Girl Comics (or women of the ’80s Marvel Bullpen)


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Howdy folks! Welcome to CC‘s weekend edition. So, I bet you’re wonderin’ how can I transition back to riffing on romance comics after two weeks of SPX tunes? Well, see at SPX, me and Heidi MacDonald were talking about Marie Severin. We were looking at a Tales to Astonish cover (#98) and trying to figure out who inked it. Bill Boichel said Severin inked it. And then Jaime Hernandez said Dan Adkins inked it. Heidi looked it up on her phone. It was a fun little game. One that we used to play at comics conventions in days of yore. Try it – you might like it and hey! if it ain’t your thing, that’s fine! I’ll be right here. Talkin’ to Jaime.

Anyhoo, talking about Marie Severin gave me an idea. I went through my collection and put together a stack of Marvel Comics by cartoonists who happened to be women. Most of this work is from the mid-1980s. By then all of the romance books were gone at Marvel. What’s interesting is that it’s as though the books I gathered together all had a romance feel. Like they put these stories together possibly for the (women) artists specifically. Why not have a teenage girl comic like Firestar drawn by a woman? Makes sense to me. Or stories of heroes out of costume doing normal things. X-Men by the pool. That sort of thing. I think the idea was to inject a bit of “romance comics” into these action comics. And it works. Sort of.

Let’s break it down. Click through the gallery images at the bottom of the post as you read along. I am too lazy to insert all the thumbnails into the post. You folks at home gotta meet me halfway. I scanned a ton of pages for this post. Also, for the uninitiated these are all Marvel Comics (except for the Carol Lay comic at the end) and the Marvel stuff is all done assembly line. Meaning pencils and inks were separate jobs. I will be riffing on the inker as well.

Judith HuntMarvel Fanfare #38, 1988. This comic basically looks like a Bill Sienkiewicz Moon Knight story because he inked it but Judith Hunt’s framing is a little more conservative than Bill’s so I can tell it ain’t just him goofing around. Hunt has a stiff illustrator style of framing – of crowding everyone into the panel much like the Neal Adams school adherents do – but, Hunt thankfully plays it straight. Not so many wacky camera angles. So Sienkiewicz’s jumpy line actually helps loosen up the compositions. I really liked how this one turns out. Hunt can draw kids really well. And old people.

Colleen Doran‘s story appears in the same issue. Inker Terry Austin mishandles this one in my humble opinion but underneath his very late ’80s broken line inking style you can see some nice compositions by Doran. She’s using lots of references but it works proportionately. There’s a nice design to the pages because she’s not just using the medium focal length that most ref’d comics rely on. She uses lots of long shots and manages to pull smoothly in and out of a scene.

June BrigmanMarvel Fanfare #33, 1987. X-men by the pool. An opportunity to depict these characters au naturel (cashing in on the runaway success of Amazing Heroes swimsuit issues, perhaps?). Brigman does a nice job of opening up the space the many characters occupy. Lots of jumps in scale and nice framing. There is a softer feel to the characters because of her rendering and proportions; nothing too exaggerated. Terry Austin’s broken line inking is a little off key for me, especially for depth of field stuff – it flattens the space. Figures in the foreground blend with the background because of Austin’s broken line.

Austin’s inks are a little better on June Brigman in Marvel Fanfare #25, 1986. Less characters, more room to isolate figures and pull close to action – this story is about – oh, who cares what it’s about – this story showcases Brigman’s naturalistic approach (as far as mid-’80s Marvel Comics are concerned this is a “natural” approach.) I really like the close up of the bottom of the fight page scene where the kid gets his glasses knocked off.

[Die-hards please note that in the same issue (Marvel Fanfare #25) there is a gallery of Dave Sim pinups. One of them is Tony Stark as an alcoholic staring at a bottle of rye whiskey bearing the label “Aardvark Distillers Inc of Canada”. I’m not scanning it cuz I don’t feel like watching that one go round the web. Someone else can do it.]

Mary WilshireFirestar, four issue mini-series, 1986. Three of the issues inked by Steve Leialoha and one inked by Bob Wiacek. I really like this mini-series. A big part of the Cold Heat swipe file. Wilshire and Leialoha compliment each other well. She has a strong sense of how to use silhouettes to frame each panel and the page as a whole. Leialoha’s hatching lines are minimal within the figures and instead he accentuates the contour lines that denote weight. Add to that a light, “feminine” palette and what you get is a very pretty comic book about a mutant teenage girl who can control fire.

