Among the perks of the connections one makes while in the comics biz is the inevitable windfall of original art that falls into your lap, provided you demonstrate a sincere love for the medium and the work of the creators who toil on the stuff day and night. Having worked in various capacities at both Marvel and DC Comics I came into contact with many of the industry's luminaries and in some cases am honored to call them friends, and during those years several of them have been kind enough to grace me with some of their original work. Either given as a gift or obtained at an insider's price, original art is a wonderful thing to a dyed-in-the-wool keeper of the comics flame like Yer Bunche, and every bit of it that I have will eventually be framed and proudly displayed on the walls of wherever I may end up residing, and not one bit of it will end up on eBay (look no further for proof of my loyalty/stupidity, since by selling this stuff I could pad my wallet by quite a bit).
The following gallery features my favorite pieces from my collection, garnered over the past twenty-some-odd years, and if you click on the images you'll see them at a larger size in all their glory.
Here's the one piece I obtained before I got into the biz as a pro. Years before I briefly worked as his editor on THE ORIGINALS, I met Dave (WATCHMEN) Gibbons at a convention in Manhattan and commissioned this lovely sketch of Charlie, the hero of Northpool, from the classic 2000 A.D. series RO-BUSTERS.
For those unfamiliar with him, Charlie was a kindly giant robot who guided cargo vessels into the British coastal town of Northpool. Beloved by the town, Charlie was a gentle giant until a heartless developer sent in a cadre of cruel and violent demolition robots to raze Northpool, its inhabitants be damned, and the lovable Charlie simply wouldn't have it. Defending his town from the developer's machines with a construction girder and his own armored body, the colossal robot ferociously fought the good fight until he eventually fell from the frightful damage he sustained in the shattering battle and a missile barrage courtesy of the local naval forces, but not before he totally kicked the collective ass of the developer's hardware. The story is beautifully illustrated — it's Gibbons, so the likelihood of it sucking is nil — and scripter Pat Mills really makes the reader adore Charlie, so when he makes his seemingly hopeless stand you're right there with him, feeling every punishing blow as he protects his people, and feeling the elation of the townsfolk when, battered and struggling, he rises from the ocean some weeks later and walks home, urged on by the citizens who gather en masse to sing "You'll Never Walk Alone." Sounds corny? You bet your sweet ass it does, but I defy you not to be moved when you read it. I first read that story about twenty-two years ago and openly wept during the last few pages, and I get teary just thinking about it even now. This is the UK equivalent (thematically) to that story where the Thing refuses to give up when pitted against the infinitely more powerful Champion of the Universe, even though he's being beaten to death, because he knows that if he falls the Earth will be destroyed; Charlie's tale is one of the greatest comics ever created about the nature of heroism, is rightly enshrined as a 2000 A.D. classic, and is one of my all-time favorite stories of any kind in any medium, so this sketch is very, very precious to me. There are those who would love a page from WATCHMEN, but not me. Dave, if any of the pages from this story are still in your possession, we need to talk.
The cover for the collected RO-BUSTERS Book 1: Dave Gibbons' stunning illustration of Charlie, moments before the fight of his life.
These next two come from Darick Robertson, from his celebrated run on TRANSMETROPOLITAN. We'd met years before and hit it off quite well, so when I ended up at Vertigo Darick dropped by one day and asked if I'd be willing to be in the TRANSMETROPOLITAN issue he was drawing at the time. I said "sure," and after the issue hit the stands and Darick got his art back, he handed me the two pages that feature me as a bartender.
Garth Ennis is best known for his over-the-top scripting on books such as PREACHER, THE PUNISHER, and THE BOYS, but for some reason his work on HITMAN remains unfairly glossed over. It's funny as hell, took place in the DC Universe and used that fact to entertaining advantage, and it featured some of the best art in John McCrea's career, with Gary Leach on inks. McCrea's a total riot of a human being and is utterly fun and hilarious to hang with, an aspect of his personality that really comes across in his work on HITMAN, plus he's one of the few artists in the biz who can actually draw black people without making us look odd. My favorite character in the book was Nat the Hat, the protagonist's best friend, and, knowing this, McCrea one day handed me a page that I consider to be the definitive portrait of Nat, as well as featuring the goofball demon Baytor, and everyone's favorite drunken barfly of a superhero, Captain Six-Pack.
