O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
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 Li’l Gotham #2, which was published by DC and is cover dated July 2013. Enjoy!
Nguyen spent some years drawing Batman comics, then moved over for some absolutely stunning issues of Batgirl, but because he used a lot of his “traditional” style on Batgirl with some of this “new” kind added, I figured I’d skip over that to show his current comic, Li’l Gotham. This is offered digitally first and then gets printed, but I don’t usually read digital comics, so this is from the print run. I don’t know if the art looks appreciably different, but if you notice anything, feel free to let me know.
Li’l Gotham is done in this sketchy style, with those bright, “painted” swaths of color. Nguyen is back on colors, and the fact that he’s willing to alter his coloring style so much from Manifest Eternity means, to me, that he’s learned a bit about coloring since then. The tone of the book (it’s rated “E” for “Everyone”) comes from, in part, the “simplistic” coloring style of the book – it’s very welcoming, and helps throw everything into sharp relief. There’s nothing murky about the colors, so the book isn’t itself murky.
Another thing we’ll notice in this post is Nguyen’s excellent work with facial expressions and body language. He’s gotten better at this over the years, and he does a very nice job with it here. Selina has a suspicious look on her face before Ivy and Harley crash through her skylight, and Nguyen does a wonderful job showing her resignation in Panel 3 when she sees who it is. Nguyen has never quite left his manga influence behind, as we see with Ivy in Panel 3 and with Harley’s overly simplistic expression in Panel 4. Selina’s face is resolute until Ivy mentions it’s for a good cause, and then her eyes open just enough and her mouth crooks up just enough for Ivy’s words to have an impact. It’s very good storytelling. Nguyen’s lines are still well defined, but you’ll notice that he’s back to keeping things clean and simple – he uses no hatching on the characters’ faces, relying solely on the way their eyes and mouths work. It’s quite well done.
Nguyen, of course, hasn’t forgotten how to alter the mood of his art, and while this story is never less than light-hearted, this scene where the ladies scope out a polluting cosmetics company is well done, as it shows that they work outside the law just a bit. Nguyen, it appears, foregoes pencilling this scene and skips right to paint, which turns the factory into a mass of ugly and ill-defined greens and blacks belching gray smoke. The impressionism of the scene helps make a more emotional connection with the reader, and then we move on to the second panel, where Nguyen draws our ladies as dark avengers, and the effect is quite chilling. Selina is just a dark shape with red goggles, Ivy’s eyes are black spots, and once again, Nguyen uses basic shapes when dealing with Harley, making her very abstract. The ladies become more avatars and less real characters, and when they’re meting out extreme justice, it’s not a bad choice. Nguyen does a really nice job with these two panels.
Here’s another nice drawing of Nguyen’s “simplification” of the book to turn it more into a character comic (even though there’s still plenty of action). By making Ivy and Harley’s mouths larger than usual (and, of course, adding drool), he makes Panel 1 funny but also gives us a bit of insight into their obsessive personalities. He gets rid of Ivy’s nose, too, which focuses us on her wide eyes and gaping mouth. Selina continues to be the grown-up, even as she decides to daintily pick at a cupcake (like a cat, of course). Notice in Panels 3 and 4 that Nguyen uses what appears to be the same kind of coloring method he used on Manifest Eternity, but he’s able to ease back on it so that it just adds a bright background rather than overwhelming the scene. Balance is crucial in art, and Nguyen obviously figured that out.
I like this final panel because it has a lot of the elements that we’ve seen in this story, but Nguyen adds another one – the ladies wearing regular clothing. As I’ve often noted, superhero artists often don’t think too much about what their characters wear out of costume, but in this panel, the women of the story try on different clothes, and Nguyen does a nice job matching their outfits to their personalities. Selina wears a nice blouse and skirt, looking very grown-up, while Ivy is far more glamorous. Harley, meanwhile, is the wild child, so of course she’d wear a cowgirl outfit. Nguyen also does a nice job in the lower left, as Harley and Selina are starting to drag while Ivy remains ebullient. Once again, we see what a nice job Nguyen does with the colors. The lines are still quite soft, and in parts of the panel – the lines of flowers, for instance – it appears Nguyen simply painted without pencilling first. The fact that Nguyen is able to get so much detail into the panel without using so many lines and relying more on the color is nice, as it adds more to his artistic arsenal for his next project.
Dustin Nguyen’s style hasn’t changed too much over his career, but he’s been able to add new tricks to his art that makes it much more interesting now than it was when he started. That’s always nice – an artist should evolve, after all! Tomorrow we’ll check out a new artist. Who is it? Well, as I type this, I haven’t figured it out yet. I’m sure it will be someone neat! Come back and see, won’t you? Or spend your time in the archives – whichever works for you!
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