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Year of the Artist, Day 114: Chris Bachalo, Part 1 – Shade, the Changing Man #1

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

29 Comments

Yay! Chris Bachalo!

In my younger years, Bachalo was the first artist who made me realize the role he plays in creating the story. Until then I had assumed the artists just illustrate the writers’ stories, but in Bachalo’s case I started to realize the dynamic is much more complex than that. Not coincidentally, he was the first artist I began to follow to other titles.

This time, Grenzer

I echo Kyle, Yay! Chris Bachalo!

Does it seem like he’s aping Bissette at this phase in his career? Maybe I’m thinking of someone else, but the work seems very familiar. I can see the Kieth influence you point out in that one panel, but the rest of it really reminds me Swamp Thing.

By “immature”, you do you mean his figures look prepubescent? I’m most familiar with his Gen X work, and guess I never noticed until now how lithe his characters were in there, although most of them were teenagers to begin with.

I don’t know how much Doug Mahnke you have, but I would like to see how he’s changed in his career. My LCS had 13 issues of Major Bummer, and I’m hoping they’re still there next week. Kind of kicking myself for picking them up. It seemed like there was a bit of a style change between his work on JLA and GL/Final Crisis.

There may very well be a Kieth influence on Bachalo (Shade followed another Vertigo title called The Sandman, in which Kieth was the original artist on), and the Bissette influence may also be a possibility (afterall, Swamp Thing was the original Vertigo series), but I think they may all just be drawing from a common influential artist: Bill Sienkiewicz.

There’s no way those pages were drawn by Chris Bachalo. You’re lying to me.

Kyle: Yeah, Bachalo is quite good at interpreting writers’ scripts and turning them into something more. I imagine he’s an interesting dude to collaborate with.

joshschr: That’s an interesting point about Bissette. I haven’t looked at Bissette’s work enough from that time period to know for sure, because when I got Swamp Thing and such, I wasn’t as interested in the art and haven’t gone back and checked it out with a more critical eye. Maybe now I have to!

I don’t necessarily mean prepubescent as much as adolescent. Yes, on Gen X he was drawing teenagers, but these days, even someone like Emma Frost looks like a teenager. We’ll see that as we move along with these posts, and I articulate a bit more about what I mean.

I have Mahnke on my list, but I don’t own his issues of The Mask, where I’d really like to start. I might track those down, but even if I don’t, I do plan on featuring Mahnke.

Darkstream: In the Shade letter columns, a few people mentioned the Sienkiewicz connection, and even then, I didn’t see it as much as they did. Sure, they were both a bit avant-garde, but for some reason, I didn’t get that vibe from Bachalo. I suppose he could have been influenced by Sienkiewicz, as probably a lot of artists at this time were, but I don’t know if he’s ever spoken about it.

Nu-D: I would not lie to you!!! :)

I mostly see Bissette in these things. I see Bissette/Vietch in a lot of the post-Swamp Thing early 90s Vertigo books, like Delano’s Hellblazer or the early years of Sandman.

tom fitzpatrick

April 24, 2014 at 4:51 pm

Bachalo’s one of those spiffy artist (like Alan Davis), you can’t just get enough of them, and wish they’d stick around a bit longer.

BTW, around issue # 33 (I think), where the storyline changes direction (Shade is brought back to life), Bachalo’s style gets a bit darker and moodier.

I truly enjoyed Loeb and Bachalo’s The Witching Hour mini-series, as well both of the DEATH mini-series. I have not read the Generation X series.

It will always seem weird to me that Chris Bachalo spent such a huge chunk of his career at Marvel drawing X-books. He was the Vertigo artist. His style aped all the proto-Vertigo guys, like Sam Kieth, Steve Bissette and the rest. Then, he went in an even less obviously mainstream direction. He was one of the main guys that seemed to be pulling comics away from the Marvel-DC dichotomy.

Of course, all the other ’3rd way’ folks wound up doing mainstream superhero stuff, too. It is just that seeing Bachalo draw Wolverine will always be like hearing Nirvana adapted to Muzak for me.

