Pick of the Week
What did the
Art by JOHN PAUL LEON, TRAVEL FOREMAN and JEFF HUET
Cover by TRAVEL FOREMAN
Size: 20 pages
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from writing about comic books, it’s that in this day and age, it’s tremendously hard for a publisher and a creative team to consistently put out a monthly, quality product. Now that’s not saying that everyone involved doesn’t try incredibly hard. But in this day and age, there are more obstacles than ever in front of the publishers and creators. Artists take longer to finish their work; writers get backed up on their workload and fall behind; technology, as much as it helps and has helped to advance the industry, can sometimes get in the way. And above all, the audience is as fickle as it comes. As much as we love to praise our heroes in the comics and then come down on them like harsh critics, we do the same to the creators and publishers. So when I see a book that’s dedicated to working within the system to produce quality, I have to admit, I’m impressed. This week, Animal Man #6 stepped up to the plate and did just that.
Here in 2012, after over 70 years of the American comic book industry, it’s time we’ve accepted the fact that the legendary run between an artist and a creator on one ongoing book is a thing of the past. It’s never going to happen again. I’ve accepted it, it’s time you accept it as well. We’ve seen the legends like Jack Kirby and Stan Lee create some amazing work on a consistent basis, but that was during a different time, in a different place. The game has changed and now we need to adapt and evolve. We’ve seen various publishers take different approaches to the ongoing monthly comic and the conundrum of dealing with managing their creators as there are a myriad of ways to manage the artists duties on an ongoing monthly title. The use of a fill in artist has become accepted. Someone to step in and do an issue or two, while the regular artists catches up. Marvel’s taken the approach of rotating artists on story arcs, so that while one artist is working on one arc, another artists is on the next. It appears that DC Comics approach, generally, appears to have a fill in artist step in and keep the story moving forward as we’ve seen in books like Wonder Woman and Swamp Thing. But with Animal Man #6, I was surprised and relieved to see the approach be taken in a way that could be celebrated, not complained about.
After the first 5 issues of Animal Man, I thought to myself, man Travel Foreman is killing it on the art. Every month the issue has looked great and it’s been as big of a part of the identity of the title as the story that Jeff Lemire is weaving, as it should be in comics. But I wondered, how much longer could it last? We’ve seen fill in artists creeping into the DC books of The New 52, surely it was just a matter of time. I’m sure they could find an artist who could ape Foreman’s style, but that would most likely fall short. Animal Man #6 this week was the issue that would answer my question and after reading it, I have to applaud the team behind Animal Man for handling it in classy manner.
Animal Man #6 takes a page from the book of Starman and the work of James Robinson, as I recently celebrated in my last Pick of The Shade #4. As opposed to bringing in a fill in artist to just tell the next chapter of the story, Lemire teams up with stellar artist in his own right, John Paul Leon to give us a glimpse into the past of Buddy Baker (Animal Man) in a very clever way.
When Animal Man #1 launched, the issue began in an equally clever manner with a text piece of a magazine interview with Buddy Baker discussing his life as a super hero and his recent turn as an actor. With Animal Man #6, the issue revisits that concept by showing us the independent film that Baker was in. Illustrated by Leon, we see the movie “Tights” which stars Buddy Baker as a down on his luck ex-super hero. The movie becomes metacontextual in and of itself by having the comics’ current super hero alter ego, playing an ex-super hero and at the same time having a very similar feel to the realistic super hero concept that has been popular in entertainment recently in such things like Kick-Ass and Heroes. John Paul Leon delivers his own special brand of art here, giving us a clean, slightly realistic cartooning style that is different enough from Foreman’s art that you, the reader, understand that we’re looking at something different here. Leon’s expressions and cinematic feel make his illustrations perfect for the job. It’s not until more than 2/3 of the story do we get a subtle nudge as to what’s happening, as one panel is interrupted with a “Buffering” effect that seems very similar to watching video on the web or a streaming device. A few pages later, we’re interrupted again, but this time with a “Low Battery” message and then after a page turn, we’re back to art by Travel Foreman as we see Buddy and his family, on the run after the events of the first 5 issues, and Buddy’s son Cliff (the one with the mullet), was watching his dad in the movie on his handheld device. See what I mean? Clever.
After the beautiful work of John Paul Leon, Travel Foreman returns us to the present moment of the Animal Man comic and we get a feel for what’s happening as we roll towards the next issue and the next story arc. And with that, Jeff Lemire, John Paul Leon, Travel Foreman, inker Jeff Huet and letterer Jared K. Fletcher show us how a fill in issue is done. Bring in a quality fill in artist, keep us in the world of the characters and relevant, and take something that is regrettably needed (the need for fill in issue) and turn it into something fun and special. Something that can trigger conversation and enjoyment from the fans, which is really what it’s all about.
Seriously though, can we lose the mullet?