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Comic Book Artist: Mike Wieringo

This is one of my semi-regular posts about comic book artists whose work I enjoy, as I look at their work history and post some examples of their work. Today’s post is about a favourite artist who will unfortunately no longer produce any more of his great art.

It was a great shock and loss when Mike Wieringo passed away at the age of 44. He was taken from the world too soon and his delightful art is still missed. Like most people, I first saw his artwork on The Flash in 1993–1994, working with Mark Waid for the first time and very early in his own career. His style was cartoony and perfect for superheroes but like a lot of great art, its simplicity belied great storytelling, excellent facial expressions, dynamic character work and superb craft.

After The Flash, Wieringo drew Robin for a short run and a Rogue mini-series for Marvel (in addition to various other comics, including the Amalgam comic Spider-Boy #1, a combination of Spider-Man and Superboy) before teaming up with Todd Dezago on The Sensational Spider-Man for two years. Even though I haven’t read the issues, I’ve always thought that Wieringo was a particularly appropriate artist for Spider-Man, but then that was the case whenever he drew any title.

The next big project was the delightful Tellos, the fantasy series that he co-created (and co-owned) with Dezago at Image Comics in 1999. His artwork was perfect for the world of magic and pirates and swordplay and talking tigers, and it was a joy to behold. Charming and funny and moving and exciting, it was a great little comic.

After a short run on Adventures of Superman, Wieringo reteamed with Waid for a great run on Fantastic Four. Waid had a great handle on the characters and Wieringo proved again that he was the perfect artist for whatever book he was working on. He got each of the characters perfectly and drew them as if he had always been drawing them. There was an unusual blip during their run: Marvel announced that they were being replaced on the book before fan outcry caused them to reverse the decision, and they announced that Waid and Wieringo would be staying on the book within three days of them being moved off the book. It didn’t stop the quality: this was one of the great runs on Fantastic Four and I thoroughly recommend it.

After the Fantastic Four, Wieringo worked on Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man and Stan Lee Meets The Silver Surfer, as well as Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, a fun four-issue mini-series written by Jeff Parker. However, he passed away in August 2007 before the completion of a What If? story about the replacement Fantastic Four; Marvel donated his art and the script to the Hero Initiative, who completed the book as a tribute to Wieringo with artwork from a host of great artists. There is also a scholarship in his name, which is also a fitting tribute to a man who was by all accounts a decent human being. His personal website is still kept online, which is where he used to write about his life and would post sketches (lots of sketches – he loved to draw everything and anything, such as Harry Potter or Power Pack or whatever took his fancy; you can spend ages just looking through all the entries, and I could keep posting the sketches), and it’s nice to be able to have continuation of his life and his art. Mike Wieringo, RIP.

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Comic Book Artist: Leinil Francis Yu

I haven’t done one of these posts – a collection of images and overviews of comic book artists I enjoy – for a long time now, but they seem to the source of many visits to this blog according to Google Analytics (although it’s mostly to download the images of comic book art; I guess I make it easy to find them with Google Image search, particularly the Chris Bachalo post I did). However, that is not the reason for me returning to this theme – with these posts, I’m still trying to find a way to talk about the comic book art I like from the perspective of someone who connects with stories and writers.

I first saw the art of Filipino comic book artist on the Wolverine story Not Dead Yet (Wolverine #119 – 122), written by Warren Ellis, back in 1998. He’d been working on Wolverine for six months before this, and it seems to be his first major work. What’s amazing is how good he is from the start: he’s a great storyteller with a style that is perfect for the modern age of comics – his art is slick but with a nice rough edge, it has some realism but with a comic book edge, it’s dynamic and, resorting to fanboy status, it’s just plain cool.

After a respectable run on Wolverine, Yu moved on to The X-Men – talk about a promotion (I haven’t seen any of the work; I’m going out on a limb and assuming that it was good). He worked on one of the top books in the industry for two years, and he’s barely started his career. Which makes it strange that he moves over to DC to work on a creator-owned series with Scott Lobdell set in World War II, High Roads. The story is unusual, but Yu’s art is still awesome – he draws all the craziness and sexiness involved with aplomb.

The next DC project is bigger; in fact, it’s the biggest yet – the new origin sequence for Superman, Superman: Birthright, written by Mark Waid. This 12-issue series is not only really good, it’s got fantastic art from Yu. He draws a noble Clark, a heroic Superman and a smart and sexy Lois Lane, and he’s one of those good artists who can handle the normal stuff as well as the exciting superhero stuff that is all the less talented artists care about.

Having pencilled DC’s greatest superhero in a definitive story, Yu seemingly decided he didn’t want to be pigeon-holed because his work afterwards jumps around on a couple of different books for different publishers before drawing Andy Diggle’s Silent Dragons, a creator-owned six-issue mini-series set in Tokyo in 2063, with futuristic violence and samurai cool. Yu is nothing if not eclectic.

In 2006, Yu signed an exclusive contract with Marvel, which he admits his more his spiritual home than DC. He starts drawing Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk, written by Lost’s Damon Lindelof, which unfortunately goes way off schedule due to the author’s work schedule (comics will always get relegated when TV or movies come a-calling), although they do finish it eventually (over three years later, in the middle of 2009). Yu is a hot artist, in demand and evolving his style to one with more detail and intensity but still with his vibrant and slightly exotic edge. Since he was on contract, Marvel sensibly decided to use his time on something big: he was eventually put on New Avengers, where he fitted right in, providing some great art (and great covers – I love the Ronin being attacked cover).

