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A Month of Art Stars – Doug Mahnke

Every day this month I’m going to feature a current comic book art “star,” someone whose work I absolutely love.

I’m mostly going to try to keep from the biggest names as much as possible, because, really, do I need to talk more about the awesomeness of JH Williams, Frank Quitely and Darwyn Cooke? Here‘s the archive of the artists mentioned so far!

Here’s one of the best artists working on DC Comics superhero comics today!

Enjoy!

Mahnke’s first mainstream work was working with John Arcudi on Dark Horse’s The Mask.

He then teamed up with Arcudi on Major Bummer, a very humorous superhero send-up at DC Comics.

The book, while good, wasn’t setting the sales charts on fire, but Mahnke got a lot of attention for the run – he was clearly a star on the rise.

After the short-lived run, Mahnke was well-established enough to quickly get a regular gig drawing Superman: Man of Steel, which felt like the first new Superman artist in years at the time.

And that run placed him into a good position to take over from Bryan Hitch on JLA, alongside Joe Kelly, where Mahnke really put on an art show…

After JLA ended, Mahnke started an impressive run on Batman, but ever since then, he has been used a bit…oddly by DC.

First off, he was one of the artists hand-picked to draw a Seven Soldiers book. Mahnke drew Frankenstein, and he did a smashing job on it.

Since then, and perhaps very well due to Mahnke’s own desire to try new things, he has done a number of lower-attention titles, such as a World War II mini-series with Chuck Dixon, a run on Stormwatch PHD with Christos Gage, then a few projects with Peter Tomasi, the man who hand-picked him on Seven Soldiers.

His latest project is the Final Crisis tie-in, Superman Beyond, and it is also gorgeous.

Here are some examples of Mahnke sequentials.

First, a page from JLA…

Next, three pages from another Final Crisis one-shot he did with Tomasi…

What an amazing artist – he really ought to get another high-profile title. At the very least, he ought to draw an issue of All Star Superman post-Quitely.

31 Comments

Count me in as a… Mahn-iac?

That’s from DCU #0 not from Final Crisis: Requiem.

I miss Major Bummer.

DC’s such a doofus for cancelling this title.
Maybe they should bring it back, that ought to boost them sales.

Duuuuudes.

You forgot The Man Who Laughs graphic novel with Ed Brubaker.

@Rohan – I think you’re supposed to say you’re up for some hot Mahnke love.

His run on JLA was just awesome, and don’t forget Justice League Elite!

I love the instructional dvd’s that Doug and Tom Nguyen did on penciling and inking. Really long and thorough, with great insight into their processes, talents, and personalities.

That WWII series was great by the way. It was called Team Zero, and should be collected as a trade and they should also work on a sequel.

What I wouldn’t give to see him on JLA right now. Maybe he just prefers doing individual arcs or mini-series.

He and Pat Gleason are doing the Blackest Night Preludes in Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps so that should be interesting.

OOOOO! Blackest Night Prelude by Doug Mahnke??? Gotta be some more Zombie Bunnies in there! Please? Go on, Brian, replace a JLA cover with a Frankenstein interior… Pretty please?

“OOOOO! Blackest Night Prelude by Doug Mahnke??? Gotta be some more Zombie Bunnies in there! Please? Go on, Brian, replace a JLA cover with a Frankenstein interior… Pretty please?”

Sorry that was me… on someone else’s PC…

I always got the sense that his and Kelly’s JLA run was criminally under-rated. The Obsidian Age was probably one of the most ambitious Justice League of America story lines ever. Just a very creative run.
Anyone remember how Kelly was actually supposed to stay on sporadically after issue 100? Carlin announced that the JLA was going to have several “guest creative teams” for a while. But Kelly was supposed to come back and do individual “spotlight” issues. Then Busiek was put on and his run was criminally short and the book went to hell and Kelly never returned, other than to do the JLA Elite mini. Shame. I’d rank him up there with Morrison on that title.

one of the best jla artists out there.

Honestly, as much as I love Mahnke (and I loves me some Mahnke), I think that ultimately it was he who killed the Kelly run, readership-wise.

Like him or not, Howard Porter was a popular artist (although Morrison probably carried that run a bit), and Hitch was massively popular. Mahnke was less known and drew in a MUCH less populist style.

Had Kelly written JLA with Hitch artwork, the sales likely wouldn’t have dropped much at all.

I think Mahnke drew the Hitman/ Lobo one-shot, which was a lot of (violent) fun.

Manke’s art on Stormwatch: PHD was fantastic

Honestly, as much as I love Mahnke (and I loves me some Mahnke), I think that ultimately it was he who killed the Kelly run, readership-wise.

Speaking personally, it was the terrible writing that drove me away. Even Bryan Hitch wouldn’t have kept me.

I’m not the biggest fan of Mahnke’s (though I find his work decent enough), but he was perfect on Frankenstein!

My wife and I are big Mahnke fans, and the fact that we’ve never been able to meet him at a con is driving us crazy. We’ve met and got sketches from so many of our favorites, that he is starting to become our white whale.

