman only for her head to be smashed to pieces and is sent hurtling backwards down to the planet below, trapped in the flaming wreckage of the Corps hall he was just in and had tried to fly through in order to escape. Issue 2 sees a battered and injured Nova, trapped under rubble in a quiet tableau of post apocalyptic destruction, snow and ash falling from the grey sky. He spends the rest of the issue scrambling through the rubble, a beautifully rendered example of the pause after immense death, tempered with Nova’s obnoxious banter with the discovered Novacorps Artificial Intelligence. Lanning and Abnett are patient and confident writers, allowing the events to breath and never afraid of the possibility of tragedy, carnage, laughter or brevity to take place within a panel of each other.

In June 2008, Abnett and Lanning announced they had signed an exclusive deal with Marvel and they have served the populist hulk very well. They piloted the Annihalation: Conquest storyline, in which the Phalanx take advantage of the vulnerability of post Annihalation wave societies and block off Kree space. This became a more paired down sequel to Annihalation, focussing very deliberately on very, very specific figures. From these, the title Star Lord, a reimagining of the adapted character that appeared in the late ’90s spawned a new Guardian’s of the Galxy title.

In this Lanning and Abnett have hit their stride absolutely. With a play pen involving some of the most notable characters in the Marvel Universe, they decided to opt for a Green Nymphomaniac murderess, a smart mouthed hero of the Annihalation wars, a warrior built to kill gods, a fallen space mage with schizophrenic tendencies and a talking Raccoon. The inclusion of Rocket Raccoon alone is worth a pat on the back and a pint in the hand. Rocket Raccoon was last seen frequenting 1980s Marvel comic books, being chased by Keystone cops in an absurdist forest surrounded by oddball creations. It was hard to see how the character existed then, let alone could find a place in modern comic book teams. But Rocket Raccoon returned, found in a Kree holding cell, he befriended Groot, a walking tree king so he could use him as a platform for his heavy ordnance. As tactical leader of the team, Rocket is one of the finest examples of writing outrunning the lunacy of a plot. Rocket, along with all the other members of the team are written sublimely. Private progress reports give each character their own distinctive voice and has seen Guardians become one of the most talked about series in years for fans in the know.

Lanning and Abnett have a habit of taking crackpot ideas and breaking all the rules, to positive effect. Their run on War of Kings, described usually as the Cosmic aftermath of Secret Invasion dwarves the events that took place on Earth. With the apparent death’s of Cyclop’s new-found brother Vulcan you would think they were resolving an unfortunate creative choice from the X-men universe (Vulcan wasn’t well liked and leadened the X-men universe immeasurably) until you realise that the External’s King Black Bolt, an iconic and famous figure in books, often stood beside Reed Richards, Namor, Iron Man, Captain America as pillars of a character filled universe dies with him, blowing a massive hole in the side of creation from which nasty things pop out for the Guardians to deal with. The death of a long standing Shi’ar leader (and X-men regular) in Empress Neramani and the raising of Gladiator as new Emperor of the Shi’ar state is plotting that had been denied for nearly 20 years. These character’s were seemingly immovable on the chess board of Marvel’s tactical board. Lanning and Abnett set fire to the Chess board.

But more than that, the love story between Ronan the Accuser and the External’s Crystal is thought provoking and engaging as the clumsy Accuser finds himself out of his depth but slowly charms the warm and emotionally open Crystal to him with his honesty. Gladiator’s struggle with his obvious rise to power is touching as a picture of man who’s devotion is to the seat of power but comes to understand that his future is at the service of his people. It’s powerful stuff, more than acceptable for a historical, political play or romance but it is found in the pages of a comic book in which a Raccoon bounds about the panel shouting insults at his fellow team mates as they fight at the edge of space. They have brought back the multi layered space opera unexpectedly and I know that we at Beyond the Bunker will continue to read it for as long as Lanning and Abnett continue to put them out. Long may they write of Empire building in far distant galaxies. They could even show a certain bearded film maker a thing or two….

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Practitioners 17: Brian Bolland (Part One)

Brian Bolland (born in 1951) is a british comic artist known for his meticulous, highly detailed line work and eye catching compositions. Reknowned as one of the ultimate Judge Dredd artists for British comic anthology 2000AD, he spearheaded the ‘British Invasion’ of the American Comics Industry with Camelot 3000 (with Mike W. Barr), the first ever 12 issue Maxi-series to be released by DC comics.

Most notable, however is his masterwork. Along with writer Alan Moore Bolland created one of, if not the definitive examples of Batman in the critically acclaimed Killing Joke.

Drawn into comics in 1960 – a couple of years after they began to arrive on the shores of England (in 1958) – by Dell Comics Dinosaurus! which appealled to his love of Dinosaurs at that age. Turok, Son of Stone and DC’s Tomahawk furthered his childhood fascination with the form and before long he was writing and drawing his own work from his home in Butterwick, Lincolnshire. A fascination with DCs heroes, in particular Batman and Robin was formed from seeking covers featuring ‘any big creature that looked vaguely dinosaur-like, trampling puny humans.’

