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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Prepping up for Kapow!! Things that might be available at Kapow!

Look - badges!! (possibly)

Now you might well think that we were just going to wander up to Kapow with a box full of books and try to push them off onto any unsuspecting soul walking by. But no – we plan (hope) to offer choice!! CHOICE!! That’s right. Not only the heady goodness that is a copy of Moon 1 but you can (perhaps) buy badges of various designs AND the First Beyond the Bunker DVD – a collection of mine and Dan’s short films (mostly Dan’s if I’m honest – I was drawing things). 6 of the best from the BTB Film collection no less with The Devil’s Fork, Cock, the newly minted Wild Watch – fresh from success at the 2 Days Laughter short film competition – some children’s television entertainers sanguine too with Edd: Ducking the Past, (Box):Fresh and the film that spawned the legend – The Day the Moon got too Close. All on 1 DVD! Plus extras! Plus I think there’s a trailer on there somewhere- WOOHOO!! (Ahem).

However, the badge company have informed us there are delays to the delivery and the DVD covers are currently with an unnamed supporter of the Bunker who is risking all to complete them all and get them back to us tomorrow night… so we’ll have to see what happens…..

But who cares because we have Moon 1 and Fallen Heroes will be available to all comers (limited supply of FH 1 so get in quick at the Fallen Heroes table!!).

Practitioners 20: Olivier Coipel

Olivier Coipel is a French comic book artist who has set the world of comic books on fire (several times at the behest of the script) and was described by Marvel Editor-In-Chief as being one (of very few) who has the qualities that make a ‘future superstar penciller.’ With clean compositions even in the heat of superhero battle, Olivier represents the French habit of ensuring that the emotional information in a panel is communicated as effectively as the physical. His intricate character design and attention to detail are unusual in an artist that can also turn on enormous set piece panels featuring superheroes clubbing each other on castle ramparts, shadowed by flying battleships (as in Marvel Crossover Siege, 2010, for instance).

Coming to prominence and frankly significant controversy as the artist of the DC Comics book Legion of Super-heroes while under the safe hands of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning (who later joined Marvel Universe to create Bunker favourite the Guardians of the Galaxy), beginning with the Legion lost story.

A spread from Seige (Marvel, 2010)

Legion of Super-heroes is not one of DC’s all time big hitters but has a loyal and regular following. Hard to believe though it is now Coipel recieved increased criticism on his run with Legion. His artwork slightly less sharp and contoured the fans felt that his style was ‘too rough and unrefined’ leading to a significant number of prominent critics to pan his first major work. One prominent critic (unnamed even went as far as to call him ‘Ol’ Scratchy’. In spite of this Coipel continued to draw the series when it was relaunched under the new title ‘The Legion’.

Leaving DC in 2005, Coipel signed an exclusive contract with Marvel Comics in January 2005 and has had a significant amount of pencilling work to date. With a huge amount of expectation placed on him right from the go – Coipel was asked to kill the Avengers under Brian Michael Bendis. The flagging title was gaining lower and lower sales figures and a new approach had to be introduced, and in that testing ground new talents were introduced. Coipel introduced Flashback pages to the final issues of Avengers alongside master Marvel penciller David Finch (X-Men, New Avengers).

While Finch went on to create New Avengers series some months later, Coipel released one of the most assured and impressive visual storytelling pieces in comics. Straight out of the gate (only stopping for a single cover design for Black Panther 16), Coipel was assigned the pencilling duties on House of M; in which Coipel would have to build the Marvel Universe from the ground up; utilising designs from throughout the Marvel universe. There was no doubt that this was going to launch Coipel into the limelight – no doubt what Marvel wanted – House of M incorporated every title in the Marvel Universe for four months; the culmination of all these events took place under Coipel’s pencil line in the House of M mini-series. He didn’t fail to impress, with grandiose scene making and exceptional characterisation – he captured visually the demanding emotional effect on the central characters of the Marvel Universe as they reeled from the effects of the reality shift. Wolverine talks momentarily on the deck of a renovated Shield battlecruiser over New York. In it his and Mystique’s reactions are perfect and refined, reflecting intimately on their faces the subtexts introduced by the script. And when Wolverine throws himself off the deck of the ship the skyline of New York moves up to meet him; his face still registering the conversation and revelation that has occurred to him; he has made matching draftsmanship and illustration perfectly together, seamlessly to form a memorable visual moment. Few artists could have realised better the agony in Peter Parker when he discovers that his wife is dead and his child shouldn’t exist in a harrowing and emphatic moment in comic history; no doubt lost soon to its lack of relevance to continuity.

It was in this series that Coipel’s unique sense of space and composition became obvious. In panels crowded with fighting super humans, Coipel finds space and clarity in the maul. His assured use of the panel, allowing open space, even accounting that which has to stay free for dialogue speech bubbles is nothing short of masterly. His use of free space brings the eye firmly down to bear on its intended target – the character or event. But rather than carrying the eye off panel and out and onto another page the detail fixed in his choices of moment holds your attention and makes the book you are reading significantly more engaging.

His mastery over physicality, anatomy and expression is exceptional too (expected perhaps from a French artist given the artistic traditions of his home nation) as each character is given different baring and expressions under numerous circumstances. His facial expressions can echo a perfect moment caught in a photograph in an entire play and roll from panel to panel – endlessly engaging.

Coipel was engaged in New Avengers (Variant cover only), Ultimate X-Men 61 (variant cover only), a story in the New Avengers Annual 1 and Stan Lee meets Spider-man, for which I think Dan used some artwork for the upcoming Stan Awards article last week.

