Wednesday, April 2, 2008
I’ve been reading the original issues of Matt Wagner’s Mage. I honestly couldn’t tell you what it’s about. Magic, I think. I’m too busy looking at the art. Wagner’s layouts are quintessentially 80′s. And they are also crystal clear. There is something refreshing in the wide, thin super-cinemascope panels and the airbrushed colors made by hand. It’s all aged rather nicely. (It’s too bad that the recent reprints I’ve seen do not reproduce the original comic’s colors)
Wagner was big for me as a young artist. There was a naturalism to his layouts and figures that echoed the best of Frank Miller’s Daredevil and, well, a generic art-school “realism” that suited his stories. I remember his Demon series for DC had a big impact on me (I was 15) because of how stripped down it was for a mainstream comic. It was somewhat shocking back then to see a guy like Wagner go from drawing Mage for Comico to The Demon for DC.
I found myself actually sitting next to Mr. Wagner on a panel at SPX 2007. It was surreal. “Holy shit, Matt Wagner IS Kevin Matchstick,” I remember thinking. Without skipping a beat I pulled out my favorite Grendel issues to get them signed (numbers 16 thru 19 for all you fanboys). “I drew each of those in like a week,” said Matt. It’s always weird when I meet artists who influenced me at a young age. How do I explain to him how important his layouts were to me back in 1987? I didn’t bother. Luckily, the panel began.
Anyways, Mage. Mage is really interesting to look at in 2008. Look at the above page and how “handmade” it looks. How natural it looks. How obvious and how subtle the stylization is. It’s unpretentious. Direct. Clean. I wish I had the patience to really break it all down and explain why I think Wagner’s conservative approach is a superior one when compared to more flowery artists such as Paul Pope or Michael Kaluta. What Wagner lacks in stylistic flourishes he makes up for in nuts and bolts storytelling. He’s more of a Guy Davis kind of artist at heart. Wagner’s impeccable narrative transitions and plodding pace mixed with broad, solid action sequences make for entertaining reading. And on top of that Mage really doesn’t look like anything else. The influences are there but they aren’t worn on Wagner’s sleeve. It looked fresh 20 years ago still looks fairly unique today. Not an easy claim for ANY comic. Check Mage out if you haven’t before.