Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Michael Lark, and the issues are Sandman Mystery Theatre #57 and Scene of the Crime #4, which were published by DC/Vertigo and are cover dated December 1997 and August 1999. The scans from Scene of the Crime are from the trade paperback, which is cover dated July 2000. Enjoy!
I know I’ve cheated on these posts before and shown two or more comics in one post, but you might be wondering what possible connection these two comics have – yes, they’re both drawn by Michael Lark, but they’re far enough apart in time that you might expect them to be two different posts, and it’s not like they were written by the same person or feature the same characters in different comics. Well, as I was looking through my Michael Lark work, I had to make some tough choices, including skipping his marvelous work on Terminal City (because it was a bit too akin to his work on Shade), and today, I decided not to make a tough choice between different inkers of Michael Lark. Yes, these two comics are inked by Richard Case and Sean Phillips, respectively, and I wanted to show how much influence an inker has on a penciler, in case we haven’t seen that enough so far in this year of artists.
Lark, we can see, still likes giant chunks of black in his art, and I imagine he made sure that Case knew where to put the blacks if he, Lark, didn’t add them himself. Case’s inking isn’t as overwhelming as Phillips’s will be, but he does “rough” up Lark’s line just a little. When Dian drops the mug on the floor, Lark draws every small piece of it, but I wonder if Case added the hatching on the rug, showing the spilled coffee. Wesley’s hair in Panel 5 is definitely more roughly hatched than we saw Lark’s hair yesterday, which again could be Lark acknowledging that Wesley is slightly older than your usual superhero but which I think is probably Case’s influence.
We can see more of Case’s influence here, I think. The rough inks on the dogs don’t look, at this stage of his career, like something Lark would do, although it’s certainly something he would embrace later. If we look at Wesley in Panel 3, for instance, we see the crisp division between the blacks and the “whites” (the uncolored stuff; David Hornung colored this, and I assume that when he got it, everything that wasn’t black was white, because that’s the way it works!), but the dogs are specifically inked so that we can see their fur. Also, you’ll notice that there’s some hatching in the smoke in Panel 4, showing Wesley’s legs and the trees through the smoke. I very much doubt if Lark put that in himself, and it adds a nice touch of definition to the scene.
Here’s another example of Case adding a bit of texture to the scene. Most of the inks are in keeping with Lark’s style, as Case keeps the line thin and even in places where he might have added something, like the lines on the thug’s face in the final panel, he keeps it simple (I don’t know if Lark had that in the original art or if Case added it – it could be either one of them). In Panel 1, we get the blurred action of the punk hitting the butler, and the brush work that Case does with the butler’s head, the stick, and the thug’s hand is done well, making it stand out from the clean lines of Lark’s art. We get that again in Panel 3, where the thug hits another person. Just this small amount of “roughening” of the lines is a nice contrast to Lark’s style, and I imagine it’s Case’s contribution.
The final page of the issue, showing Wesley’s dream, shows a lot of Case’s influence, if I’m not totally off-base. A great deal of it is inked in Lark’s style, but the smoke in the air definitely has a “Case” feeling to it, and the final panel, where the corpses are emerging from the fog, also seems to bear Case’s marks, as the lines on the corpses are thicker and rougher than we’ve seen from Lark at this stage of his career. It adds a layer of ugly horror to the scene that Lark might not have been able to convey on his own. Case, it seems, doesn’t add to many flourishes, but what he does add is pretty neat.
Later, Lark worked with Ed Brubaker on Scene of the Crime, and after the first issue, Sean Phillips was inking him. This is an interesting clash of styles, and I should warn you that I’m going to SPOIL this for you, as much as I can spoil a comic from 15 years ago. You’ve been warned!
On this page, we can immediately see Phillips’s influence. Phillips is a much scratchier artist than Lark is, so getting Phillips to ink Lark is like getting someone like Bill Sienkiewicz to do it (well, it’s not quite as radical as that, but you get the idea). Phillips makes Jack’s hair even more spiky than it was in issue #1 (when Lark made it a bit spiky), and adds some crooked lines to Paul’s face in Panel 4. Phillips and possibly colorist James Sinclair adds more texture to the folds of the clothing, too, as we see in Panel 1, where there’s a bit of shading around the wrinkles, making the clothes even seedier. Obviously, this is a noir tale, and Lark is an unusual choice for it. I wonder if Brubaker took a look at Phillips’s inking on this and thought, “Dang, I could certainly do some noir tales with this Phillips dude!”
This two-page sequence shows nicely that Lark and Phillips balance each other quite well. Lark’s thin and crisp lines are in evidence, especially on the people and the cars, but Phillips adds a good touch of roughness to everything that befits the tone of the book and the weather in this scene. Once again, we get thicker folds in the clothing, and Phillips adds a lot of squiggly lines on the pavement to show the water collecting there. On the first page, the final panel looks almost like Phillips drew the entire thing, as the hatching on the knuckles is very rough, the muzzle flash is bordered by thick, smudgy blacks, and Phillips adds blacks to the air around the flash. On the second page, the telephone lines are inked in almost haphazardly, without the thin precision we usually get with Lark, and Phillips adds smudging to the cars after they crash. Lark’s clean lines give us a very good portrait of the way the cars move across the slick road, and Phillips makes the wreckage look more … wrecked. It’s a nice mix.
This is another good example of the two artists working well together. Lark is still using a lot of spot blacks, and obviously, his figure work is definitely Larkian, but we see Phillips’s influence quite a bit, from the ragged hatching of Alex’s hair in Panel 1, the jagged wrinkles on the bed in Panel 2, and all of Panel 5. The lines in Alex’s hair overlap slightly, which we haven’t seen from Lark when he inks his own work, the gun is composed of black and gray blocks with no holding lines, which is completely unlike Lark at this point in his career, and of course, the violent smudging in the background screams “Phillips.” I have to think that, since this is a flashback, Phillips was being a bit rougher, as on the page prior to this, which takes place in the present, his influence isn’t quite as strong. The messy scene filtered through Alex’s narration means this is not going to be as “crisp” as a Lark present, so I imagine Phillips exerted himself a bit more. It’s a subtle difference, and it’s quite keen.
So that’s two different comics by Lark inked by different people. I wonder if Lark himself was influenced by these inkers, as in the new millennium, he began to use a less clean style, even when inking his own work. We’ll see that style tomorrow, as Lark draws a pretty coolio graphic novel. Be here and check it out, and never forget that the archives are there for your enjoyment!
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.