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Year of the Artist, Day 158: Michael Lark, Part 5 – Lazarus #1

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Michael Lark, and the issue is Lazarus #1, which was published by Image and is cover dated June 2013. Enjoy!

Lark’s latest comic is his collaboration with Greg Rucka, which I really wanted to like but found just wasn’t for me. But I own some of it, so I can check out Lark’s art on it!

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When the first issue of Lazarus came out, a lot of people were raving about the fight scene at the very beginning of the book, so I thought I’d take a look at two of the pages from the scene. Lark doesn’t do anything too crazy with the layout, preferring to stack horizontal panels, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if he didn’t do it so often. One thing that bugs me about Lazarus is that it feels very “cinematic,” as if Lark is doing storyboards for the inevitable television show/movie. I know I shouldn’t be so cynical about comics, but I am (to be fair to Lazarus, I get that feeling from a LOT of comics, because a four-panel horizontal stack is so very common). Anyway, while the layout isn’t great, Lark does a nice job with the movement of the fight. The woman is named Forever (yes, really), and Lark does a nice job with her as she moves around the room. She grabs the guy’s wrist in Panel 1, twists his arm and snaps his elbow in Panel 2, then breaks his neck in Panel 3. As she drops him, she confronts the other two dudes, and Lark shows that the dude with the machete is already sweeping it toward her, so in Panel 1 on the second page, she moves out of the way to avoid it. As the dude behind her raises a hammer, she moves aside so that the dude with the machete stabs him, and then she grabs that dude’s arm to push the machete further in. It’s a very nicely designed page, as we can see everything very clearly and we understand how quickly it’s happening, which is why the two other dudes were so slow to react while she was dispatching the first dude.

Lark, as we’ve seen, has become rougher with his pencils, and that’s evident here. We see again the thick blacks on the clothing of the men, and the one dude’s flannel shirt is inked somewhat haphazardly, in contrast to what Lark would have done 20 years earlier. The line work is still fairly crisp, but Lark’s heavy inks tend to work against the pencil work. Santi Arcas colors this, and while he’s not as overwhelming as we saw with D’Armata yesterday, he still uses the same tricks. The use of a lot of blues has become a cliché in modern coloring, probably carried over from television and/or movies, where it has become overwhelming, although I’m not sure if it became popular in comics due to that or independently. It does allow Arcas to create contrast on the two panels where Forever kills the dude and where she forces the machete into the dude, as he switches to pink – a somewhat odd choice – to make them stand out. The blood splatters in the final two panels on the second page are nicely done – I imagine it’s not drawn in at all, just colored in by Arcas. This is an interesting contrast to the way Lark used to draw in every drop of blood, as I suppose it’s just easier for the colorist to do it.

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In two panels, we get some interesting things that Lark has done as his art has evolved. In Panel 1, Forever still resembles an old-school Larkian character, with the sharp line along her cheekbone and chin, which Arcas uses to shade her face in different tones. It’s not as stark as Lark was in the 1990s, but it’s still something he does with faces. Meanwhile, in Panel 2, he inks in the thick smoke rising from the compound, and the helicopter rotors are raggedly inked, showing that they’re still moving, but also matching the grittiness of the scene. It’s interesting seeing Lark’s work now if you’ve seen him over the course of his career, because you can still notice places where the old Lark comes through. I’m not saying one is better than the other, but it’s just interesting.

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Lark shows that he can do emotions well, using his new, rougher style to good effect. In Panel 2, Jonah speaks angrily, and Lark opens his mouth a bit wider and shows his teeth, while turning down his eyebrows to create a shadow around his eyes. The heavy inks on the side of his face add to his rage, as they creep toward his face. This is contrasted with the way Forever is drawn in Panel 3, as she listens to Jonah with a heavy heart (because she’s going to have to kill someone). Lark uses the light to halve her face, the shadows swallowing her left side, while Lark leaves a tiny dot where her eye reflects the dim light. He also shadows her right eye, but it makes her look sad, not angry, because her mouth is closed and set grimly. In Panel 4, we see that even though both Jonah and Forever aren’t really emoting too much, Lark makes Jonah look angry – his mouth is turned down and his eyes are a bit thin – while Forever simply looks resigned. This carries over to Panel 5, where Forever turns away. The space between her eyebrows and eyes is just wide enough to show the sadness in her face, while Jonah’s cocked brows still radiate anger. It’s very good visual storytelling. As we saw above, Arcas uses far too many blues, but it’s just something we have to live with.

Lark has evolved quite a bit over the course of his career, and it’s been interesting to see the changes. I don’t know if he’s reached a “final destination,” art-wise, or if we’ll see him continuing to tweak what he does. This new style seems well suited for a book like Lazarus, so I’m glad it’s successful for him and Rucka (I guess it is – they keep publishing it!). I have a few ideas for artists to start tomorrow, but I haven’t made up my mind yet. Oh well. Remember that the archives exist, or they might disappear!