Back in the days before vile, rude, and nasty comics could be easily obtained at the neighborhood comics shop, there were what used to be called "underground" comics, items that featured sheer, unbridled lunacy coupled with the most extreme visions of drug-fueled sexuality, social commentary, and gory, sadistic violence, and I fucking loved them. Robert Crumb, Spain Rodriguez, and S. Clay Wilson were all heroes to my adolescent self and I thank each and every one of them for helping to simultaneously expand and warp my young sensibilities. I should also note that I discovered their works a good six years before I ever did drugs, so I appreciated it solely for the insane creativity and uninhibited artwork on display, to say nothing of the lovingly detailed and exaggerated vaginal cartography that I found much more interesting than much of what could be had in publications like HUSTLER of PISS FLAPS ON PARADE. And among that pantheon of reprobates with pens was one Gilbert Shelton, creator of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, and Wonder Warthog, one of the silliest and most consistently hilarious of the parody superheroes. WONDER WARTHOG AND THE BATTLE OF THE TITANS is one of the most falling-down idiotic things I've ever had the pleasure to read, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
A textbook example of how to do a humor comic right.
So in 2005 when I went to England for the Bristol Con, I was surprised to meet Shelton in the flesh and gush over how much I enjoy and admire what he does. Now that the underground has been more or less absorbed into the mainstream with artists like Peter Bagge and Johnny Ryan representing in the name of outrageous material, pioneers like Shelton are mostly remembered by us aging kiddies whom they unknowingly corrupted, so it was a real treat to obtain this sketch from the man himself.
While at that same convention I got to meet many of the luminaries of the British comics contingent, but the biggest thrill for me was meeting John Burns, a seriously talented illustrator whose work I first saw in a stunning painted issue of ESPERS back in the eighties. The guy's equally amazing in pen and ink or when working in color, as is proven in this gorgeous piece:
Burns is a veteran in the British comics world, and his work can currently be found in 2000 A.D.'s popular NIKOLAI DANTE series, gracing the page with the welcome feel of classical painted illustration.
But my interest in Burns really gets going when I remember that he worked on the newspaper strip of MODESTY BLAISE. One of the classics of British comics and adventure strips in general, MODESTY BLAISE has a huge following, but for some reason Burns' run on the series was not well received by the readers and he was let go, something about which he is famously not amused, so much so that in the Bristol Con souvenir book it was flatly suggested that attendees avoid bringing up MODESTY BLAISE if they met Burns, and that's where this story gets interesting. When I found Burns' table I perused his originals for sale, fully-painted pages from NIKOLAI DANTE, the awesome ESPERS issue, a few MODESTY BLAISE black and white dailies, and other sundry items, all of which were well out of my range of affordability, and soon struck up conversation with the master illustrator. After the usual pleasantries I decided to throw caution to the wind and I launched into an impassioned tirade on how his ousting from MODESTY BLAISE was a load of bullshit, as well as making mention of how he was the guest who I was most excited to meet after flying over from the Colonies, and when I was done I asked Burns if he would be willing to draw the strip's protagonists, Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin, in my sketchbook at his very reasonable price. He thought it over for a moment and said that he'd do it because I was quite clearly on his side of the matter. He then rummaged through his stack of art in search of reference on characters he hadn't drawn in nearly thirty years, found suitable pages to work from, and commenced drawing. I thanked him and watched him work for a few moments before leaving him to his task, and when I strolled by again five minutes later there was a small crowd of older fans whispering excitedly among themselves, thrilled to witness the nigh-impossible sight of John M. Burns drawing characters that the convention's own programme had declared verboten. The crowd continued to grow, and when Burns was finished there was much oohing and aahing as he handed me this magnificent sketch:
When I returned from that trip I showed this to my fellow hardcore Modesty Blaise fan, Jessica, and when she saw it she nearly shat a sports utility vehicle.
Also from Bristol is this Dave Gibbons sketch of another 2000 A.D. mainstay, ROGUE TROOPER.
