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Year of the Artist, Day 46: Marshall Rogers, Part 2 – Detectives, Inc.

01-11-2014 03;24;06PM (2)

Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Marshall Rogers, and the issue is Detectives Inc., which was published by Eclipse and is cover dated May 1980. This scan is from the hardcover collection, published by IDW in 2009. Enjoy! (A small NSFW scene is below, in case you want to know!)

Detectives Inc. is Don McGregor’s long-simmering story about two New York private detectives and the tough cases they solve. McGregor began working on the concept in 1969, but it wasn’t until 1980 that it finally got published, with Rogers on art. This was a fairly astounding project for Rogers to work on after Detective Comics, as it wasn’t a superhero book for the Big Two, but his art is exquisite, so let’s check it out!

The first 11 pages of the comic show the two detectives, Ted Denning and Bob Rainier, who are in the south Bronx looking for the son of their client, a teenager who’s heading down the wrong path of crime. Meanwhile, McGregor intercuts that scene with a scene of a young woman running from a car, the driver of which seems intent on running her down. So that’s where we begin – I’m going to show you the final 3 pages of the scene.

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These are really tremendous pages, as Rogers nails the action sequences perfectly. He uses clever “camera” angles – the overhead shot on the first page, Panel 8, shows Rainier about to be ambushed; the close-up of the car about to run over Linda on the second page, Panel 6, which brings us very close to the car but also shows how small Linda is compared to it. Rogers uses the black and white well, too – he creates a huge swath of white in the very first panel, which illuminates Linda as the car’s headlights catch her, but also confines her because the water spray seems to rise up to block her. When Rainier and the bad guys jump from building to building, Rogers uses negative space to show them from below, implying that lightning is flashing (even though it’s not) and adding even more drama to the scene. Rogers used a lot of Zip-A-Tone on this book, and we can see that most clearly in the final panel of the first page, as the lines help make the aftermath of Rainier getting bashed on the head more dizzying. It’s a good effect. On the second page, Rogers gives us that great final panel, as Denning pulls the trigger and the sound effect “Krak” becomes part of the concussive wave of the bullet leaving the barrel. I imagine Rogers, and not letterer Tom Orzechowski, designed this sound effect, and it’s beautifully conceived. It leads to the final page, with the impressive first panel, as Rogers blends the death of Clark and the death of Linda. He balances the panel with Denning on one side and Randy on the other, and the circle in the center with the lines radiating from it linking everything in the panel. The light waves from the barrel lead us to Linda and the car and over to Randy, who watches someone get shot in the head. Finally, in the final panel, the sky is beginning to lighten and the rain is letting up. That’s a bit obvious, but it’s still a nifty trope.

Notice again that Rogers “dates” this with the clothing the characters wear – you can’t see it too well, but Rainier is wearing nice 1970s boots, while Denning is wearing boots that lace up his thigh and have a relatively thick sole. We’ll see the clothing better below, but it’s interesting how conscious Rogers is of fashion. He was born in 1950, so he was 29 or so when he was drawing this, so it’s not surprising that he was so keen on fashion.

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This sequence shows off Rogers’s storytelling quite well. Rainier is embarrassed that he didn’t hang up on Rita, so in Panel 3 of the first page, he hides his face from Denning. When he gets up, Rogers shows how schlumpy he is, as his underwear sags a bit. He’s also rubbing his face – he’s still tired and he doesn’t want to get up. The second page is taken up with Rainier putting on clothing, which is pretty cool. Rogers really gets how someone who’s distracted and talking puts on pants – he hops around, and finally collapses on the sofa, where he pulls on his cool boots. It’s something we don’t see too often in comics – people putting on clothes – and it’s rarer to see someone putting on clothes and not being terribly graceful about it. I like the touch of the calendar by the front door – this is the reception area of their business, yet they have a girly calendar hanging by the door. Even during a less politically correct time as the 1970s, this seems somewhat tone deaf for Rainier and Denning. Rogers uses the darkness on the second page really well, too. He highlights the cracks in the walls in white so they’re more evident, and notice how he changes the shape of Denning’s shadow as he moves, showing that Ted isn’t standing still while he waits.

Again we see the sense of fashion that Rogers brings to the book. Denning wears a bomber jacket (maybe?) with the sleeves pushed up and bell bottoms. Naturally, his shirt is unbuttoned slightly to show off his manly chest. Rainier puts on those fabulous boots with the straps around the ankles. By the way, his T-shirt bears the Eclipse Comics logo. Another nice touch by Rogers.

