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Year of the Artist, Day 118: Chris Bachalo, Part 5 – Uncanny X-Men #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 Uncanny X-Men #1, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated April 2013. Enjoy!

By the time Bachalo once again returned to Uncanny X-Men, he had settled into his current style, and it’s unclear if, at the age of 48, he’s going to fiddle with his style again anytime soon. We shall see, shan’t we? His work on this issue is a culmination of a lot of the threads I’ve been looking at over the past few days, so let’s see what’s up with this comic, ‘k?

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Bachalo is still using a lot of details in his backgrounds and clothing, but you’ll notice that it’s become more streamlined and a bit more abstract, even with all the details. He’s using straight lines more than he used to, and the hatching on the walls, for instance, isn’t quite as detailed as it once was. In this issue, Bachalo is inked by his third main inker, Tim Townsend, as well as Jaime Mendoza and Al Vey, so once again, I’m not sure if Bachalo is drawing in the lines (as I suspect) or if the inkers are adding them (which could certainly be the case). His figure work, like yesterday, has become a bit more basic – blocky shapes and such – and while his faces are still less hatched than they used to be, we can see that Bachalo has never left the “classic Bachalo face” completely behind – the black dude (is that Nick Fury Jr.?) exhibits some of the classic facial features, while Maria has the late-model Bachalo face. One thing Bachalo has started doing is getting rid of panel borders – as we see here – and using some more big white spaces between panels. It’s an interesting affectation, which seems to be all it is, as I can’t suss out what storytelling purpose it would serve. But we’ll see it again below.

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This two-page sequence is a nice example of Bachalo’s current style as it relates to action. I noted a few days ago that Bachalo really enjoys putting concrete concepts of abstract things (like musical notes) in his comics, letting them wander all over the place, and while Fabio is creating actual things (the balls), Bachalo still makes them wander around the page so that they break panel borders and appear to float above the page.

Bachalo still has a good sense of humor, as we see on these pages. The first thing we see is the ball bouncing into that dude in the upper left and knocking the wind out of him, and it’s a silly image that sets up the rest of the scene, which turns very serious very quickly even though we chuckle at Fabio’s ability to make floating balls appear. Notice Bachalo’s details in the background – he still makes sure to draw in quite a bit, but while 13-15 years earlier, he and his inkers would have drawn in every crack in the buildings, now Bachalo is content with a lot of parallel horizontal and vertical lines to fill in the blanks. He still draws wreckage pretty well, but it’s just not as detailed as it once was. On the first page, he gives us a broad white band between Panels 2 and 3, which he or Joe Caramagna fills in with the balls’ sound effects. Then, on the second page, we get the broad white bands at the top and bottom for no discernible reason. On that second page, we get the cops tackling Fabio and then zapping him when the balls reappear, and we see again the hallmarks of recent Bachalo – not as much detail, more basic body types, and more cartoonish faces. Bachalo, I should point out, colored this issue himself, and the use of pinks and yellows and purples is an unusual choice. I’m not quite sure why he does it – perhaps because the Sentinels show up, so he wants to get a purple-based palette going a bit before they appear. It’s an unusual choice.

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At the end of that sequence above, the dude turns when someone speaks from off-panel. That someone is Cyclops, and here we see the team he’s assembled in all its Bachalovian glory. As much as I like Bachalo – and I do, even his more recent stuff – I do not like how his depiction of women has evolved. Remember Kathy from Shade? Now there was a woman. Tempus (Eva), Emma, and Illyana look like girls. Sexualized girls, sure, but still. Emma and Eva have almost the exact same face, while Illyana’s is different only by dint of having slightly more feline eyes. Different hair notwithstanding, the women all look very much alike. Bachalo doesn’t do this with men – that healer dude (whatever his name is) and Cyclops (despite the fact that Scott is wearing that idiotic mask – why is his glabella glowing?) look nothing alike, and if we check out the dudes in the two previous pages, Bachalo at least tries to vary them a little bit. So what’s the deal with the ladies? Meanwhile, notice the lines on Emma’s and Illyana’s bellies – I mentioned this yesterday, as this has become much more common in Bachalo’s artwork. I suppose it would exist if he drew Cyclops shirtless, but dudes don’t show off their bellies. That would be crazy.

