Year of the Artist, Day 135: Bill Willingham, Part 2 – Justice League Annual #1
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Bill Willingham, and the issue is Justice League Annual #1, which was published by DC and is cover dated 1987. Enjoy!
Willingham didn’t draw many Justice League stories, but they were pretty good ones, and it’s once again impressive how easily Keith Giffen and J. M. DeMatteis were able to blend humor and seriousness in their stories. It’s pretty cool. Anyway, everyone owns this annual, so I’m not even going to bother with a plot synopsis. Let’s dive right in!
All of these pages are inked by different people, so it might be fun to see if they affect Willingham’s pencils in any way other than when the mood calls for it. On this page, Willingham is inked by Dennis Janke, for what it’s worth. Willingham has gotten stronger at nuance in his faces, which might be due to the inks, but still. The woman in Panel 1 is very nicely done – she’s not as angular as Becky and Jeanette from yesterday, and Willingham/Janke don’t hatch her face as much, giving her a slightly softer look (despite the blackness around her eyes). Janke’s lines on her chin and forehead are a bit softer than the inks we saw yesterday, creating more of a shadow on the woman’s face rather than harder lines. In Panel 4, we see the dudes that she has infected, and Janke uses spot blacks really well. Once again, Willingham rounds their faces just a bit, while Janke uses the lighting to create shadows all over their face. Willingham, as we’ll see, is still quite good at details, but he also knows when to back off, so in Panel 5 we get no horizon line and silhouettes, making the scene a bit more eerie.
Janke inks this panel, too, and we see that he’s using a bit of a stronger line, as it’s Guy and we’re in full light. Willingham, we can see, is still quite good at mixing his cartoonish sensibilities with his more “realistic” bent, so that he draws a “realistic” version of Guy but a goofy version of Batman on the left. This is why a blend of the two styles is always neat to see.
P. Craig Russell inks this page, and you can tell the slight differences in his style. He uses a brush more than Janke does, it seems, especially on Booster in Panel 3 as he flies by Canary and on Canary’s hair as Booster flies past her. In the final panel, we get classic Russell line work, with the delicate strands of Canary’s hair standing out, while even the hatching on Booster looks Russellian. Willingham shows that he can still draw a very detailed page if he wants to, as he even makes sure that Booster knocks over the water pitcher on the table as he flies by.
This panel is inked by Bill Wray, about whom I don’t know enough to really comment. He doesn’t have as delicate a line as Russell does (who does, really?), but he has a pretty good style. The bystanders in the front are slightly stiffer than we usually see from Willingham, and I wonder if Wray’s inking is the reason. Wray isn’t particularly old school; he was in his early 30s when he inked this page, but his lines on those two people seem … straighter, I guess, than Janke’s or Russell’s, which adds to the stiffness. Willingham’s style fits Guy’s creation well, as he gives us a ridiculous genie with a giant mouth and top knot, all on top of a sleek robotic body. I don’t know if Willingham or Wray gave the genie shaggy shoulders, but it’s an interesting touch.
Bruce Patterson inked this, but I’m not concerned about that right now. What I love about this panel is that Willingham drew it. Yes, I’m sure he used a photograph as reference, but nothing about this drawing screams “mixed media,” which Willingham himself wasn’t adverse to using (he used it in the Elementals issue I showed yesterday). Willingham found a picture of Sydney (one remarkably similar to this one) and used it to draw a detailed cityscape. It’s very cool.
Finally, we get Dick Giordano on inks, but again, I’m not going to write too much about the inks. Willingham’s ability to take comic book staples – hideous monsters in this case – and make them both a bit cartoony and horribly realistic helps him out greatly on this page. The monster’s eyes and gap-toothed mouth are a bit silly, but because Willingham’s good at the details and draws in so many of the people that make up the monster, we get a good sense of the horror that has been created. It also still manages to look a part of the comic – most artists today would duplicate a few figures using computer tricks, but Willingham and Giordano draw it all, so that they can make the monster “move” in a somewhat realistic way but still make it horrific. It’s a pretty cool trick.
As you can see a little in this post, different inkers can have an interesting effect on pencillers, and Willingham certainly is no exception. I wonder if the inkers he worked with yesterday weren’t as able to add their own styles because they were relatively new to the industry and Willingham was already a strong artist. When he worked on this book, the inkers were more able to exert their influence because they had been around, so we get some slight differences in the art. It’s fascinating.
I think I’ll check out another Annual tomorrow, although I haven’t made up my mind yet. You can alleviate the suspense by checking out the archives!