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I did NOT put this page in here just because of the steamy lesbian sex going on, I swear. Ruth is telling Rainier and Denning about Linda, and Rogers does a great job showing the emotion on her face. In the second panel, she turns away because she’s thinking about Linda and fears she’s getting too emotional. She lowers her face into her hand, and Rogers uses the shadows well to show the despair on her face. When she looks up, she’s heavy-lidded, looking both sad and exhausted. Rogers contrasts that with the scenes on either side of her, where she remembers better days with Linda. Once again, we see nice touches of fashion – the hip-huggers in the second panel, for instance. The sex scene is interesting, because it’s not Ruth’s memory, but Rainier’s imagination of their sex life. Neither Rainier or Denning treat Ruth any differently because she’s a lesbian, but McGregor and Rogers imply that men just can’t help picturing sex between two women. Rogers draws it quite well – I’m not sure how he got the effect of making it lighter and hazier, but I’m sure someone knows. It’s well done. Rainier is eating what looks like beans, which is part of a running gag over the previous two pages, as he gets a can from a vending machine and almost drops it, presumably because it’s hot. I don’t know if McGregor wrote it into the script or if Rogers wanted to add something to a scene where people are just standing around talking (which is what happens on the previous page), but it’s weidly hilarious that Ruth is telling them about how wonderful her dead lover was while Rainier is stuffing his face. It’s all part of the characterization of Rainier as a good guy, but somewhat rough around the edges.

Detectives Inc. isn’t the greatest comic because McGregor’s prose is often pretty turgid, but it’s still an impressive project with this great art. Rogers continued to do nice work at this time, as we’ll see tomorrow. But first, there are always archives to check out!

14 Comments

That’s some beautiful story-telling. I always liked Marshall Rogers’ work – there was something about his characters’ faces that always spoke to me – but I didn’t know anything about his older work. I think “Silver Surfer” was the first book of his that I read and then I got some “Doctor Strange”.

All three of the sequences you’ve chosen illustrate perfectly what I enjoy in his art. The faces. The natural feel to the action. The lack of sensationalism. The natural look of the bodies and their clothes. But these sequences also drive home how incredibly well he draws you into the story and sells the flow of it.

I’m still enjoying this great feature – in case you couldn’t tell! It could be the teaching notes for classes on the form.

Thanks, Derek. That’s swell of you to say.

Rogers, unfortunately, didn’t get better with age, as we’ll see over the next few days. He remained a solid artist, but his early work – even without Terry Austin – is really wonderful. He inked himself here, and tomorrow he gets a different inker than Austin, so you can see what I mean. But yeah – this is a gorgeous comic.

I don’t know – I like the steamy lesbian scene! It’s really hard to show those types of scenes well in comics.

Some artists, no matter how good (or bad) they are; remain consistent throughout their careers.

I do remember an Eclipse book drawn by Rogers, I AM COYOTE, I think he inked it himself, can’t remember.

Really, the sex scene shows the quality of Rogers’ art. Not many of his contemporaries can depict an act of passion that well; violence yes, but not passion. It seems even worse with a lot of today’s artists.

My love of comics began in the early to mid 70′s with the weekly UK marvel black and white reprints. In the middle pages every week there would be a pull out poster that was produced by the Marvel bullpen in New York and usually by young artists making their way at Marvel. Marshall Rodgers provided a few of these and even at this early stage in his career you could see that he had something different and a unique style all of his own. Hope you’re going to feature the Stern/Rodgers Dr Strange run from the early 80′s…probably my favourite Rodgers art and a great story from Roger Stern too? I also remember when the Silver Surfer series came out which reunited Englehart & Rodgers and being really disappointed with the art. I just assumed that Rodgers changed his style, leaving behind the more detailed and multiple panels that had characterised his earlier work, to enable him to keep up with a monthly schedule. Still enjoyed the series, but his art was never the same.

Stephen: Sorry, I don’t own his Doctor Strange stuff. I’m terrible at back issues for pre-1988 Marvel, except for X-Men and Spider-Man stuff. I don’t know if the Stern/Rogers stuff is in trade, because that’s how I catch up on 1970s and 1980s Marvel, for the most part.

I object to “turgid” to describe McGregor’s writing. I remember it as subtler and deeper than the cliche and catchphrase writing at the time. (IMHO)

Ron: Well, we’ll have to agree to disagree. I certainly didn’t hate the comic, but it does feel overwrought.

Don McGregor is one of those writers whose prose is very purple indeed. I can understand why it might not appeal to some people. It took me a little while to get into his scripting, but over time I became a fan of his work. I definitely enjoyed the other Detectives Inc story that he wrote, A Terror of Dying Dreams, which was beautifully illustrated by Gene Colan.

Ben: I do tend to like McGregor’s stories, but he’s a bit like Claremont, in that you have to kind of take the good with the purple prose. Both Detectives, Inc. stories are fine, and his Black Panther work is good, but it is a lot to take – I imagine it works better in small doses!

While I objected to “turgid” I totally accept “overwrought”. Some words just hit the wrong way. I loved Don McGregor’s KILLRAVEN and BLACK PANTHER when I was a young reader, so I guess I feel protective. Back then distribution was spotty and a lot of titles were bi-monthly so there was a long gap between issues. Maybe I just appreciated all those extra words to read.

Ron: Yeah, “turgid” does sound a bit worse than “overwrought,” doesn’t it? I do imagine the big gap between issues does lessen the impact of the purple prose! :)

The steaminess in the scene mentioned came about by Rogers using WHITE Zip-A-Tone over his art. This is one of my favorite books, not least because Rogers shows what you can do with black-and white besides ink washes like the Filipino-style Conan books, that never really sat too well with my tastes.

Dr. Bob: Thanks for the info. That’s pretty cool. I don’t mind ink washes, but it’s always cool to see other techniques, too!

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