Year of the Artist, Day 161: Paul Smith, Part 3 – The Golden Age #3
Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Paul Smith, and the issue is The Golden Age #3, which was published by DC and is cover dated October 1993 (technically, it doesn’t have a cover date, but it was published in October). These scans are from the trade paperback, which came out in 1995. Enjoy! I guess there are SPOILERS ahead, but the book is 20 years old, so I don’t feel too bad about it.
I skipped ahead a decade, because the stuff I own by Smith in the 1980s is so similar to his Uncanny X-Men work, and The Golden Age was where I saw a change, possibly due to Ory’s rich coloring, which presumably came from him fooling around with digital coloring. Also, Smith is inking himself, which he did in other comics before this, but it’s an interesting shift from when Terry Austin or Bob Wiacek was doing it. I’m showing a lot of splash pages in this post, because this issue features a bunch of incredible splashes!
Before all the splash pages, though, James Robinson and Smith walk us through the cast, and we can see some of Smith’s tics as well as some new stuff. The house in Panel 1 is precisely inked, but Smith is using thicker blacks in the trees, showing the heavy snow hanging off of them. The explosion in Panel 3 is also thickly inked, which is relatively new for Smith – varying his line weight to show different textures. One thing you’ll notice, and it’s why I wanted to show these two pages, is how well Smith draws different people. All the characters on this page are uniquely designed, from the subtle differences in hair styles, the different facial shapes, and the way Smith dresses them. Rex Tyler, in Panel 3, has wild hair, putting a lie to his mantra that he’s not an addict. Libby, Paula, and Joan all have differently shaped faces, so they don’t look like cookie-cutter women (which for male artists sometimes seems hard to do). Jon gets a bit of stubble to show that life is not going well for him, because in the 1940s, you better not go around in polite society with stubble! Al Pratt’s square-ish face in the center of the second page is a symbol of American trustworthiness, and Robinson and Smith put him next to Johnny Thunder, which his long, slightly devious face. In the penultimate panel, Carter Hall gets a noble nose and slicked back hair, making him look both like Egyptian aristocracy and a hawk. The attention to detail that Smith puts into all these characters is really nice.
The first splash page gives us Ted Knight getting zapped by cosmic energy or whatever. Smith uses big chunks of black to make him a negative image, with the spot blacks on his face and the brush work creating his crazy hair making him look even more anguished. Smith also inks the bursts around him nicely, but this is Richard Ory’s page, as he uses that white ink to create a beautiful electrified look sizzling around Ted, while it blurs into blue and then purple as it gets farther away from the center. Ory, I imagine, was experimenting with digital paints in this book, and he does a pretty good job. Smith’s art, like a lot of dudes who started drawing before digital coloring, looks better with flat colors, but Ory didn’t wreck the art, and some of it looks really nice, as we see here and will see below.
When Robotman chucks James Forrestal out the window, we get this marvelous sequence. Smith, obviously, uses a ton of blacks, but in Panel 2, he’s precise enough that we see the glass shards of the window and the crisp silhouette of Forrestal as he sails to his death. In Panel 3, we get the black bulk of Robotman’s body, hidden in the shadows. In the first two panels, Smith gets rid of the holding lines on the trees and on the silhouettes in the window, adding to the eerieness of the scene. Ory does a really nice job on the page. The white blot of the moon is hazy and remote, with Forrestal’s silhouette tarnishing its brightness, and of course Robotman’s face in Panel 3 is terrifically creepy, as Ory’s red eyes – which Robotman has throughout the book – look even more disturbing, and of course the standard way Smith draws Robotman’s mouth turns into an evil smile when you take it completely out of context. It’s a great little sequence.
So Paul Kirk is trying to remember what happened to him in Europe, and as he dreams and then as Carter Hall hypnotizes him, we get these tremendous splash pages that Smith really nails. In this one, we get the castle on the mountain on the left side of the page, and its reflection in the lake below forms a nice frame on that side. Smith uses splotches of black to show the rough rocks and the rough-hewn castle. In the upper right, we see Paul preparing to go in, and Smith places the window at the bottom right where his torso would be, so his jacket on the right side forms another part of the frame. The rope leads us down the page and to the two word balloons alongside Paul as he hangs outside the window, and Smith uses a lot of blacks to shadow him, keeping him hidden. The way his body is positioned leads us to the final word balloon in the bottom right. Ory knows the value of complementary colors, so we get a lot of blues to go with the dull yellow of the laboratory and of Paul when he’s preparing. It makes everything pop pretty well.
