Every once in a while, I like to copy panels out of comics drawn by artists I admire. I think there's something to be learned from copying a picture, even if it's just forcing your hand to approximate the motions made by that of another artist. Something -- whether in muscle memory or analysis or creative thinking -- is always gained. It could be a new ability to incorporate a stylistic quirk of the artist you're copying, or just a refined appreciation of their work. Regardless -- always instructional. Always a good time. You should try it. Here are a few examples of my copies.
UNIDENTIFIED "CORTO MALTESE" PANEL, BY HUGO PRATT (spot illustration in "Graphis" #159):
There is so much to love about this panel -- it's a minimalist masterpiece. Something about the Italians -- they ink like murderers. Pratt has absolutely ripped this picture up with the crudity of his brush- and pen-strokes; it looks almost like it could be a piece of blotter paper, such is the seemingly random bluntness of the markmaking. The starkness is breathtaking. Black and white has never looked better, and the miserly amount of lines used to create a figure drawing and background makes pretty much every American comic in existence look pathetically overcooked by comparison.
But beyond the incredible economy of the picture is as much consideration as any panel could have. The spare contrast of the deep blacks and shocking whites and the precise exactitude of each line's placement evinces a remarkable understanding of light and shadow in their most challenging environment -- water. The result of Pratt's high-volume brushwork, where the shadows of body curves and drapery are barely distingushable, is not only the most true-to-life image of submersion I've ever seen in comics, it also provides the blanching shock of a cannonball into the briny deep, the contraction of the skin that even the most hardened human beings feel when cold fluid immerses them. This is a picture that communicates volumes not only in technique and storytelling, but also in sensation.
Eh... so I'm not Hugo Pratt. Without his incredible ability to slam those blacks down exactly where they belong, all I could do was make my interpretation a little more illustrative. There's a lot of drama in Pratt's picture, which I tried to bring into a little more focus. I also tried to play around with depicting a little more of the figure's motion.
"THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD" #35, PAGE 7 PANEL 3, BY JOE KUBERT:
The big draws here are obvious: first of all, Joe Kubert's moody, classically-oriented composition, about as far from typical Silver Age "point of impact" storytelling as you can get. The extreme verticality of the panel prefigures Neal Adams (and everyone whose layouts were influenced by Neal Adams), but the stormy blacks, which impinge even on the caption box, belong to a province occupied only by Kubert himself. And the utter absence of anything in between Hawkman and the ground is almost vertigo-inducing.
Then there's the gorgeously impressionistic color work. Probably originally Jack Adler's, it's raised to new heights by the reconstruction work of the Digital Chameleon studio, who provide a great blue fade that doubles the drawing's vertiginous effect, pick the exact right shade of red for the figures (almost a stained-glass color, really selling the biblical reference of the composition), and making the ground literally glow, turning it into a sentient menace that physically casts its promise of destruction up at the falling Hawks.
And that's actually my favorite part of the picture; the ground. There's something haunting, evocative, about that Herriman-ish landscape. It's almost space-age in a bizarre way, the grain silo looming in the background of a slice of the earth which doesn't look like it's been trod by any humans for a very long time. Here it is in close-up for you:
Lacking any pieces of paper that thin, I decided to give a little more expressiveness to Kubert's black sky, push the stained-glass coloring approach further, and spend some quality time with that landscape. I dug the caption too (Gardner Fox), so I kept that in there as well.
"BATMAN" #181, PAGE 2 PANEL 1, BY SHELDON MOLDOFF:
It's a fine picture -- introduces the characters in an interesting way, the cartooning isn't bad -- but I mean, I have Batman comics by everyone from Quitely to Infantino and I certainly don't need to look at a Sheldon Moldoff picture if I don't want to. No, what turned me on here was the ersatz concept of it all -- fetishized supervillainess pin-ups as "sensational pop art". (Bob Kanigher wrote the script.) It's a concept that instantly gives the story as much style and zing as any Marvel "Pop Art Production" from the same period, as well as one that begs to be given a contemporary update.