During my time editing Vertigo's OUTLAW NATION (available in its entirety in one thick, black and white volume) I became friends with the book's art team of Goran Parlov and Goran Sudzuka, known collectively as "the crazy Croats," and fell in love with their work. My favorite character in the series was Lola, a frighteningly disturbed young lady who was beautifully illustrated by the Gorans, and once they found out that I liked her they sent me drawings of her as a surprise. While I hate to play favorites on such things, I have to admit that this piece by Goran Parlov is one of my favorite pieces in my collection.
Not only is it an ideal portrait of Lola, it also shows off Parlov's command of a brush in the amazing rendering on the leather couch. I would have been happy enough with Lola just standing there, but that couch is simply beautiful.
One of my favorite cartoonists since my early childhood, Sergio Aragones is one of the planet's undisputed masters of humorous illustration, and I was lucky enough to meet him a few times during my years in the Marvel Bullpen when he was working on his epic barbarian comedy GROO THE WANDERER. This was early in my career and I made sure to get an autograph from every one of my favorites who passed through, so when I asked Sergio for his autograph he smiled and took the scrap board I handed him to sign, and rather than just give me an autograph he instead filled the page with this drawing of the moronic Groo and his dog, Rufferto.
Sergio's drawing speed is legendary, and I can tell you as an eyewitness that this drawing took him maybe sixty seconds. Complete and utter mastery of his pen.
As technology and the creation of comics intermingle, one of the downsides of collecting original art from the past six years is that the actual pages drawn by the artists no longer have the word balloons attached since those are now lettered and composited digitally. There are those who enjoy having the wordless illustrations, but for me they lose a bit of the fun when you peruse an image that's clearly supposed to feature dialogue. Fortunately my buddy Amanda Conner is a gifted visual storyteller who is able to imbue her characters with personality and body language to spare, so this now-iconic page from her work on the JSA CLASSIFIED Power Girl mini-series speaks for itself.
Here's another age from the same book. I had to have this one for two reasons: the amusing POV booby shot, and the guest appearance of Yer Bunche in the last panel (I'm seen underneath her gloved hand), both on one page. Sweet!
Amanda's finishing up her work on the upcoming TERRA mini-series, and after that she jumps straight into the POWER GIRL ongoing series, so show the lady some love and buy the motherfucker, already! It's a ways off, but you know what I mean.
It was my distinct pleasure to spend the better part of a year editing Y: THE LAST MAN after original editor Heidi MacDonald departed, and my resulting friendship with series co-creator and penciler Pia Guerra was an unexpected side effect from the assignment. And while I love Pia's work on the series, the only page I simply had to own was this creepy image because not only is it a chilling sequence, it also features my editorial credit.
These next two pages come courtesy of Darick Robertson again, from THE BOYS. This is the bit in which Iron Man-esque Tek-Knight saves the world by blowing up an asteroid that would have otherwise decimated the planet. A standard superhero scenario to be sure, but the rub here is that Tek-Knight is suffering from terminal brain damage that urges him to fuck anyone and anything that gets near him, a seemingly pointless bit of multi-issue setup that literally climaxes with the hero discovering that the asteroid, for no explained reason, has a pussy, so he of course has to hump the shit out of it, all while his lusty vocalizations are heard the world over thanks to the live audio feed from his helmet. As Tek-Knight reaches "the vinegar strokes," the asteroid explodes. Sheer ribald poetry.
I truly love Kyle Baker's fun, animation-influenced drawing style, and this panel from his run on Plastic Man cracks me the hell up. After the presumed death of Billy Batson — aka the "Shazam!" Captain Marvel — , his kid sister, Mary Marvel, delivers a touching eulogy at his funeral, a speech explaining how it's important for superheroes to wear bright and colorful costumes so they can be good examples to children. What makes this should-be-poignant moment funny is the sight of an earnest Mary delivering this tear-jerking monologue as she poses with her ass in the camera and her unusually large (for her, anyway) lightning bolt-emblazoned boobs jutting out over the dais, while the Catholic dominatrix-look Huntress, a bippy-shirted Supergirl, and a bosomy phalanx of Catwoman, the Black Canary, and Power Girl stand by in solidarity, each with her dairies on prominent display as a priest fights to tear his eyes away from the superheroic titty parade.
