Category: Backstage Pass


Ryan Sook Futures End cover 1    Ryan Sook Futures End 14 cover August 2014 release

We’ve delved into some great cover artists at borg.com in the past three years, from Alex Ross to Mauro Cascioli to Frank Cho and Mike Mayhew.  With his cover run on the DC Comics New 52 series Futures End, Ryan Sook is the artist you just can’t miss these days.  His cover for Issue #14 (above right) of Futures End is being solicited for August 2014 already, and it showcases several styles.  If you take a look back over the past few years you can see one of the best artists around developing his style and craft, putting his mark on the covers of some great comic book series.

You can see Sook as the cover artist of choice to start up several new series with the number one issue out of the gates, for series including Robotika (2005), Giant-Size Hulk (2006), Friday the 13th (2007), Batman and the Outsiders (2007), Death of the New Gods (2007), Countdown Specials, Countdown Presents and DC Universe Specials (2008 and 2011), Broken Trinity: Aftermath (2009), Blackest Night: Wonder Woman (2010), JSA All Stars (2010), The Magdalena (2010), B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth series (2011-2013), Victorian Undead II (2011), DC Universe Online: Legends (2011), Kirby: Genesis (2011), Justice League Dark (2011), Lord of the Jungle (2011), Rose & Thorn (2012), Sword of Sorcery (2012), and The New 52 Futures End (2014).

Sook is able to render men and women superheroes equally well, yet his women really stand out.  Here’s his Wonder Woman, showcased in the Blackest Night series:

Ryan Sook  Blackest Night Wonder Woman 1 cover    Ryan Sook Blackest Night Wonder Woman 2 cover

Less stylized than Cliff Chiang’s current angular Wonder Woman look, Sook may have created a modern twist on the definitive look of the classic character for other artists to emulate.

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Mike Mayhew The Star Wars panel 4

First it was Mike Mayhew and Star Trek and Doctor Who.
Then it was Mike Mayhew and Green Arrow.
Then it was Mike Mayhew and The Bionic Man and The Bionic Woman.
Now it’s Mike Mayhew and Star Wars.

Isn’t it great when the stars align and the people creating new entertainment are in sync with your view of the world?  Like taking your all-time favorite genre franchise and mixing it with your current favorite artist?

To quote Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “This is just… neat.”

The comic book licensee to the Star Wars universe, Dark Horse Comics has announced one of the coolest ideas you could put together.  Go back to George Lucas’s original take on Star Wars–before the edits and revisions and treatments and full-blown screenplays. Take that original story and re-imagine the Star Wars universe as if the original vision was Star Wars.  That’s exactly what long-time Lucasfilm executive editor J.W. Rinzler and current The Bionic Man cover artist Mike Mayhew have up their sleeves.  Coming in September 2013 is an eight-issue mini-series, titled The Star Wars, the title of Lucas’s 1974 version of the Star Wars saga.

Mike Mayhew The Star Wars panel 3

The images above and below are Mike Mayhew’s first released panel art from The Star Wars.

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Some quick background:  In April 2005 I got a chance to meet Michael Turner at a comics convention.   I had known of his work from seeing his Aspen designs (Fathom in particular is a visual treat).  But what was really big then was his Superman/Batman covers.  I told him and colorist Peter Steigerwald that his cover to Superman/Batman #13 fifty years from now would be a defining cover for the first decade of the millenium.  Some Turner covers:

       

Turner had brought to the convention albums of all his comic book pencil art to-date.  I expected to see some incredible work.  What I saw was epic.  Leonardo da Vinci epic.  As I was “ooh-ing” and “ahh-ing” over the pages his co-creators mentioned the enormous time he puts into each page.  His pencils for the Superman/Batman covers were stunning, but his interior art of Batman was intricately detailed to a level you would have to see to believe.  Luckily for us, DC caught on to his pencil sketches and put out some alternate covers without the color, but even they didn’t match seeing the pages in your hands.  An original Turner piece used for three covers that Aspen owns:

Nothing against Steigerwald–comics need color and his coloring style was and is great–but sometimes colorists hide some of the best of the pencilist’s craft.  Sadly, Turner passed away just before the San Diego Comic-Con in 2008 at only 37 and we missed out on half a lifetime’s worth of stunning covers and interior art for sure.