It was in 1962, aged 11, most likely from comic books bought on a family holiday to Skegness that he came across Carmine Infantino’s Flash and Gil Kane’s Green Lantern and the Atom. His interest locked firmly on the artists of DC at the time, not favouring Marvel, feeling the covers were crude and the paper quality crude. Even at so young an age Bolland remembers taking direct reference from the early artists of the classic superhero series – including Joe Kubert (dad to Andy and Adam of X fame) and Mike Esposito. His appreciation of the work of Jack Kirby came through the eyes of a seasoned professional much later. His interest was in no way limited to US imports as he enjoyed the comparable UK strips of Syd Jordan’s Jeff Hawke and David Wright’s Carol Day as well as Valiant, a weekly comic book collection by Brit practitioners such as Eric Bradbury (Mytek the Mighty) and Jesus Blasco’s Steel Claw.

Coming from a quiet household Bolland embraced the cultural revolution taking place throughout his country while studying O Levels and A Levels in art, moving on to five years at art school in 1969 learning graphic design and Art History.In 1973 he wrote a 15,000 word dissertation on Neal Adams – an artist his teachers had never heard of. He is sited as saying that ‘During my five years in three art schools I never learnt a single thing about comics in any form from any of my tutors.’

His feverish need to understand the form led him to study off his own back the American legends of the burdgeoning art form from across the pond; Foster, Herriman, Alex Raymond and Winsor McCay, Noel Sickles, Mily Caniff and Roy Crane as well as the Europeans… Moebius, Manara, Breccia. Later the Filipinos – Alex Nino, Nestor Redondo. Discovering an untapped resource in these incredible figures of a seemingly undiscovered art form was like sailing the coast of a country no one around him knew existed. In a world in which comic creators are responsible for some of the most influential cultural icons and most reliable film franchises in popular culture its perhaps difficult to understand how exciting this glance at the edge of a culture formally unrecognised in the halls in which he was learning yet precise and clear in its form and intention might have been but I think its a position most of those who collect comic books would wish they could experience. And there he was at the edge of it – having familiarised himself completely with the form. All that was left was to try out for himself.

Bolland self-published fanzines which was published in underground magazines Friendz, International Times and OZ. Following a cover design for RDH Comix featuring Norwich Cathedral. But it was an underground magazine about to hit the big time as ‘the biggest weekly listings magazine’ named Time Out that gave Bolland his ‘first paid job’ producing a proper illustration of Jazz bassist Buddy Guy.

Meanwhile, he produced the first episodes of an adult Little Nemo in Slumberland parody entitled Little Nympho. This took off and he continued to design full page strips for a 50-copy fanzine entitled Suddenly at 2’0 Clock in the Morning as well as smaller strips entitled ‘ the Mixed up Kid’ to the Central School of Art’s college newspaper The Galloping Maggot.

But it was meeting and befriending Dave Gibbons (later of Watchmen / Green Lantern fame) at a comic convention at the Waverley Hotel in London, joining Art Agency Bardon Press Features. A couple of two-page strips featured with DC Thomson but Bolland would refer to this as his ‘lowest time’. However, it was a title through a client called Pikin that offered Bolland a chance to get his hands dirty. It was for a title to be sold in Nigeria (the first of its kind) and was a weekly comic book featuring an African Superhero named ‘Powerman’. He quickly realised that Gibbons could produce a page a day and struggled initially to keep up the pace. The pages had to simple and numbered because of the lack of familiarity in Nigeria to this form of work. Not only was this work “the best way to learn the simple rules of comic book storytelling,” but “better still, it was going someplace where nobody I knew could see it.” He “drew around 300 pages of that very straightforward, simple-to-follow work, and I guess the storytelling flowed naturally from that.” Even so friends from his school days had to help him occasionally to complete as he ‘was always struggling to get the last eight to ten pages finished’. A little help was also offered from Dave Gibbons and 2000AD and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen artist Kevin O’ Neill.

But it was here he struck a particularly lantern jawed law man associated with the success of so many of the greatest artists from the UK. As Gibbons joined Carlos Ezquerra at 2000AD for Prog 1, Bolland remained on Powerman but as it dropped monthly his agent at Bardon, Barry Coker offered him a cover on 2000AD. From his first he created more than a third of the first 30 covers. Moving inside 2000AD as well as taking on occasional inking duties on Gibbon’s Dan Dare was the dream and for prog 41, editor Nick Lauman called on Bolland to complete an unfinished Judge Dredd story from when on he became a regular artist on the title. He offered art to the most prominent Dredd storylines ‘Luna-period’, The Cursed Earth’, ‘ The Day the Law Died’, The Judge Child Quest’ and ‘Block Mania.’ He found it difficult to deal with the requirement to produce double page spreads (as Dredd started at the time) and Bolland struggled to complete the required work, eventually splitting it between himself and Mike McMahon.

