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Year of the Artist, Day 11: Mike Mignola, Part 1 – Marvel Fanfare #16

10-19-2013 08;48;44AM (2)

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Mike Mignola, and the story is “A Fable” from Marvel Fanfare #16, which was published by Marvel and has a cover date of September 1984. These scans are from Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment (which has other stories included, obviously), my copy of which was published in 2013 by Marvel. Enjoy!

Mike Mignola was probably 23 when he drew this, and it’s fascinating looking at how different his style was back in those days and how you can still see some of the touches of his later artwork. This is a very early example of his stuff, but I’m not sure if it’s the first interior artwork he did. If not, it’s pretty close.

Let’s check out the splash page:

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If we get past Namor’s super-muscled physique (which is just how Mignola drew him back then), this is a marvelously-designed page. We get the stylized title plate, with the crowned skull in the center and the eerie mermaids on either side. We can see Mignola’s interest in weird creatures (which we’ll see later in this story) and even his sly sense of humor, as the skull in the center wears the crown at a jaunty angle. The moon is nicely juxtaposed with the black, roiling clouds, and Mignola’s heavy inks dominate the page, giving Namor a sinister mien. This is also a fairly baroque page, which is another theme Mignola would show he really digs in later years.

10-19-2013 08;46;54AM

This page is typical of a young artist, as Mignola indulges in some flourishes that don’t really interfere with the storytelling but are also somewhat showy. The smaller inset panels of Namor glowering are a bit much, even if Mignola uses them to link the horse to Namor by making their eyes appear to meet across the larger panels in between them. We get a better sense of Mignola’s cartooning on this page, as it took him a while to evolve away from the rounded faces of the sailors in Panel 3 to the more hard-edged people he draws these days. He does a nice job getting a lot onto the page, and give us a good sense of the roiling sea and the upset horse, linking the swells to the horse rearing up, which, as we’ll see, is probably deliberate. Namor’s eyebrows are a bit silly, but he’s Namor, after all. Ben Sean’s coloring of this page, with the judicious use of reds, is well done, and we already see that Mignola uses inks very well, as the evil sailors have hooded eyes and the horse is drenched in black so that its red eyes stand out better.

10-19-2013 08;48;44AM

The horse ends up in the ocean, and the sailors end up drowning (unsurprisingly), but Namor is too weak to assist the horse and fears it will drown. So he prays to Neptune, as we see here. I’ll ignore Mantlo’s purple prose here – I just happen to like the way Mignola shows the white caps of the waves and the clouds. Horses as white caps isn’t new – it goes back at least to Tolkien – but it’s still pretty cool, and Mignola contrasts it well with the dark clouds thundering in on the right, with their flaming manes and empty eyes. I’m a bit confused – is that supposed to be sunlight? Because up on top, it looks like lightning. I suppose I shouldn’t apply logic to such a metal drawing. Mignola and Sean do a nice job making the horse’s eye sad in Panel 2, as well. Oh, and Namor refers to himself in the third person, which I love because you’re only allowed to do it if you’re A) a super-villain; B) a sports star; C) a total douchebag, or D) all or some of the above. That’s Namor!

10-19-2013 08;50;18AM

10-19-2013 08;51;48AM

After Namor prays to Neptune, Neptune shows up (because it’s a comic book, so gods show up all the time). These are the final two pages of this story – you can see that Neptune messes with Namor briefly, making him believe he’s going to die, before Namor recovers and sees that Neptune has turned the horse into a seahorse, which goes back to the link between the waves and the bucking horse I noted before (I don’t know if Mignola was thinking about that when he drew this, but let’s just assume he was). Both drawings of Neptune are very cool – on the first page, Neptune looks incredibly imposing, and while he’s praising Namor, he’s also not looking at him, which makes Namor’s belief that maybe Neptune will let him die a bit more tenable. Notice in Panel 1 of the first page how Mignola almost blends the horse with the water, again linking the two before the horse is transformed, and Panel 3, if we ignore the weird emaciated look on Namor, gives us a tremendous partial view of the horse as it goes down, again reinforcing Namor’s fears about Neptune ignoring him. On the second page, Neptune looks far more benevolent as he sends Namor out into the world, and Mignola even allows Namor to smile as he gets on the seahorse to swim away. I mean, Namor smiling is just disturbing, if you ask me. Mignola shows us a few things that will become more and more part of his art. First, that seahorse is downright spooky – it looks skeletal, and it has all those weird bristles on its head and around its eyes. You can certainly imagine Mignola drawing something like that in his horror comics, even if the style would be slightly different. Meanwhile, in the final panel, we see in the lower left-hand corner the sand and the skull, which suggests a great deal while still only using a few lines. Mignola would move away from this cartoony style and more to a “simple” line over the next decade, and it’s interesting that even in this early work, he was doing a little of that.