Greg: Bachalo has certainly spoken about it. I read it a few times back in the 90′s that Bachalo’s two biggest influences were Bill Sienkiewicz and Arthur Adams. You can definitely see the Adams influence on his later work.

tom: Yeah, it definitely changes around that time, although Bachalo was moving that way for a while. I’m not showing any more Shade, but I do show a comic that features that kind of art tomorrow. And I didn’t use The Witching Hour, even though I own it. Man, I haven’t read that since it came out. I probably should re-read it at some point.

Dean: I still can’t get over the fact that Bachalo continues to draw superheroes. He’s such a weird fit on the X-Men, even though I generally like his art on those comics.

Darkstream: Ah, thanks. I wasn’t sure. It’s bizarre, because I just don’t think of those two artists immediately when I think of Bachalo. But I’m not going to argue with him! :)

One of my favorite comic book issues, ever. The panel where Kathy opens her parent’s door and they just repeat the same image again and again was striking.

And I alway love Grenzer’s first line: “I’m not mad. I get mad, but I’m not mad”.

Bachalo is still one of my favourite comic artists, but his best and most iconic work is with Mark Buckingham as inker (which I hope we will see in the next installment.) Those two achieved symbiotic perfection.

Looking at these pages I would have said this was half Sam Keith, half Kelley Jones.

@ Greg Burgas:

Right?

I feel like we have all failed every time Bachalo pumps out another X-book, instead of creator-owned titled written by Warren Ellis.

I love Bachalo, he’s consistently been an artist whose work I want to see on almost anything. He range as an artist in being able to draw almost any type of book and make it interesting and visually compelling is pretty impressive.

There’s no question about some Sam Keith influence, but I think the Sienkiewicz & Art Adams influences come to the fore later in his work. Here I can see some Michael Zulli and Sean McManus (sans the goofy smiles) even.

I did a little digging and discovered that it was actually Bill Sienkiewicz and Michael Golden that were Bachalo’s two biggest influences. An honest mistake, considering Michael Golden was also an influence on Arthur Adams. I wouldn’t discount Adams as some sort of inspiration on Bachalo, though, especially during the Generation X and X-Men period.

After reading your teaser yesterday about who the next artist is my first impression was Chris Bachalo, but then I figured there must be plenty of artists that probably fit the bill. I should have put my guess out there. Everyone would have thought I was so cool.

I first saw Bachalo’s art in Morrison’s NEW X-MEN and wasn’t a fan, and yet later tracked down the Children’s Crusade Vertigo crossover and was amazed by how different it was (and much more to my liking), so he was probably the first artist I thought of when I saw that you would be featuring artists whose style changed over time. Are we going to see any of the Crusade mini? The first issue is actually one of my favorite comics, in large part because of the art.

I always enjoyed Bachalo on this and Death, but he lost me a bit on Gen X. I definitely could get into the weirdness of it, but it was a bit jarring that reality in his Gen X work looked stranger than his dream sequences in Shade and Death. But you could definitely see that Sienkiewicz influence, particularly from his New Mutants run, in Bachalo’s Gen X than you can here in Shade. I certainly agree with most of those here who think he would be much better suited to non-superhero works.

Yo Greg. Quotes like this: “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.”” are a little misleading, perpetuating the myth that it always takes more time and effort to present a “realistic” style. I am sure Mr. Bachalo puts just as much time and effort into the abstraction process that results in less realistic works.

I know I am probably reading into it a bit too much, but this line of thinking is pervasive in comics art analysis and it irks me.

Jazzbo: Don’t worry – we already think you’re cool! :)

pandrio: Sorry, no Children’s Crusade stuff in this series. Bachalo has long been one of my favorite artists, so I own a LOT of what he draws (until recently, when he started drawing 4-dollar Bendis comics!), so I had a lot to choose from. I decided to go with some different stuff, even though I own the Children’s Crusade.

Dave: I see where you would think that, but what I meant is that he spent the time he drew making the work more “realistic” rather than spending the time making it a bit more abstract. If artists only have a certain amount of time for a page, they have to focus on something, and early in his career, Bachalo focused on a certain degree of “realism” while later he focused on more “cartoonish” aspects of his art. I probably could have worded it better, but I certainly don’t think that it doesn’t take as much time to be less realistic. I’m sorry if it came across that way. Over the next few days, I hope to show that Bachalo’s more cartoonish art probably takes as much if not more time than this style.