I miss Tom Nguyen inking him though. I thought the SS:Frankenstein was little too rough.

EM, who is firmly in the “I Love Joe Kelly’s JLA” camp

FWIW, I met him just last year in Minneapolis at FallCon, and he seemed like a neat dude. I had him sign my copy of JLA #61 and told him I really liked his JLE stuff. He said “may they rest in peace”. I wish I’d stuck around another minute to get a sketch, but my ride was leaving.

Next time, I guess…

Speaking personally, it was the terrible writing that drove me away. Even Bryan Hitch wouldn’t have kept me.

Agreed. I used to frequent JLA message boards at the time and was a major fan of Morrison’s JLA run and the popular sentiment among me and other people online who hated that run was that Kelly’s writing was the problem and not Mahnke in the least.

There was one storyline where Kelly did some hamfisted political commentary, there was the uninspiring lineup Kelly set up in a run where one of the big draws for the readers up until that point was the “Big 7″ dynamic. The Plastic Man as deadbeat dad story was another many people hated/ I heard there were more bad stories but i quit by then

Pre-order sales of JLA dropped 10% before anyone read a single issue of Kelly’s run.

Great artists like Mahnke are not always favorites of the purchasing public (and vice versa – note the popularity of Greg Land).

Pre-order sales of JLA dropped 10% before anyone read a single issue of Kelly’s run.

Great artists like Mahnke are not always favorites of the purchasing public (and vice versa – note the popularity of Greg Land).

True, but keep in mind that Morrison and Waid were both big draws as writers for the first two runs. Although Morrison was not as huge as he would eventually become, he was still held in high regard among fans. Waid was also a huge deal when announced as Morrison’s successor. So the 10% dropoff before a first issue shipped could easily be a result of disappointment at Joe Kelly’s name as writer being attached to it after having two superstars like Morrison and Waid previously. I know for me personally, i knew nothing about Mahnke but had some exposure to kelly’s writing from the Superman books and other books and was never impressed. Even though I stayed on a bit before jumping ship, it was Kelly’s name that troubled me more than Mahnke’s and based on what followed my worst fears were surpassed. I know it’s strictly anecdotal and is just one case, but I just wouldn’t be quick to assume it was strictly or even mostly Mahnke’s attachment that caused that 10% drop.

I think it is easy to look back today, and overestimate the draw Grant Morrison may have had. JLA sales were so high from the start because it was starring the Big 7. Morrison’s writing may have won the hearts of fans, but it was the pairing of the Magnificent 7 that got the retailers to order it in the first place, and retailer orders, are what builds the sales figures. I think it is all too easy these days to overestimate the sales pull that Morrison had back when JLA started. Aztek and The Invisibles ran concurrently with JLA, and they certainly didn’t make the sales impact that JLA did.

The sales drop that came with Kelly & Mahnke could have been a combination of new writer, new artist, and that sad natural attrition that most books experience.

EM

I think it is easy to look back today, and overestimate the draw Grant Morrison may have had. JLA sales were so high from the start because it was starring the Big 7. Morrison’s writing may have won the hearts of fans, but it was the pairing of the Magnificent 7 that got the retailers to order it in the first place, and retailer orders, are what builds the sales figures. I think it is all too easy these days to overestimate the sales pull that Morrison had back when JLA started. Aztek and The Invisibles ran concurrently with JLA, and they certainly didn’t make the sales impact that JLA did.

Yes, but even now a Grant Morrison or Bendis creator owned work would have sales that pale in comparison to Grant’s Batman or Bendis’s New Avengers. Most writers that are big draws are only big sellers when they work on big properties. While Morrison was not the superstar he is now back then, don’t underestimate how popular he was back then.

I totally acknowledge that Grant wasn’t as big a draw then as he is now, and I also agree that the Big 7 returning also had a big impact on sales, but I think it was more the synergy of both factors that made it the breakthrough hit it was. The thought of the Big 7 being written by Grant Morrison, a guy previously known for brilliant Vertigo-style fare and well-crafter lower-tier superhero comics, really piqued everyone’s interest. No one knew what to expect. At least that was the attitude i had and the people at my comic shop. News of a Grant Morrison book by itself would generate some buzz. News of a big 7 JLA would generate even more buzz. But the two together was more than the sum of its parts and since Morrison to that point was untested on mainstream, A-list flagship books like JLA, everyone was curious as to what he would do with the book.

The miniseries with the big 7 that immediately preceded Morrison’s book, JLA: Midsummer’s Nightmare, had the same big 7 characters but didn’t generate nearly the same amount of buzz before coming out because Fabian Nicieiza doing big superhero comics has no novelty, it was what he’s known for.

I liked Mahnke’s work on JLA but I also enjoyed Kelly’s writing. There was some stuff I didn’t care for (specifically Grace and Major Disaster) but overall I thought his handling of the character’s and stories were pretty strong.

