Year of the Artist, Day 44: Kevin Nowlan, Part 4 – Infernal Man-Thing #1
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 Infernal Man-Thing #1, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated September 2012. This scan is from the trade paperback, which came out in 2012. Enjoy!
Nowlan’s most “recent” work is from the long-germinating Infernal Man-Thing, the last comic Steve Gerber ever wrote. This issue has a cover date of September 2012, but Nowlan had been working on it for over two decades, so who knows when these pages were actually done. It’s still an interesting change in style for Nowlan, which is why it’s interesting to me to look at it for the last day of Kevin Nowlan.
This is the second page of the book, and it shows just how different Nowlan is drawing this series. As we’ll see, it’s still recognizably Nowlan’s work, but while we still see the crisp lines that he usually uses, there’s a lot more ambiguity in the panel as well. The background is hazy and ill-defined, so as to add to the swamp ambience, and the light coming from the right casts an eerie glow on the gnarled tree stump and Man-Thing himself. Most artists make Man-Thing look like a man with a weird mask on, but Nowlan makes him truly grotesque, with the snout hanging far more loosely and longer than most artists, while his shoulders rise precipitously behind his head. The soft colors of the panel make this even odder, and Nowlan’s use of shadows around Man-Thing’s head turn him from a weirdly sympathetic creature to something a bit darker. He remains fairly sympathetic in this comic, but Nowlan makes sure to highlight the fact that he’s often quite monstrous, too.
… And then the book gets weird. I mean, really weird. The interesting thing about this collection is that it includes the original tale of Brian Lazarus from 1974, and that comic was weird, too, but John Buscema, while drawing some strange stuff in it, either didn’t want to or wasn’t allowed to alter his style too much, so the weird stuff is still done in that solid, Buscema-ish style, and the book is weirder because of the script. In the sequel, the script is weird, but because Nowlan is willing or able or allowed to be different, the art helps carry the weirdness more. So yeah, Man-Thing gets attacked by dozens of tiny cartoonish characters. This is two pages after the first example, and notice how he alters Man-Thing to make him less a creature of mystery and more a cartoon character, reacting to the weird things all around him. The coloring on Man-Thing is less eerie but still dark, contrasting with the bright, silly things all around him. Nowlan’s fine line comes into play well here, as the insane creatures are so sharply defined they clearly appear to be from a differen reality as Man-Thing. It’s a very odd contrast, but it works.
After ridding himself of all the strange creatures, Man-Thing collapses. So sad! Nowlan again gives us the grotesque creature, as his shoulders become a hill under which the rest of him is buried. It’s a comical drawing, but shows both that Man-Thing is part of the swamp and not really human and also shows him straining under this burden. It’s impressive how Nowlan wrenches some pathos out of the two scenes where Man-Thing realizes that “nothing changes” and “nothing helps,” as he begins with just circles for Man-Thing’s eyes before simply thinning them to show the strain Man-Thing is under. The whiff of goofiness remains, however, as the smoke rising from Man-Thing’s head in the final panel show. Even though he’s “dying,” Nowlan reminds us that moments before he was battling cartoon characters, which is goofy no matter what the result is.
You see here that it’s still Nowlan – the faces are very Nowlan-esque, with the thin eyes and downturned mouths. He draws Brian Lazarus and Sybil really well – they’re much older than they were in the original comic, and we see that life has not been terribly kind to either of them. Nowlan draws just enough lines on Sybil to age her, even though she’s not decrepit, while he shades Brian’s face to show that the character has gone through some dark times. Nowlan uses paints to add dimensions to the characters, as we can see in Panel 5, and it’s one reason why this comic looks so different from so much of his other work – with time, he can add layers to the drawings without adding lines, and so Brian looks far more tortured in this comic than we usually get from Nowlan’s work.
More precise line work from Nowlan, as he exaggerates the muscles on the cartoonish hero in Panel 3 and gives Sybil a thick, lush hair style in Panel 4. But you’ll notice that as Brian tells his tale in flashback, the “real” characters become more cartoonish – the simple faces on the game show contestants and the bored simian dude in Panel 2 are examples of that. When Brian and Sybil show up in Panel 4, Nowlan again makes sure to add more nuance to Brian’s face than he does in the flashbacks (despite the lack of eyeballs). In Panel 2, the line under Brian’s eye is drawn in, while in Panel 4, Nowlan begins it and then finishes with shading. In the flashback, he’s farther away from the reader, so Nowlan needs to emphasize things, but it’s interesting that he looks more cartoonish in the flashback while in Panel 4, he just looks like someone beaten down by life. Nowlan does this quite often in this mini-series, making this, tonally, an odd mix of very silly comedy and bleak tragedy. Gerber, of course, has a lot to do with that, but Nowlan highlights the dichotomy very well.
I wish Nowlan would do more work, because I like his art very much. Such is life, though. Tomorrow we’ll check out a new artist! In the meantime, you can always peruse the archives!