This is the next page, as Paul looks through the window and sees something nasty. Smith draws reflections in the blood of what the scientists are doing, which is completely ridiculous but gets the point across quite well. He hatches along Delores’s face to shadow her face just a bit, and then draws in the lines of blood flowing across it to complete the effect. I love the drawing of Tex in the lower right. Smith uses a lot of hatching, which makes the straps look more like leather, and he inks the screw in the cap beautifully, highlighting it without making it stand out too much. Tex’s face is just a bunch of black chunks and lines, as Smith uses those blacks to create an almost impressionistic portrait of his eye, open and staring out into space. Smith makes excellent use of negative space in the area around the eye, which makes Tex’s face even creepier. You’ll notice, also, that on the arm that covers Delores, Smith uses thick blacks to create folds in the glove, making it more clinical and rubbery, as it doesn’t appear to “give” like clothing. It’s a nice touch.
This is another amazing page, as Paul realizes what has happened. Again Ory gives us the complementary color scheme, with some red thrown in to move the mood toward a more violent one, but it’s still not a bad scheme. In the upper left, we see the scene in the lab from Paul’s point of view. Smith uses thick blacks to create the bodies of Delores (on the left) and Tex, while his scratchy inking of the window frame implies that it’s wooden, which is a good touch. In the middle, Paul hovers, and the way Smith opens his eyes wide and then shadows the upper half of his face makes him look more crazed than he is at this moment, but about as crazed as he will become (this is about the moment where he starts to tip). Smith uses nice brushwork on his nose and mouth to shade his face even more, and of course, the way the page is laid out, he’s looking down at Tex at the bottom of the page even though that’s technically a different “panel.” Smith backlights Paul in the window so that he can use silhouettes and Ory can add the glint off his rifle, alerting the Ultra-Humanite to his presence, and we get the drawing at the bottom, which is tremendous. Ory uses orange light and white ink on the right side, gleaming off the metal, and Smith draws enough of the cap on Tex’s head and the shape of his gun to freak us out. Once again, Smith uses blacks without holding lines to make the light streaming down on the Ultra-Humanite seem more eerie, and it’s a good effect.
The Ultra-Humanite shoots Paul, and while the layout is pretty cool, with the rope forming a nifty panel border between Paul and Tex, the drawings are a bit confusing. Smith shows the gun firing, and we get the nice thick inks around the muzzle blast and the many individual pieces of shattered glass, while Smith again uses lots of blacks on Paul’s form, but it seems that he falls away from the rope, so in the second tier, where Paul and Tex look at each other, it’s unclear how Paul is still hanging there. On the previous page, Paul appeared to have the rope in front of him, so a shot would knock him away from it, which is what we see in the top row. But then he’s holding onto the rope as they look at each other, because he cuts it to escape from the Ultra-Humanite. It’s a bit confusing. Smith does a great job with the faces, though – he widens both their eyes, Paul’s with rage and Tex’s with mania, and he grits Paul’s teeth as he takes Tex’s measure. Ory’s thin line of red blood against the blue is pretty cool, too. Meanwhile, Smith gives us the Ultra-Humanite with the wide eyes and broad grin, showing his insane glee at what he’s looking at. Ory adds the red in his eyes nicely, and Smith inks his brows, cheeks, and jaw line heavily, making his features stand out. When Paul cuts the rope, Smith moves his arm from left to right, driving our eyes that way and onto the next page. It’s not the greatest storytelling due to the confusion over how Paul is still holding onto the rope, but the individual drawings are neat.
The Golden Age is a fine, fine comic, partly due to Robinson’s cool story and partly due to Smith and Ory’s exquisite artwork. Check it out if you get the chance. Tomorrow I’ll jump forward another decade, as Leave It To Chance is sadly not part of my comics library. Deal with it! You can still find lots of cool comics I own in the archives!