[Leialoha looks to me like he may have influenced Art Adams or they were looking at each other’s inking around the same time – something very similar there – and Leialoha was the veteran at the time so I’m guessing Adams was looking at Leialoha. Coyote series was a big deal kinda and that was ’82.]

Bob Wiacek inked issue two of this series. Wilshire’s pencils still hold the compositions together but now the inking is more elaborate with more lines within the figures to create shadow. I think it works but it sort of evens out the page tonally when I squint at it. Wilshire’s stage blocking keeps it from being muddy thankfully. There’s a great romance sequence in this issue also. Firestar goes to a dance with Cannonball Sam Guthrie.

Cyndy MartinAmazing Spider-Man #295, 1987. Inked by Kyle Baker. Now here’s a lively little book. I remember hating it in 1987, but now I love it. It’s the framing and Baker’s inks that I love. The framing really threw me when this came out. It’s just really open and soft. Girly. it was an issue of Spidey where Peter was in the hospital. It was a fill-in crossover to Web of Spider-Man and it was just a nothing issue I remember. But like I keep saying, I love it now. It really stands out. Baker’s quick inks really define the volume of the figures. Mostly these weighted figures stand against blank, lightly colored knockout backgrounds. Light blues, purples, oranges, yellows. Peter in light blue striped pajamas. In a wheelchair. Lots of people in regular 1987 street clothes sitting around talking in a hospital. It’s a great, boring comic that doesn’t use the normal Marvel extreme framing. If Martin does end up framing some things in a “extreme” way she ends up skewing it enough to render it “natural.” And then Baker’s easy lines just add the right touch to “finish” it. Really nice. Check it out.

Carol LayChampions #1, 1986. That’s right! Carol Lay does super-heroes. I mean, she drew super-heroes. Ahem. This one turns up often in the quarter bins. Carol Lay’s most seen comic in the longbox comic shoppes across America. And it’s good! Well, relatively speaking of course. This one is not a Marvel comic and Lay inked her own work on this one. I’m including here to show context. This comic is from 1986 and trying to use the hot ’86 direct market action to maybe garner some sales. It’s an Eclipse book so the art is way more “realized” than most assembly-line style books. Solid drawing on each page; fully rendered backgrounds; hand coloring; nice paper. 1986. The story is retarded, trust me. But the look of the whole thing is interesting – especially considering the work Carol Lay is better known for – check that out here.

I think the theme here is that in the “mainstream” or “direct market” world of mid-’80s comics – the only women cartoonists represented at Marvel (as far as I can tell) are the ones found in titles produced for a specific audience. (Does that make sense? These weren’t romance books, these were part of Marvel continuity and I think that’s why most of them are in Marvel Fanfare away from mainstreet Marvel Universe.) So the drawing reflects that. And within the rigors of that POV, that framing style, the “Marvel” framing style – a very male POV – women did interesting work by using this style. To me, it’s a very different kind of framing that was in usage in the old Marvel romance books – much more angular – less soft. By the ’80s that whole “romance style” was gone as well as the titles themselves. When I look at these ’80s titles together I feel like one the ways that look was carried on was to bring it into the superhero comics. I think it’s somewhat successful insomuch as that when I dig thru comics bins this work stands out in relief against much of the work produced in the same era. ‘Nuff said.

If I can find any thing like it in ’90s mainstream comics, I’ll let you know.

Until then, over and out.

POSTSCRIPT: Marie Severin will get her own post soon enough. Just wanted to write about these ’80s comics first.

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7 Responses to “Girl Comics (or women of the ’80s Marvel Bullpen)”
  1. patrick ford says:

    Frank: “how can I transition back to riffing on romance comics after two weeks of SPX tunes? ”

    It’s because your one of those coveted “five tool” players.

  2. patrick ford says:

    Yes, you have all the tools, but are you also a switch-hitter?

  3. zack soto says:

    Hey Frank, something I’ve noticed about yr image posts here is that the image files are super low res. like even when you click all the way through to largest size, the’re sort of crappy. just a heads up, it’d be easier to appreciate the stuff you’re posting about if the details shone through and the jpgs didn’t look all degraded.

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