Stephen Hickman

Stephen HickmanMany fantasy and science fiction artists create images of other worlds and other times. Few can imbue them with the feeling of cultured beauty that Stephen Hickman paints into his work. They are strange worlds, yes, but worlds where the inhabitants have gone to great lengths to beautify parts of their environment. This is an interesting touch and one that infuses Hickman’s images with a simultaneous impression of being foreign and familiar. Palaces gleam in architectural splendor and you can feel the weight and polish of metal, the smoothness of silken robes, even the texture of baby dragon skin.

Hickman has been illustrating books by some of the most recognizable names in both contemporary and classic fantasy and science fiction for over 20 years. Of particular interest are a series of paintings for the Pharazar Mythos that evolved from a book that he himself wrote, The Lemurian Stone.

 
 
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Winsor McCay

Little Nemo
I must have been a good boy this year, because Santa brought me a very nice treat indeed: a copy of Little Nemo in Slumberland – So many Splendid Sundays. This is a wonderful collection of 100 examples of one of the most beautiful comics ever created.

There are other collections of Little Nemo pages, but the real treat here is that these are presented as they were meant to be seen: at the size of a full Sunday newspaper page! Wow. It’s been 100 years (in October) since Nemo began appearing in Newspapers and almost that long since the pages have been seen at their true size by anyone but collectors.

The book was lovingly crafted by Peter Maresca. (The book is out of stock with the publisher until March of 2006, but you may be able to find it at Amazon.)

How can I describe Little Nemo? (Sigh.) Little Nemo in Slumberland was a stunningly beautiful, wildly imaginative, surreal, dazzling, spectacular, dizzying, marvelous, jaw-dropping, eye-popping, mind-expanding work of comic art. (Have I gotten the idea across?)

McCay was a virtuoso draughtsman and a superb colorist, and one of the finest masters of the comic art form. He played with time and space, perspective and proportion, color and design in ways that few artists (in any medium) can ever hope to match.

He also did several other comic strips, including Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend and Little Sammy Sneeze, created elegant illustrations and beautifully drawn social commentary cartoons (a bit like extravagant political cartoons, but more general in topic) and was one of the earliest creators of cartoon animation with his groundbreaking film Gertie the Dinosaur, all at the time when comics and movies were just starting to develop.

To say McCay was a comic art pioneer is like saying Newton was good at physics.

McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland and George Harriman’s Krazy Kat are probably the two finest examples of comics as high art. This is such stuff as dreams are made on.

Rather than go on for pages and pages I’ll point you to some resources.

Here is a nicely illustrated Wikipedia article on Little Nemo and on McCay, a Little Nemo article on Toonpedia and an informative review of So Many Splendid Sundays on Salon (requires watching an ad to read the entire article.).

The site I link at the bottom of this post has the best reproductions of Nemo pages I’ve found on the web, but here are a few others from my bookmarks. There are three full pages linked from here. (The site’s not in English, but the links are graphic.) There are several linked from here, another page here, and more individual pages posted here and here and here and here. Some smaller ones here and here and some black and white pages here and here.

If you’re hooked, but can’t get So Many Splendid Sundays, there are other (smaller but less expensive) Little Nemo collections worth considering. Little Nemo 1905-1914 is nicely done and probably has the most strips in one volume. The Complete Little Nemo in Slumberland series (6 volumes) is a bit larger in page size, but the paper is matte and the colors are not as rich as the former title.

There is also a new book on Winsor McCay: His Life and Art, and Daydreams and Nightmares, a collection of his other (mostly black and white) illustration.

If you do get any of the books, resist the temptation to read through them in a hurry. The best way to read Little Nemo is to savor it one strip at a time. Try reading one a week (OK, one a day), perhaps just before going to bed, or even better, sprawled out on the floor on a Sunday morning; but imagine that there is no radio, no movies, no television, and you have to wait a week in delicious anticipation of the next Splendid Sunday.

 
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Designers who blog

Designers Who Blog
Designers who blog is a fascinating blog by Catherine (cat) Morley that features, as you might expect, blogs by designers. As she points out, “Due to slop over in the industry, also included are illustrators, photographers, those in advertising and marketing, etc.”, which makes a pretty interesting mix.

DWB (or “Dweeb”) featured a post about your humble writer today. (Here’s the archived post for lines and colors.) The blog has a rotating title banner composed of photos of previous featured designers, giving the blogs a personal face they may not always have. (It’s the only time you’ll see a photo of yours truly associated with lines and colors.) There is an archive of the banners.

The blogs can be sorted by subject, including illustration. There’s also an extensive blogroll of blogs by designers, many of which are terrific. DWB goes on my “check daily” blog list.

Cat also writes a column for Creative Latitude called “Cat’s fancy: Designers who blog” in which she lets a select group of the designers from that month respond to a round of questions about their blog.