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When the Sentinels attack, Bachalo tilts the page to show the action, which isn’t a bad way to lay out the scene. In Panel 1, Magneto looks odd, as Bachalo creates a computerized version of Zip-A-Tone, which makes him look like a stock drawing. We can see that Bachalo’s attention to detail is slipping just a bit – the Sentinels in the background are a bit sketchier than they would have been in the past, although the wreckage is nice. Bachalo uses the motion lines in Panels 4 and 6 well, as he colors them the same as the rest of the scene, giving those panels are weird, psychedelic vibe. Notice, too, that Magik in Panel 7 is very basically shaped, as Bachalo’s figures have become. Yes, she’s far away from the reader, but she’s still blocky. Bachalo and his inkers still use hatching to good effect, and Bachalo’s spot blacks are placed strategically, but he’s still obviously working a bit more quickly and therefore sloppily. Even so, he can’t keep up as well as he used to, unfortunately.

Bachalo continues to draw Uncanny X-Men as of this date, and he continues to draw a few issues but need a bunch of inkers to do it and need more time off to catch up. He would crush another creator-owned project from Image that doesn’t necessarily need to come out every month, but I guess he digs drawing for Marvel. I can’t blame him, but I do wish he would evolve a bit more, because he’s a fascinating artist.

Tomorrow I’ll jump into another artist’s work, even though I’m not sure which one yet. I’ll figure it out! Have a grand time in the archives while you’re waiting for the surprise!

18 Comments

Is that Stan Lee as a cop?

Is he really 48? I guess I’m not sure what age does it become hard to keep drawing? I know it isn’t fair to use Bachalo as the benchmark for an artist on a monthly book as with Uncanny, he is given a one or two issue break.

Learning that Paul Smith is 60 and not working as much, I’m not sure if that is due to age or not being a ‘hot name’ in the business anymore. Which is foolish as you put Paul Smith on an X-TItle, it will sell like something people want!

tom fitzpatrick

April 28, 2014 at 2:42 pm

@ Kabe: Maybe it’s Hulk Hogan? ;-)

The beloved Paul Smith is still held in very high regard, but he has turned into a quite a slow artist compared to his early X-men days or just to mention Dr. Strange. Damn, he was good on Dr. Strange.

Bachalo also does his own colouring- which would explain the need for several inkers and some issues off every 3 or 4 months.

Kabe: I thought that, too. Could be!

John: I just pointed out his age because I wonder if he’s going to keep experimenting, or if he figures this is what kind of style he likes. I imagine age doesn’t matter when it comes to drawing fast or slow – some young artists are very slow, while some older artists are still speedy.

Smith, as far as I know (through second-hand knowledge), isn’t that interested in drawing comics anymore. He does it when he needs a quick buck, but he’s not committed to it. I could be wrong, but my source is pretty knowledgeable.

Paul: That could be, although he’s needed several inkers for years now, even when he wasn’t doing his own coloring. I don’t mind that he’s not as fast as he used to be, but I do wish he wouldn’t work for Marvel, with their insane double-shipping policy that highlights the relative slowness of someone like Bachalo. It’s frustrating. That’s why I wish he would do some creator-owned stuff, even by himself or with a writer.

some stupid japanese name

April 28, 2014 at 5:15 pm

Be honest, you only brought it up because you wanted to make us google glabella.

Watching the progression of Chris Bachalo’s art over the week, I’m honestly a bit disappointed. The early Bachalo stuff wasn’t nearly as stylized, but I felt the characters were better “actors”, in that I could immediately decipher and sympathize with their emotions through their facial expressions and body language. In this segment from Uncanny X-Men, the only case where I feel like the character is a good actor is with Goldballs, because his freakout is really well done; you’re immediately sold on the fact that he’s a gentle giant of a young man who doesn’t want to hurt anyone and is flipping out over his powers causing so much chaos. But when we get to the other scenes, it’s not sold nearly as well. All the X-Men except Magik in their introductory splash page are just standing around, and Emma and the blue-haired girl are standing in the exact same pose next to each other with the same facial expressions (and facial features!). The same is true for the SHIELD scenes, where they don’t even have the wacky new costumes to add visual interest, so it’s just a bunch of dudes in suits standing around like a West Wing hallway exposition scene (except those scenes have more walking).

