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Year of the Artist, Day 159: Paul Smith, Part 1 – Marvel Fanfare #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 Paul Smith, and the story is “Snow!” from Marvel Fanfare #1, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated March 1982. This scan is from the trade paperback, which was published in 2008. Enjoy!

Smith is an interesting artist, because he works so infrequently. According to someone I know (so it’s just hearsay) who knows a bit about Smith, he likes surfing, so he shows up every once in a while to make some money on comics and then goes back to surfing. The dude turned 60 last year, so maybe he doesn’t do that quite as often as he used to, and it could all be bullshit, but it’s a nice story, isn’t it? Smith was 28 when this issue, his first comics work (well, I guess he did some art in an issue of The Comics Journal, but I don’t think that counts), showed up. Less than a year later he was drawing Uncanny X-Men. Man, that’s a meteoric rise, isn’t it? Anyway, in the early 1980s, if Marvel hired an artist who might not be totally confident in their work yet, they would put Terry Austin and Glynis Wein on the book with said artist. And that’s what they did here!

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Before I really get into Smith’s art, I just wanted to show some Eighties fashion. Don’t tell me the Eighties sucked, not with those clothes. Holy cow.

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This is a “Santa gets mugged” story, because comic book writers are a bunch of sentimental fools when it comes right down to it (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Daredevil helps Santa, because of course he does, and Smith does some nice work. In Panels 3 and 4, he gives us a nice sense of movement, as Santa is in the foreground with DD behind him, giving Santa the spotlight as he gives his speech, and in Panel 4, when Santa bends to pick up his scarf, Daredevil is larger because he’s “closer” to the reader, allowing him to counterpoint Santa and ask who mugged him. It’s a nifty little piece of storytelling. I’m not really sure what that poster in Panel 3 is all about – is Daredevil making personal appearances at malls and schools and that sort of thing? Anyway, Panel 2 gives us a good indication of Austin’s influence, as he uses short lines on Santa’s beard and face to add thickness to the hair and beard and some age to Santa’s face. Smith makes Santa’s left eye a bit bulbous, while Austin inks in the knot on his right cheek and over his right eye. Austin’s thin lines might seem like a poor choice to roughen up Santa’s face, but because he keeps the strokes short and close together, they create a good effect.

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Smith was good at action from the very beginning, as he lays this page out nicely and his characters have the fluidity to them that helps action scenes. He begins with DD punching the punk in the stomach, and the panel’s flow leads us to the second one, where he moves to the ceiling to show us where everyone is in the room. The dude with the bat (“That’s jive, bro”) is at the bottom of the panel, which transitions us easily to the bottom row, where Daredevil takes care of him and scares the bejeesus out of the other dude. Smith tilts Panel 3 so the dude is working against the flow of the floor, but notice the line of the floor aims directly at where Daredevil’s fist is in Panel 4. While the punch in Panel 4 works against the flow, the fact that DD’s other fist breaks the panel border helps take us to Panel 5, where his beatdown is in the background and the dude’s giant legs in the foreground lead us off the page. It’s an interesting way to show us all the action from different angles, and Smith does a good job with it. Notice that the bottom row is constructed like a pyramid, with the floor in Panel 3 leading us up to Daredevil beating on the dude at the apex, and then the tilted floor in Panel 5 leading us back out. Smith uses spot blacks really well on this page, with the room in Panel 2 seemingly floating in a black void, while the use of negative space in Panel 5 is quite cool – the dude believes Matt is an actual devil, and the fact that Smith somewhat dehumanizes him in that panel, turning him into a black figure stark against the white, helps with that vibe. Austin’s hatching isn’t overbearing, creating just the right amount of texture on, say, the dude’s jeans in Panel 5. As this is a trade paperback from 2008, Marvel could have recolored it, but I don’t think they did, because it looks as flat as it would in 1982, and Wein’s use of bright red for Daredevil is appreciated, because it helps him stand out well. For several years, it seemed like colorists would dull down the red, which never made sense to me. The trend, it seems, has reversed itself, which is keen.

