Year of the Artist, Day 162: Paul Smith, Part 4 – X-Men Unlimited #43
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 “Lockheed the Dragon” in X-Men Unlimited #43, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated April 2003 (actually, it doesn’t have a cover date nor indicia, so I’m relying on the Comic Book Database for that date). Enjoy!
The main story in this issue is drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz and the back-up is drawn by Smith. Jemas-era Marvel was just neat, even though it veered close to clusterfuck often. Anyway, Smith and Steven Grant give us a Lockheed story. Let’s check it out!
One thing that it seems a lot of artists who have bridged the gap between traditional and digital coloring have had to learn is how to make their lines weightier. Digital coloring seems to overwhelm thinner lines, and while Smith didn’t seem to have that problem in yesterday’s entry, it seems like a concern when older pencilers, who have had the benefit of flatter colors, suddenly see their work colored with the textured stuff you can get in Photoshop. Smith’s pencil work from the early 1980s was a bit lighter than later, and we see a good adjustment here, as Jeromy Cox’s colors work well with Smith’s heavier line. Cox uses the blue/yellow complement to make the hues richer, but Smith’s lines – in Lockheed’s flames in Panel 1, on Lockheed’s body in Panel 3, on the butterflies in Panel 4 – stand up to it. Smith still knows how to use spot blacks well, as Lockheed is completely in silhouette in Panel 1, allowing Cox to match the color of his eyes with the flames bursting from his mouth. The hunters in Panel 2 are draped in black as well, hinting at their darker natures. I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with Lockheed in Panel 3 – it appears that the shotgun shell explodes next to him, but Smith draws parallel lines rising from the explosion, as if some kind of laser blast is hitting the ground. The angle of trajectory doesn’t seem to come from the shotgun, but Smith does a nice job shading Lockheed as the explosion lights him up a bit. He uses black splotches around the gun blast, which is a nice contrast to the more delicate yet still thickly inked butterflies.
As Smith has gotten older, he’s used a bit more hatching to add some nuance to his work, which is nice. It helps distinguish “Mummy’s” worry about Lockheed from the girls’ unconcern, as the lines furrowing her forehead show her anxiety nicely. Smith has never been particularly famous for facial expressions, but the way he raises her eyebrows, widens her eyes, and draws her fake smile in Panel 2 works really well. He also uses a brush on Mummy’s hair, making it a bit thicker, which matches the girls’ lustrous hair pretty well, linking them. The storm cloud in Panel 3 (and 2, but it’s clearer in 3) is roughly inked, implying that it’s created from a bit of anger, and Grant’s dialogue and Smith’s nice work with the character makes it clear that Mummy is really nervous around her magical children.
As the reader begins to see that the girls aren’t very nice (something Lockheed doesn’t realize until later), we see how their actions affect the town. In Panel 1, Smith draws them well, as they cast glances back at the policeman and he makes sure to put conniving looks on their faces. Everyone on the page except Martina, Regina, and Thorne are a bit more heavily inked, as Smith shows some of the stress they experience living in a town with the Wolcrofts. Smith draws Thorne well, as she’s looking askance at the Wolcrofts – he twists her mouth a little, cocks her eyebrow, and turns her nose just slightly, as she thinks about what she can do to thwart her enemies. It’s a nice page of little reactions, allowing Grant and Smith to imply just how evil the Wolcrofts are while still letting us see why Lockheed trusts them.
The girls frame Andrew Frazer, and Lockheed believes he stole, so he spits a little fire on his foot, making him fall over. He is understandably pissed, and reacts thusly. We see that Smith still tends to use thinner lines, but because he’s adapted, he adds just enough heft to some of them that we get nice reactions by the characters and weird panels of magic. Andrew’s face in Panel 3 is not only angry, but tortured, as Smith uses just enough hatching on his face to almost scar it, turning it from anger into impotent rage. In Panel 4, Smith’s change from using precise lines to a looser style means he can use a brush along the back of the rat and not delineate between the rat and the apple, making the transformation even more striking. But he still uses crisp lines in Panel 5, so that once the rats become full rats and not rat/apples, they have a sharpness to their bodies that makes them a bit more hideous. Still, the rat at the bottom of Panel 5, where its haunches are still apple, is really freaky, and it’s partly because Smith has become so good at moving between the styles.
The Wolcrofts turn on Lockheed because he won’t be evil to Thorne, and he reacts in kind. Once again, we get nice work from Smith in Panel 2, where he uses rough, thick inks for their scorched hair and for smudging up their clothes nicely. He also does a good job on Panel 4, where Lockheed licks Thorne – Lockheed doesn’t change his expression too much, but the way Smith draws his crooked mouth could almost be a smile, and he remembers to close Thorne’s eye as the tongue pushes against her cheek. These little things are always cool to see in comics, and Smith doesn’t forget them.
This was a short story, so there’s not a lot to show. For the last day of Smith’s art, I’ll take a look at the last full issue he has drawn. You might know what it is! Until then, there’s always the archives!