If working on one of Marvel’s biggest books wasn’t enough, Yu then pencilled one of the big crossovers: Secret Invasion was an eight-issue mini-series that was a continuation of the Skrull storyline that had been part of the New Avengers for a while, and he excelled again at the big stuff (double-page spreads of heroes versus heroes and heroes versus Skrulls) as well as the intimate stuff that is part of the package of a Bendis book. There’s no stopping Yu now – he’s drawn Ultimate Comics: Avengers with Mark Millar, which led to Yu drawing Millar’s creator-owned Superior (which will be turned into a movie eventually) and he’ll be drawing Millar’s Supercrooks, which is also being turned into a movie. This means that we’re going to get a lot more of his beautiful artwork, which will continue to evolve and get better; you can check out his website on deviantart if you don’t believe me.

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Writer Top Five: Greg Rucka

I’m not sure where I stole this idea from but it seemed a nice adjunct to my posts about comic book artists I like, so I thought I’d go through the list of writers who have the most comics in my collection (from this post), starting with writers who were just outside of the Top Ten, giving a list of my favourite Top Five works by that writer. First up: Greg Rucka.

It was the Eisner award-winning Whiteout that brought Rucka to the attention of the comic book industry (although he was a successful novelist before that). Since then, Rucka has been a name to trust for the quality of his writing and research, and for his approach to story and character, known for his strong female characters in a male-dominated medium.

Before my Top Five, a few mentions of other work by Rucka that I also like: there is Felon, his Image book, which started out as an ongoing series but unfortunately ended up a four-issue mini-series. His current run on The Punisher is the best thing he’s done at Marvel. His first run on Detective Comics, where he introduced Sasha Bordeaux as bodyguard for Bruce Wayne, was great stuff, as was his mini-series Batman/Huntress: Cry For Blood. His run on Checkmate (which used Sasha again) was a great bit of superhero espionage politics, and his Wonder Woman run was a great take on the character (described as ‘superhero West Wing’) until it got derailed by Infinite Crisis. Stumptown is a great private detective series, which has the potential to get on this list (it’s only had the first storyline in four issues so far). I’m also enjoying his webcomic with Rick Burchett (Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether), which you should be checking out. As always, this is a list fixed in time – who’s to know whether his new project, the co-creator-owned Lazarus (with Michael Lark) at Image, which was just announced at San Diego, will end up on a revised list?

5. Atticus Kodiak novels
Atticus Kodiak is a professional bodyguard; the stories are the jobs that don’t run smoothly. Rucka writes lean prose that reeks of authenticity and puts you in the middle of everything; most other thrillers I’ve read subsequently seem flimsy and badly written in comparison (I’ve read a Jack Reacher story and it has nothing on Rucka). What’s even better is that the story of the character has progressed: Rucka could have kept the series as just bodyguard adventures, but he evolved the nature of Kodiak and the stories he tells with him. Highly recommended.

4. 52
This is my list, so I get to define the rules. Yes, Rucka is a co-writer on this year-long weekly series (along with Grant Morrison, Mark Waid and Geoff Johns), but I enjoyed the whole thing (albeit in trade paperback form) and particularly Rucka’s storyline centred on Renee Montoya and her development as the new Question. Rucka has often stated his love and admiration for Denny O’Neill’s The Question, and he was instrumental in the development of Montoya’s character, and these two factors come together here perfectly.

3. Detective Comics #854–863
This was Rucka’s second run on Detective Comics but this would have the greater impact: for these issues, Batman was no longer the star of his own book, because it was the official introduction of Kate Kane as Batwoman, the former soldier who quit because of her honour and her homosexuality. The story is more critically praised for the unbelievably phenomenal art from JH Williams, who was doing amazing things with panel transitions and page design and different styles for Kate Kane and Batwoman, but it wouldn’t have had the impact without the writing of Rucka and his great characterisation of the Kate. In addition, there were the back-up stories drawn by Cully Hamner about the further adventures of Renee Montoya as the Question, also written by Rucka, which make for a complete package of great comic books.

2. Gotham Central
Another co-writing credit, but I don’t care: Rucka and Ed Brubaker wrote some fantastic stories with the brilliant premise of focussing on the police who work in the shadow of Batman and his insane rogues’ gallery. I love these stories, perfectly meshing the police procedural with superheroes (who are more on the periphery), with great art from Michael Lark on a critically praised but low-selling title. It was on this title that Rucka would first develop Renee Montoya, which continued on through to The Question: Five Books of Blood.

1. Queen & Country
Inspired by the British TV series The Sandbaggers, Queen & Country was a great comic book that has all the hallmarks of a Rucka book: a strong female protagonist, realism, well-researched storylines, great characterisation and with something to say. An independent (it was published at Oni Press), black and white comic book that started in 2001, it was about Tara Chace, an operative of the Special Operations Section of the Secret Intelligence Service, it was about the politics and bureaucracy of being an agent, with some hard-hitting spy action thrown in. Smart, exciting, engaging and emotional, it lasted for 32 issues (each arc drawn by a different artist), with several mini-series and three novels of great writing from Rucka; whenever I think of Rucka, the first visual is always Queen & Country.

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