Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The last two times I saw John Byrne art

Whatever one may think of his art, aesthetically, or his online persona, personally, it's probably difficult to overestimate John Byrne's influence on modern American comic books, at least a generation of which he helped define, particularly through his work reinventing Marvel's X-Men from a rare Lee/Kirby flop into a direct market-shaping, top-selling book (along with Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum) and his reinvention of the post-Crisis Superman.

He's been drawing comics professionally for about 40 years now, and his style is about as mature and refined as it's likely to get. Comics readers, even those of us who didn't start reading comics until well after the conclusion of his time on Superman, should recognize his artwork at a glance, now (I think some yellowing issues of 1986-87 miniseries Legends, pulled from a quarter bin in the early aughts and fragrant with decay, accounted for my first prolonged exposure to his artwork).

I was surprised to encounter it in some unlikely places not once, but twice this week—both times in trade collections of IDW comics.

The first was the above image, the cover for Popeye Vol. 2, collecting issues #5-#8 of the Roger Langride-written series. I stared at that cover for a bit, as there was...something about it. I knew it wasn't the work of Bruce Ozella, who does an uncanny impression of E.C. Segar's work, but it was very tightly adhering to the Segar designs. And yet there was something about the line, particularly in the Popeye, Wimpy and Olive figures. I was pretty surprised to look at the title page and see that was actually John Byrne covering Segar so well that I couldn't recognize his work (although once I knew what it said, the signature was a lot easier to read).

As with the previous volume of IDW's new Popeye series (both volumes of which I recommend), there's a gallery of variant covers in various styles from relatively unlikely IDW variant cover providers. One of these is drawn by Byrne as well, although it seemed even less like his work than the cover image. Do note the Segar-ized characters our one-eyed hero seems to be punching out:
The other IDW trade I read this week was Mars Attacks IDW, collecting the quintent of Mars Attacks one-shot crossovers with other IDW franchised characters. Byrne drew that cover too:
I think that would have been an interesting cover no matter who drew it, as it would mean a single artist drawing characters whose designs come from such diverse sources: A 1960s trading-card series (adapted into a 1996 live-action movie and, of course, comics), a 1980s cartoon based on a 1980s live-action movie, a 1980s cartoon based on a 1980s American toy line adapted from a Japanese toy line, a comic strip character introduced in 1929 (and made popular in classic age animated cartoon shorts), the stage personas of a real life 1970s rock band and a character from a 21st century comic book by artist Ashley Wood.

Here are all those divergent designs as filtered through Byrne.

Perhaps the most fun part of this trade is the cover gallery in the back, as IDW commissioned covers for books that don't actually exist, like Mars Attacks Cerebus (drawn by Dave Sim!), Mars Attacks Opus (by Berkley Breathed!), Mars Attacks Rom, Spaceknight (by Sal Buscema...hey, can they do that?) and so on. Byrne provides one of these, too, a Mars Attacks Rog-2000 pin-up, featuring a character of his own creation that I had to look up on Wikipedia, as I'd never heard of him, because of my ignorance.

Where will I next encounter Byrne's art when I'm not expecting it...? I don't know. The next thing on my To Read pile is Osamu Tezuka's Unico, though, and I'm fairly confident there aren't any Byrne pin-ups in the back of that, but I guess I'll find out soon enough.


Eric TF Bat said...

It's the eyebrows that make it most obviously Byrne, I think. Something about the line just reminds me of Lois Lane telling Lex Luthor he looks like Fred Mertz, whoever that may be.

Dan said...

I'm a big Byrne fan and am especially loving his Star Trek stuff now.

JohnF said...

If John Byrne could draw lips and nipples his work would improve tremendously.