Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Heroes! by Jay who now?

As many of you know, my day job is in a public library, and books with titles like Heroes!: Draw Yor Own Superheroes, Gadget Geeks & Other Do-Gooders (Lark Books) pass through my hands on a daily basis. There are a ton of learn to draw books in the children's department, and, as comic book superheroes and other once super-specific entertainment genres have continued to rise in popularity, the adult section seems to have ordered more and more how to draw vampires, how to draw video game characters, how to draw fantasy and horror characters and, especially, a ton of how to draw manga books.

I rarely take a second look at these, and I may have actually checked Heroes! in and out a few times before (In fact, since it came out in 2007, I'm almost certain I have). But the last time I checked it in, I happened to noticed the name of the author: Jay Stephens.

"Not the Jay Stephens," I thought to myself, "of Jetcat and Land of Nod fame?!" But the back jacket flap confirmed it. Yes, this is indeed a how-to draw superheroes book written and drawn by Jay Stephens, one of the better drawers of superheroes! Of course I checked it out.

I can't actually speak to how great a tool it is in terms of teaching one to draw. It's aimed at kids, and while I didn't spend any time following Stephens' step-by-step instructions, everything he said looked and sounded true, and in-keeping with what I've learned and read about drawing during my lifetime interest in it. It is a kids book, and I think that actually makes it a better instructional tool for adults, particularly ones who might be more interested in being able to draw to communicate rather than, say, get a gig drawing Batman or Spider-Man some day.

In addition to talking about figure construction, and the step-by-step bits demonstrated using the dozen or so original characters of Stephens' that appear here, he also spends sections on each general feature. For example, on a page devoted to noses, he draws the same character with nine different noses, each of which is a shape as simple as "upside down 7" or a suggestion like "How about just the nostrils?" (My noses, which I learned to draw from aping Jim Lawson's humans in old Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics, the shadow created by where the nose that I don't actually draw, isn't one of the nine).

He does this for just about every feature, along with a few words about what the various shapes and choices might suggest about your character, and the result is it's easy to look at the book as a sort of giant menu, from which you can order, say, a particular head, a particular nose, a particular mouth and so on until you've got yourself a character.

He also gives lots of options of various accessories, and it's fun to see, say, the same generic face trying on a bunch of different masks...
or seeing how the same character is transformed simply by changing his color scheme...
Even if you're not the least bit interested in having Jay Stephens teach you how to draw (although if you are, or know a little kid interested in drawing or in superheroes, this would make a great companion to James Strum and company's Adventures in Cartooning: How to Turn Your Doodles Into Comics), the book is well worth taking a look for to see all the great Jay Stephens art in it.

Some of the characters he creates as examples are pretty cool, and some surprisingly filled-out.

My favorite two are Doubledog and Gumball.

Here's the former, whom you'll notice has more than a passing resemblance to the original, Golden Age Daredevil:
Of him, Stephens writes:
While on an archeological dig in Greece, David Deuce was bitten by Cerberus, the legendary two-headed hound of the underworld. Deuce recovered—and discovered he has the power to split into two people!
(There seems to be some conflation of Orthus and Cerberus, but that's probably for the sake of simplicity).

Here's Gubmall, who seems to combine a bit of Spider-Man's costume with the powers of Plastic Man and Speedball:
Each section also opens with a two-page spread in which Stephens talks about and draws heroes in general, including the mythological (Thor, Horus, Hercules, Hanuman), legendary (The Golem, John Henry, Robin Hood), at least one I want to read more about ("This weird Victorian-era hero is The Blue Dwarf"), and some that allow us to see Stephens "cover versions" of certain Golden Age heroes.

For example, here's his Miss Fury:

His Shadow:

And his Crimebuster and Ironjaw:

Apparently, Heroes! is part of a series, which also includes Monsters! and Robots!, both of which I hope to track down soon, to look at more of Stephens' art, and maybe to collect in case we invent time machines in my life time, in which case I can send all three back to high school Caleb.

1 comment:

Akilles said...

Cooooool.