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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Dustin Nguyen, and the issue is Wildcats 3.0 #15, which was published by DC/Wildstorm and is cover dated December 2003. Enjoy!
Nguyen moved on from The Authority to Wildcats Version 3.0, one of Joe Casey’s anti-superhero comics from the early 2000s, and he drew the first 16 issues of that series (I loved Wildcats 3.0 when it was coming out, but I haven’t read it in a decade, so I don’t know if it holds up or not). I wanted to use one from later in the series, because his style did evolve a bit in the two years since yesterday’s entry, which is why we’re looking at issue #15 instead of issue #1. S’alright?
One thing you’ll notice as Nguyen works more is a willingness to be less crisp if the situation calls for it. Plenty of Wildcats is sharp, but when the characters are standing in a sewer in a morally murky situation, Nguyen is perfectly willing (and capable) of erasing holding lines and scuffing things with spot blacks a bit more. Richard Friend, his inker here as he was on The Authority, could be doing some of this, but if we look at Panel 1 here, with the sleeve of Downs’s jacket showing up only through colors and heavy blacks, while the gun in Panels 2 and 3 is much less defined than we’ve come to expect from Nguyen, it’s clear he’s trying to enlarge his storytelling tones a bit. Notice, though, that Downs and Wax are still clearly and sharply drawn, but Nguyen (or Friend) gives Downs just enough definition around his eye that we can tell how defeated (and old) he is. In yesterday’s example, the lines on characters’ faces seemed to be placed almost randomly. In Panel 2, it’s clear that Nguyen and Friend knew what they were doing. Meanwhile, Wax’s hair is crisply drawn but there’s a bit of sloppy nuance there, either from the rougher lines or the coloring, and this is another slight change from Nguyen’s work on The Authority. It’s subtle, but pretty neat.
Zealot is on a bit of a rampage in this issue, and Nguyen does a marvelous job with the sequence, and these three panels in particular. A lot of the rest of the scene features “blurred” special effects that were all the rage ten years ago, and you can even see a bit of that in Panel 1 with the motorcycle. But Nguyen’s more “abstract” style works in that panel, as he gives us the three images of Zealot launching herself off the cycle. In Panel 2, we see the explosion of the bike “below” her, and Nguyen aligns her body so that we flow from the high point in Panel 1 to the high point in Panel 2 and then follow her body down and to the right until we see her pulling the sword off of her back. This leads to the right of Panel 3, which, as it’s the final panel on the page, is usually used to direct us to the right from the left, but Nguyen reverses this so that our eyes move from right to left, following from the severed head to Zealot’s follow-through back toward the explosion of the motorcycle. It’s a smooth sequence, and the circular motion of it makes it feel more fluid. Once again, Nguyen is just a bit rougher with his pencils, and Friend’s inks and Randy Mayor’s colors help out quite well. The thicker folds of Zealot’s leather jacket, the thicker lines on the assassin’s face, and the thicker lines showing the limits of the explosion in Panel 3 help make this art grittier than Nguyen’s earlier work without sacrificing the clarity of his fine pencil work. It’s a good balance.
Here’s another good example of how Nguyen slightly changed his style. The background in the first three panels might be Photoshopped in, but if it’s not, Nguyen goes fairly minimalistic with it, using black blotches to good effect to create a strange Gothic nightscape. Zealot moves away from the light and toward the darkness, which has to be a metaphor, right? Panel 4 is a good one to contrast Nguyen’s crisper style with the bit of roughness he brought into his work over the two years since yesterday’s entry. Zealot’s hair and face are still precise, but the thicker lines Nguyen uses make them fuller and darker, giving them more definition. He uses the thin lines on her burn, which helps make it seem far more painful than if the lines had been thicker – we can see every tiny wound on her face, and even though we get some spot blacks, the relative clarity of that part of the panel as opposed to the other side of her face, which remains in shadow, highlights the burn wound and makes it even more awful. It’s a good balance, and Nguyen obviously had been working on this kind of thing as he matured.
After Nguyen’s run on Wildcats was over, he drew some Batman comics and Ed Brubaker’s Authority stuff. But tomorrow’s entry comes after that, and it’s a huge departure from his early stuff. Come back and check it out! And be sure to spend some time in the archives!
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