Year of the Artist, Day 144: Juan Ferreyra, Part 1 – Small Gods #1 plus a small added bonus!
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Juan Ferreyra, and the issue is Small Gods #1, which was published by Image and is cover dated June 2004. Enjoy!
Juan Ferreyra has been one of my favorite artists since this issue, which contains his first professional work, came out in 2004. I don’t own absolutely everything he’s drawn, but I have most of it, and I’ll even get stuff that’s not as good in the writing department because I like to stare at his artwork. There are some artists whose work I will get almost no matter what, and Ferreyra’s one of them. Let’s jump on in!
I thought I’d start with something utterly unpleasant, because that’s just how I roll! Early on in this issue, a dude kills this prostitute, and Jason Rand, the book’s writer, does the old back-and-forth between the killing and the cops rushing toward the motel room where it’s occurring and arriving too late. I’m not showing the cops running in, but the murder is placed in a vertical column, so we can focus on it. One thing we can see immediately, obviously, is how Ferreyra uses light. This looks like all brush work, as he uses the negative spaces in the panels to terrifying effect. The soft focus, thin hatching, and blacks turn this into a horror comic, and in Panel 2, he uses light extremely well to show almost all of the hooker’s face so that we share her terror in the moment. He puts a smudge under her eye to highlight it a bit, and look at how he inks her hand as opposed to the man’s – the lines are about the same width, but he uses slightly more on the man’s hand, making them rougher and angrier. This is a really nice sequence (if we ignore the horrible subject matter), and it foreshadows Ferreyra’s coloring on comics, which is also phenomenal.
Rand gives us a big info dump on this page, which is necessary but doesn’t do anything to speed up the narrative. Ferreyra doesn’t have much to do, but look what he does with it anyway. He moves the people around the room very well, taking time to think about where they would be and how they would be reacting. In Panel 1, the cops take the murderer away, and Ferreyra places a rectangle of light across the victim, who is wrapped in a shroud with her arms outstretched. CHRIST METAPHOR ALERT!!!! In Panel 2, Owen (the blond dude) has moved to the other side of the bed and is pinching the bridge of his nose, showing his despair at the shitty world in which he lives. The cop in the foreground is on the phone, and Ferreyra remembers to have him holding his hand over his free ear so he can hear the voice on the other end of the line better. The paramedic has risen to block the sunlight falling across the body, throwing her into darkness. In Panel 3, Owen has moved to the chair, where he’s looking for something in the coat or bag (it’s hard to tell). The cop on the phone in Panel 2 has moved back and is talking to a new arrival. A crime scene tech has arrived and is dusting for prints. On the right side, we see an approaching hooker. In Panel 4, the cop at the door stops the hooker from entering, the cop gets back on the phone, and Owen finds a négligée and, for some reason, gets an earful from the uniformed cop. There’s a lot of text on this page, but Ferreyra makes it at least a little bit interesting to look at as well as read.
Ferreyra needs to draw a lot of people in this comic, and he does a good job with them. In Panel 2, he draws concern on Jodi’s face quite well – she’s looking over at Owen (whom she digs) and Ferreyra tilts her head down slightly so she’s a bit more surreptitious, while he lines Owen’s face just enough to show that something is bugging him. In Panel 6, he draws Owen with a scrunched forehead and thin eyes, belying his words that he’s fine. Rand switches right to the interrogation room in the next panel, and Ferreyra draws Owen with his fist clenched, again indicating that something is bothering him. The details on the page are very nice – Ferreyra doesn’t take anything off, from the clothing his leads are wearing to the tie the dude is wearing in Panel 3. His inking is tremendous, too – Jodi’s hair is smooth and sleek, John’s trench coat is thickly lined, and Owen’s hair is thatched and rough. His grayscaling is nicely done, too, but we’ll get to his coloring when the comic is actually in color!
