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Year of the Artist, Day 131: Walter Simonson, Part 3 – Batman #300

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Walter Simonson, and the issue is Batman #300, which was published by DC and is cover dated June 1978. Enjoy!

“Greg,” you say, as you’re kind of weird in that you talk out loud to your computer/tablet/phone screen, “You say you’re only doing five days, at the most, for each artist, yet here we are on Day Three of Simonson and you’re not even out of the Seventies, man! How are you going to show any Thor, not to mention The Fantastic Four or Orion or more current stuff? What’s up with that?” Well, much like Alan Davis, at some point Simonson became “Walt Simonson,” and while his art is incredible, it hasn’t really changed all that much over the years. His manga chapter in The Judas Coin is one of the only times over the past, what, 25 years or so that he’s done something really different? That Walt Simonson is amazing, no doubt, but he knows what he’s doing. As I was digging through my comics for Simonson art, I realized I had quite a lot from his formative years – more than I expected – and when we get stuff like yesterday’s Al Milgrom-inked stuff and today’s Dick Giordano-inked stuff, I feel like I should show those more than just throwing up some work from his later work and writing, “Wow, isn’t this awesome?” We all know it’s awesome. But how did he get there?

Or maybe you’re not saying that to your computer/tablet/phone screen. Am I the only one who talks to their screen?

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This comic, in which David V. Reed writes a story about the Batman and Robin of the future (I could get into the fact that it’s set probably no more than 30 years from 1978, yet Reed imagines a “megalopolis” stretching from Boston to Washington, D.C., and space travel is commonplace, yet Jim Gordon still types on a typewriter, but I’m not going to), features more Simonson-esque art than we saw yesterday, perhaps due to Dick Giordano’s inking. Giordano, I would argue, was a better artist than Milgrom, and it’s possible that his style meshed better with Simonson. Anyway, we see in Panel 1 a very “Simonson-esque” Bat-copter, with sharp angles, a smooth flow to the lines, and an interesting perspective. Simonson lays the page out well as the Bat-copter takes down the bad guys, and in the final panel, we get a good look at a very Simonson-esque Batman. Unlike the Batman from yesterday, he doesn’t have quite as sharp a jaw, but it’s still pretty angular. Simonson seems to draw that perspective well – Batman’s forehead is larger because his head is tilted down, and his mouth is set grimly. This is a face we’ll see in Simonson’s work a lot from now on.

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Simonson began drawing faces like this as he matured, so I wanted to show some of them. He and Giordano give the people heavily inked faces, with high cheekbones and slightly angular chins. It’s not quite as ubiquitous as the “Kirby face” or the “Bachalo face,” but it’s definitely a Simonson staple. I’m not sure what kind of odd exercise Bruce is doing in Panel 5. Stop it with the tai chi, Bruce!

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This is much more like classic Simonson, as Batman takes out some more bad guys. Simonson uses unusual angles – in Panel 1, Batman flies out of the corner, leading our eyes upward and to the right, where we get to the dude with his weird energy weapon. In Panel 3, we get another unusual angle – the bad guy comes flying at us, but he’s angled downward so our eyes follow Batman’s fling in a diagonal from upper left to lower right. Batman caroms around the room, smashing the bad guys, until he realizes that the dude’s face is painted red (Emily Carroll totally read this comic when she was young). We can see that Simonson is beginning to use more bombastic bursts in his action scenes, with a lot of motion lines exploding out of the figures as they fly around. Simonson is getting better at action, not only because he’s getting better at placing his characters in the panels in interesting places and poses, but because of this bombast.

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Bruce wears a bolo tie. Like. A. Motherfucking. Boss.

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This is a very Simonsonian sequence – the details in Panel 1 as “Infrared” moves to stop Batman, the brassy explosion in Panel 2, and the cataclysm in Panel 3. Panel 3, in fact, is particularly Simonsonian – the thick blocks as Infrared disintegrates begin our journey, and then Simonson leads us in a swirl across the panel until it consumes “Ultraviolet.” The many circles and swirling lines are a very Simonson thing, and he uses it to good effect in this panel (you’ll also notice he uses the famous Inception ‘brraaamm!'” years before Hans Zimmer came up with it).

As we can see, with Giordano inking him, Simonson became more fluid, even though he still hadn’t become the Simonson we all know and love. He was getting there, though, and we’ll see another step in his development tomorrow! If you haven’t been checking out the archives, now’s your chance!

10 Comments

Geez. That “billiards” page looks like an homage to Infantino!

you are not the only one for what talks at screen sir

Jenos Idanian #13

May 11, 2014 at 4:06 pm

Yeah, I can see the Infantino aspect in that last scan… and that redheaded woman in the second scan has a real Mike Grell look to her. There’s also hints of Kirby here and there… but it’s definitely Simonson.

Well, it would be DEFINITELY Simonson if we had a SIGNATURE to examine.

Two more opportunities, Burgas… to pass on them would be… unfortunate.

I feel like at least 10% of the reason why the work you’ve shown in the past few days doesn’t look like “classic Simonson” is the absence of John Workman lettering.

I think one thing that should be mentioned here is that during this period of time, most of Simonson’s output consisted of layouts for inkers to finish. It’s pretty obvious in this book that Giordano overwhelms Simonson’s pencils, leaving only scraps of Walt’s work peaking through the art in the panels. A decent looking book, but not one of this best examples of Simonson art because his own work did not come through in the final product too often.

MJ: There’s definitely an Infantino feel to it.

s!mon: I’m glad I’m not the only one!

Jenos: Grell! Yeah, that’s it. It was bugging me. Thanks!

Roman: Good point. That will be rectified tomorrow!

Jay: As I’ve mentioned, I’m not great at discussing inking, especially when I don’t know what the raw pencils look like. I don’t recognize Giordano’s inks enough to say he did this and that, as opposed to what Simonson did. I’m getting better at it, but I’m still not great. I try to point out where it’s clear the inking is dominant, but I’m not always great at it.

When did the great Simonson “big square sound effects blast” first start to appear? Was that more from Simonson or Workman? Definitely something I associate with Simonson.

@ MJ:

Jesus, Simonson kind of is Infantino plus Kirby, isn’t he?

Now, I am bummed that he never drew The Flash.

He drew Kid Flash in the X-men/Teen Titans crossover..

I got to interview Simonson about this issue last year for BACK ISSUE #69, and here’s what he had to say about it:

“I got a phone call one day, pretty much out of the blue, from Paul Levitz. Paul at that time, he was kind of the keeper of the schedules. He talked to me about the possibility of my doing layouts that Dick could ink.

“The book was coming up on eight weeks from shipping. I gather there wasn’t much done on the artwork, I don’t know if there was anything done on the artwork, really, but it wasn’t much in any case, and Paul wanted to know if I could do layouts that Dick would able to pretty much ink straight from. I mean, Dick could draw, so if the layouts were good it wouldn’t be a problem. And if I could kind of get on it instantly, the book was close enough to deadline that there was some concern of missed shipping, so… This was before royalties were being offered by companies, they didn’t have them ‘til ‘81 or ’82. So the offer essentially was, what was called back then hazard pay, which meant it was your page rate and a half. There was a bonus for doing it and doing it in a hurry, and for helping out DC. So I said, “Sure.” I don’t know what I was doing at the time, but whatever it was, I had the time to sit down and do layouts for that issue. So they sent me the script, David’s script, and I did the layouts, and Dick inked it, and it made it out on time.”

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