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Here’s a nice two-page sequence (with some of it excised) in which Daredevil chases the drug dealer, Haskill, until Haskill falls to his doom (did you know that the title of this story has a double meaning! it’s true!). Smith repeats a panel in the first row, with Haskill in Panel 2 about to go up the stairs and Daredevil showing up in Panel 4 to chase him, and he puts the silhouette of Haskill at the top of the stairs in Panel 4, showing how close DD is to catching him. When Haskill reaches the roof in Panel 5, we get a nice tableau, with all three creators doing good work. The composition is well done, as Daredevil stands in the doorway looking at Haskill, and Smith leads us nicely from him to the jumping Haskill. Haskill’s pose is good, too – it’s an accurate representation of what someone leaping in that way would look like, and Smith does a good job showing the effect of the wind on Haskill’s clothing, including adding some puffiness to his awesome bell bottoms. The blacks are again effective, allowing the snow to stand out and making Wein’s blue pop well. We get blacks on Matt and Haskill, implying the lack of light on the roof. And, of course, Wein – I assume – adds the blotchy snowflakes, giving the scene a nice, eerie feel. As Matt chases Haskill, Smith gives us some good close-ups, once again using giant legs in Panel 1 of the second page to show the distance between the two men, and of course the foot slip in Panel 3 that leads to Haskill’s fall. Even from a bit farther away, we can see the shocked expression he gives Haskill as he falls, and of course, putting the $100-bill in the foreground on Panel 5 hammers the point home about the fleeting nature of wealth. The blacks on the second page are still used well, especially in the final panel, where Haskill’s silhouette falls into a void. I don’t know how much of the blue bleeding into white of the sky are in the original or if that was digitally altered for the trade, but if Wein did it in the original, it’s a very neat effect, because she knows that when there’s heavy snowfall, even at night, the sky can be a bit brighter from the reflections coming off the snow. This is a well done sequence.

So that’s Smith’s first work in comics. He would draw another story in Marvel Fanfare, an issue of Iron Man, some Dr. Strange issues, and then he was on X-Men. Man, that was quick. Tomorrow we will, of course, check out his well-regarded work on that book, so come on back, y’hear? And if you haven’t heard about the archives yet, now’s the time to rectify that!

25 Comments

Oh, how weird. I may have had everything Paul Smith did in the early years without knowing it.

Really hope that you talk about his Dr Strange stuff. He did some quite solid work on that title.

tom fitzpatrick

June 8, 2014 at 3:47 pm

I’m most familiar with Paul Smith’s work on the Uncanny X-men (only 1 year!), Nexus, DC’s The Golden Age (Elseworlds), and Leave It to Chance.

Very good artist, almost like P. Craig Russell – only he does mostly super-heroes and action instead of opera! ;-)

But I also remember that Mr. Smith can be slow as well in terms of producing monthly work.

This won’t end well. It’ll start well, but it won’t end well.

It’s crazy that Smith went from a star turn on X-Men to being the default fill-in artist on Nexus. I don’t really know how those contracts shook out in the 80s, but I can’t imagine it was the most financially logical choice. It sure was great for people who like comics, though. The Dude and Paul Smith on the same title = Amazing!

What trade paperback is this from? A Marvel Fanfare trade? I can’t really think what particular trade this would fit into.

marlowe: Um, well … it’s not looking good!

tom: Some of those will show up here!

Mitchell: I don’t know. I think it ends fairly well!

Roman: Well, it’s just possible he was too slow to keep up a monthly book, or, if my source is correct, he just didn’t care that much. Since he worked in animation, I wonder if he did some work there too, which kept him away from comics. Beats me.

Jazzbo: Marvel has put out one trade of Marvel Fanfare, I think. It collects the first 6 issues. Lots of cool stuff, obviously, but I never saw another one, so I suppose it didn’t sell well enough to justify more.

I remember totally hating this Paul Smith character after he took over X-Factor from an epic Simonson run, then Liefeld and Art Adams issues. Totally despised Paul Smith (and the fact that the stories weren’t that good didn’t help, especially after those epic Inferno tie-ins.

Oh well. Totally love Paul Smith today! But still hate his X-Factor run for nostalgic reasons.

Travis Pelkie

June 8, 2014 at 6:31 pm

There was a Wizard interview with Paul Smith, probably around the time of Leave it to Chance (and after Golden Age), and I believe he talked about how when he was on X-Men he didn’t really appreciate the chance he’d been given with that, and ended up burning some bridges by not taking it as seriously as he could have.

