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Year of the Artist, Day 138: Bill Willingham, Part 5 – Shadowpact #1

shadowpact2002 (2)

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 Shadowpact #1, which was published by DC and is cover dated July 2006. These scans are from the trade Shadowpact: The Pentacle Plot, which was published in March 2007. Enjoy!

This book is the last time Willingham did the interiors on a long-form comic (I know he drew a two-page story in Hero Comics 2009, but I decided not to show that), and I just wanted to check in because it had been a while since he drew interiors, and I wanted to see if he had changed at all. Shall we?

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Willingham, like a lot of artists, got a bit more abstract as he got older, but he could still draw a lot of details. A couple of monsters enter a room, and Willingham draws them with odd monstrous accoutrements, from the one in the back wearing a skull hat to the one in the front wearing a richly worked cloak. Willingham inked this issue himself, and the hatching on the monsters is a bit less stark than we’ve seen other inkers on his work in the past. The biggest difference between these pages and the ones we’ve seen over the past few days, of course, is the coloring. Chris Chuckry colored this issue, and he’s using digital colors, so we get a lusher and darker tone. As with a lot of more modern comics, this is far brighter on the screen than printed, which remains vexing to people like me who don’t read digital comics.

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Here’s an example of Willingham getting slightly more abstract while still remaining true to his basic style and clean lines. Superman is a bit more cartoony than Willingham drew figures in the past, and while Willingham inks lines onto his hand (because it’s pressed against a barrier that he’s about to hit) and in his cape (because it’s, you know, a cape), he doesn’t use a ton of hatching on his torso or face. He prefers to keep Supes more streamlined, perhaps to show how purely heroic he is. Bagman’s face is a bit more lined, but it’s confined to his eyes and mouth, which are the expressive parts. Willingham inks his arm with clean, strong lines, eschewing nuance for directness. Obviously, this is still Willingham-esque, but at the same time, he’s gotten even smoother than he was years earlier.

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As you can see, Willingham still draws his figures in much the same way. He doesn’t use harsh, angular lines, preferring instead to round things off, so the faces of White Rabbit (the white dude in the background), Karnevil (the blond dud next to him), Bagman, and Strega (the woman talking) are all a bit cartoonish, despite Willingham’s “realistic” details. Once again, Willingham doesn’t over-ink, allowing Chuckry to create some details with his rendered colors, including the way he adds hues to Jack of Fire. This is one of those examples where the coloring takes some of the place of inking, which has become more common in comics.

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Ragman is obviously a character who needs to be inked quite profusely, but Willingham, once again, keeps the lines clean and neat, so that even the ragged edges of the rags don’t look too shredded. He hatches the feathered serpent Aztec demon thing quite a bit, using both thicker lines and more delicate brush strokes, and it’s clear his cleaner style is just something he prefers, because he could certainly ink a bit more roughly if he wanted to.

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Here’s another good example of Willingham becoming a bit more abstract while not forgetting things like details. His background shows that the Shadowpact team are in the deep woods (they’re in Wyoming), and while he doesn’t ink in every pine needle, it’s enough to show where they are. He uses spot blacks quite a lot to keep things simple, from the Phantom Stranger’s suit to Detective Chimp’s head, while Blue Devil and Nightmaster are stolid and solid, with just a bit of brushing to show the shadows on their figures. Willingham’s blacks on the Stranger’s cape make it look far thicker than something like Nightshade’s skirt, although the inks on that do add solidity to it. Willingham’s basic shapes help maintain the “realism” of the page even as he and Chuckry layer on the darkness. This is where his cartoony style contrasts with the more modern storytelling tools, so that the murkiness doesn’t overwhelm the pencil work.

Willingham continues to write quite a bit, but for some reason, he doesn’t deign to draw anything, not even a random issue or back-up story in Fables. It’s too bad – he’s not the greatest artist in the world, but his style seems to fit his writing sensibilities pretty well, and I imagine his writing and drawing would make for a nice Fables tale. Such is life, though, and we must move on. Tomorrow I’ll start an artist whose work has gone through some interesting permutations over the past 20 years. He’s been a fairly big star from almost the beginning of his career (at least his career in the U.S., which, yes, is a pretty lousy clue), but that hasn’t stopped him from changing his style quite a bit! Até amanhã – and in the meantime, check out the archives!

9 Comments

I’ve been following this series all the way through, and to me it seems like his artwork here has regressed somewhat from the Green Lantern example you recently showed. There’s something stiff and amateurish about this, and none of the punches or movement convey any power. They almost seem like posed still photographs rather than captured motion.

T.: One of the problems with looking at completely finished art is that it’s hard to see what gets added. Willingham is inking this himself, and I don’t think he’s quite as good at it as Romeo Tanghal (or even Campanella), although it’s obvious he could be. Plus, I don’t know how much Chuckry’s coloring influence that. In recent years, as you well know, there’s been a movement away from motion lines, and I agree that Superman’s punch and Blue Devil’s punch would have benefited from some lines. I don’t think it’s as bad as you do, but I do wonder how much influence inkers and colorists have on the art, which is something I often wonder!

I don’t think it’s as bad as you do

I should be clear, I don’t think it’s BAD per se, just not as good as yesterday. It’s still pretty nice art overall.

I believe that’s Nightshade in the last image, not Black Alice.

Robert: Shoot, you’re right. I fixed it. Thanks!

T.: Sorry for being so extreme! I do agree with you that it’s not as good as yesterday’s, and I do wonder how much influence the inkers had on it.

tom fitzpatrick

May 18, 2014 at 5:44 pm

In that panel where Superman is about to punch Bagman. Doesn’t it seem like Steve Pugh might have been inking it?

The way Superman’s lips is grim and downward is very much like Pugh’s trademark.

I could be wrong – I haven’t read this issue.

Surprised that you didn’t try the Vertigo series Proposition Player.

not even a random issue or back-up story in Fables.

Ages ago, I remember reading somewhere that Willingham and Fables artist Mark Buckingham were gonna do a story where they switched roles, with Buckingham writing and Willingham doing the art… I guess that never happened, or did it?

I think it was in Fables 100; it was an illustrated text story rather than a normal comic.

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