Bolland was heavily influenced by McMahon’s ‘impressionistic’ style and described McMahon as ‘ the real idea man on Dredd,’ although acknowledging that ‘the average comics reader, certainly at the time, does tend to prefer realism.’ Aping the impressionism of McMahon and applying his own realism ‘finally cemented the iconic image’ according to Mark Salisbury. It was Bolland who created the look of iconic characters featured in Mega City One – namely Judge Death (and the other three Dark Judges) and Judge Anderson. Judge Death was drawn as ‘just another villain in just another excellent John Wagner script’ and was inspired by the look of Kevin O’ Neill’s Nemisis the Warlock. He also drew the great majority of Walter the Wobot: Fweind of Dwedd strips in 2000AD and the first three Dredd issues for the united states as well as a number of covers.

Mix that together with magazine covers for Time Out and every major comics publications (according to Wikipedia) and fanzines such as Nick Landau’s Comic Media News and Arkensword and the ‘hazard cards’ for a game called Maneater. And, as will be remembered around the age of 30 in the Uk completed two covers of the Fighting Fantasy Adventure Game Books and RPG scenario pamphlets for Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone.

He handled ad work through the agency – in particular Palitoy’s Star Wars toys 1n 1977 and on the associated material for the opening of the comic book shop Forbidden Planet. But his future lay across the sparkling Atlantic Ocean with a comic company that had spawned his interest to begin with…..

CONTD IN PART 2 (THURSDAY).

The Dangers of Deadlines : Brett Ewins

Born in 1955, Brett Ewins is a comic book artist best known for his work on Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper in the weekly Sci-fi comic book 2000AD. But he was more than that – responsible in part for continuing and popularising some of the most prominent comic book characters in British history.

Ewins studied at Goldsmith’s college and left in 1977 forming a long term collaborative partnership with fellow artist Brendan McCarthy, creating the comic Sometime Stories, which faltered after the first issue leaving the second complete and unpublished. However, from these meagre start Ewins had made an impact. A capable artist, with clear and concise line work and compositions more transatlantic than many of his peers in the UK comic industry his methodology allowing story telling to take most prominence on any page he drew – he proved popular with fans of 2000AD, whom he was signed to for Issue 33 of 2000AD in October of the same year.

Ewins provided a great many covers for 2000AD, catching eyes on newsstands around the country with his bright bold and clear style that must have buzzed the eyes through the dim days and rain hewn streets of England. His was a flash of colour from somewhere sunnier, sharper and more comically dangerous – his style belying and surpassing the aggression, violence and darkness that many of 2000AD’s strips began from. Much like McCarthy, his style was sparkling and built out of solid and recognisable comic book conventions, embraced and expanded upon.

Ewins and McCarthy continued to work together on strips such as Judge Dredd but soon after Ewins began to work solo on Rogue Trooper and later still Judge Anderson (both highly noteworthy recurring characters in 2000AD history). In 1985 Ewins started work on Bad Company, a concept by Alan Grant and John Wagner that hadn’t seen the light of day in 16 years, written finally by Peter Milligan with artwork by Ewins and Jim McCarthy, Bad Company saw the light of a UK day in Prog 500 of 2000AD. From this initial boost, Bad Company rolled forwards through to 2002 finished by Wagner, Grant and Judge Dredd visual grandpappy Carlos Ezquerra. But BAD Company left an indelible mark on 2000AD and the British comic industry, much as Ewins himself did.

It wasn’t 2000AD that Ewins should be recalled most for however but Deadline (founded in 1988), created by Ewins and Steve Dillon. Deadline featured a mixture of comic strips and written articles targetted at older readers. Similar to the titles Revolver, Crisis and Toxic which emerged during the title’s formative years and passed away, Deadline (Deadline publications) survived the early years and had a cultural influence beyond the comics world. Within its pages and nurtured by Ewins and Dillon appeared a comics artist superstar in the form of Jamie Hewlett. Issue 1 as far back as 1988 featured a cover with the counterculture post-punk icon Tank Girl.

Ewins at a Tank Girl Photoshoot, 1989 for Deadline magazine.

Ewins was incredibly representative of the 80s and personified the ideal of Deadline. The commercial failure of the Tank Girl movie saw the end of Deadline in the early 90s.

Ewins himself ‘suffered a serious breakdown from overwork’ in 1991 and was unable to take on work that had a deadline, losing him commissions from DC Comics and Penguin Books. A danger for any creative, Ewins was taken out of the industry he had worked in for more than a decade. In order to recover, his plan was to create an anthology based on work from friends in the industry including Peter Milligan, Alan Grant and Alan McKenzie as well as friends in the music industry such as Michael White. At the heart of it a story ,’Machine’, written by Brett based on his breakdown. The collection was eventually printed in 2004 by Cyberosia Publishing.


Godfathers of Punk (Brett Ewins)

A facilitator and cultural ambassador who founded a publication that supported the Brit musical era that ultimately killed it – Ewins is a subversive creator with a touch that has been popular. In the eighties he embodied the counter-culture post-punk era perfectly and this was reflected in the success of 2000AD buoyed by his covers and enhanced and enabled some of its most prominent characters.