So that’s some early Mignola. Tomorrow, we’ll check out some more early Mignola, but this will feature a character who has recently become somewhat inexplicably popular. You know what it is! If you don’t, you won’t find him in the archives!


tom fitzpatrick

January 11, 2014 at 2:38 pm

My first exposure to Mignola was in ALPHA FLIGHT (Marvel), and then later CHRONICLES OF CORUM (First Comics). I also enjoyed his DC works in Elseworld: Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, and COSMIC ODYSSEY.

Mignola’s work on Namor is spectacular. He did another story in Marvel Fanfare #43 that had much better writing.

I’ve loved Mignola’s work ever since First Comics’ CHRONICLES OF CORUM series. IMO, it is just as interesting as what he produces today.

His style has evolved so naturally over the last 20 years. You can look at his early art and see hints of what was to come.

Whoa, wait… make that THIRTY years! Man, I feel old.

tom: Well, some of that will be showing up over the next few days!

Anonymous: Marvel Fanfare #43 is also collected in this edition. I wanted to show his art as early as possible, though, so I skipped it.

babytoxie: I’ve never seen Chronicles of Corum. I imagine that would look pretty keen, as it seems right up Mignola’s alley.

Great choice for your next artist! This will be an interesting evolution.

I thought your comment about younger artists throwing in showy flourishes is interesting. I’d never thought of it that way, but it is certainly something that I’ve seen now that you mention it – and it might be interesting to specifically focus on an artist who never learns when showiness overwhelms the storytelling compared to one who did.

The “white horses” phrase to describe wave tops: I tried to find the etymology but I had no luck. I remember my grandmother and parents referred to white wave tops as white horses, so it was in common use in rural Ireland and Scotland. I’d imagine it could be mythological.

I always felt like he did some splash pages for some of the 100 page giant or 80 page giant Batman books for DC in the mid-70s. I know he did covers for The Comics Reader early on, but the Batman stuff just seems too early for him. Anyone know what I’m thinking of?

This doesn’t directly address the horses-as-whitecaps question, but along with being god of the sea, Neptune was also the god of horses, which puts the writing here in a new light. Presumably Neptune would be somewhat sympathetic to the plight of the horse whether Namor prayed or not.

I’m really enjoying this feature, Greg! It’s very ambitious – every day for a year? But I look forward to reading along. :)

Derek: I’ve noticed that younger writers and artists tend not to trust themselves – writers write too much, and artists add flourishes. I don’t know if it’s such a phenomenon that I can call it a rule, but I have noticed it over the years. I don’t know if I can find artists like the ones you’re talking about, but if I do, I’ll certainly feature them.

Gavin: Mignola was born in 1960, so I doubt that he was working for DC in the mid-1970s. I don’t know who you’re thinking of, sorry!

cuttlefish: That’s very interesting about Neptune. I wonder if Mantlo/Mignola knew that. Pretty neat.

Well, I’ve done the whole daily posts for a year before, so I think I’ll be able to keep up. I’m well out in front, but I do hope I can keep a nice buffer between when I write these up and when I publish them! I’m glad you’re enjoying it!

Those last two pages look very reminiscent of Tom Mandrake’s Spectre work. Is this before Mandrake was working in comics, or were they early contemporaries of each other?

