Long time readers of Lines and Colors will know of my fascination with dinosaurs and paleo art, my fondness for science fiction and adventure stories and their accompanying illustrations, my admiration for the beautiful ink drawings of classic illustrators, the inspired adventure comic strips from the 1930′s and 1940′s that carried their traditions forward, and the wonderfully lurid E.C. Comics comic books of the 1950′s that, in turn, evolved out of them.
Together, those leanings make me a prime candidate to love the work of comics artist, writer and illustrator Mark Schultz, whose long running series Xenozoic Tales, also known as Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, has been delighting similarly minded readers since its surprise appearance in the comics anthology Death Rattle in the mid 1980′s.
Like his predecessors, Schultz has been taking the influence of the comics and illustration greats that inspired him, weaving it into his own always progressing style and applying it to telling the kind of stories that fired his enthusiasm for the comics medium when he was younger.
Schultz is now inspiring a new generation of comics artists and illustrators, who recognize that the very best in a given medium or genre is often slightly outside the mainstream, where those with eccentric visions can create the work that is unrestrained by the latest corporate sponsored “fads” and based instead on the artist’s love of the medium and subject matter.
Which brings me to Xenozoic, the new collection of Schultz’s Xenozoic Tales stories published by Flesk Publications. Flesk sent me a review copy, but I have to say that even though I have much of the material already in other formats, I would have picked this volume up anyway because it’s such a satisfying way to enjoy these stories and art.
Xenozoic collects the range of the stories, from early ones that lay out the groundwork for Szhultz’s fantastic world, to the latest and best, where his artwork, already striking in its intricate detail and deep chiaroscuro, develops to its peak of sweeping vistas and extraordinarily realized characters, animals and settings.
Did I mention that the comics are in black and white (with beautiful touches of tone)? Did I mention that this is a Good Thing? In the same way that classic black and white films have a feeling, mood and atmosphere that can’t be matched in color, so black and white comics and illustration can evoke mood and utilize visual texture in a way that the addition of color would only diminish.
In Schultz’s hands, areas of rock, foliage or background skies that otherwise might be simple areas of color become intricate marvels of ink line, texture and pattern, drawing you deeper into the scene and slowing down the pace with which you read, a technique that most contemporary comics artists have not learned to use effectively.
Many contemporary comics artists indulge in detail for its own sake, Schultz is one of the rare few who understands how to use it effectively to control how a story proceeds.
I won’t go into detail here about the history of Xenozoic Tales or the work of Mark Schultz, but will instead point you to my previous post on Mark Schultz, where I’ve already done that.
Fans of Schultz’s work should also be aware of the books collecting his drawings also published by Flesk, the latest of which, Mark Schultz; Various Drawings Volume 4, is still available in paperback though sold out in hardcover.
These, unlike the toss-off sketchbook drawings sometimes compiled into collections by other comics artists, are more often fully realized, finished drawings. Volume 4 includes a wonderful 2 page fold-out of a John Carter of Mars illustration, along Schultz’s preliminary drawings for it, along with an assortment of other terrific drawings and even a one page comic strip, Paleonauts, in which he pays tribute to another Schultz.
Xenozoic is a big, heaping helping of fantasy adventure comics at their best, transporting the reader into pulp-inspired tales of high adventure in a mildly dystopian eco-disaster future (making it possible to have dinosaurs, people and, of course, Cadillacs within the same fantastic landscapes).
This is the kind of “plop down in the Comfy Chair with the big adventure book” experience that not enough pop culture fans have encountered. If you know someone who loves the modern takes on classic adventure movies, like the Indiana Jones movies, Jurassic Park, Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake, or even Pirates of the Caribbean, but for some reason thinks they don’t enjoy comics, here is a possible bridge into that world (and a treat of a present).
There is a preview of Xenozoic on the Flesk site, where you can click to see a few images from the book. Even though Flesk is getting better about this, showing somewhat larger preview images, the previews still don’t do the pages justice. If you’re not already familiar with Schultz’s work, look for the book in a bookstore so you can see how these pages look printed full size.
There is also an additional Mark Schultz gallery on the Flesk site (Schultz doesn’t have a dedicated site or blog of his own as far as I know).
Xenozoic and Mark Schultz; Various Drawings Volume 4 can be purchased directly from the Flesk Publications online store.