Year of the Artist, Day 16: Seth Fisher, Part 1 – Happydale: Devils in the Desert #1
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Seth Fisher, and the issue is Happydale: Devils in the Desert #1, which was published by DC/Vertigo and is cover dated 1999 (with no month). Enjoy!
I don’t own everything Seth Fisher drew, because I suck, but I do own most of his comics. The first one he drew that wasn’t for Paradox Press was Happydale, which is a weird comic about a bizarre town in the middle of Arizona. Fisher’s work is good, but not as great as it would later become. It shows flashes of his later greatness, though, so let’s check out some of the work.
One thing we’ll see throughout Fisher’s work is an amazing attention to detail. As Sadie walks through the town, she sees a lot of weird things, and Fisher is able to make it seem commonplace because he doesn’t call attention to it – the fact that he draws so much in each panel makes the weirdness blend in far better. Obviously, the dude wearing the lizard outfit is talking, so we’ll probably see him, but will we notice, in the same panel, the strange monkey-ish statue on the right? He’s part of the “founders” of the town, presumably (the statue looks like one you would set up for pioneers, and it’s front of the “Founders Building”), but is it a strange-looking man or an actual monkey? And what about those birds standing around the dude sitting by the statue, which look vaguely like cassowaries? What’s up with that? Fisher doesn’t care – he’s just all about the weirdness, people!
Then, of course, there’s Panel 2, with the dude in the cape sitting on the grass and the naked dude doing aerobics. Is that a mustache on his penis? Who knows! And why is that guy wearing a kilt? These things are not terribly relevant at this moment, but Fisher makes this town, with all its strangeness, something more domestic – no one is perturbed by the weird stuff, so it becomes more mundane. Laura Allred’s coloring helps, too, as it’s bright and peppy, which makes it less threatening. Finally, in Panel 2, we get a good point of view – Fisher gets better at looking at the panel from unusual angles, and this is an early example.
Denny shoots up, and this is how Fisher shows it. He would get better at this kind of thing over the years, too, but this is one of the places where it starts. To show Denny’s new perception of the world, Fisher simply draws him with crazy “hair” flowing over and around him. Most artists would show us Denny’s view of the world, and use some kind of effects to twist a regular drawing. Fisher just draws lots of tentacles. Allred’s coloring in this panel works very well, too, because it’s so different from the more “mundane” coloring of the rest of the book. Denny’s yellow eyes and mouth help bolster the illusion.
This is a brutal scene, as Vince (who wants to be called “Belial”) beats the crap out of a dude who earlier forced him to apologize to a waitress at a diner. The layout of the scene is really well done – the arcs in the corners linking to the shape in the middle (whatever it’s called) creates a Southwest style form, which the splashes of red heighten. Every circling drawing draws our eye to the center, where the hat sits alone, an image which manages to make the beating even sadder. Even as Fisher draws our eyes inward, the placement of the word balloons (which was either by Fisher or by letterer Bob Lappan) helps move us the correct way around the panel to the next one. It’s a very well constructed scene.
Here’s another example of Fisher’s attention to detail. It would have been easy to leave the welcome mat or the floor unadorned, but Fisher wasn’t wired that way. He makes the entire house feel like an actual place someone lives, with the portraits on the wall, the many tchotchkes on the shelves, the Southwestern style of lamp and vase, the old-fashioned chairs and table lamp in Panel 3 – if you randomly opened this comic to this page, you’d have a pretty good sense of the kind of person who lived here: probably someone elderly, but definitely someone who is more comfortable with the past than the present. But look also at the kinds of portraits on the walls – there’s a magician and a juggler. An ex-circus performer? Again, we don’t need to know anything about the rest of the comic to get a good idea about the person who lives in this house. That’s due solely to Fisher.
Fisher got better, and his work in the new century was usually brilliant. Tomorrow, we’ll check out his first foray into superheroes. Man, it’s a trip. You can always trip through the archives!