 
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Robert Liberace

Robert Liberace
Robert Liberace’s drawings show his devotion to the study of anatomy and his enthusiasm for Renaisance art.

He starts his drawings by creating a middle ground with a watercolor wash. He works the masses of the figure with Conte crayons and the details with terra cotta or charcoal pencils. He pulls the highlights by erasing the watercolor base or adding white chalk. His drawings occasionally show a fascination with progression of the figure through space: multiple studies on one sheet showing the course of motion.

Liberace teaches anatomy and advanced figure drawing in Virginia and travels to Florence and Rome to study classical art.

 
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Marc Gabbana

Marc Gabbana
Concept artist and illustrator Marc Gabbana has worked on films like Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones, Hellboy, 8 Mile, War of the Worlds and The Matrix Reloaded and Matrix Revolutions. He has also done cover illustration for Image Comics and Dark Horse Comics, among others.

Gabbana’s paintings utilize intense color relationships and textural detail that make the images “pop”. His work can also display a keen sense of visual humor.

He works in acrylic and gouache and sometimes in a type of acrylic called cell vinyl, an animation paint that dries rapidly to a flat finish and allows him to work quickly.

 
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Wally Wood

Wally Wood
This is kind of a special post for me so I may ramble on a bit. Wally Wood’s dazzling, lurid, bizarre, and wonderful comic art is what made me want to draw comics.

When I was 10 or so, I came across some paperback reprints of the E.C. Mad comics from the 1950’s. These irreverent, hilarious comics, written by comic genius Harvey Kurtzman and maniacally drawn by Wood, Will Elder and Jack Davis, popped the top off my impressionable little brain.

The early Mad comics were outrageous, subversive and outside the mainstream in a way that’s hard to describe now. (The current Mad magazine is a pale, sad shadow of the original.) 1950’s E.C. Comics were the visual equivalent to early Rock n’ Roll. (Parents were alarmed, congress got in on the act.)

As much as I loved the Mad work by Elder and Davis, both brilliant comics artists, it was Wood who captured my attention. When I later learned that he had also done straightforward (non-humorous) science fiction comics (also published by EC in the ’50s but harder to come by as reprints) I was hooked. In the following years, I spent countless hours drawing from Wally Wood pages, trying to duplicate his trademark lighting effects and render his super-intricate sci-fi spaceships and futuristic machinery, not to mention the coolest monsters ever to slither off a comic page. I later discovered the beautiful tone-board work he did for Mad after it changed from a color comic to a black and white magazine in 1955, which just added another level to my wide-eyed fascination with his work.

Wally WoodWood has had a similar impact on generations of comics artists, both directly and indirectly. He, in turn, was influenced by comic greats like Hal Foster and Alex Raymond, illustrators like Howard Pyle, Roy Krenkel and others as well as brilliant contemporaries like Al Williamson, Reed Crandall and the rest of the EC crew.

Woody, as he was known, became something of a comics legend, both supremely gifted and tragic. Driven and obsessive about the quality of his work, he was also hard-bitten and cynical about the treatment he and other hard-working artists received at the hands of a money-to-the-top publishing industry that forced the artists to do “work for hire”, signing all of their copyrights to the publishers. Although it was never an overtly successful venture, Wood was one of the first comics artists to try an end-run around the publishers by self-publishing with a magazine format anything-goes anthology comic called witzend.

His cynicism sometimes manifested itself in hilarious ways, such as his famous “22 Panels that Never Fail”, a guide to dealing with loquacious writers, and “Woody’s Rule”, his cynical artist’s “motto” of: “Never draw what you can copy; never copy what you can trace; and never trace what you can cut out and paste up.”

His real legacy, though, is a bounty of eye-popping comic art, and hosts of wide-eyed young readers, many of whom became artists that carry his influence in their work.

When I was creating my webcomic, and needed a name for both the lead character and the comic itself, I took part of it from the Periodic Table and part from the Mad parody of Flash Gordon (black & white panel shown above) in which Wood did his comic turn on another of my favorite comics artists, Alex Raymond. Along with such Wood/Kurtzman classics as “Superduperman” and “Batboy and Ruben”, it’s a strip that has been burned into my cortex since I was 10.

There is no official Wally Wood site that I’m aware of. The main link here is to a fan site on Splash Pages. Here are some others:

Books:

  • Mad About the Fifties, excellent reproductions of some of Wood’s best work.
  • Wally Wood Sketchbook, not his best stuff, but fun
  • The Compleat Cannon, collection of his politically incorrect sex & violence spy comic from the 60’s.
  • These are recent reprints of the old reprints of the original Mad comics that warped my adolescent brain (out of print, but findable). They’re awkwardly arranged in a small format but still great. Mad About the Fifties has better reproductions, but there are more stories available in this format if you can find them all on Amazon
 
 
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