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Year of the Artist, Day 179: Gabriel Hardman, Part 3 – The Black Coat 52-Page Special

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Gabriel Hardman, and the story is “Heart of Ice” in The Black Coat 52-Page Special, which was published by Ape Entertainment and is cover dated July 2008. Enjoy!

After over a decade toiling away doing storyboards in Hollywood (including, after this comic presumably, some on Inception, as you can see at this link), Hardman 2.0 returned to comics on The Black Coat in 2008, which is where I first saw his art. It’s quite a bit better than it was in the mid-1990s!

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Hardman has gotten a bit less precise with his line work (not much, but a little), but that’s allowed him to be a bit more impressionistic with the art, as he’s inking himself these days and using the inks really well. He still uses a lot of hatching, including “stronger” lines for the motion, like when the creature’s fist pummels the dude in Panel 1, but he’s also using softer lines to create an impression, as on the grass, for instance, or to create the trees. Hardman is more comfortable with a lack of holding lines, as he uses blacks, grays, and whites to create some of the effects (which we’ll see below). The creature’s face, as we can see, is pretty clean, as Hardman wants to give us the idea of how horrific it is. The white around the figures is interesting – it’s there so that we can see everything clearly, but it also adds an element of the supernatural to the scene, even in Panel 3, which is obviously a big part of the story as well.

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It’s fascinating (to me, at least) to see things like this sequence, especially after I discovered that this was not, in fact, Hardman’s first comic. As a first comic, it’s remarkably polished, and even for someone who hadn’t drawn a comic in 12 years, it’s pretty good, but now that I’ve had a look at some of his mid-1990s work, I can see the similarities that he was still slowly purging from his drawing. While the previous page showed a lot of thinner, haphazard brush strokes, this fight shows Hardman relying more on the heavier, slightly stiff figure work that we saw yesterday and the day before. It’s certainly not bad art, and his action scenes are much better than they were years earlier, but it’s interesting to compare the Black Coat in Panel 3 with the characters from the previous two days’ comics. The Black Coat is a bit blocky, with his cape not as much flowing from him as hanging stiffly. The motion lines and the reaction of the British soldier help make the panel more dynamic, but it’s clear that Hardman is still working through that. However, the rest of the sequence is keen – the sword thrust in Panel 1 leads our eye nicely across the page, bringing the leaping hero to our attention, and the downward tilt of Panel 2 also keeps our eyes moving. Hardman uses a lot of lines, but all in service of motion or detail, so the scene doesn’t look fussy. Really, the only problem I have is that I’m not sure which dude he’s kicking in Panel 3. In Panel 2, he’s between two Brits. Which one does he attack? It’s unclear, especially since on the next page, when he’s still fighting two dudes, they each have their wigs on. It’s not a big deal, but it does bug me a bit.

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This is a cool page that shows more of Hardman’s development, as he creates a really eerie atmosphere as the “North Woman” arrives in New York. In Panel 1, he gives us a close-up of the woman, wearing a hood to shadow her face. The ruff of the hood is inked sparsely in the front but more roughly as Hardman moves to the sides, which shows where the light is falling. The shadow on her face works really well, highlighting her eyes and making her a bit creepier even though her face betrays no emotion as she tells the men they’re going to die. On the rest of the page, Hardman adds mist to add some weirdness to the scene. He uses short lines to show the texture of the house through the fog, which is a tried-and-true method that works well, and he places the witness in the background in the lower right to lead us to the next row, where he reverses the point of view. She’s now looking toward the ship and we’re “behind” her, and Hardman uses black shapes and the lightest of grays to show the boat, which is being bathed in white light. The light on the wall behind the woman is starkly inked, with the bricks simply hatched to show how intense the light is. Again, we see Hardman’s attention to detail, as he draws the woman’s hair and clothing very clearly, still using plenty of blacks but highlighting parts of her body (including, of course, her décolletage, because why not?). The mist continues to work for Hardman in Panels 4 and 5, as the North Woman walks away and we get the arm of the dead guy in the foreground, and then she strolls down the street with the swirling mist behind her. The composition of Panels 3 and 5 are nice, with the glare in Panel 3 etching the ship onto the page, while in Panel 5, from the same angle (notice the witness – Josephine – has disappeared), the mist has closed in, and Hardman uses long lines instead of solid blacks and destroys the shape of the ship itself. Meanwhile, the North Woman is nicely shrouded in black, with her back rimmed in white from the lingering glare. In Panel 6, Josephine is drawn well – her wide eye and downturned mouth help indicate that she’s a bit scared of this creepy woman, as she probably should be.

