I'm a big fan of Nicola Scott, the pencil artist for DC's Secret Six book, and, before that, Birds of Prey. Scott's not the world's greatest cartoonist, and I rarely find myself completely lost in her linework, too busy appreciating the beauty of the individual panel to tear myself away and read the next one. Nor is her style so singular or flashy that I'd be able to pick it out of a line-up of other artists, the way I might other favorite artists, like, say, Kelley Jones or Tom Mandrake or Mike Allred.
But she's a really, really good comic book artist. She knows how to construct a panel, how to construct a page, how to construct 22 consecutive pages. She knows how to design a character. She knows what human beings look like under their costumes and clothing, and how their bodies work. She knows they differ from one another. She knows how to act through her drawings. She knows how to draw backgrounds. She even knows how to meet deadlines, with only one full fill-in required during her nine-issue run on Secret Six.
Team titles are notoriously difficult on some creators, on account of how much work goes into them. A Batman comic, for example, has one superhero for an artist to design and draw, and maybe a sidekick or villain. But drawing Batman in the Justice League, suddenly there are seven times as many heroes. Here Scott has to draw at least six super-villains per issue, and, unlike some artists, she makes them all distinct from one another ways.
I don't think I've ever heard anyone, critic or message board poster, ever say anything bad about Scott's work, but I also never hear anyone call attention to how good it is either. So I thought I'd take tonight's post to do just that: Hooray for Nicola Scott!
Her skill was more apparent than usual to me during this latest issue of Secret Six (which I talked about a bit on Wednesday night when reviewing my new super-comics).
In it, Catman, Bane and Ragdoll run around Gotham City fucking up a kidnapping ring full of what look like characters from one of those Tom Clancy videogames. Let's look at some panels, shall we?
Perhaps it's not really that remarkable that Scott distinguishes her characters so much from each other, given how different they actually are. Bane and Ragdoll, seen above on either side of Catman, are pretty divergent physical types, after all.
Ragdoll is visually a rather exceptional character (This would be Ragdoll II, a new version of the Golden Age Flash villain; I'm not sure who designed him, but J.G. Jones was the first to actually draw him his first appearance in 2005's Villains United). He's a contortionist who has had all manner of different surgeries done to his body to effectively make it so that he's something like quadruple-jointed...in every single joint. He wears a mask with a blank, frozen expression and a wig of doll-like yarn hair attached, but underneath he's bald and scarred, with big expressive eyes and a weird grin.
I assume he must be really fun to draw, and Scott rarely has him standing, sitting or walking like a normal person with a normal skeleton might, as you can see above.
Here he is killing one of his foes, in a manner I'm not sure I quite understand. obviously he's snapping his neck with his right hand, but he's also breaking other parts of him; perhaps he's using each of his limbs as a little python, and crushing his prey?
(Oh, I suppose I should also note that he's not wearing his usual costume; he's wearing a Robin costume over his usual costume, since this story takes place in Gotham City and all).
Here's a whole page, and it's a pretty great one. Click on it to make it bigger.
I love seeing several consecutive panels in which the "camera" is fixed on the same scene, with differences in the characters' positions and/expressions communicating that time is passing, and at what rate, as in the first three panels.
Note Ragdoll throughout those six panels too, and how wild his flailing motions are. In the second panel, he's a gangly cartoon character long, sharp limbs, then Bane is wearing him as if he were a feather boa, and then he's like a crouching insect crawling down the fire escape.
Also of note is the fourth panel, in which there's a nice sight gag allusion to the '60s TV show's Batman and Robin climbing up the side of a wall.
Here's an example of Scott's aptitude for violence and gore, a necessary skill in the modern DCU:
Ooh, that guy's arm is just hanging there. That's not even the goriest panel—the one before it, where Bane breaks the arm, is probably worse, as is a scene later where Bane tosses two severed heads through a window to spook the enemies on the other side of it.
I'm sure you've heard me complain about the violence of DC comics like Green Lantern and Teen Titans and JLoA before, but I don't mind it one bit in Secret Six, as it is a title full of obscure evil, psychopathic villains fighting even more obscure evil, psychopathic villain. Here torn-off heads fit in with the characters, and, let's face it, the Secret Six can't possibly be very high on the list of DC Characters Kids Would Really Want To Read About.
Because Scott draws people so well, the violence visited upon their bodies often seems quite effective, as it is immediately apparent from the way something is drawn what's happened, without her needing to resort to a geyser of blood. For example, on page five there's a panel of Catman driving his elbow into an opponents throat, and it's apaprent from the way Scott draws his spine that everything between the cin and chest has been shattered; she doesn't need to draw the spinal column ripping out the back of the neck to convey the fact that Catman's victim won't be getting up again.
Let's see, what else have got here... Oh, how about this?
Male superhero cheesecake! Or, wait, is that what the term "beefcake" applies to? I don't know for sure since I never see it in superhero comics. That's Nightwing telling the villains that they better be gone before he turns around, or there's going to be trouble. He says. I think he just wanted to show Catman and the others his butt. You know the reason Nightwing doesn't wear a cape anymore is because he wants everyone to see his butt all the time, right?
As much as I dig Scott's work, and liked this issue's art in particular, I didn't love every single panel. For example, i don't like her Catmobile design: I suppose it says "cat" as much as some of Batman's more abstract Batmobiles say "bat," but my favorite Batmobiles are the ones with giant bat heads on them and serrated wing-shapes on them, so I'd prefer a Catmobile with a big-ass cat head on the front, or at least painted on the hood.
And this isn't a bad panel by any means, but it got me thinking:
How come Bane doesn't have any armpit hair? We could assume he shaves or waxes, but look at all the hair on his chest and arms. Of course, it looks kind of stubbly, as if he had shaved his chest and arms at some point, and it just grew out. So maybe he does shave his armpits?
At any rate, Bane is gross; he either needs to embrace his hairiness and let it grow out, or, if he's going to shave and wax, he needs to keep up with maintenance when he goes out in public. Or maybe just wear a shirt with sleeves.
Yes, Bane is gross and Nicola Scott is awesome. And that's the end of my Nicola Scott appreciation post.
UPDATE: Johanna Draper Carlson at comicsworthreading.com also wrote about this issue of Secret Six today, and also has some kind words regarding Scott's skills. Check it out here. Carlson's praise is significant I think because she's pretty picky when it comes to what super-comics she reads, and I think may be even less enamored of gore and violence in her superhero comics than I am.