I can’t really say i enjoyed Joe Kelly’s stories(some of them seemed more about hitting us over the head with his political views than telling a good story) but Mahnke’s art was good. Heck, i loved the guy on superman. However, what got me back to the JLA was the announcement that DC was re-creating the JLA with the original 7. These are the original icons of the entire comic book industry and putting them back together got everybody talking about it. I wasn’t a morrison fan though he was fairly popular at best. The re-creation of the JLA with the big 7 was probably the reason JLA was so big back then. I mean if you had put Morrison on the “detroit JLA” i doubt reader interest would have increased in the slightest.

Howard Porter’s art was a factor in JLA’s sucess, too. He had a sort of Image-y vibe, and could sell the big action scenes. John Dell’s inking made the whole package look slick. Porter’s art hasn’t aged especially well, but the bigness and the slickness worked for Morrison’s stories. Morrison was a name writer at the time, but I’d be surprised if most people who picked up JLA had read Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Kill Your Boyfriend, Kid Eternity, or Invisibles. I may be wrong, but I think JLA’s sales dwarfed any previous Morrison effort (besides Arkham Asylum).

Of course Morrison on JLA eclipses anything he did with lesser known properties. Of course Morrison on JLA Detroit would not do a fraction of the sales of Morrison on JLA Big 7. That still doesn’t mean Morrison’s name didn’t have an impact.

Let me use Bendis as an example. His name is a draw. There’s no denying that. If his name is attached to a project, it automatically gets attention. Avengers without Bendis was a high seller, but put Bendis name on Avengers and it became a HUGE seller. Yet his Powers comic sells a fraction of what his New Avengers sells. Does that somehow mean Bendis name is not a draw? No, it’s just that in entertainment it comes down to a combination of two factors, the hugeness of the property AND the creator involved. Likewise, frank Miller’s Martha Washington sells so-so compared to Frank Miller on All-Star batman, but no one in their right mind would say that Frank Miller attached to a project is not a big draw. So your arguments that Morrison on Detroit JLA would not have sold as much don’t mean anything, the same goes for any creator that’s a draw: put them on a property no one cares about and interest will be significantly less. Jim Lee on Detroit JLA would not move that much units in comparison to Jim Lee on a Big 7 JLA either. Part of what makes a writer or an artist a huge draw is seeing them tackle major characters.

No matter how big a creator is, the property said creator is working on makes a difference. Put the argument in reverse and you’ll see how it fails. I could say “Look at the poor sales of a Big 7 JLA in JLA Classified compared to when Morrison was working on it. Obviously a Big 7 JLA doesn’t get asses in the seats, the whole reason for high sales on the early Morrison/Porter issues must have been strictly Morrison and Porter.” Obviously that wouldn’t be true. But the point is, there are plenty of examples of Big 7 JLA stories and one shots that didn’t set the sales charts on fire due to the creative teams involved. Doesn’t negate the fact that with the right creators, the Big 7 JLA can draw in a lot of fans. Likewise, there are plenty of stories where Morrison’s name would not have that strong an impact, but THAT doesn’t mean that on the right property his name WOULD have a much stronger impact. In all forms of entertainment there is a synergy involved between the names involved in the creative process and the property they’re working on (for example Harrison Ford in What Lies Beneath isn’t a big draw, but put him in an Indy Jones movies and there’s buzz aplenty). Neither exists in a vacuum.

But at the time of JLA’s debut, Morrison already had a pretty large and devoted cult following and his work on Doom Patrol and Animal Man were already in the category of modern classics and were held in high regard. The Big 7 angle did a lot to bring in a lot of readers, but the added oomph of people curious to see what the man who wrote Animal Man and Doom Patrol would do with a more mainstream property like JLA also got a lot of asses in the seats. It’s similar to how curiosities were piqued when people heard cult favorite indie director Chris Nolan was going to be handling Batman movies years back, even people who never saw a Nolan movie were intrigued to see what he would do with it. That is the atmosphere I remember at the time Morrison was announced as the writer of the JLA ongoing.

Howard Porter’s art was a factor in JLA’s sucess, too.

Oh totally, without a doubt. It was definitely a factor for me.

The Plastic Man as deadbeat dad story was another many people hated

Actually I loved that issue. It was the only issue in Joe Kelly’s run (up to the end of The Obsidan Age) that I liked.

Not sure if anyone is reading this as it is from September, but I just came upon this and wow…
I sell art for Doug Mahnke and reading the comments, well…
All I can say is thank you. I feel the same way you do and it is wonderful to see all the people that enjoy Doug’s work past and present!!
Jon
dougmahnkeart@yahoo.com

We’re still reading, Jon!

Glad to see you stop by!

michelle mahnke

January 13, 2009 at 1:46 pm

hey, how cool reading all this. dougs my big bro, and i have thought he was the greatest since i was a year old….glad to hear other people appreciate his awsome talent. ; )

I wonder if there’s some reason I ALWAYS confuse Doug Mahnke & Todd Nauck. This very minute, I couldn’t remember which one had drawn YOUNG JUSTICE till I looked it up on Wikipedia … & an hour from now I won’t remember, either. *sigh*

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