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The monster is part of an Indian legend, because of course it is, and when the Black Coat wanders into Indian territory, they attack him. Hardman gives us a very nice action scene that is better than the earlier one mainly because his figures aren’t blocky and stiff, so even in this comic we can see him improving. In Panel 1, the hatching all leads downward from the upper left to the bottom right, and it’s really tremendous – the lines on the right leg of the Indian and the legs of the Black Coat are the most obvious, but Hardman blurs the leaves on the trees in the upper left and even the rocks on the small cliff off of which the Indian leaps to push us where he wants us to go. In Panel 3, the Black Coat’s kick centers the panel on the Indian’s chest, and Hardman’s lines radiating outward show how painful it is. Panels 4 and 5 are well done – in the foreground, the Indian holds his tomahawk behind his head and his left hand leads us back to the Black Coat, who has raised his pistol. Hardman, we can see, doesn’t use strong border lines where shades can work, as with the feathers attached to the weapon. In Panel 5, we get the close-up of the tomahawk embedding itself in the wood next to the Black Coat’s head, and it’s another nice drawing. Hardman is still using solid lines for hatching in some places, like on the handle and blade of the tomahawk, and he contrasts this with the background, where the speed lines become flicks of grays. The lines on the Black Coat’s face and costume all lead our eye to the right, taking us along to the wagon where the tomahawk sticks. The lines on the blade stop that momentum, which is what happens to the tomahawk when it meets the wood. It’s a clever effect.

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This is a small panel at the end of a page, so it’s not as impressive as it looks on the screen, where it’s a lot bigger, but it’s still very cool. I imagine that Hardman drew the monster and the Black Coat and then erased the holding lines, so that the beautiful inks remained – the thick fur of the monster and the hard-edged leather of our hero stand out very well. This kind of negative space use is tremendous, especially when it’s in contrast to the heavy black and thick lines Hardman uses in the rest of the book – much like the North Woman’s light in the above example, the stark white with just the little black in this panel makes it pop really nicely. Hardman, obviously, is getting much better at telling a story as well as simply drawing things.

Hardman was ready to stay in comics this time around, apparently, and he began getting some more higher-profile work in the years after 2008. Tomorrow I’ll take a look at … well, I think I’ll look at his art from one of the coolest Marvel books of the past 5 years or so, one that just kept chances to sell and never really did. I blame you, frankly. Don’t forget to take a trip through the archives, especially as I’ve already written about The Black Coat!

6 Comments

So this was the first comics work under his own name, then?

I guess a Hardman is good to find, huh?

I have been waiting 2 days for that one!

Quite an imporvement over his previous work.

Travis: Words fail me.

Morten: Yeah, a decade in Hollywood doing storyboards worked out for him.

The Black Coat Special was not in fact the first book I drew after returning to comics. But inaccurate is par for the course in these articles. I’m baffled as to why the author wouldnt just ask me to clarify these things rather than constantly making wrong assumptions.

This is amazing work, with dramatic & effective storytelling and exquisite detail to the inking. Now I’m bummed out that I didn’t buy this when it came out. Time to start searching the back issue bins.

Ben: Ape really ought to put out a Black Coat omnibus. It would have Francavilla, Hardman, and Dean Kotz doing the art, and some really nice American Revolutionary espionage stories with a bit of supernatural flair. It would be a neat book!

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