Year of the Artist, Day 41: Kevin Nowlan, Part 1 – Doctor Strange #57
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Kevin Nowlan, and the issue is Doctor Strange #57, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated February 1983. This scan is from Doctor Strange & Doctor Doom: Triumph & Torment (which includes other Strange and Doom stories), which was published in 2013. Enjoy!
I’m fairly sure this is Kevin Nowlan’s first published work, and it’s impressive how good he is. Even if it isn’t the first thing he drew, it’s still quite early in his career. So let’s see what’s what with this issue!
This might be an odd place to start, but this drawing of Sara Wolfe, Strange’s social secretary, is extremely interesting to me. First of all, Nowlan shows us that he’s not terribly interested in drawing every woman with large breasts and a tiny waist. Sara is slim, true, and that means that her breasts and hips aren’t that big. She looks like a regular person, in other words, which isn’t too crazy, as she is a normal person, but it’s still interesting. We can already see that Nowlan uses a thin line – Sara’s hair is fine and even stringy, which is another trait that marks her as “regular” – many superheroines have big, flouncy hair, but Nowlan doesn’t go that route. Sara’s body type is also interesting because of the time period – this was the early 1980s, and this body type was much more trendy than it is today. Sara’s somewhat asexual, even boyish body type was fairly common among celebrities, and it’s kind of interesting to see small nods to the greater culture in comics. There’s no need to use certain words and references to date a book – occasionally it’s something as subtle as the way the artist draws someone.
I don’t know anything about Sara Wolfe, but Bob Sharen, who colored this, obviously is denoting her as an Indian. It took a long time for colorists to stop making Native Americans red, and it hadn’t happened yet in the early 1980s!
Terry Austin inked this issue, and he’s a good fit for Nowlan – Austin does well with pencillers with a finer line. We see here that he adds some nice hatching to Nowlan’s work but doesn’t rough up the pencils too much. He adds the lines to the second panel to throw the man’s face into shadow as Strange stands over him, and it works nicely. I wonder if Nowlan erased the holding line of the man’s nose or if Austin, the more experienced artist, did that. It helps the mood of the panel even more. There’s a lot in these two panels that could be Austin’s work – did he add the wispy hair and the lines in the mustache? I have no idea. What we do see in these panels is a lot of spot blacks to create a mood, something that happens quite a lot in this issue. I don’t know what the original pages look like, so it’s tough to compare coloring or even if those holding lines were in the original and were “cleaned up” for this reprint. Based on what we’ll see tomorrow, I’m betting the original issue already had the lines removed, but I can’t be sure.
And then Margali Szardos shows up. My early 1980s Marvel timeline isn’t part of my memory palace, so I have no idea when Margali started being Nightcrawler’s mother (I could look it up, but whatevs), but she shows up in this issue because her daughter wants to be Strange’s disciple and he dismisses her. Oh, snap! So Margali and Strange fight. Once again we see that Nowlan, Austin, and Sharen are a good team – Nowlan’s style lends itself to mystical weirdness, because his thin lines make Strange’s “seraphimic shield” (oh, Roger Stern!), for instance, look more ethereal and less substantive. Austin, meanwhile, continues to do a nice job, especially in that first panel, as he uses blacks extremely well and hatches just enough to give Margali some texture. Sharen, meanwhile, lights her from underneath, which becomes quite dramatic. It’s a mystical battle!
Margali is transformed back into her “true form,” and once again, we see how precise Nowlan is already. He doesn’t overdo the transformation because Margali’s final form is important, so he keeps the focus on that. Unlike Sara, Margali has fuller hair, and Nowlan and Austin do a nice job etching out each curl. In the second panel, the artists show that Margali’s old because she has wrinkles. Oh, those old people with their wrinkles! This is another nice panel with a fine attention to detail – Nowlan and Austin don’t go crazy, and the wrinkles don’t score Margali’s face so much that she looks ugly – we can tell she was a fine-looking woman in her youth and that she has aged somewhat gracefully. Again, by using a lot of black, the artists force us to focus on Margali’s face and hands, so we get the full effect of her “true form” and how different it is from her ensorcelled form. We must linger!
Nowlan moved on to one of my favorite comics, which turned out to be the only “regular” pencilling gig he ever took. We’ll see what we see about that book tomorrow! Keep yourself warm by perusing the archives!