Comic readers are always on the lookout for the next big thing.  Like Alex Ross, who has been around in the limelight even before Turner.  Alex Ross has a different style, focusing his best work on painting incredible covers of almost every subject you can think of, from DC to Marvel to political commentary.  Ross has become the #1 cover artist of choice among fans, almost without debate.

But last year the Green Arrow title started picking up steam with its cover art.  Check these out:

       

A new artist, Mauro Cascioli, had quietly entered the comic book scene and was putting out some stunning painted covers.  Who was this guy?  Cascioli was born in Buenos Aires in 1978.  Between 1992 and 2004 his work could be seen in the Brazil version of Rolling Stone magazine.  Then in 2005 he started working for DC Comics.  In 2007 he drew interior art and cover work for The Trials of Shazam limited series.  And his work in the book looks good, great even.  But then look at a page of his original pencil work for the Shazam series:

Cascioli has his own style, but his incredible detail work reminds me of another artist.  Yes, Michael Turner.  I think his Batman renderings are right up there with Frank Miller’s in The Dark Knight Returns, and Jim Lee’s landmark boot-in-your-face Batman as seen in his “Hush” storyline of the Batman title.  And I like how his Superman looks like Christopher Reeve.  Cascioli then moved on to the standout series Justice League of America: Cry for Justice.  Here is a page of his original interior art to Cry for Justice:

Again, stunning pencils.  In my view, Mauro Cascioli is THE artist to watch.  What is he up to right now?  It’s hard to tell.  The DC press releases about its reboot this past month listed more than 100 creators, but Cascioli wasn’t on the list.  Now it could be because they intended to only list writers and interior artists.  But I hope that DC’s powers-that-be take a second look at Cascioli’s interior pages.  Because as much as I love his Green Arrow painted covers, it would be great to be able to open a book and get that same level inside, and from someone whose work is as exciting to see as anyone we’ve seen…well, since Michael Turner. 

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg

Review by C.J. Bunce

(with spoilers!)

A slick hardcover version of the 2011 restarted series, Green Arrow, has been published, collecting Issues #1-7.  This is not to be confused with the New 52 reboot starting in the Fall of 2011.  Called Green Arrow: Into the Woods, it is a “Brightest Day” sequence storyline that conjures some good bits of Oliver Queen’s past, and includes some of the best cover art and interior art of any recent Green Arrow series.  The story was written by J.T. Krul, with art by illustrators Diogenes Neves and Mike Mayhew.  Some of the best covers ever done featuring Green Arrow are found in this collection, all painted by the great cover artist Mauro Cascioli.

In part 1 (originally Issue #1), Ollie has truly reverted to his roots, inspired by his hero Robin Hood.  After the destruction of Star City and Ollie killing Prometheus in Justice League: Cry for Justice, Ollie is living in the mysterious forest that has sprouted in the aftermath of Star City’s destruction. This is the classic Green Arrow of Mike Grell’s influence.  His former company, Queen Enterprises is taken over by a mysterious woman referred to only as the Queen.  And Hal Jordan aka Green Lantern shows up to find Ollie.

In part 2 (originally Issue #2) we learn more about the secret identity of the Queen.  Hal loses his power in the woods, and he and Ollie must defeat some goons sent by the Queen to destroy Ollie.  The entire issue consists of battle scenes, but we do learn that the creation of the forest is somehow related to the powerful White Lantern.  Krul also introduces a new character, a medieval looking fellow, who has no dialogue, but appears from nowhere.  This part ends in a bizarre cliffhanger, with seemingly the death of Ollie for the umpteenth time, via an arrow shot through his forehead.

But there are five more parts to get through, right?  So no dead Ollie.  Part 3 (originally Issue #3) is a strange, ethereal story, and we cannot be sure what is happening.  A medieval dressed fellow claims to be the one and only Galahad, knight of the Round Table.  Only viewing this meeting as a dream sequence makes sense, yet it appears the story is moving forward with this odd new partner to Oliver.  This is never fully explained in this entire volume.  The forest comes alive with the White Lantern’s light, but not before several flashbacks for Ollie, where we meet his father and mother, and Ollie revisits the mistakes of his past.  Is this something real or imagined, for Oliver Queen?  Impossible to tell.

