Year of the Artist, Day 114: Chris Bachalo, Part 1 – Shade, the Changing Man #1
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Chris Bachalo, and the issue is Shade, the Changing Man #1, which was published by DC and is cover dated July 1990. Enjoy!
Chris Bachalo burst onto the scene in 1990 with a cool issue of Sandman and this series, which were the first things he ever had published (a pretty impressive start). His art has evolved quite a bit in the past 20+ years, and sometimes not for the better. But let’s see where he started, with this issue!
If you’re only familiar with Bachalo’s more recent work, the first thing you might notice about the early work is how “realistic” it is. As he got older, Bachalo became a bit more cartoonish, but early on (he was 24 when he drew this), he spent more time making the characters and settings look “real.” On this page, the world has gone a bit freaky, so Kathy is seeing strange things bleed through into our reality. Early in the series, Milligan and Bachalo were, it seems, paying a bit of a tribute to Ditko’s work on the book, so the precise lines of the clothing on the Metans in Panels 1 and 2 seem to be a bit Ditko-esque (when they’re not Kirby-esque). Bachalo and Mark Pennington (who inked him a lot before Mark Buckingham became “his” inker for a time) make sure the smoke is full of squiggly lines and the two Metans have roughly inked faces, with heavy brows and thick hatching on the cheeks and forehead. Panel 3 is pretty cool – Bachalo/Pennington uses lighter and more fluid lines to show Wizor dissolving. Kathy is an interesting Bachalo female. As we’ll see over the course of these posts, Bachalo drew his characters – women, especially – far more “immature” as he got older. They were smaller and looked much more like cartoon adolescents, so the fact that Kathy is one of the most “mature” of Bachalo’s females even though she’s only 23 and therefore younger than many of them is odd. One thing to note is the “proto-Bachalo nose” in Panel 4. We’ll keep an eye on that.
I’m not sure how much Bachalo was influenced by Sam Kieth, but this sequence, especially Panels 2 and 3, are very Kieth-like. The barrel of the gun, the charcoal lines exploding from it, the silhouette in the third panel, even the jagged panel border of Panel 2, are all very much like Sam Kieth. It’s very interesting.
The cop in Panel 1 is interesting, too, as it shows an early example of Bachalo exaggerating for effect. The proportions might be perfect, but they look strangely off – the gun looks larger than it should be, and the cop’s mouth looks wider than it probably would be. Bachalo hides his eyes under the brim of the cap, so that his right eye is completely shadowed, and we get the spot blacks completely around his eyes and the hatching along his prominent cheekbones. We also get small lines on the nose, which will become more and more prominent as Bachalo moves along.
Here’s an example of early Bachalo detail, as Troy Grenzer gets put in the electric chair. Bachalo creases the tape as it goes from the metal cap to Grenzer’s face, and then again when it crosses his brow ridge. He and Pennington add plenty of folds in it, which it would have on a non-flat surface like someone’s face, and you can see the lines in his skin underneath the tape. The metal cap is inked roughly, showing some nicks and abrasions from its years of use. Bachalo draws a nice, plump lower lip on Grenzer as he loses his shit and begins to cry, and we even get some precise spots on his chin where hair would grow. Bachalo is still a cartoonist – the giant drops of sweat show that – but at least early on in his career, he was drawing a lot of details in each panel.
The electric chair comes to life, sort of, and Bachalo draws a nice, hallucinatory monster in Panel 1. He gives the hood that the chair is “wearing” devilish horns, and the spot blacks create the eyes and gaping mouth, while the hatching gives it a burlap feel. Bachalo twists the chair into a nightmare, and his or Pennington’s use of spot blacks make it more of a void, drawing Kathy in. The hatching on the legs and the raggedness of the chair’s border gives it a malleable texture, as if it’s going to mold itself around Kathy. In Panels 2 and 3, we get more splotchiness as the chair appears to throw off pieces, which makes it more unreal than if Bachalo simply drew it “moving.” Colorist Daniel Vozzo uses reddish-orange in the background of Panel 1, showing the rage of the electric chair, then shifts to blue in Panel 2, contrasting the rage with Kathy’s cool tone. The yellow in the background of Panel 3 turns this slightly more surreal – the sky shouldn’t be that color, but the world is not quite sane at this moment, so it could easily change to that hue.
As I noted, the world is going a bit weird, so the man with worms for legs doesn’t seem too crazy in context. Bachalo’s drawing in Panel 1 is pretty odd – the dude’s expression doesn’t appear to match the gravity of his situation. He looks mildly amused, which seems bizarre, as his legs have been replaced by giant worms and there’s a garden growing in his midsection. If we ignore the odd expression, this is another example of how Bachalo was drawing faces in 1990. The lips and therefore the mouth are larger than “normal,” and we again get the giant drops of sweat. The face might look a little weird because there’s another face trying to break out of the dude’s cheek, but maybe not. Pennington heavy inks work pretty well in this context – it adds gravitas to an odd situation, as the man feels more “real,” so what’s happening to him, while bizarre, also feels horrific. Vozzo’s colors are a big part of this issue, as we see in the final panel. Bachalo gives us a mushroom cloud with heavy charcoal for the smoke, and Vozzo’s coloring, the dull blue with the scratchy red marks over it, adds another layer of “unreality” to the entire scene. Vozzo was an early adapter of digital coloring, and I wonder if that’s how he achieved this effect.
Kathy believes that she’s seeing Troy Grenzer, the man who killed her parents (and basically got her boyfriend killed), and she decides to get some sweet, sweet revenge. This really shows how different Bachalo was with figures early in his career as opposed to later, when he became much more basic. He takes his time with Grenzer and Kathy, and in Panel 1, Kathy twists like we’d expect her to move, while in Panel 3 she lunges nicely and Grenzer reacts by jerking his head back as the knife enters his throat. In Panel 2, we get the heavy inks again, shadowing Grenzer’s eyes so that he becomes slightly less than human. There’s a lot of hatching on his face and hands, giving him a rough look. Kathy is inked a bit differently – she has some heavy lines around her eyes, but that’s from her anger, and Bachalo, notice, keeps her face relatively smooth – it’s a classic male/female split in the way artists show skin. We get some nice brushwork in Panel 4 as Kathy swipes the knife across Grenzer’s throat – we’ve already gotten some blood on the page, so the use of blacks in this panel works pretty well, as it’s not too gruesome. It also doesn’t take our attention away from Kathy – she’s in the last spot that we would look at in the panel, and Bachalo wants us to linger on her face, not the blood spurting out of Grenzer. The final panel is well done – Kathy is on her knees, and the light from the right of the panel is creating an orange/blue complement with her dark hair – like in most comics, Kathy’s “black” hair is colored blue with lots of inks – and her right side is swathed in shadow. The hatching on her hands and legs and across her face makes her even more closed off, as she realizes that she’s “killed” Grenzer. Bachalo draws some light swirls around her as “Grenzer” dissolves, making it clear – if it wasn’t already – that Kathy is hallucinating a bit. Shade is messing with her head!
Over the course of the series, Bachalo gradually evolved into his “middle” style, which is what I consider his most successful phase. Tomorrow we’ll check out some of that art from that period, as I cheat a bit once more. Sound good? Until then, you can always prance through the archives!