And in case you're wondering how this penciled page is the final art used for the published version, allow me to explain. Kyle drew the book in pencil, then scanned the artwork and futzed about with it in Photoshop to attain the desired results for the finished product. It looked great finished, but I love the fleshiness of pencil art in general, and this piece in particular.
I've frequently mentioned how my favorite part of having worked in Vertigo editorial was becoming friends with some of the creative talent, and maintaining those friendships to this day, and the artist with whom I'm in almost daily contact is Chris Weston, aka "our man in Eastbourne." Chris is a sickeningly-talented illustrator who makes it look easy, and was an absolute joy to work with, so I feel honored to have been given the following pieces from the Grant Morrison-scribed THE FILTH, a lurid, bizarre, raunchy, and just plain downright mad series loaded to the gills with envelope-pushing imagery.
Issue #1 of THE FILTH features a psychedelic sex scene, some of which contained images my boss felt went a little too far, so she requested that Chris "pull back" from some of it. These illustrations come from the lead-in to that sequence and were later composited into a finished page with more artwork.
The next page is the original pencil version of the psychedelic sex scene. Break out your paperback of the collected THE FILTH and compare this with the published version; my boss deemed the central figures, with Ned Slade kneeling to couple with the splay-legged Miami Nil, as being "a bit much," so she requested that Chris draw a less explicit patch of art to cover up the action, and that's the version that saw print. I'm sorry, but considering that it was a book for adults in the first place and no graphic depictions of frothing and turgid genitalia are in evidence, I call bullshit on such pointless prudery. I mean, really, who's being protected here, and from what?
Up next is a bunch of work from THE FILTH #5, the chapter entitled "Pornomancer."
It features an on-set view of porn star Anders Klimaaks, hard at work on his latest tenderloin epic. boning an actress in Amish drag while he channels the Prince of Darkness. This lovely image pleased all who saw it...that is until it was ready to go to press and my boss got cold feet at the last minute. She suggested having Chris do a rush re-draw at the eleventh hour, but, loving the piece, I suggested instead that we have the separators handle the perceived problem by creating a color effect to simulate the wear and tear seen on a well-watched porno tape and use that to obscure somewhat the crotches of the main figures, despite the fact that not link sausage or saucy lippage was in view. That worked out well enough, but I still feel such in-house censorship was unnecessary and pussified, especially coming from an imprint that wallows in pride over how allegedly "edgy" it is. Anyway, when I saw Chris a few weeks back at the recent Javits Center con he gave me a bunch of his original concept sketches and art for that issue of THE FILTH that featured his original stabs at the Satanic splash page, as well as other bits of art depicting the goings on at the porn studio, some of which were later "toned down" (read "censored") or excised altogether.
The "tighter" version that was used as the template for the finished page; note how the actress' facial expression has changed from one that could be seen as alarmed or fearful to one of disinterested boredom or apathy, just like the look seen on many an adult video starlet's face (or so I've read about in investigative reports..yeah, read about in investigative reports!).
The next three items are images that were to be seen as Anders Klimaaks tells the reader about himself and what he does for a living and, again, much of this stuff was snipped due to its perceived prurient content. I think the depiction of such activities in a clear and realistic drawing style may have been at the root of the problem, especially when the reader sees Anders' hands about to explore his co-star's more intimate bits, or images of him genitally connecting with her, despite no graphic shots resembling excerpts from a med school film. Simply put, anyone who's ever had sex has no trouble doing the visual arithmetic, and that may have disturbed some delicate sensibilities. (But certainly not mine.)
The closeup of the "facial" in the final panel below was later somewhat patched over by DC's production department after my boss requested the amount of black ejaculate be considerably lessened. I thought that was ridiculous since the reader knew that the bonneted actress was taking a face-full of inky cum — Anders' claim to porn fame is his unique ebony population paste — , so why edit it? Does the excision of some of the fluids make it any less a flying barrage of jet black jizmo? I think not, and it's so absurd anyway, why balk at all? Compare this panel with the printed version and you'll see what I mean.
And we close with a sketch Chris did for me when we shared a room at the Bristol Convention, some three years ago.