Practitioners 22: Dave Gibbons Pt 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practitioners 12: Simon Furman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Practitioners 5: Eduardo Risso

Following on from the previous feature on Brian Azzarello we’re looking at the other creative that made 100 Bullets what it was – a pivotal, gravitational piece of visceral and memorable power.

Only an artist with the craftsmanship to make a coffee machine a focus in a scene filled with tension and intrigue could have maintained the awe inspiring integrity and scope of a series like 100 Bullets. Every once in a while an artist will simply prove the power of a black line on a white canvass and no one shows the clarity and purpose of line placement better than Eduardo Risso. He is the dangerous surgeon of the practitioners – his knowledge of anatomy, feature and form informing a sharp, efficient and unflinching style that tears the page between pitch blackness and sharp simple colours – a playground for colourists Grant Goleash and Patricia Mulvihill. In a yankee-centric medium Risso is now synonomous with Brian Azzarello and 100 Bullets, however Eduardo Risso is a multinational artist reknowned in North and South America and Europe for his graphic, noirish linework and efficient and poster-natural artwork. As a western reader, embedded in American comic books anyone’d be forgiven for believing his name was made in the US. Not so.

Like a wandering Mariachi, Risso was born in Leones in Córdoba Province, Argentina and started as a cartoonist in 1981, drawing his first collaborations for the morning paper La Nación and the magazines Erotiocon and Satiricon in his home country. In 1986, he worked for Eura Editoriale of Rome, Italy, and in 1987 he drew Parque Chas, scripted by Ricardo Barreiro. The series was first published by Fierro in Argentina, comic history, and then by Totem in Spain, Comic Art in Italy and finally the complete series as a graphic novel in France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, Poland and the United States – no doubt catching the attention of comic industry decision makers there. In 1988, he drew Cain, again scripted by Barreiro, again in Black and White giving rise to a clear inking style that was unforgiving to detail. With each new series Risso’s work has increased in clarity and precision.

He is prolific in his work – every year of working on 100 Bullets turfing up other work including Batman 620-625. Most recently he can be found in the pages of Logan 1-3. The canuckle head giving a character that could’ve been born with Risso in mind to Risso’s gritty and dominating style. While 100 Bullets remains Risso’s most prominent achievement (covering 11 years of his working history and earning him an Eisner for Best Artist) we haven’t seen the best of him yet.