Astonishing Thor Gatefold (Marvel, 2009)

But it was Thor he fell on. Working on the reintroduction of a Thor series with J. Michael Straczinsky. Set in the American Midwest, the new Thor series gave Coipel the opportunity to realise wide open skies and landscapes in the towers of Asgard as it hovered 15 feet over corn feilds. His subtle character designs and nuances worked well with the title, allowing a well realised group of all-too Human and otherworldly characters; most notably in the town meeting in which panel reveals the Gods of Asgard sitting politely on one side with the small nearby town’s population looking whistfully back at them from the chairs on the other side of the room. Every expression, costume and detail well realised. A cinemotgrapher would sit back and smile if any shot appeared as well realised in a blockbuster movie.

Coipel rounded it off with Seige, another enormous crossover event to announce the company’s creative direction with the ‘Golden Avengers’; a return to heroic age. Coipel’s work in Thor put him great stead with this book. Asgard was under attack by the corrupted Shield forces under Harry Osborne; now beyond the President’s control – allowing the cast of the heroic age of Marvel (and Nick Fury and Maria Hill) to unite and stand against a clear, black and white enemy. This was Marvel’s announcement of a return to simpler ideals and an acknowledgment of heroes and it was beautifully realised by Coipel. His friendly, clear and emotive style enhanced the events considerably.

Norman Osborne goes nuts!! (Seige, 2010)

Coipel is the new breed of comic book artists; in which cinema plays an enormous part. In a future in which the demands on an individual artist are to create as close to a photorealistic portrayal of the wonders in a comic book – Coipel will represent a spearhead in beautifully realised, perfectly poised and utterly engaging superhero and comic book fiction. He is due to return to Matt Fraction’s Thor this year.

VIVE LE FRANCE! VIVE LE REVOLUTION!!

A Black Viking?!

Heimdall as drawn by Olivier Coipel

Mark Millar’s been highlighting an interesting story on his blog this week. It seems that white supremacist groups are rather ticked off about the casting of black actor, Idris Elba as Heimdall in the upcoming Thor movie.  According to the rather bluntly named Boycott-Thor.com “Marvel has now inserted social engineering into European mythology.” They’re also quite keen to point out that The Guardian newspaper wrote an article saying that Thor was probably going to be crap (nothing to do with the racial aspect, The Guardian just don’t like super hero movies). Yep, white supremacists are quoting the Guardian as a source. Go figure.

I wouldn’t normally bother responding to something as daft as this. Pretty much every fantasy movie manages to offend some nut job about something or other, but in this case it relates to a question that we actually had to look at in the course of one of our projects. The first film that Steve and I did together was a Viking horror short called Ragnarok Dawn set in the mid 11th Century in the twilight of the pagan Viking era. During the casting process we were offered a chance to work with a very talented black actor by the name of Noel Wesley and so found ourselves asking the same question that is being banded around here: were there black Vikings?

Well the short answer is, ‘we don’t know.’ Despite what the people behind such campaigns as Boycott-Thor might wish you to believe, a pile of bones don’t tell you a lot about the colour of a person’s skin. But we can make an educated guess based on what we know about Viking history. It’s easy to think of the Vikings as a bunch of guys who lived on the coast of Denmark and occasionally popped over to pillage Yorkshire but this is a long way from the truth. The term ‘Viking’ is a catch all term for an extremely varied set of groups which, at their peak, were active in almost every corner of the known world and beyond. There are the Vikings of Leif Ericson, who landed in Canada; the Rus, whose influence stretched all the way to the walls of Babylon and Constantinople (and who may or may not have a fairly major modern country named after them depending on who you talk to); even the Normans, those great paragons of Frenchness, were originally of Viking stock. By the end of what we could rather loosely call ‘the Viking age’ being a Viking was far less about where you were from and more about the way you lived and thus it was very hard to say exactly what a Viking was. So it’s safe to say that Vikings would have had direct contact with black people but did they recruit any into their fold? Again it’s hard to say for sure, but it’s important to remember that the Vikings were, above many things, practical. If you are putting together a Viking crew on the shores of the Black Sea and you don’t have enough native Scandinavians to make up the numbers are you honestly going to trek all the way back to Norway to find more? Cities like Constantinople were melting pots of different cultures and to assume that the Vikings were immune to the kind of natural multiculturalism that occurs in such environments defies logic.

I actually pinched this image from a neo-nazi blog, so thanks go to them for providing high res images with which to undermine their hate filled bullshit.

So we can say that historically speaking, there is a basis for saying that you could find a black man on a Viking crew (which is why you can see Mr Wesley’s fine performance in our humble film), but what about having a black man playing a norse god? Well this can probably best be summed up with the following statement:

IT’S A FUCKING SUPERHERO FILM!

Seriously. This is a movie about a guy who throws a shoots lighting out of his face, fights trolls on the streets of small American towns and has a cape that considers the laws of physics to be ‘something other people do’. It’s based on a fictional comic that is based on fictional myths about fictional people. That’s so many levels from reality that you don’t get to complain about historical inaccuracies any more than you get to complain about the fact that Tony Stark can land the Iron Man at full speed and not turn to jelly inside the thing. Elba himself was interviewed about this by the Radio Times a while back and I think he probably sums it up better than anyone:

“Hang about, Thor’s mythical, right? Thor has a hammer that flies to him when he clicks his fingers. That’s OK, but the color of my skin is wrong? I was cast in Thor and I’m cast as a Nordic god. If you know anything about the Nords, they don’t look like me but there you go. I think that’s a sign of the times for the future. I think we will see multi-level casting. I think we will see that, and I think that’s good.”

Good on you sir.

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