Great choice for an artist to feature here. Mignola drew the back-up story in Web of Spider-Man Annual #2 (it was a great annual, as Art Adams drew the lead story), which I think might be the earliest art I had seen of his, but that was a full two years after this. But that would be a good story to look at for Mignola’s art as well.

Daniel: Mandrake is 4 years older than Mignola, and he was definitely working at this time. He even drew a pre-Moore issue of Swamp Thing in 1983. I don’t know what his art looked like at that time, but I wonder if they were aware of each other.

I don’t have that Annual, so I can’t show it here. I think the comics we’ll see over the next few days are indicative of his growth, though. It’s pretty neat seeing his development.

Greg: I’ve always assumed that it was pre-professional work by Mignola, since I think it was my only awareness of him until he did Gotham by Gaslight (I was never a Marvel person). This makes some sense since it was around the time a number of fans got work published and turned pro outright. If anyone has any of the “Giant” issues with the illustrated “contents” pages, the work was generally signed and I’d love to have confirmation.

[…] Year of the Artist, Day 11: Mike Mignola, Part 1 – Marvel Fanfare #16 Every day this year, I is examining the art about a single comic book story. Today's artist is Mike Mignola, as well as the story is “A Fable” from Marvel Fanfare #16, that was published by Marvel plus has a cover date of September 1984. These scans are … Read more about Comic Book Resources […]

Gavin: Fair enough. I honestly don’t know if it was him – Greg Hatcher and Brian are the resident experts, Brian for every comic ever published and Greg for Bronze Age awesomeness, so they might know!

Also of note is Mignola’s coloring. It was stylistically about ten years ahead of it’s time. In fact, those pages remind me a lot of Harris and von Grawbadger with Gregory Wright on colours in Starman.

Dalarsco: Whenever I don’t have the original issues, I’m probably not going to write about the coloring too much, because I don’t know if it’s the actual coloring of if it’s been “retouched.” Marvel Fanfare was printed on Baxter paper, I think, so the coloring may have been closer to what we see today instead of what was common then, but I don’t want to assume too much! It’s very nice, though!

I would have expected an edit to the credits if it was recoloured, but I maybe not. Colourists are too often ignored compared to the other creators. Tatjana Wood for instance deserves a lot of credit for the tone of early Vertigo books thanks to her work on titles such as Swamp Thing and Animal Man.

When Mike Mignola signed my issue of Marvel Fanfare 16, where this story originally appeared, he told me it was his first sequential pencils published. Previously, he’d done inks and a cover or two. I’ve always LOVED this story, and his Pirate Namor story in Marvel Fanfare 43, and thought Mignola captured perfectly the wine dark depths and fantasy tone of both stories. The Pirate Namor story, however, was inked by P. Craig Russell, which made far less dark than this one.

Dalarsco: I’ve been trying to give more credit to colorists, but you’re right about them, especially in the past. I just know that Marvel occasionally releases these collections and they don’t say much about the technical process that they went through to reproduce the pages, so I don’t know if they recolored it or not. It’s too bad that colorists haven’t gotten the credit they deserve until recently, but I’ll try to write more about the coloring when it’s crucial to the artwork I’m showing.

My first exposure to Mignola was when I bought some Incredible Hulk back issues at a shop in the 1990s. He did some of the covers of the early #300s which dated from about 1984, so that must have been early work.

One of the inkers was Terry Austin, I think; and the other, I recall, was Mundeo (spell?), a name I hadn’t come across before – and never have since.

Needless to say, like the Namor sample above, Mignola’s art bore little resemblance to the modernist-Kirby plus Gothic Hellboy-type stuff he later produced.

Gavin: just read your DC mid-1970s query. You may be thinking of Pat Broderick, who did some splash pages years before he seemed to do any complete stories.

Third Man: good spot on Tom Mandrake. I also thought the Namor work looked a little like Mike Golden or others of that generation of artists who began in the 1970s.

Pete: Perhaps I am. I think I remember those too. THANKS!

Of all the comics that I’ve sold off, who would have thought it would be these that I really wished I could go back and check? I’m still hoping someone will have one and can post a scan.

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