Luke Cage History: From Hero for Hire to Hollywood
TV, Comic Books
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Matt Wagner, and the issue is The Demon #1, which was published by DC and is cover dated January 1987. Enjoy!
Wagner’s style continued to evolve through the 1980s, and we can see his development on books like Mage, which is where he refined his style into a sleeker look. By the time DC noticed him and let him do a four-issue mini-series starring Etrigan, he had become more recognizable as “Matt Wagner.” I wanted to show these pages as opposed to his work on Mage because I own a nice hardcover of Mage, in which the art has been cleaned up considerably, and I wanted to show his art looking a bit “rawer” at this stage. So there you have it!
This is kind of the standard Wagner figure work, even years later. It’s been refined a bit, but it’s essentially the same. We’ll see more of it later in this post. Notice how he isn’t too complicated – even at his most detailed, Wagner has never been too fussy with his artwork. He uses bold lines to suggest solidity, and he doesn’t use a lot of hatching. When he does, as in the final panel here, it stands out more. Jason and Glenda are simply drawn, very straight-forward, and neither Wagner nor inker Art Nichols adds much definition to their faces. Nichols adds some blacks, of course, because he’s suggesting the darkness that lurks within Jason, but that’s about it.
This sequence is a nice example of the way Wagner draws figures. In Panel 1, Jason’s face is solid and almost square, which is the way Wagner often draws people who are a bit tougher than average. Once again, he and Nichols don’t use a lot of hatching, but what we do get is enough to show how set Jason is. In Panel 4, we get another Wagnerian drawing, as Jason shoves his hands in his pockets, shrugs his shoulders, and looks down. Wagner thins his face a bit, and he and Nichols use big, thick lines instead of a lot of thinner lines – Wagner is a bold artist, and he and Nichols understand that when you’re using chunky blacks, you don’t need a lot of clutter. Nichols, obviously, uses a lot of black on these pages, because Jason and Glenda are meeting at twilight, but the blacks are large blotches and therefore add even more solidity to the artwork.
Wagner’s splash page of Etrigan arising is nicely done. He draws an Etrigan who’s slightly slimmer than we’re used to – this is a Wagnerian trope that comes up quite a bit in his work, as we saw yesterday. He certainly can draw bulkier people – his Grendel Prime is a good example of that – but he generally makes his characters fairly lithe, and Etrigan is more unusual because of it. The way most artists draw Etrigan, he’s a thick, clunky bruiser, and that’s perfectly fine. Wagner’s Etrigan is a bit sleeker and even – dare I say it – sexier than usual, and given that the subtext of quite a bit of Wagner’s work is a kind of ambiguous sexuality, it works quite well. Notice, again, that there’s a lot of black in this drawing, but what hatching we do get is thicker and only rims the large black chunks.
This is a nice look at the way Wagner draws body language, as Glenda faces Etrigan down a bit. We see the stern, hard look she gives him in Panel 1, and how he turns away from her almost petulantly in Panel 2 and 3. This works with a slimmer demon, as I doubt if a bulky Etrigan turning away would look as good or convey his distemper. I’m not sure if Wagner was going for this, but he looks like a drama queen in Panel 2. Then, notice how well Wagner shows his curiosity at what Glenda is saying, as he slowly turns back toward her. This is really well done, and it shows that Wagner is able to handle more subtle things in his comics, in case that wasn’t evident already.
We get a bit more hatching in this sequence, but it’s because of the fact that Jason and Glenda are underground and the light is creating weird shadows and not illuminating everything the same way. So Wagner and Nichols use thinner lines and more of them to give an impression of the weak light not quite lighting them up terribly well. Wagner still uses fairly basic shapes, and when the light catches the demon in Panel 4, he and Nichols don’t use as many lines, so it’s an interesting contrast to the more solid blacks we’ve seen throughout the issue. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with that demon’s left hand – doesn’t it look like it’s on backward?
The Demon is kind of a halfway point between Wagner’s early, raw artwork and his more refined work in the 1990s and beyond. Tomorrow I want to check out a comic from a few years after this, where we can see even more development in his artwork, including the fact that he painted the entire thing. Come back to see what it is, and always remember that the archives are there for your edification!
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.