The page designs are interesting, especially the layouts for the big fight scene; there’s a good sense of chaos to the battle, and the display of Magneto’s powers is impressive (especially since this is a weakened Magneto, who’s instead using small, specifically chosen debris projectiles with immaculate aim). But even then, I don’t really get a sense of who Magneto is and what he’s feeling from the fight. And because of the muted colors and the stylized anatomy mixed with the tilted asymmetric layouts, the scene where he crumples and screams from the strain doesn’t read as well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about comics art in theatrical terms lately, with the characters the artist draws as the actors. I absolutely love the design sense of Bachalo’s work, but I wish he’d put more emphasis on the “acting”.

some stupid japanese name: Ha! I had to Google it, but that’s what it’s called! I didn’t want to use “the spot between his eyes” when there’s a perfectly good name for it. A few weeks ago, I used “philtrum,” and I had to Google that, too! :)

Neil: That’s a good point about “acting.” Bachalo’s design sense is as good as it always has been, but I do think his depiction of “acting” has weakened. It’s too bad.

He might be my favorite comic artist, but Art Adams suffers from the all-women-have-the-same-face disease. He certainly WOULD be my favorite if it weren’t for that affectation…

This sample of Bachalo art looks quite pretty. It reminds me of Ernie Colón’s, but with just the right touch of substance to avoid being too cartoony. Very youthful.

Greg, that’s what I heard too about Paul Smith not needing (or wanting) to do more comic work so he doesn’t do it as often. I have also heard that he is slower these days.

I can see Bachalo going through at least one more stage of his career, not sure what shape that will come as but he’ll surprise us with something.

Sorry to derail your column with Paul Smith talk. Two of my favorite artists right here.

John: No worries. I don’t ever mind where the comment threads go, as long as no one’s rude!

“By the time Bachalo once again returned to Uncanny X-Men, he had settled into his current style, and it’s unclear if, at the age of 48, he’s going to fiddle with his style again anytime soon.”

Way to make me feel old, Greg, not to mention how Bachalo might feel. :-) Has it really been that long since Shade #1? (don’t answer that)

Thanks for picking this book to highlight. I haven’t read any of UXM due to not enjoying the writer’s style anymore, but I did like Bachalo’s art on ASM (the Lizard storyline).

David: You’re only as old as you feel! :)

One of these days I might try to get the Spider-Man trades post-divorce, because I just couldn’t keep track of it once they went to 3-times-a-month shipping. I did like Bachalo’s art on that Lizard story, though.

I’ve always loved Bachalo, and I couldn’t agree more with the often-times muddiness of his work. I’ve always seemed to point the finger at his inker(s) or colorist, though.

I specifically recall one panel in “Ultimate War” issue 1 that I looked at for days (DAYS, I tell you!) before I could figure out what it was. I don’t know if the pencils were confusing, the inks, the colors, or all of it.

I also think he reuses character desigs frequently. Dazzler’s outfit in the AOA anniversary issues is the same as Lady Mastermind in the Uncanny and similiar to Emma in the current stuff. Super cool, but not too much of a variation.

That being said, I always found his dynamic art to be wonderfully stylized and a joy to look at. He is one of my top five -maybe top three- artists working today.

Great rundown, Greg.

ps…the panel was a close-up view of the head of a Spider-Man doll. That’s what it was.

scribbles: I’d love to see his uninked pencils, because I don’t know why it becomes incomprehensible. It’s frustrating, because, like you, I really love his work.

Man, Ultimate War … that almost broke me!

Thanks for the nice words.

Bachalo and Irving between them make Uncanny X-Men one of Marvel’s prettiest books, although Irving, too, is past his prime.

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