I’ve been meaning to comment on these blog entries, but haven’t quite found the correct way to convey what I’m thinking. I hope this makes sense:

In reading these posts, the collaborative nature of comic book art fascinates me. It’s something I’ve really never paid much attention toward; the details of the process I mean. I found a few articles online, mainly wikipedia entries…anyone else have a good source talking about the comic book art process?

Is it accurate for me to say that colorists and inkers are completely shafted when it comes to comic book art credit? This guy, Bachelo, gets the title artist (and his name in the headline) even though someone else inks his stuff and then someone else colors his stuff. That just seems…I don’t know…unjust? Misleading? For me, comics are color. But that’s just my artistic bent, I love color. How much time do all three of those folks spend collaborating to produce a singular vision/work? I’m sure it varies, but any ballpark ideas would be helpful. Maybe that’s just how it is with comics.

Andahaion: I’m not sure if you’re speaking about just this series or in general. I don’t know if inkers and colorists get short shrift in general (I don’t think so), but for me, I’m trying very hard to write about the inking and coloring. Yes, the penciller gets the headline, mainly because I’m not focusing on inkers or colorists, but in each post, I try to write about the inking and coloring – occasionally it’s not the most relevant thing, but sometimes it’s very relevant. My biggest problem with the inker and colorist is that I’m not sure about the division of labor – I’ve seen original art that the penciller drew that looks almost completely inked, but when it appears in a comic, an inker is credited. So I’m never sure if the penciller puts in spot blacks or the heavy lines or if that’s the work of the inker, and I try very hard to make sure I note that in these posts. Without sitting down and talking to each artist (which I don’t have time to do, nor, I’m sure, do they), I have to do a bit of speculating. But I am trying!

Greg, my comment was not intended to be critical of your posts. I thank you for opening up my mind. I enjoy reading, keep up the good work.

My comment was geared toward the industry in general. I know that some artists color their own work, which to me jives a little easier with the term “artist”. Anyway, again I really appreciate this blog. Thanks for your work!

Aw, nice. I’m looking forward to this topic, as Chris Bachalo has always been one of my favorites, too. I will admit, I am not as big a fan of his recent work (everyone looks too pinched and sharp which I’m sure makes no sense to anyone but me). Surprised to see so many people who don’t approve of his mainstream work, and “Gen X” in particular. That series is pretty much perfect to me.

Every time anyone but Bachalo drew it during his run (except Pascual Ferry, whose art is gorgeous), it just seemed wrong. A really good example of that effect Kyle mentioned Bachalo having on comics he drew. To me, “Generation X” without Bachalo doesn’t make any sense. I just started collecting the full Lobdell/Bachalo run, and I have no intention of going further.

For a master-class in great visual storytelling in a mainstream book, just look at the “Age of Apocalypse” version of that series, “Generation Next”, which is pretty unanimously considered the best series from AoA.

Andahaion: Oh, feel free to be critical all you want! I certainly don’t mind! Some of the artists I’ve written about have contacted me to let me know how they did something I wasn’t sure about, and I always like learning more about the process and if I got something completely wrong!

I think inkers have gotten their due for some years, even if it’s just some of the more famous inkers who happened to work with famous pencilers (Klaus Janson on Miller’s pencils in Daredevil, for instance). Colorists have only recently gotten noticed, unfortunately. I think the rise of the Internet has helped democratize the process, because pencilers, inkers, and colorists can put up the raw art and show how each stage adds something to it, allowing the readers to see how different an inker can make penciled art and how different a colorist can make finished art. That’s helped a great deal, and I imagine that inkers and colorists will only get more recognition.

Thanks for the nice words. I appreciate it!

TJCoolguy: Hey, no talking about Generation Next! You’re jumping the gun! :)

You’re going to feature Doug Mahnke and Gen Next at some point in the future!

My day, it has been made.

90′s Bachalo is the best Bachalo.

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