I believe he was also not the speediest artist (methodical! that’s the better term!).

But it was a shame there wasn’t more LitC, and also with what I suspect will be your last look at Smith.

I thought in that interview, too, that motorcycles were more his “toy” of choice, iirc.

Motorcycles, yes, not surfing.

Smith’s been around quite a bit since LITC. He’s done more X-Men, X-Men Forever for Marvel, Rocketeer / The Spirit miniseries for IDW, etc.

@dave: If I recall correctly,and I could be wrong because it’s been quite while since I’ve read them, on those X-Factor issues Paul Smith didn’t do full pencils, just layouts, with Al Milgrom providing finishes. That’s probably why Smith’s style really didn’t come through in the published artwork. Whatever the case, Milgrom may not have been a good fit for Smith. The covers to those issues, which Smith did the full artwork for, were more to my liking.

paul smith posts on penciljack pretty frequently…just saying…

dave: I don’t own those issues of X-Factor, so you’re in luck, because we won’t be seeing them!

Travis and Louis: Motorcycles, eh? That’s why I wanted to be clear that what I wrote was hearsay. Still, maybe he drives his motorcycles to the ocean …? :)

Yeah, I have some of his art post-Leave it to Chance, so I’m not stopping in the late 1990s!

The Angry Internet

June 8, 2014 at 10:02 pm

There was a Wizard interview with Paul Smith, probably around the time of Leave it to Chance (and after Golden Age), and I believe he talked about how when he was on X-Men he didn’t really appreciate the chance he’d been given with that, and ended up burning some bridges by not taking it as seriously as he could have.

Shit, I have that issue (somewhere). Only issue of Wizard I ever had and I don’t know how I got it in the first place. Multiple photos of Smith with his motorcycles, and he seemed awfully proud of his “BORN TO DRAW” leather jacket with flaming skull.

I wonder if his lack of speed was why he only did one issue of the Falcon miniseries (it was just one, right?).. I don’t know much of anything about him!

I wonder if his lack of speed was why he only did one issue of the Falcon miniseries (it was just one, right?).. I don’t know much of anything about him!

That’s when he got Uncanny, so he had to drop Falcon.

The falcon was thought to be a single story for Marvel Fanfare or some other anthology (dont see any other anthology during that period…. )

The editor liked what he saw on the story and asked for 3 others issues.

Right, but the reason Smith couldn’t do the rest of the series is that he had gotten the gig on Uncanny.

By the way, Paul Smith inked by Terry Austin on this Daredevil story looks simply wonderful. This once again demonstrates the importance of matching up a penciler with an inker that suits them. Austin and Bob Wiacek both inked Smith superbly. Smith and Al Milgrom was a less successful pairing, at least in my opinion.

Paul Smith is underrated. Glad you featured him. I read his Wizard interview back in the day like some other posters.

I love Paul Smith so much and am eagerly looking forward to this week’s posts!

He also has a pretty awesome blog and via it, I have learn to really like his writing!

http://paulmartinsmith.com/content/smittys-blog

Ben: Yeah, I could have sworn Austin inked him on Uncanny X-Men, but then when I looked, it was Wiacek. Very interesting. The other three examples I’m using have Smith inking himself, and as I mentioned, I don’t own the X-Factor issues, so I can’t compare Milgrom to Austin and Wiacek, unfortunately.

damiac: No problem!

John: I hope you enjoy what I feature! :)

Greg: Terry Austin inked Paul Smith’s pencils on the X-Men story in Marvel Fanfare #4 and, about a quarter century later, on X-Men Forever #6 and #10. I cannot recall if Austin inked the portion of Uncanny X-Men #304 that Smith penciled. Anyone else know?

Bob Wiacek is one of my favorite inkers, he really does bring out the best in the pencil art work.

I re- read that X-Factor run of Smith’s a while ago and thought it was great. I think he does his best work when he can design the characters environment and incorporate his long, clean lines in alien worlds (as in those X-Factors and Nexus), Asgard (the XM/AF mini series) or Japan (X-Men, Kitty Pryde mini). Maybe for that reason I didn’t feel The Golden Age was as successful. Just not as interesting visually.

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