Tuesday, April 23, 2013
The last two times I saw John Byrne art
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:
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.