(art by Walt Simonson)
Wednesday night there was a 2-hour long panel discussion held at The Society of Illustrators and moderated by comic artist Dennis Calero. Called "Drawing the Line," the event featured comic luminaries Jim Steranko, Walt Simonson, and Joe Quesada. Such different personalities, each renowned for different accomplishments in disparate eras, but they each share the trade of drawing for a living and all that brings with it.
Going in, my general starry-eyed observation and tribute is this: These guys build worlds with a pencil. As we are at the start of another Summer Blockbuster superhero boom here were two guys who each made an indelible mark on two of those creations (Simonson on Thor, Steranko on Captain America) and another, Quesada, who went from colorist to penciler to line editor to EiC and now Marvel's Chief Creative Officer who runs the Creative Team responsible for faithful translations of these characters and stories into other media. And, here's the thing, as spectacular as these movies are (and Thor is a well-realized hoot) the collective talents of those film crews still can't evoke the hand of a single comic artist. Something is said with Steranko's use of graphic design or the raw energy of Simonson's hand-drawn special effects or Quesada's line quality and unreal flourishes (like the almost sentient rope of Daredevil's billy club) in a way that feels "real" in a comic and can never be translated onscreen or in real life.
Below, here are some examples of their art, my 2-cent biographies, and some memorable comments and advice from the night:
Just after the first fertile wave of Marvel Comics in the 1960s, Steranko infused the Kirby godhead of superhero art with techniques from the schools of commercial art, fine art, and film and crafted a visual language all his own.
Jim is a showman and a storyteller, an escape artist in his youth, he stated something to the effect of "After being strapped down with 80 lbs of lead and thrown in the river where your only other option is death, every other challenge in you life is put into perspective."
With the work ethic of the Greatest Generation and a burn to continually top himself, Jim is not one for artists' cheats. To illustrate his point, he conjured the image of a 4-page spread, spread across two issues, as a conclusion to an 8 issue SHIELD story. It was a huge payoff to the story, a reward for fans, a shrewd business decision (you had to buy 2 issues to complete it), and a challenge to the bombastic finales of the James Bond blockbusters of the day.
Jim's 4-word advice to artists looking to make a living at this? "Draw Like John Buscema." (see: How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way)
NOTE: Jim said that the above image was a challenge to himself to tell a full story in a single image. He said it has 5 parts, each demarcated by a different light source.
Walt was literally a student at the time of that first Marvel Age, schooled my generation with his seminal work writing and drawing Thor in the 1980s, and is now a teacher of comic art at SVA in NYC. With Thor, he took a character and book that was no longer all that successful and, due to low expectations, was allowed to endow it with all of his passion for mythology and the art of his idols. Many of his ideas (like the Cask of Eternal Winters) are now canon and have made their way into the feature film adaptation.
Towards the end of the talk, he was kind enough to share his entire course on comics in 3 simple rules:
1) You Must Love to Draw
2) Use Reference\
3) Everything You Do Must Service Story
Awesome anecdote: Running into a fully-wardrobed Anthony Hopkins as Odin while he himself was costumed as an Asgardian for a banquet scene. Walt stopped, looked up, bowing slightly with a "My Lord."
I mentioned a brief bit on Joe's accomplishments above, but, the quality that really came out during the talk was his dedication to the work. The years developing craft, the hours wrestling with a panel, and the willingness to allow yourself to walk away and refresh yourself when it's not flowing.
While Jim pointed to filmic language as a reference point to drawing, for Joe it's music. Personally, I'm jealous of the immediate reaction, the give and take a musician has with his audience. But, I'm totally with Joe when he says that rhythm of a song, the builds and turns, need to be there visually when you are constructing your story for its unseen audience. Otherwise, it's all one-note.
FUN FACT: As an art student at SVA, Joe was an Illustration major and looked down upon comic art. As a result, he was failed by two of his professors, comic legends Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman, for neglecting to turn in his final assignments.
Last thought, the room we were in was hung with the art of student artists from around the country. An impressive amount of talent and the start of something new. Give it to the guys at the front of the room, who, despite their successes and years of experience, still treat every drawing as a new lesson, a challenge that keeps them looking to the future.