This is Owen’s girlfriend, Dani. I showed this sequence because we rarely see someone in comics brushing their teeth, so it’s a bit odd, but also because it shows how well Ferrerya knows what he’s doing. In Panel 1, she’s holding her hair out of the way, because when people have long hair, they have to hold it out of the way! Even so, Ferreyra draws a couple of strands falling free, which is again something that happens. In the background, Owen stands pensively, and Ferreyra uses the shadows from the aperture to cloak him a little. In Panel 2, Dani turns toward the reader (oops, I mean Owen), and Ferreyra remembers that she’s still holding onto her hair. She’s well proportioned for someone in essentially a 3-D drawing, as her arm and hand extend toward us, with the brush sticking out accusingly. Ferreyra raises her left eyebrow slightly to give her a somewhat jaundiced view of Owen’s tardiness, as if it’s not the first time he’s been late. We notice that in Panels 1 and 2 she has her jacket off her left shoulder, which is again a nice touch – either she’s trying to brush her teeth and put her clothes on at the same time because she’s late herself and trying to get out the door (which is probably the case, as she’s brushing her teeth in the kitchen), or she’s keeping her jacket off because she doesn’t want to accidentally get toothpaste on that sleeve (also a possibility). In Panel 3, she turns and puts the jacket on, and in Panel 4, she too notices that something’s wrong with Owen, so Ferreyra crinkles her forehead, squiggles her eyebrows just a bit, widens her eyes, and tilts her head in sympathy. It’s these kinds of little touches – especially the head tilt – that make Ferreyra’s art, even at this early stage, such a pleasure to look at.
Owen has precognitive visions, and this is one of them. Ferreyra breaks with his rather ordered page layouts to give us a more jumbled sequence, which isn’t surprising given that this is going through Owen’s mind. He also uses a lighter brush in the vision, making the lines lighter but still very detailed. He uses contrast pretty well on this page, as the darker shades on the thieves stand out in the light of the surroundings. Ferreyra, it appears, is using white ink in some places instead of not shading the page at all, which makes some of the whites stand out even from the white background. We see again his fine inking line, especially on the old man and his wrinkles, while it seems like he’s using thicker brushes for the robbers and gray watercolors for the shadows in Panel 3, for instance. There’s a lot happening on this page, and it’s neat to look at.
Not too long after Small Gods launched, Ferreyra drew a short story in Western Tales of Terror #5, which was published by the late and lamented Hoarse and Buggy Productions and is cover dated August 2005. Rand again wrote “The Tale of Chili Pete,” and I wanted to just show a couple of drawings from it.
Obviously, this is a good use of whites and blacks, which is why I showed it. Ferreyra uses cross-hatching on the edge of the contrast on the hat, while the top of the brim disappears, as Ferreyra gets rid of the holding line to merge it with the desert background. He uses solid blacks to hide the man’s eyes, and a lattice of hatching on his nose and chin to obscure that area a bit. His teeth become white negative space in the darkness of his face, which is neat. This is a tremendous use of the basics of color, and it heralds Ferreyra’s coloring in future books.
The man with the hat takes his jacket off and turns out to be a monster dog made out of … chili peppers? And possibly other vegetables? Anyway, this is a very different style than what Ferreyra usually uses – most of the story, told in flashback, is in his “regular” style – and it’s an interesting shift. The lines are much bolder, and the inking lines are harder and less nuanced than usual. Ferreyra doesn’t modify the inking, either, just uses what appears to be the same utensil on the monster and its victims, although I’m not sure about that. Even on something like the gloves, it doesn’t seem like he uses a brush, but just a pen. Notice, too, that Ferreyra doesn’t “color” this page with grayscales, but just leaves everything white except where he’s drawing. This is different from most of his work, even the other parts of this story, where the grays and whites are layered like most of his art. The lack of grayscales on this page turns this far starker, which shows the harshness of the desert where the two men are listening to the story.
Ferreyra continued to get better on his projects, and I have quite a few of them to choose from for tomorrow’s entry. I’ll have to think about it. It will look good, I bet, because everything Ferrerya draws looks good! In the interim, feel free to check out the archives!