In part 4 (originally Issue #4) Ollie encounters the Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onnz, originally thought dead, but re-created out of the White Lantern’s power.  Like Green Lantern, the Manhunter’s power is also zapped by the power of the woods.  And Mary, a woman he saved from modern day bandits in the woods, manages to keep Ollie busy, as she, too, sees herself as a leader destined to protect the citizens that remain in the aftermath of Star City.

As Ollie begins to believe a murderer of several high ranking citizens could be Mary, he goes to confront her but instead discovers a strange villainess in part 5 (Issue #5).  Named Nix, she murders an innocent to escape from Ollie.  For those that can keep up with the events of Into the Woods, it is at this point that the story falters.  The woods come alive, and (too) quick decision-making by Ollie and Galahad is required to fend off a band of demon-like creatures, summoned by the Black Lantern.  Again, we cannot be sure whether this is a reality for Ollie, or whether he is still part of some dream.  The low-point of the book is here, where Ollie must face off against an image of his father, which ends up not as his father at all.  But you get the odd feeling he is Luke visiting the forbidden tree to confront Vader in Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back.

All of the attacks on Ollie, and on Hal and J’onn in the woods, were caused by the Queen, and so, in part 6 (Issue #6) Oliver attacks Queen Industries to take on the Queen, where he also confronts her minion, the assassin he met earlier in the story.  The Queen reveals herself as a character from the family’s distant past.  Confused, Oliver (not us) manages to return to the forest.  Before that, this part becomes a story of a bitter past for Ollie’s parents, ultimately lacking some necessary emotion and the point of it all… never really comes together.

Although this isn‘t the worst of Green Arrow stories, it is missing something.  Oliver is alone, and yet you wonder if we needed a seven issue story arc to illustrate that aloneness.  The character Galahad comes with no explanation.  Why Galahad?  We see pieces of a story and as readers we try to make them fit together, but I’m not sure it is all meant to be coherent.

Out of the chaos comes the high point of Into the Woods.  And that is Mike Mayhew’s art in part 7 (Issue #7).  It may be that this is one of the best renderings of Green Arrow in years.  I have shared emails with Mike in the past, and he explained that he was influenced by Mike Grell in this issue.  The look of Oliver was based on a friend of Mayhew, who looks a bit like actor Cary Elwes.  I have seen the original pencil work of Issue #7, and the issue is an example of ink work that mutes the power of the underlying spectacular art.  Even so, the visuals in this issue surpass the rest of the book, and for this reason Green Arrow fans who missed the original Issue #7 will be wise to check out Into the Woods.  As for the story in part 7, it amounts to a vision of Oliver meeting his mother in the woods, and a too-sappy effort at Oliver being forced to revisit his past and forgive himself.  If you’re expecting an ending, there is none offered here, as the story is continued and concluded in a to-be released second volume called Green Arrow: Salvation.  Look for some good images of alternate covers at the end of the book.

Despite the meandering story, there are bits of good to be found here.  But the less-than stellar story is pretty much made up for by the impressive look of the book.  Diogenes’s work is well done, if not the best Green Arrow in the history of the character it at least shows a familiar Green Arrow readers can enjoy.  However, Mike Mayhew’s work in the last chapter, plus some great covers by Mauro Cascioli, are a pretty stunning collection of images.  If the cover is not the best of the Mike Grell inspired Green Arrow covers on record, it comes pretty close.  Strangely enough, neither Mayhew nor Cascioli get any cover credit for their work on this book.

Green Arrow: Into the Woods lists for $22.99, but can be found cheaper online.

Review by C.J. Bunce

If someone were to ask you whether you prefer covers to books or movie posters or compact discs that were either (1) painted or (2) created via computer using compilations of photographs, which would you choose?  Do you know anyone who would prefer a photo cover to a cover painted by an artist?  Would you believe it that the powers that be, those folks who make all the decisions from On High, claim that focus groups and marketing studies show that consumers prefer photos to paintings?  Who and where are these test subjects, and what planet do these people hail from?

The comic book medium has realized what audiences have preferred for years, which is why they enlist the likes of Alex Ross, Mauro Cascioli and Adam Hughes to paint covers, it’s why the main covers of comic books used to entice an audience almost always have renderings drawn or painted and only rarely do you see a “photo incentive cover” as a limited edition item.  Were it true that we, the audience, preferred photo enticements to illustrations by artists, don’t you think comic book publishing would have figured that out by now when they create movie and TV adaptations?  I think the reality is that decision makers in marketing departments in the entertainment industry (outside of the comic world) are often out of touch with real audiences.  That distancing explains why so many movie trailers are made so poorly, too.  It explains why movie posters these days cease to grab our attention like they once did.