10 Comments

An interesting thing about the fight scene is that when Machete-Man and Hammer-Guy close in on Forever, Lark breaks the 180 rule not once, but three times. We first see Machete-Man he’s panel left, then right, then left, etc. It happens so often and so regularly, that I think it’s probably deliberate; basically, Lark is trying to convey the chaos of the fight (and maybe Forever’s pivoting?). For this reason, the panels don’t flow so much as they function as illustrations or snapshots. Or they don’t flow for me. Based on your comments in the article, people thought this was cool enough.

Nate: I’m so bad at defining the 180 rule that I often have a vague idea that it’s being broken, but I don’t want to say so and show that I’m a fool. I actually don’t mind it too much when comics artists do it – it seems like more of a movie convention, and I think the fact that they’re static images actually makes it easier for artists to break the rule and it not matter quite as much as in movies.

When Lark breaks the 180 rule in that fight, he’s actually rotating the viewpoint around the fight in a counterclockwise direction, taking bigger and bigger jumps, tracking the camera faster if you will, as the fight speeds up.
Lark also establishes a rough rhythm between detailed establishing shot panels, less detailed motion panels, and pink (red through a blue filter?) violent panels, and uses it to control the speed at which the sequence is read and the expectations for what comes next.
On the first page it goes like: establishing shot, arm break, neck snap.
Page two, we’re subconsciously expecting repetition, because of the stacked rectangular panels and similar composition of each panel (along the lines of a centered triangle) so we’re tense. When Forever dodges the attack the expected violence panel doesn’t occur. Instead we skip straight to the next sequence, speeding up our reading and raising the tension.
When Machete guy stabs hammer guy it should be climactic, but it goes against our expectations because it comes out of sequence, in a motion panel, which is why it’s cathartic when Forever pushes the machete in and twists.
Later in the sequence, Lark reverses the rotation of the viewpoints, slowing things down to focus on a single action. When Forever stabs machete guy with his own weapon, it isn’t colored pink. That’s saved for several panels, until a reaction shot of Forever brooding, focusing the sequence’s exclamation point on emotional as opposed to physical violence.

tl;dr Take a second look. The book may not be that great, but Lark’s been doing career work on it.

*Sigh!* I still wish you had covered an issue of Gotham Central this week :(

Seriously, I have not been picking up Lazarus (there’s just too much stuff out there) and so, aside from seeing the covers on the shelves, this is the first time I have had an opportunity to view Michael Lark’s work on the series. Pretty good stuff. He has certainly continued to develop since his Gotham Central days. His work on display here does remind me just a bit like Butch Guice and Steve Epting, but that’s not a bad thing. I recall when Lark filled in for Epting on Captain America, and it looked wonderful. So anyway, perhaps at some point I’ll pick up the first trade paperback of Lazarus, give it a try. We shall see.

By the way, for all those fans of Gotham Central, here’s a scan of the only page of published original artwork I have by Michael Lark, from issue #6. I love how he can draw a bunch of cops just sitting around drinking coffee and make it look interesting…

http://www.comicartfans.com/gallerypiece.asp?piece=671143

That One Guy: That’s excellent. Thanks a lot.

Ben: Yeah, I like to swerve a bit on these, but I do like Nine Lives more than Gotham Central, and since they came out at about the same time, I figured it would be okay to do that.

That’s a neat page. I always enjoy seeing original art before it’s colored or, occasionally, even inked.

Greg, what do you dislike about Lazarus? I find it one of the best comics currently published, SciFi with a realistic context and great art. This series made me aware of Lark.

Travis Pelkie

June 8, 2014 at 1:52 am

I believe the pink panels are indicating that a death occurs. It’s the neck snap one on the first page, and then on the second, the stabbing alone doesn’t kill the dude, but when she forces the knife in, that kills him.

I’m not sure the “camera” shifting that Nate and that other guy discuss quite works for me, but it’s an interesting decision.

I liked Lazarus v1 ok, but not quite enough to spring for v2. It’s well done stuff, but the underlying premise seems a bit dodgy and yet also something we’ve seen before. And I don’t want to say too much more without spoilery bits, and also I cannot completely remember what all happened since it’s been awhile since I read it.

I’m a fan of Rucka and Lark, but not this book. I borrowed volume 1 awhile ago and wasn’t feeling it.

That’s okay. They’ll both eventually do something else I want to read (as in Greg’s case right now.)

Dimo1: It’s not exactly active dislike as much as not liking it enough to keep getting it. It feels very familiar, both in the dystopian future set up and the way Rucka writes the characters, which I generally like but maybe I want something different from him. I like Lark’s art but not enough to get the book solely based on that. It just didn’t connect with me. I’m going to get the trade of Veil, so it’s not like I’ve given up on Rucka, but Lazarus just didn’t do it for me.

Yes, comics are great arent they? What one loves is for others not their cup of tea. Somebody over here on CBrR pointed Lazarus at me and I was hooked from the beginning, plus Rucka’s bonus at the end of each issue sealed it for me.
Anyway, I want to say thanks for your zealous task writing a column each and every day, and while, getting back to different tastes, I am not always d’accord with your opinion it is the one blog I eagerly await.

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