What was the last movie poster that caused you to stop in your tracks and want to go see a movie?  That, after all, is the point of a poster, isn’t it?

The original classic art by Struzan for the 1978 re-release of Star Wars

The Art of Drew Struzan at first blush is a coffee table book chronicling the work of the artist Time Magazine called “the Last Movie Poster Artist.”  Along with the books Drew Struzan: Oeuvre (2004) and The Movie Posters Of Drew Struzan (2004) you can see the entirety of more than 150 movie posters Struzan has produced during decades of painting for studios big and small.  And if you were going to pick one of the three books for a reference book on Struzan at a book shop, you might skip over The Art of Drew Struzan for one of the other books that has more movie posters featured.  But skipping this one would be a big mistake.

Original comp art by Struzan for John Carpenter's The Thing

From the introduction by Frank Darabont, director of such big films as The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, (two films borg.com writer Jason McClain and I can’t stop talking about over the years), you know that you are beginning to read a very unique kind of book.  A bit from Darabont’s introduction:

“I have seen the future, and it sucks…. There’s no sugar-coating this.  Movie posters suck these days.  They’re going to suck even more tomorrow.  And as we shuck and jive (and text and Facebook) ever onward into the digital future, movie posters will just keep doggedly and willfully sucking all the more.  It’s a headlong progression of suckage, a symptom of the mass-produced everything-by-committee mindset of our culture….”

Amen, brother!

Struzan's comp for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, which did not make it to a final poster

What Darabont is speaking of is the advent of the digital creation of “art” via Mac utilities and the likes of Adobe Photoshop, where productions can design a cover or poster work far cheaper by having anyone on staff easily combine photos of actors and scenes into an image, without including any input from a trained artist.  It’s pseudo-art, images made to think we’re looking at a creative work, without considering the artistic thought that used to go behind such works.

Changes in marketing leadership ended Struzan's role in the Potter films mid-way through creating Chamber of Secrets

The text of The Art of Drew Struzan that accompanies the images found in its pages is all Drew Struzan as he explains not just the work of the artist, but the decline of the profession of making movie posters itself.  Struzan uses highlights of his projects from the beginning of public recognition of Struzan for his work on the international poster for Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 to a poster for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008.  Better yet, he uses in-progress artwork never before made public to illustrate his creative process for each movie featured in the book, artwork that he calls “comps.”

If you were just flipping through the book at a bookstore you may pass this one because it is missing a lot of key subjects in Struzan’s past–images like his work on movies featuring the Muppets, for example, or Jurassic Park and E.T., the Extra-terrestrial, that are among his most notable works.  As you read through the book you understand how a lot of his early comps were never retained–the cost was too high for a struggling artist to pay for copies, or studios kept the comps.  So the existence of this compilation alone is a lucky thing to witness.

The comp for Hellboy by Struzan, which never made it to final poster

What Struzan reveals in this book is a story not just of someone who is the universally acknowledged king of movie poster painting.  That of course is true.  But he apparently is like a lot of classic artists of centuries past, who never received the full monetary benefits that his “benefactors” (here, the  filmmakers) were able to make from his work, and the “millions” audiences assume he made from this work.  This is a story of a struggling artist, barely a blue-collar life, in his view, at points in his career, although he was selected and admired for projects by George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Guillermo del Toro.  This is also a how-to book of sorts for aspiring artists wishing they could be mentored by such a superb painter.

Struzan reveals a dwindling of artistic control for the artists as it happened over just a few decades for him, where “the suits” from Hollywood showed less and less respect for his artistry to the point that Struzan got fed-up and retired.

Not even this great poster would likely have made Waterworld succeed at the box office

Look for key featured Struzan works for movie posters that never made it to final form in movie marquees, such as Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Waterworld, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Hellboy, and Pan’s Labyrinth.  And the amazing variety of different styled comps are evident as seen in the pages for Blade Runner, the Back to the Future films, the Indiana Jones films, and the Star Wars prequels.  The quality of the images included stands strong for those wanting the traditional coffee table book, too.

The Art of Drew Struzan retails for $34.95 but can be found less expensive at online bookstores.  And if you’d like to own the original art, many images are still for sale at Struzan’s website.

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